Dr. Alvin G. Burstein passed away suddenly andunexpectedly near his home in Knoxville, Tennessee on June 27 after his morning walk. He was 92 years old.
After what most would consider a full career, and one with ample, rightly deserved prestige, Dr. Alvin Burstein relocated to Louisiana to serve as the head of psychology at Southeastern. He embraced our community, including engaging with those in the psychoanalytic discipline. He brought with him considerable wisdom and knowledge, and graced us with it freely.
He had the soul of a poet, a finely honed sense of morality, and the enviable delight of a person who truly enjoyed whatever he was doing.
Current Department Head at Southeastern, Dr. Paula Varnado-Sullivan, said, “Although Al was a member of our department and our department head for a relatively short time in his career, he left an indelible mark on our department and my career. He shaped how I define my role as a faculty member and department head. He was passionate about academia and fiercely advocated for his students,” she said. “He truly defined the role of mentor in his relationship with his students. His impact has lasted long after he taught his last class here at Southeastern. I know that he will be greatly missed by his family, friends, colleagues and former students.”
Dr. Matt Rossano, a past Chair at Southeastern, said, “I’ll always remember Al as a kind soul who threw himself into his work with joy and dedication. My sincere condolences to his family and close friends.”
In his work at Southeastern Dr. Burstein touched many lives. Current President of the Louisiana Psychological Association (LPA), Dr. Jesse Lambert, said, “Dr. Burstein was the Department Chair when I was a graduate student at SELU. I received my first training on the Rorschach under Dr. Burstein. He was a brilliant psychologist and an enthusiastic teacher.”
Dr. Erin Tarcza Reuther, past president of LPA, said, “Dr. Burstein was my thesis mentor when I was at Southeastern as a grad student. I have very fond memories of him. He was a great contributor to the field, and, more personally, had a positive influence on my career. […] He was a brilliant and kind mentor who challenged his students and colleagues to think deeply and grow from reflection.”
Dr. Burstein engaged with those in the Louisiana psychoanalytic discipline through New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center, where he served as a faculty member.
“The psychoanalytic community suffers at the death of Al Burstein who brought such energy, inspiration, and fervor for consciousness in those who were fortunate to know him,” said friend and colleague, Dr. Del McNeely. “His stimulating discussion groups, book and movie reviews, and incitement to seek depth from each of us personally will echo in us, our dear mentor and friend.”
Dr. Randy Harper said, “He wore his many accomplishments gracefully as he contributed to our Center and the psychoanalytic community in New Orleans. I have very appreciative and congenial memories of his reorganizing our psychoanalytic library; teaching with him; and being enriched by one of his discussions of a creative artist. It would be impossible to have a conversation with him that wouldn’t be interesting and engaging. Certainly a life well and fully lived. Thank you Al.”
Colleague from the Center, Dr. Kathy Nathan, said, “I always was impressed by his intellectual, eternal curiosity, love of teaching, and ability to apply psychoanalysis to film and literature. What a force…. and what a loss to psychology.”
Dr. Burstein grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and attended University of Chicago, Chicago (UCC) on a scholarship. He later earned his PhD in Clinical Psychology from UCC in 1959. After consulting at the Chicago State Hospital, he went on to be Acting Director of Clinical Training and Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. During this time, he was also a Consultant at the VA Hospital and Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology for the University of Illinois in Chicago.
By 1963, Dr. Burstein took on the role of the Director of Psychology Training, Acting Director Division of Psychology, at the Neuropsychiatric Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago.
In 1970, he became Professor and Chief of Psychology, at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Texas.
Dr. John Worsham, friend and colleague, said that when Al came to San Antonio, “He immediately began to develop an APA approved clinical psychology internship which attracted trainees from across the US and several foreign countries, and brought in outstanding young psychologists …” he said. “As Al and his energetic young psychologists reached out into the community they transformed psychology in San Antonio and South Texas.
“Al brought the group together to create an active Bexar County Psychological Association, and that group moved to further energize the Texas Psychological Association, […] Ultimately Al and one of his faculty became presidents of TPA, while several others held key positions in the TPA organization,” he said.
Another Texas colleague, Dr. Lawrence Schoenfeld, said, “He firmly believed in the scientist- practitioner model and guided the new faculty to be involved in research, training and clinical practice.
