Hans Strupp: A Pioneer and Giant in Psychotherapy Research
Hans Hermann Strupp was born August 25th, 1921, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and died on October 5, 2006, in Nashville, Tennessee USA. In between, he led a remarkable intellectual, professional, and private life—one that was internationally influential and inspiring, and that brought honor to all organizations, such as SPR, with which he was affiliated.
In 1939, at age 17 Hans emigrated to the U.S. from Nazi Germany with his mother and brother (Hans’ father died when Hans was 9 years old). Hans ultimately pursued studies in psychology, earning his doctorate in 1954 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He also received a Certificate in Applied Psychiatry for Psychologists from the Washington School of Psychiatry, a founder of which was Harry Stack Sullivan. The early career step toward the Sullivanian interpersonal school had an obvious, enduring impact on Hans’ subsequent thought and research.
Hans began doing psychotherapy research in the 1950s. By his own account, Hans’s lifelong career focus on therapy research and theory was spurred by a trick of fate. The U.S. government personnel research department for which he was working when he needed a dissertation project changed its policy: employees could no longer use data from department studies for dissertations. Hans cleared the unexpected hurdle by designing a psychotherapy study.
Recognition for his therapy research came quickly, and helped established Hans as a pioneer in the development of the field of psychotherapy research in the U.S. By 1958, he was invited to participate in what became a series of conferences sponsored by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Division of Clinical Psychology and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. One broad purpose of the first conference was to foster psychotherapy research. (The conference reports are fascinating windows into the history of therapy research in the U.S. [Rubenstein & Parloff, 1959; Strupp & Luborsky, 1962; Shlien, Hunt, Matarrazo & Savage, 1968]).
One of Hans’s pioneering scientific efforts was his insistence that actual therapy session material, audio and videotapes of therapy sessions, was methodologically required to test theories of psychotherapeutic change. The introduction of taping technologies to the consulting room was highly controversial in the 1950s, even summarily dismissed in psychoanalytic circles—Hans’ primary theoretical reference group. He was "diagnosed" as a voyeur by some.
Hans remained committed throughout his career to the idea that actual therapy session material is needed to conduct studies of the types that are required to create a scientific foundation for the practice of psychotherapy. He worked to ensure that tape and data archives of outcome studies that he did would be created so that the materials could be used by other researchers, and encouraged the development of archives by all investigators who collect such data.
Hans was a prolific scholar and researcher: over 300 publications, including 16 books. His contributions to both research and practice have been recognized frequently and internationally. For example, he received the very prestigious APA Distinguished Contributions to Knowledge award, an honorary Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Ulm which no doubt was particularly meaningful to him, and the Distinguished Professional Achievement Award of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He also received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from APA’s Division of Clinical Psychology; was a fellow of the APA, of four APA divisions including psychoanalysis and the history of psychology, and also of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1966, Hans joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University’s Department of Psychology as a Full Professor; he was named Distinguished Professor in 1976.
Hans contributed integrally to the birth of SPR when it was founded by two assistant professors, Ken Howard and David Orlinsky. Hans was the third President of SPR (1972-73), following Ken and David. In 1986, Hans received SPR’s Distinguished Career Contribution Award; he mentored about 25% of the recipients of SPR’s Early Career Contribution Award as of 2006. The latter statistic is both extraordinary and clear evidence for a widely acknowledged fact: Hans was a truly gifted, dedicated, and inspiring mentor.
Hans’s contributions to psychotherapy research are simply huge. A profile in the American Psychologist in 1988 described him as "a pioneer in the study of therapeutic process and change," and credited him with forging "rigorous research methods for studying psychotherapy" and also providing "stewardship of psychotherapy research [that] helped form it into a respected field of scientific inquiry." Also noted was Hans’s "active leadership in the integration of clinical and research knowledge" that was "invaluable to the psychotherapy professions." Among Hans’ living legacies to therapy researchers are archives of recorded therapies, and related process and outcome measures. The archives are products of two of his federally-funded research grants, often referred to as "Vanderbilt I" and "Vanderbilt II."
Perhaps two of the most broadly influential threads in Hans’ writing and research were emphasis on the impact of qualities of the patient-therapist relationship on the potential for therapeutic change to occur, and on how therapists might develop relationships capable of having therapeutic effects with "difficult" patients. With Suzanne Hadley, Hans also developed the "tri-partite model" of therapeutic change. A key contribution of the model was to conceptually integrate what were viewed, at the time, as contradictory and confusing—but robust—findings: measures of outcome obtained from different perspectives (e.g., patients, therapists, and clinical evaluator) were rarely highly correlated. Among the qualities as a scientist that earned the respect of his mentees was Hans’s openness and commitment to asking any important question. He remains among the few therapy researchers ever to focus on psychotherapy’s potential to have negative, or iatrogenic, effects.
Among Hans’s prodigious gifts was eloquence—an eloquence permeated by human warmth. Jeffrey Binder, Hans’s collaborator on the development of Time-Limited Dynamic Psychotherapy (1984), recently described "the sheer power of [Hans’s] eloquence" and his "ability to put his ideas in a way that really touched people." It is agreed that Hans also had a memorable, sonorous voice, one that could be used to great effect—such as when he delivered concise, impeccably-timed witticisms.
Hans Strupp indeed had superior power both to touch people and to lend gentle, steady guidance to an entire field.
Admirers, Colleagues, and Mentees of Hans Strupp
In memory of Hans Strupp, Professor Emeritus
As members of the psychotherapy research group from Ulm University we would like to also remind our SPR-colleagues that Hans Strupp became a highly esteemed mentor as early as 1970 when Horst Kächele wrote a first letter to him asking for permission and support in using his intervention catalogue. He generously gave both.
Hans attended the first international conference on "Psychoanalytic Process Research Strategies" in 1985 in Ulm delivering a paper on „Problem-treatment-outcome congruence: A principle whose time has come“ which would become the lead article in the so-called blue book (Dahl et al. 1988). At our workshop dinner party Hans was sitting besides the lord mayor of Ulm talking about his years as a school boy at a gymnasium in Frankfurt. Happily Hans, born 1921 in Frankfurt, could leave Nazi-Germany in time together with his mother in 1939.
In 1986 he was awarded the degree of an honorary doctor of medicine by the Ulm University in 1986. We still vividly remember his enthusiastic lecture in front of the medical faculty when he spoke about psychotherapy being more of a pedagogical enterprise than a medical intervention.
The following lines from an interview with him we have found on an internet page; they render exactly what Hans in his talk conveyed to us then: "Psychotherapy is basically a human relationship. It is not a treatment in the medical sense, or in the way treatment is ordinarily understood, where someone administers a treatment to someone else. But it is a relationship in which the two people involved in treatment work together and the result of which, we hope, is an improvement in the patient's mental health".
Horst Kächele, Erhard Mergenthaler, Helmut Thomä University of Ulm, Germany