Dr. Tommy T. Stigall passed away on October 15, 2023, after struggling with cardiovascular problems for several years. He was 89.
A licensed clinical psychologist, he was born in Kentucky but was a 64- year resident of Baton Rouge, where he enjoyed a complex career in psychology that included state employment, private practice, and consulting activities.
Dr. Stigall is best known for his unflinching dedication and comprehensive leadership in advancing the profession of psychology at both the state and national levels. He was there when Louisiana psychology was still a fledgling profession, he was there when it sought independence, and he was there to nurture its development for a span of fifty years.
A past president of the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA), Dr. Kim VanGeffen, said, “Tommy was a great leader and supporter of the Louisiana Psychological Association and also of the American Psychological Association. He had great wisdom. Tommy also took the time to reach out to me and offer me guidance when I was president of LPA in 2000 and I will forever remember his kindness and support.
Current LPA president, Dr. Jesse Lambert, said, “Dr. Stigall’s passing is a tremendous loss for the psychology community. As a newly licensed psychologist, I had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Stigall to discuss the legislative history of psychology in Louisiana. His dedication and energy ultimately led to groundbreaking advances for psychology as a profession.”
Dr. Stigall accomplished a bridge between the national and the state organizations. In the American Psychological Association (APA) Dr. Stigall served on the Board of Professional Affairs, on the Board of Educational Affairs, and on the Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice (CAPP). He served on the APA Council of Representatives for over ten years, representing Louisiana during times of change and challenge.
He was also a Fellow in APA and served as President of Division 29 (Psychotherapy) and on the division’s Board of Directors.
He served on the Board of Directors and Member-At-Large for Division 42 (Independent Practice). And he was a member of the Society of Clinical Psychology (Div 12), the Division of State Psychological Association Affairs (Div 31), and the American Society for the Advancement of Pharmacotherapy (Div 55).
Dr. Stigall served on the APA Committee on State Legislation from 1974 to 1979, and as Chair in 1977, on the Oversight Committee on Public Policy and Legislation, on the Joint Council on Professional Education in Psychology, and on the Interim Board of Education Affairs.
He served as Chair for the APA Panel on Education Standards, Quality Assurance and Enhancement for the Board of Educational Affairs, the Task Force on Marketing and Promotion of Psychological Services, as a member of the Steering Committee for the National Conference on Postdoctoral Training in Professional Psychology, and as Chair and member of the Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology.
He was President of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB), served on its Executive Committee, and he was a Fellow of ASPPB.
“In all of these,” Dr. Stigall once said in a 2011 Times interview, “and in other roles as well, there were many satisfactions. But the greatest pleasure came from the personal contacts and relationships that grew out of working with colleagues across a wide range of roles and settings.
“I got to know and work with people like Ray Fowler, Mattie Cantor, Ron Fox, Pat DeLeon, Arthur Kovacs, …” and many others he explained. “Their wise counsel and dedication to advancing psychology as a profession has been an inspiration to me.”
Dr. Pat DeLeon, former APA President, said “Tommy Stigall was an extraordinarily sensitive individual who cared so much for the future of psychology and ultimately its patients and communities. Often purposefully the individual ‘behind the scenes,’ he worked tirelessly to facilitate the efforts of others in fulfilling his vision for an expanded profession. He appreciated the critical importance of state association generated efforts and often shared Louisiana’s Lessons Learned with colleagues across the nation. He was active at the national level, where he would generously educate the next generation of psychology’s leaders, while most importantly installing trust in their efforts for meaningful social change.
“It was a pleasure and distinct honor to be able to call Tommy a colleague and close personal friend. We will miss him greatly. Aloha,” said Dr. DeLeon. Dr. Stigall’s concurrent service at the state level was extensive.
He served as Chair of the Legislative and Social Issues Committee for the Louisiana Psychological Association for 14 years, from 1974 to 1988, a time that included repeal of the statutory requirement for consultation and collaboration with a physician. He served as President, Secretary-Treasurer, and as committee chair for Psychological Evaluations. He served as APA Council Delegate for eleven years, from 1990 to 2001. And, he was the Editor and Associate Editor of the Louisiana Psychologist from 1993 to 2000. His wife Connie served along side him as Executive Director during much of this time.
Dr. Stigall served as Chair, Vice-Chair, and member for the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, from 1972 to 1975. And he was President of the local regional group, Baton Rouge Area Society of Psychologists.
Colleague and head of psychology at the Louisiana University Monroe, Dr. Bill McCown said, “Tommy’s passing is truly sad. Tommy worked tirelessly for Psychology in Louisiana and beyond. Our profession was his passion.
“I remember Tommy saying once that psychologists underestimate their ability to help change lives. ‘We simply underestimate our skills and what our research shows we can do. We can probably do it better than most professions.’ Tommy never stopped telling that to colleagues, legislators or professionals with different training than our own. ‘That’s a task that a Psychologist should do,’ he was fond of saying,” Dr. McCown said. “That was a long time ago. Our profession has come a long way, partly thanks to his efforts and advocacy.”