The Division in the Department of Psychiatry grew rapidly under his leadership. He also helped many medical departments recruit psychologists for their Departments and arranged for them to have joint appointments with the Division. […] He was an ethical role model and loyal friend to those who had the privilege of calling him a friend.”
In 1982, Dr. Burstein was appointed Professor and Director of the Clinical Psychology Program, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). During this time, he served as Convenor of Colloquy on Psychoanalysis and the Humanities, the Director of the Social Science Research Institute, and Associate Department Head, Department of Psychology, all at UTK.
He retired with the title of Professor Emeritus in 2000 from UTK, and relocated to serve as Professor and Head, Dept. of Psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University.
During these years he also served as a faculty member of the New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center.
Dr. Burstein was President of the Louisiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) from 2006-2010, and remained actively involved.
AAUP colleague Tulane Professor Emerita, Italian, Dr. Linda Carroll said she “… had been thinking of his phone call to me some months ago about assisting him in a possible pending editorship of a journal concerned with professional ethics. An undertaking at the heart of his concerns. […] Al was a true intellectual, a true professional, and a warm and caring person.”
Throughout his years in academic service, Dr. Burstein provided psychotherapy, psychological testing, and psychoanalysis in his part-time private practice.
He earned the Diplomate from the American Board of Professional Psychology in 1965.
He was an active member of the professional community and was an active contributor to the American Psychological Association (APA), He was a fellow in APA Divisions 2, 12, 27, and 39. He served as Chairman for Division 12, the Membership Committee; for Corresponding Committee of Division 5; as Liaison to Education & Training Board; in the Visiting Psychologist Program; and in the Task Force to Revise Accreditation Criteria.
He served as chair of the Education and Training Board, on the APA Council of Representatives, and on the Committee on Employment and Human Resources where he also served as Chair.
He was president of the Southwestern Psychological Association, president of the Texas Psychological Association, and president of the Louisiana Conference, American Association of University Professors. He earned the American Board of Professional Psychology Award for Meritorious Service, the UTK Chancellor’s Teacher Scholar, the UTK Psi Chi Outstanding Undergraduate Teacher Award, the UTK PanHellenic Council Outstanding Teacher Award, and the UTK University Studies Award for Contributions to Interdisciplinary Scholarship.
Dr. Burstein served as Consulting Editor for the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and as Advisory Editor for Contemporary Psychology.
He served as Editorial Consultant for American Psychologist, the InterAmerican Journal of Psychology, the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, and Professional Psychology. He was on the Editorial Board of Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
He co-authored two books, Psychosocial Basis of Health Care (3rd edition) and Rorschach’s Test: Scoring and Interpretation, the latter co-authored with wife and colleague, Dr. Sandra Loucks.
Dr. Burstein authored or co-authored a range of book chapters including, “Group psychotherapy and group dynamics enter the 1970s,” in Vol. 26, and “Group Psychotherapy,” in Vol. 28, of Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry.
He authored, “Psychotherapy for the poor,” in Successful Psychotherapy, “Social and moral values in the health sciences,” in, Human Values Teaching Programs for Health Professionals and “Program evaluation: Defining and evaluating quality,” in Evaluation and Accountability in Clinical Training.
Dr. Burstein also authored, “Core elements in doctoral education: A minimalist view,” in Preparing Psychologists for the 21st Century: Proceedings of the National Conference on Graduate Education in Psychology and “What’s Wrong with Psychology: A Freudian Interpretation,” in Psychology: Themes and Variations.
With his colleague and wife, Dr. Sandra Loucks. he coauthored the chapter, “Psychologist as a health care clinician,” in The Handbook of Clinical Health Psychology.
He had a voice from early in his career. In 1971, Dr. Burstein and J. C. Kobos authored, Psychological testing as a device to foster social mobility,” for American Psychologist. He and his co-authors also wrote, “The changing face of American psychology,” in 1986 for American Psychologist.
And in 1987, he authored, “The virtue machine,” for American Psychologist. In this article, Dr. Burstein discussed the origins and status of institutional review boards (described as virtue machines) and argued that they tended to dampen curiosity and trivialize bioethical concerns.
