Obituary Dr. Bruce L. Smith


Dr. Bruce L. Smith

I have sad news to share with you all.

Our Past President, Dr. Bruce L. Smith, has passed away after a long fight with illness. Fortunately, on September 15, he was able to hear through his wife my message thanking him on behalf of the Board for his contributions to the ISR over many years. I heard about his passing only two days later.

Bruce had been on the ISR Board since 1999, starting as a Member-at Large, reelected for the same position in 2002 and then became Vice-President in 2005. Bruce took the Presidency from 2008 for two terms until 2014. In total, Bruce had been on the Board for over 20-years.

Bruce participated in the Board meeting six weeks before his passing and what was more, he gave a long message about the future of the Rorschach just three weeks before his death. I assume his mind was full of ideas about the future of the Rorschach, the ISR, and the 2022 Centenary Congress. He will be greatly missed.

Dr. Noriko Nakamura,

ISR President

September 30, 2020

Bruce Lazar Smith, Ph.D.

By now, most of the psychological assessment and Rorschach community has learned of the untimely death of one of our very finest, Dr. Bruce Smith, at the age of 73 years old. Until he was struck with a terrible, relentless illness shortly after the Society of Personality Assessment meeting in New Orleans, Bruce was a picture of physical health, vast energy, and intellectual vibrancy, who always cut a handsome figure and exuded a passionate sense of purpose and commitment to his profession, family, friends, students, and clients. He retained all of his vitality and purpose, with exception of physical health, literally until a week before he succumbed to his illness. Even for those close to him who knew about the dire circumstances of his illness, I think I can correctly say that International Rorschach Society and Society for Personality Assessment communities are all shocked by Bruce’s passing, which has left an immense hole in many of our lives.

While Bruce aspired for, and achieved, real excellence throughout the nearly 44 years that I knew him, I also know that his accomplishments were hard won. He was born in San Francisco into a family of modest means and with a level of psychological difficulty sufficient to overwhelm a person with less capacity and resilience. Bruce actively turned his experience of these difficulties into a lifelong quest to seek understanding and compassion for the troubled ones. Like many of modest means, he found his first step beyond his family by attending a state university, in this case his treasured University of California, Berkeley, where he met friends who remained close to him for the rest of his life and where he would later in his life serve as a much loved clinical faculty member for many years until his death.

As his UC-Berkeley undergraduate education came to completion, Bruce was accepted to the clinical psychology doctoral program in the renowned Department of Social Relations at Harvard University, parenthetically in the last group of clinical psychology students accepted before the program was disbanded. In typical fashion, Bruce completed all of his course work, including his master’s degree, at Harvard in three years and went on internship during his fourth year in Washington, DC at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which was celebrated at that time for its innovative psychoanalytic treatment of psychosis. He returned to Harvard to complete his dissertation on subjective drug experience and personality, achieving his Ph.D. in a speedy five years. This is unsurprising to anyone who collaborated with Bruce and knew how rapidly he completed his part of a project, always with precision and brilliance.

As a newly minted Ph.D. interested in psychosis and severe mental disorder, Bruce pursued postdoctoral training as a psychology fellow in the singular 4-year program at the Austen Riggs Center, internationally recognized as the center of American ego psychoanalysis and of psychoanalytically informed personality assessment. By the time Bruce arrived, Otto Will, a leading figure in Harry Stack Sullivan’s interpersonal approach to the treatment of psychosis, was the Director of Austen Riggs and successor to Robert Knight, creating a theoretical turmoil at Riggs that Bruce found especially rich. The blend of intensive psychoanalytic psychotherapy, sociotherapy, and psychoanalytically-informed depth personality assessment in an environment, where ego psychology, object relations and interpersonal theory all shouldered together, provided a redolent stew of intellectual ideas that especially well suited Bruce’s extraordinary mind, which thrived on complexity, nuance, and excellence. As an interesting aside, years later, Bruce and his wife Nadine Tang would take part in a six person study group in the East Bay with former Austen Riggs staff Otto Will, his wife Beulah Parker, Erik Erikson, and his wife Joan Erikson.

Upon completion of his postdoctoral training at Austen Riggs, Bruce returned home to San Francisco as Director of Adult Inpatient Sociotherapy at Mt. Zion Hospital. Shortly thereafter, he took a position as Professor of Psychology in the Wright Institute’s doctoral clinical training program, one of the earliest freestanding professional schools of psychology. While continuing to treat clients at Mt. Zion and in his newly opened private practice, Bruce also served as a clinical faculty member in Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco Medical School as well as Adjunct Faculty at the Berkeley campus of the California School of Professional Psychology. In 1985, Bruce left Wright Institute to become Chief Psychologist, Alta Bates-Herrick Hospital, in Berkeley until 1993 and in 1990 he joined the adjunct faculty in the Department of Psychology at UC-Berkeley. During his busy whirlwind of private practice and teaching, Bruce managed to publish over a dozen articles on psychoanalysis and personality assessment, including two in French and another in Spanish, as well as co-author the momentous volume, The Facilitating Environment: Clinical Applications of Winnicott’s Theories, with Austen Riggs colleague Gerard Fromm.