Over the years, Dr. Stigall’s efforts have been acknowledged by his colleagues in both national and state organizations.
He was awarded the Outstanding Advocate for Psychology by the Association for the Advancement of Psychology. He received the Karl F. Heiser Presidential Award from APA, an honor to those who have given their time to help define and advance psychology through state and federal legislation.
The Louisiana Psychological Association honored Dr. Stigall with the award for Contributions to the Profession of Psychology in Louisiana in 1982, and again in 1984 with the Continuing Contributions to Psychology Award.
In 2012, LPA created the Tommy Stigall Louisiana Psychology Award, named in honor of lifetime contributions of Dr. Stigall to psychology in Louisiana.
He has been honored with the Award for Special Achievement, and also the award in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to State Psychological Affairs, by the APA Division of State Psychological Association Affairs.
The National Academies of Practice named him as Distinguished Practitioner in 1991. He was awarded for Distinguished Services and Valued Contributions in 1989 and the Distinguished Psychologist Award in 1990 by the APA Division of Psychotherapy.
Dr. Stigall earned his undergraduate in Speech – Radio Journalism from Baylor University in 1956 and his masters in Counseling Psychology in 1958. Shortly after, he joined the United States Air Force. He attained the rank of Captain upon leaving the Reserves. In 1966 he earned a PhD from Louisiana State University (LSU) in Clinical Psychology.
In 2011 we asked him how it happened that he became a psychologist?
“There is a little story that goes with this answer,” he told the Times. He majored in Speech, Radio, and Journalism as an undergraduate at Baylor. But he needed a way to delay his entry into the military from his ROTC training––because of romance.
“In my senior year,” he said, “I started dating my future wife, a freshman co-ed named Connie Bankston.” He entered the Baylor masters program in counseling psychology, which gave him time to court Connie. By time for graduation, both he and Connie had their respective degrees and he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the USAF. “We married in the summer of ’58 and I was ordered to report soon thereafter for active duty.”
After fulfilling three years in the military, he decided to apply to LSU’s doctoral program in clinical psychology, his stipend requiring that he work for the state after graduation. This led to Dr. Stigall being employed as a staff psychologist at the Baton Rouge Mental Health Center, and then he was appointed Chief Psychologist. He subsequently was appointed Manager of Psychology and Training in the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Louisiana Department of Health and Human Services.
He opened his private practice in 1983, The Psychology Group, in Baton Rouge providing services to individuals, hospitals, federal groups, and the Social Security Administration. He also served as a complaints investigator for the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists. He also served as Medical Expert for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review of the Social Security Administration.
He published twice in American Psychologist. For “Behavioral Science and social conscience,” he wrote, “If behavioral science, as science, is to contribute to the solution of man’s social and psychological distress, it can best achieve this objective by a technology of control which is scrupulously noncoercive, thoroughly public, and exceedingly patient.”
Dr. Stigall was suggesting caution in answer to then APA President Kenneth Clark’s proposal for a program of biochemical intervention to curb aggression in both criminals and world leaders. He was respectfully pointing out to the national psychology community the paradox and moral danger in such a viewpoint.
He also coauthored the 1993 article on “National Conference on Postdoctoral Training in Professional Psychology.” Other articles include “The evolving profession of psychology: Comment on Lowe Hays-Thomas’ (2000) “The Silent Conversation,” in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, and “Masters vs. doctorate debate,” in The Independent Practitioner.
His book chapters include “The struggle in the states,” in M. T. Sammons, Prescriptive Authority for Psychologists: A History and Guide, and “The impact of accreditation on the professional practice of psychology,” in E. M. Altmaier’s, Setting Standards in Graduate Education: Psychology’s Commitment to Excellence in Accreditation.
With Dr. Wayne Greenleaf he authored, “Psychology and Public Law,” in The Clinical Psychologist, 1978, and also in The Clinical Psychologist, “Sunset on licensure: Are professional ethics enough?” in 1981.
Dr. Stigall retired from clinical practice in 2004 and engaged in what he called his “lifelong serious interest in photography.” He additionally served as President of the Louisiana Photographic Society. His work was accepted in juried competitions and he won two first places in the Louisiana Press Association for photos in the Psychology Times.
About the man himself, Dr. McCown said, “On a personal level, he was always there for colleagues, available for questions, consultation, or simply if you needed advice or to vent. He was thoroughly professional but also profoundly kind and empathetic. Tommy believed that people could get better and do better. He believed that Psychology offers a unique opportunity to help people be their best selves. That belief is how I will remember him.”
Dr. Tommy Stigall is survived by his wife of 65 years, Constance Carolyn (Bankston) Stigall. He is also survived by his two children Lisa Edmunds and Stuart Stigall and their spouses John and Lisa, and grandchildren Hannah and Gregory Edmunds and Matthew Stigall.