He and Dr. Loucks and co-authors produced numerous works including, “Psychological characteristics of medical students and residents,” in Journal of Medical Education; “Sex related
psychological characteristics of medical students,” in Journal of Psychology; and “The real cost of psychology intern services: Are they a good buy?” in Professional Psychology.
He and Dr. Loucks authored, “A comprehensive scoring manual for Rorschach’s test,” in British Journal of Projective Psychology and Personality Study.
Dr. Burstein did not shy away from weighty subjects. For example, he took on the topic, “The doctor as ethicist,” in Health Science Center Mission, and he authored, “Distinctions meaningful,” a position paper prepared for the 1987 National Conference on Graduate Education in Psychology, in APA Monitor.
With his Renaissance-man mind and his love of science and literature, he began doing reviews early in his career.
For Contemporary Psychology, he authored, “None there embrace,” A review of The Suicidal Patient: Recognition and Management; “The road to Camelot,” A review of Community Psychology in Transition; and “Out of the past, thundering hoofbeats,” A review of The Anatomy of Change: A Menninger Foundation Report on Testing the Effects of Psychotherapy.
In 1980, he authored, “Review of Psychology and medicine: Psychological dimensions of health and illness,” for General Hospital Psychiatry, and also “Taking the fall,” A review of Tragic Posture and Tragic Vision: Against the Modern Failure of Nerve,” for Soundings.
He also authored, “Review of Bioethics, Culture and Identity: A Philosophical Disease, “Review of Education in the Marketplace,” and “Review of Psychoanalysis at the Margins,” all for Soundings.
Strongly engaged in the community, he was a frequent presenter at conferences and conventions. Dr. Burstein presented at the American Psychological Association, Southeastern Psychology Association, Society for Values in Higher Education, and the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education Annual Conference.
Examples include: “The future of psychotherapy: Fiscal and legal issues,” for Proceedings of the American Institute of Oral Biology, in Palm Springs, California; “Psychoanalysis and Academic Psychology,” at the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education Sixth Annual Conference, in Toronto, Canada; “Perversion in Higher Education,” at the 1997 Conference on Values in Higher Education in Knoxville, Tennessee; and “Against the Grain: The Natural History of an Inter-disciplinary Faculty Development Program,” at the 1999 AAHE Conference on Faculty Roles and Rewards, in San Diego, California.
He and Dr. Loucks presented, “Burstein-Loucks scoring system (BLRSS): Introduction and overview,” in 1984 at International Rorschach Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The two presented again in 1986 with, “Sense and nonsense on Rorschach scoring,” at the American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C.
In retirement, he turned his interest to literary and creative publications. He was a member of Inklings, a writers’ critique group in Mandeville, Louisiana, and a reader for Silver Blade, a fiction quarterly. He published fiction with Flash Fiction Press including, “A Dog’s Tale,” “The Smokers,” “Bonehead,” and “Mimicry.” He wrote a novella, The Owl, available on Amazon.
He contributed a monthly film review, A Shrink at the Flicks, for The Psychology Times, and won an award for Best Column from the Louisiana Press Association.
Dr. Alvin Burstein is survived by wife, Dr. Sandra Loucks, two children from a previous marriage––Daniel and Jessica, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
He is preceded in death by his parents and a young son. Dr. Loucks wrote, “We married in 1978 and were married 45 years. Al and I came from very different backgrounds, yet we found commonality in our love for psychology, teaching, the application of psychoanalytic technique, and other shared values such as hard work and speaking truth to power. We ultimately both became full professors and were both ABPPs.”
Dr. Loucks was born in New Orleans, and received her undergraduate degree in psychology from what was then LSUNO. She is accomplished in her own right––she has served on state boards, in associations, and has numerous professional publications. She has served as the head of continuing education at the New Orleans–Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center.
“Al and I have been described by friends as ‘joined at the hip.’ During our years of retirement we were inseparable. We were devoted to each other through many professional battles and accomplishments. I’ll never feel truly whole without him though he’ll always be part of me.”
A celebration of Dr. Alvin Burstein’s life will be held 10:00 AM Saturday, November 11, 2023 at Rose-Mann Funeral Home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
[Editor’s Note: We thank Dr. Loucks for her assistance with this article and wish her and the family our most sincere condolences.]