History of the Health Psychology Program at UCSF

George C. Stone

In 1965 the vision of Robert E. Harris, the senior Professor of Medical Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Harold E. Harper, Dean of the Graduate Division, envisioned a graduate program in psychology at UCSF. At the time there were twenty or so psychologists on staff with backgrounds and interests suitable for faculty in such a program. All of them had full time commitments to various clinical or research programs but they agreed to add teaching responsibilities to their already full work loads. The atmosphere of academia in the middle 60's was ebullient. Any idea that found enough enthusiastic supporters had a good chance of being funded from university and government sources. In 1966 the Regents approved our proposal for a Ph.D. degree in Psychology. We felt confident that resources, calculated from the university's usual formula for graduate programs, would soon be forthcoming.

In 1963 a little book by Derek De Solla Price - Little Science, Big Science - pointed out the applicability of the typical growth curve of populations growing in an environment of finite resources to the domain of scientific activity. The admission in 1967 of the first student to our training program coincided closely in time with the second inflection point of that lazy S-shaped curve: Resources began a rapid shift toward a zero rate of expansion. Another universal law came into play: "necessity is the mother of invention." If we were to gain the necessary resources to sustain our program - in fact, if we were to maintain approval for the degree itself - we would have to invent a reason for the University of California to support yet another doctorate in psychology when it already had six on other campuses. What had we to offer that would distinguish us from the other programs?

In the fall of 1969 William Schofield, head of the Clinical Psychology program housed in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, published in the American Psychologist "The Role of Psychology in the Delivery of Health Services." He pointed out many ways in which psychologists could bring the knowledge and skills of their profession to bear on issues of health care delivery. Some of us at UCSF had been coming to the realization that what was distinctive about our program was its location on the medical campus. That while this had its disadvantages, relative to a "general campus," it could also have advantages in the form of close association with patients, practitioners, and researchers involved in a wide array of disease- and health-related problems, all of which had manifold psychological aspects.

In 1967, Robert E. Harris suffered a disabling stroke that prevented his continuing as head of the program he had founded. Paul Ekman reluctantly took on the chairing of the Graduate Group in Psychology at the expense of his already thriving research program in the psychology of emotion, but after a couple of years he found the cost to that primary activity too great, and at the beginning of 1970 I agreed to assume the chair. I think it was January or February of 1970 when I circulated a "dittoed" paper (before the days of xerographic copiers!) outlining the concept of a program in "health psychology." The reception to the idea was cool. Some of the members of the Graduate Group in Psychology thought it had some merit in general, but were unpersuaded that he project was one that they, themselves, wanted to join. I soon discovered, however, that other psychologists around the country were thinking along similar lines and became involved with a correspondence group organized by Schofield and the APA Task Force on Health Services Research. This group convened a meeting at the annual APA convention in 1975 that led by 1978 to the formation of the Division of Health Psychology - Division 38 of APA.

At UCSF, the growing recognition that a new field of psychology was emerging and the increasing difficulties of operating a doctoral program without formally designated resources led by 1974 to acceptance of the new program emphasis and approval of two new faculty positions and a small program budget. Fran Cohen joined our group in 1976 and Nancy Adler at the start of 1977, both with strong commitments to developing the first doctoral program in the U.S. that would call itself "Health Psychology."

Which we did!