Remembering Richard R. Bootzin


Richard R. Bootzin

It is a great honor for me to introduce this collection of remembrances for my beloved colleague and friend APS Fellow Richard (Dick) Bootzin, who passed away suddenly in December 2014. Dick was 74 years old when he passed. At the time, he was a fully engaged faculty member in our clinical program here at the University of Arizona — working tirelessly to promote sleep research and training psychological clinical scientists.

Dick’s contributions to psychological science are legion and legendary, and I won’t recount them here. Instead, I would like to write about what he was like as a colleague and a friend. Most or all of the remembrances in this tribute section do the same, whether by recounting a personal memory of a treasured time with Dick or the story of how he advanced someone’s career from behind the scenes. We all have one thing in common: Dick changed our lives in a deep and profound way.

Dick and I worked closely for 11 years, running the University of Arizona clinical program; as part of the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science (he as a past president, I as a new member-at-large and now secretary); and more recently on a shared NIH grant studying divorce, daily social behaviors, and sleep. I came to think of Dick as a Buddha-type figure in my life. We were friends, of course, and got on well all the time (even going out on double dates with our wives), but I also routinely sought him out for council and advice. What should I do about this emerging problem? How should I handle a difficult situation with a grad student?

If a problem existed, Dick had encountered it before. His career was nearly 50 years long! I thought of Dick as a mellow and pretty easy-going guy — maybe because he had seen and done it all already. During the time I knew him, he was fairly unflappable, and, true to his Buddha-like form, he would sit quietly, reflect, and then drop riddles about how you should proceed with a difficult problem. For example, he would often wonder if various community radio shows would give away free advertising for our research studies. At first, you’d think to yourself, “Hey, that’s a good idea.” By the time you were halfway down the hall, you’d start wondering if you could really pull it off as Dick proposed. We never got one second of free radio advertising.

At its core, though, Dick’s advice always contained one fundamental truth: He believed in your ability to figure out the problem and to make it work. He didn’t see himself as having all the answers, but I think he did see himself as giving a little push down the road. From there, Dick felt confident you could work it out yourself. And if you couldn’t, he was sure you could find someone else (other than him) to help.

In this way, Dick looked for the very best in people. He thought you could do anything you wanted to do, and this kind of mentoring — sometimes providing scaffolding for your ego itself — is rare and special. To have someone believe in me so convincingly was incredibly powerful.

Dick also was a fun and funny guy. He enjoyed telling a good story or sharing a good laugh. He made coming to work easy and fun. I miss doing science with Dick, but not because of the intellectual stimulation around good ideas. Sure, I miss that too, but I what I really miss is his presence, his Buddha-like being, his smile, and his caring demeanor. When you look closely at all the remembrances here, you’ll see these same qualities reflected in different ways by each of his students, former students, collaborators, and other colleagues.

I often wondered why Dick continued to work for so long, well after many people might retire. After seeing the outpouring of love following his death, the answer is obvious. More than anyone else I’ve known, Dick captured a classic line from the Beatles: “And in the end, the love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”

David A. Sbarra, University of Arizona

 A program honoring Richard Bootzin will be held at the 2015 APS Annual Convention in New York City, May 21–24.

Mary Carskadon

Brown University

I have known Dick for decades, dating to his pioneering work in the behavioral treatment of insomnia. As I have read Dick’s papers over the years, I’ve been delighted and impressed by his thoughtful, creative, and insightful approach. Our friendship was forged through students who passed along the academic highway between the University of Arizona (UA) and Brown. James Wyatt, one of my first undergrads at Brown, started the ball rolling in both directions as he joined UA’s clinical psychology PhD program in the late ’80s and later returned to Brown as an intern. James was also the first to provide me with a trainee’s view of Dick … and with such positive enthusiasm! The pattern continued with undergrads, grad students, and postdoctoral fellows wending their way from the desert to New England and vice versa, always with Dick’s and my blessing and support. I now face the end of that fruitful interchange with gratitude and sadness.

Dick’s generosity and collegiality is unmatched. He provided letters of endorsement for me, for example, and I’m sure his contributions on my behalf were critical to my advancement. His collaborative spirit is an inspiration to his colleagues and to his students — what a remarkable role model. As I write, I cannot help but be drawn over and over again to his training efforts and successes. When I traveled to Tucson to present at the psychology colloquium series in 2009, not only were the students welcoming, but Dick and Mitzi were also open and engaging, sharing with me a lovely evening in their home. That trip was memorable as well because I met a PhD trainee in anthropology, Kay Orzech, whose segue to sleep research was sparked and supported by Dick. With his encouragement, I recruited Kay to travel that well-worn path to Brown as a postdoctoral fellow.