Around this time three events were to significantly enhance Bruce’s professional and personal direction in ways that he could not have fully anticipated- his marriage to Nadine Tang and his synergistic involvement in the Society for Personality Assessment and International Society for the Rorschach and Projective Methods.

Bruce and Nadine married in 1979 and it was Nadine that provided Bruce a face into a much broader world beyond his Euro-centric upbringing. Nadine was born in the US, but soon moved to Hong Kong.  She returned to the US to study at Boston University and UC-Berkeley.  Nadine was a confident world citizen and traveler.  She collaborated with Bruce in a variety mental health professional endeavors, including two co-authored articles respectively, on the cross-cultural relevance of the Oedipus complex from three disparate cultures: Chinese, Indian, and European and on the taxonomy of social identities in psychotherapy. As Bruce matured intellectually, his willingness to embrace complex issues of cross-cultural aspects of personality and assessment arose in a large part from his relationship with Nadine. As Bruce bloomed from the relationship, so did Nadine. She also became a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at UC Berkeley, though perhaps more notably in 1992 Nadine was elected member of the Board of Trustees of the UC-Berkeley Foundation and later served as its chair. Together Nadine and Bruce became powerful champions of UC-Berkeley. Additionally, Nadine and Bruce’s two sons, Spenser 36 and Eliot 30, provided Bruce the opportunity to be a loving father, further repairing his past.

The next defining influence on Bruce’s later career and life was his larger-than-life involvement in the Society for Personality Assessment (SPA). Introduced to SPA by another heart of personality assessment, Paul Lerner, Bruce became a member in 1987 and quickly rose to active involvement in the Society’s professional activities through presentations and publications. In turn, this gave rise even more consequentially to his many years of continuous involvement on its Board of Trustees beginning in 1992. Among his many contributions to the SPA Board, Bruce served as the SPA President from 1997-1999, SPA Public Affairs Director, and member of the instrumental Professional Practice Guidelines and Rorschach White Paper committees. He was the inaugural SPA Foundation President since its inception in 2004, ending his service in that role this past August shortly before his death. As Board members across the decades can attest, if there was roll-up-your sleeves work to be done for SPA, Bruce always volunteered and invariably provided cogent ideas and approaches. As many younger SPA members will confirm, Bruce was unstintingly helpful to serious students and early career psychologists with supervision and opportunities for collaboration. SPA was indeed Bruce’s intellectual and spiritual home and he was generous in encouraging friends, colleagues, and students to be part of its remarkable collegial and generative activities. At one of those characteristic dinners that Bruce loved to put together during the past New Orleans SPA meeting, I recall him saying with great feeling how SPA meetings were the highlight of his year.

The third defining influence on Bruce was his involvement with the International Society for the Rorschach and Projective Methods (ISR). Bruce was an active champion of the Rorschach well before his involvement on the ISR Board.  As far back as his classic 1990 article, “Potential space and the Rorschach,” integrating Winnicott’s object relations theory with the Rorschach, and three articles in Rorschachiana that closely followed, Bruce was involved with furthering scholarship about the Rorschach. He was initially elected to the ISR Board in 1999, became Vice-President, and then rose to President for two terms from 2008 to 2014. At the time of his passing, Bruce was Past President of IRS, having served on the Board continuously for over 20 years. In the case of both ISR and SPA, Bruce participated in Board activities until literally weeks before his death in spite of being in frail physical health and unable to walk.

An extension of his love of traveling and influence of his wife Nadine, Bruce’s activities with the ISR were a springboard for teaching internationally and across different cultures. Bruce was readily available to fly to underserved countries, often at his own expense, to promote and teach the Rorschach and projective methods. For example, Bruce actively taught the Rorschach in Serbia, where psychologists were hungry to learn the Rorschach but had meager resources. In addition to teaching, he arranged for books to be sent to the country and worked with the Serbian group to publish Rorschach research. Perhaps one of the most ambitious international endeavors Bruce undertook was his teaching Rorschach at two Chinese Universities including arguably the most prestigious research institution in China, Tsinghua University in Beijing. It is difficult to imagine a person better suited to meet such cross-cultural challenges. Bruce was full of great ideas and hard work even until his last days, including collaborating on two, now unfinished, articles on the future of the Rorschach.

Bruce Smith was indeed a rare and charismatic leader, who brought great intellect to his work. Equally, he was a real and genuine person capable of deep personal connection and kindness. Words will never fully express how much we will miss him.

Barton Evans, Ph.D. 

Retired Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science

College of Medicine East Tennessee State University