Biography on Rollo May, his professional history, theories, influence on psychology
There is no doubt that Rollo May is one of the most important figures in existential psychology, and, without question, one of the most important American existential psychologists in the history of the discipline.
May experienced a difficult childhood, with his parents divorcing and his sister suffering a mental breakdown. His educational odyssey took him to Michigan State College and Oberlin College where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1930. His first teaching position was at an American college in Greece where he taught English. While in Greece, May would often travel to Vienna to attend the seminars of Alfred Adler, and, while there, he was called to study theology and move back to the States. He received a bachelor of divinity degree in 1938 at the Union Theological Seminary, after which he practiced for two years as a Congregationalist minister (mythosandlogos.com).
Psychology, however, was the supreme calling for May, and so he resigned from the ministry and began his studies in psychology at Columbia University in New York, New York. While working on his doctorate, he contracted tuberculosis, a life-threatening disease, and, out of this traumatic experience, May developed a new fondness for existential philosophy, which matched his belief that his struggle against death, even more than medical care, determined his fate in surviving the disease. Of course, May's background in theology, particularly the influence of the existential theologian Paul Tillich, was a major impetus for his desire to pursue a study of psychology informed by existentialist philosophy. In 1949, May completed his doctorate in psychology (facultyfp.salisbury.edu).
His career in psychology included a position on the faculty of the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Psychoanalysis and a position as lecturer at the New School for Social Research, as well as being a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other universities.
May can be credited with being the editor, along with Ernest Angel and Henri F. Ellenberger, of the first American book on existential psychology: Existence, published in 1958, which highly influenced the emergence of American humanistic psychology (i.e., Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow). This collection of essays introduced American readers to translations of work by existential-phenomenological psychologists such as Eugene Minkowski, Ludwig Binswanger, Erwin Straus and Roland Kuhn, and included essays by Werner M. Mendel and Joseph Lyons, as well as the editors. May's essays, "The Origins and Significance of the Existential Movement in Psychology" and "Contributions of Existential Psychotherapy" demonstrated that, for his time, May indeed had a rich understanding of the possibilities and benefits of an existential psychology, which he articulates well.
In "The Origins and Significance of the Existential Movement in Psychology," May urges that a psychologist, in order to do justice to the human being who is his patient, must participate in the world of the client, and, with this basic motivation, May persuasively argues that an existential psychology is best equipped to help the clinician to do so without ...