I’ll end this remembrance of Dick with a fond and humbling memory that comes from the 2009 meeting of the sleep societies where Dick was given the Sleep Research Society’s Mary A. Carskadon Outstanding Educator Award. Truth be told, the award should be given in Dick’s name; he is the outstanding educator and mentor in whose shadow I stand. I admire, respect, and cherish Dick’s memory beyond words.

Spencer Dawson

University of Arizona

One of the ways Dick made his mark on the world was as a mentor. That he was recognized for this role as one of the first recipients of the Mary A. Carskadon Outstanding Educator Award from the Sleep Research Society only begins to tell the story. Dick was continually supportive of his students, encouraging them to pursue their research interests. Balancing a trusting, hands-off approach with gentle corrective feedback, he carefully nurtured his students to develop as individuals. As such, his students have studied topics as varied as the effects of sleep deprivation on honeybees, human circadian rhythms, the phenomenology of sleep in insomnia, the placebo effect, and mindfulness. Other former students of Dick are working to disseminate cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia throughout the Veterans Affairs healthcare system. Dick’s approach to mentorship was no doubt due to his pleasant disposition. However, his almost complete lack of negative feedback suggests that he may have been using his knowledge of behavioral reinforcement to inform his mentorship style. Regardless of why he was the way he was, Dick was able to encourage high levels of productivity while maintaining positive relationships with all of his students. He was also an expert at building connections between people. One way he was able to build these connections was with his insomnia clinic, where countless graduate students, interns, and residents learned how to treat insomnia. There, he would have his trainees conduct the administrative tasks, allowing him to focus on delivering treatment, which of course was his favorite part. While this was seemingly an innocuous division of labor, his family later revealed that he had a mischievous smile when he disclosed this arrangement to them. True to form, however, Dick used the proceeds from his clinic to host a dinner for his trainees, past and present, at the Association of Professional Sleep Societies meeting every year. There, good friends would reconnect. There, the more experienced researchers would provide encouragement and words of wisdom to students. There, we became both friends and colleagues. So when Dick’s former students flew to Tucson for his funeral and offered support and assistance to his current students, no introductions were necessary. Dick’s students and collaborators are his legacy, ensuring that his influence will be felt for many years to come.

Rebecca Gómez

The University of Arizona

Dick Bootzin was my colleague from the time I joined the faculty at the University of Arizona in 2001 through the time of his death in December 2014. We published our first paper on sleep together in 2006, at which time I was primarily known as a language-acquisition researcher. In that study, we asked whether sleep would promote language learning in infants. We found that indeed, if 15-month-olds slept soon after learning, they would generalize to new examples at a 4-hour delay (Gómez, Bootzin, & Nadel, 2006). We later discovered that infants were not like adults, who benefit from nighttime sleep alone. Rather, infants needed to nap soon after learning to generalize the next day (Hupbach, Gómez, Bootzin, & Nadel, 2009). In the absence of a nap, infants showed no retention whatsoever. Sleep seemed to do more than help with retention; it helped infants recognize completely new examples, the gold standard of learning. We have since conducted many more studies, some published, some still in the works. The findings have contributed to a clearer understanding of what children retain after brief learning experiences, with implications for psychological theory and public health alike.

It is not easy to change course in one’s career, and Dick Bootzin was essential to this process for me. If I am considered a sleep researcher by some today, it is largely because of Dick’s generosity as a colleague. He contributed mentoring and support at all levels, from grant writing, to introducing my students and me to his many colleagues in the sleep world, to including my graduate student recruits in his legendary recruitment dinners, to welcoming my students to his already full lab meetings, to serving on their committees. He brought constant clarity to our research decisions, a quality that extended to his other activities in our department, and for this reason he was much sought out on committees. He was a continual source of wisdom, fairness, and good humor. As my department head Betty Glisky put it, “Dick was much loved by all of us who knew him.” I cannot think of more fitting words for my colleague, mentor, and friend, who I will miss for a very long time.

Patricia Haynes

University of Arizona

In 2003, I came to the University of Arizona as a postdoctoral fellow to receive advanced specialty training in sleep methodology and treatment research from the world’s leading expert in stimulus control therapy for insomnia, Dick Bootzin. Dick was a brilliant scientist, teacher, and behavioral analyst. He was disarmingly endearing with spontaneous remarks of dry wit and surprising revelations, from a personal knowledge of steampunk attire to an enduring fascination with sleep in dolphins. He also gave important gifts, like gold stars.

One of my clearest memories of such a gift was watching Dick interact in clinic with an older female patient with insomnia who had recently started to implement stimulus control. After she shared her sleep diary with Dick, he reached into his clinic black filing box that contained all his forms and pulled out a large pin with a gold star on it. He gave it to her, saying, “Good job, you deserve a gold star!”

I have to say that I was pretty surprised. The last time I remembered receiving a gold star was in grade school. I thought that there was no way I could implement that intervention without my client feeling patronized or belittled in their efforts toward behavioral change. Much to my surprise, the patient laughed and immediately pinned it on herself. I saw her walking out — sleep deprived but smiling and touching her gold star. After the patient left, I talked to Dick about my reaction. He grinned and merely responded, “Everyone loves a gold star.”

Through our 11 years of collaboration, I saw Dick give gold stars, trophies, and superhero comic books to patients and students for accomplishments ranging from going on internship to having the winning reaction time on the psychomotor vigilance task (a task strongly associated with sleep deprivation). My own trophy from Dick is modeled after the Oscars and is inscribed with, “Best psychology postdoctoral fellow in a starring role.” Like the patient with the gold star, I hold it dear to my heart and treasure it on my office shelf as a sign of major accomplishment. You see, those 2 years in Dick’s lab represented a critical period in my career compounded by a number of major personal life events. Throughout it all, I maintained my course in sleep research, largely because Dick made it easy to do so. He provided opportunities, fostered autonomy, and nurtured debate. He wanted students to generate their own ideas and, as such, he never micromanaged or lost track of the larger mission to promote analytical thinking. I believe that this approach to mentorship is what led so many productive scientists and clinicians from his lab to become leaders in the field of sleep psychology. Dick developed a lasting allegiance of students, colleagues, and close friends who inspired loyalty and appreciation. From this perspective, it is not surprising that his groundbreaking idea for the application of stimulus control to insomnia came from a student’s personal request for assistance, rather than an observation he made from clinical work.

Shortly before he died, Dick told me, “I’ve given many gold stars over the years, including to grad students, and I’ll stick with my comment that everyone enjoys getting a gold star. There have been no exceptions yet.” He is right: I will forever treasure my Bootzin “Oscar.” In my starring role, I thank the director, Dick Bootzin, for his mentorship, collegiality, and the example he provided of how to train sleep scientists. His lasting contributions to behavioral sleep psychology will not be forgotten.

Alan Kazdin

Yale University

I began at Northwestern in 1967. Dick joined the faculty in 1968 and immediately served as my advisor. He was a wonderful mentor. We did cotherapy together with “real” clients (e.g., systematic desensitization, graduated exposure) and alternated leading the sessions while we were both in the room. What a wonderful model for training. Also, we did a study or two together and ended up publishing a few papers beginning with a review (“The Token Economy,” 1972). He was extremely supportive, encouraging, and helpful. He directed me to a possible part-time job “that might be of interest” to me. This was at a facility for children, adolescents, and adults with emotional problems and intellectual disabilities. That job guided my career, including the work I do now (see Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 2015). All this from Dick’s guidance. I considered him a friend as well, and we tried to connect when possible at various meetings. I miss him in his different roles and easily recount them with 3 Ms: mentor, model, and mensch.

Rachel Manber

Stanford University

Dick Bootzin is well known as a pioneer and an icon in the field of behavioral sleep medicine and for his dedicated work on training in psychological science. His work speaks for itself; however, his mentoring is another vehicle by which his legacy will continue. I am well suited to speak to this area of Dick’s accomplishments because his mentorship has touched my life so profoundly.

I met Dick at a formative time in both his and my life. He had recently moved from Northwestern University to the University of Arizona and was setting up his sleep research laboratory. I had just moved to Arizona with a toddler and a preschooler and was contemplating a career change. If it were not for Dick, I probably would not have made the leap into psychology. I am forever thankful our paths crossed at such a pivotal stage in my life. To help make up my mind, I audited a few psychology courses, including Dick’s sleep class. Beyond the fascinating material, Dick taught me about psychology as a rigorous science. I remember coming to him excited about a few ideas for research I had. And I remember his response: “Ideas are cheap.” This was a complete change in perspective relative to my former career as a mathematician, where asking the right question is the essential part of the research endeavor. Dick taught me that in psychology it is the research design that is the most essential aspect of research.

Dick was my academic parent. Just as parents pass on their values by living a life true to those values, so did Dick. True to his values, Dick respected his students and related to them as future colleagues. Scientifically, he met the students where their interests were. If it was not an interest of his, it became one — as long as scientific rigor was used. Clinically, he provided a sound base and empowered his trainees to develop an independent mastery of treatment. Very few budding psychologists are lucky to have the opportunity to learn through cotherapy with a master clinician who gradually empowers them to independence. I was among the lucky ones. I aspire to continue to pass Dick’s legacy on to future generations of psychologists.

Richard M. McFall

Indiana University

Dick Bootzin’s unexpected death on December 4, 2014, left a huge hole in psychology’s clinical science movement, where he was a major leader over a quarter century. In 1990, he helped the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Section III of Division 12 change its name to the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology (SSCP), redoubling its commitment to scientific training and practice; he then served as SSCP’s president. In 1992, as Psychology Department Chair at Northwestern University, he helped organize a Chicago conference, cosponsored by the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology, APS, and NIMH, focused on addressing growing concerns about the effects of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) accreditation requirements on scientific training in psychology.  That conference spawned a 1994 conference at Indiana University on “Clinical Science in the 21st Century,” where he again played a key role. That conference gave birth, in 1995, to the Academy for Psychological Clinical Science (APCS); Dick subsequently served as APCS president. The Academy has flourished, with over 60 doctoral programs and 11 internship programs as members. In 2006, Dick and Varda Shoham hosted a meeting of Academy leaders in Tucson to consider creating a new accreditation system for doctoral training programs that effectively embody the clinical science model. The Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) was incorporated in 2007, with Dick as president of its board of directors. Under his leadership, PCSAS gained Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognition in 2012, accredited 25 programs, gained legislative recognition for licensure in Delaware and Illinois in 2014, and expects to gain recognition by the US Department of Veterans Affairs soon. Clearly, Dick was effective in advancing clinical science. He also was a productive researcher, an admired teacher and mentor, and a devoted family man.

His death left a hole in my heart, too. I was privileged to work as his friend and ally in much of the journey I’ve described. Throughout, Dick was a calm, principled visionary and a steadying leader, responding to challenges with a blend of wit and reason, courage and wisdom. I still can hear his soft chuckle as he encouraged everyone to slow down (he never seemed in a hurry) and consider options critically and openly. He made the journey fun, too, taking time to talk about golf, wine, food, travel, family, books, politics, whatever. He was a generous, caring friend. For example, I once told him I was troubled by snoring and sleep apnea and asked his advice. He sent me an “empirically tested” T-shirt with a pocket sewn down the spine filled with tennis balls. I stopped sleeping on my back — problem solved — but he wouldn’t accept anything in return. We enjoyed many dinners together, often accompanied by his amazing wife and partner, Mitzi. We laughed and labored, but always in Dick’s gentle, patient, savoring style. These were best of times, and I will miss them.

Lisa Onken

National Institute on Aging

I first met Dick when I was applying to graduate school. Although I had applied to Northwestern’s program in physiological psychology, I was having serious doubts about it. I decided to pay a visit to the Northwestern psych department office. No one was there except the receptionist, so I asked if I could change one word on my application. “Which word?” she asked, and I said, “physiological.” She said I’d need to talk with the chair of the department — the last thing I wanted to do. I sheepishly tried to slip away, but in walked Dick, and the receptionist said, “And here he is now.” I was mortified, but Dick led the way to his office, and I laid my cards on the table. I explained that I had made a big mistake in applying to the physiological program. Dick was unfazed and said that I was already accepted into the physiological psych program and that I was also accepted into all of the other psychology programs there, and that I could have my choice. The more Dick and I talked, the more sure I was that I would go to Northwestern.

Northwestern was a fantastic place to go to graduate school, and Dick’s leadership set the tone. There was an amazing group of professors in the psychology department. But to say that Dick was an amazing professor is an understatement. Dick was known to all of the students as being calm, level-headed, and wise. Students gravitated to him whenever they had a concern or crisis. He was busy, but never too busy to encourage, nurture, and of course give great, practical advice. All of the students loved him.

Throughout my career, I continued to rely on Dick as a mentor and valued colleague. I was always searching for the best clinical scientists to bring into the behavioral treatment development field, and Dick always had an abundance of ideas about the best, most cutting-edge research that might be of interest. I often marveled at the breadth of his knowledge; he was a modern-day Renaissance man. He contributed enormously to multiple fields within clinical science and was devoted to seeing clinical psychological science flourish. But he never asked for, nor did he get, all of the credit he deserved. If ever I dared to comment upon his remarkable contributions to, and wealth of knowledge about, psychological science, he’d sound uncomfortable and respond with humility and modesty, never seeming to realize just how truly impressive he was.

He was always there for me professionally but also personally as a devoted friend. Over the years, Dick let us know whenever he was in the DC area, and he became a close friend of our family. He always made time to see us.

All of us were grateful that Dick was visiting us one evening when he responded to our daughter’s cries for help. True to form, Dick was unflappable as he rescued her from the tight grip of a hermit crab by filling a sink and immersing her tiny hand in water, causing the crab to release its grip. Another crisis calmly averted by Dick.

Any friend of Dick can tell you that once you’re a friend of Dick, you’re a friend forever. You could always count on Dick. No one was more loyal and trustworthy. No one could have been more generous with his time, encouragement, and of course his sage advice whenever you needed it. He was infinitely more concerned with helping others — his students, his colleagues, his friends — than he was with his own self-interest. Dick was a mensch, by any definition of the word. His passing leaves an unfillable hole.

Lee Sechrest

University of Arizona

It must be a bit unusual these days for anyone to have had a friend and colleague for a period of 46 years, yet that is the time over which my close and valued association with Dick Bootzin extended. For most of that time we were in the same departments in the same universities. I knew of Dick’s health problems over the past several years; still, it was a severe blow to learn of his abrupt death. That blow was magnified by the recent death of our mutual and close colleague, Varda Shoham.

I was Director of Clinical Training at Northwestern University in 1968 when we hired Dick as a new assistant professor. Of course, I did not actually hire him, but the senior faculty there deferred to program directors or others with a high stake in a new hire, and Dick was my choice. When he arrived at Northwestern, Dick and I and our families quickly became friends and shared many wonderful personal times together.

I soon came to admire Dick’s professional development and his accession to a position of influence in our department and the clinical program. That influence was critical because of my own declining interest in clinical psychology as a profession. Dick provided stability and leadership. Not too long after Dick arrived at Northwestern, I came to the conclusion that we should give up our clinical program because we could not provide the clinical training that was expected. Dick was not in full agreement with my position, and he warned that it was probably not viable, but he was a loyal team player and went along with me on the dissolution of the program. Not too long after that, I left Northwestern and, as Dick had predicted, my plan for a strictly research program failed. Dick led the successful move to revive and restore the clinical program, and that program achieved considerable success under Dick’s leadership.

After two interim moves through other universities, I ended up at the University of Arizona as Head of the Department of Psychology with a fairly free hand to make changes toward more scientific and research accomplishments. I judged that the clinical program would benefit from new leadership. I immediately got in touch with Dick and asked if he would consider leaving Northwestern to join us as director of clinical training. He declined. But later that year I met with Dick at a convention being held in Chicago, and he declared that he might after all be willing to move. I was delighted because I was convinced that he was exactly the person to build our program, but I was also dismayed because I had already offered the position to another psychologist. Fortunately for me and for Arizona, that candidate was not fully committed. A bit of finagling led to the withdrawal of the candidate, after which I was free to recruit Dick, which I did. As they say, the rest was history.

In no time at all, Dick had begun to show the leadership and scholarship that characterized his career, and he began to restructure the program. One of the early candidates for a position was Varda Shoham. As Department Head I hired Varda, but she was Dick’s choice. The deference was an easy call. So Dick and I shared the friendship and collegiality of Varda for nearly 30 years.

Dick and I talked a lot about clinical psychology as an academic field and as a profession, and our views and ambitions for the filed matched admirably. The difference, though, is that I never got much past the talking stage. Dick was an activist, a doer, and to my excitement and admiration, he immersed himself in the task of bringing to fruition the Academy of Psychological Clinical Science and served as its first president. Miraculously, he followed that by leading the development of the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System, an even more difficult accomplishment because that group could develop real power in professional psychology. (Oh, did I mention Dick’s rise to a position of pre-eminence in the field of sleep research and treatment of insomnia? Well, he did that too, as everybody surely knows.)

I could not have been more pleased or prouder of the accomplishments of a colleague, most especially one in whose career I played a part and with whom I had been closely associated for so long.


Thank you all so much for sharing these beautiful memories of my father’s decades of work in the field of Psychology. I remember all of it from his graduate years at Purdue, his internship at the VA in Palo Alto, to his first job at Northwestern. It was a wonderful journey. I have always admired my parents’ ability to collect people, close friends and colleagues from every phase of their lives. As Abraham Lincoln said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” I can’t think of anyone who embodies that phrase as much as my Dad. I miss him daily, and am continually grateful for the bond and strength of his academic community.

APS regularly opens certain online articles for discussion on our website. Effective February 2021, you must be a logged-in APS member to post comments. By posting a comment, you agree to our Community Guidelines and the display of your profile information, including your name and affiliation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations present in article comments are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of APS or the article’s author. For more information, please see our Community Guidelines.

Please login with your APS account to comment.