More than 100 people gathered at the University of Arizona in April to honor Lee Sechrest, PhD, a distinguished psychologist who has made important contributions in the areas of measurement, evaluation and assessment.
The papers given at the festschrift reflected Sechrest's contributions to research design, clinical assessment and program evaluation, among other areas. APA's Science Directorate awarded a grant for the festschrift and will publish its proceedings next year.
"[Sechrest] has for many years devised novel methods and has called for a greater openness in considering how to do rigorous evaluations," says Yale University psychologist Alan Kazdin, PhD, who presented at the conference. "He has really advanced the field in creative ways."
An influential career
Sechrest's interest in how studies are designed, treatments are assessed and research programs are evaluated stems from his undergraduate days, he says.
It's an interest he has maintained for more than 40 years. After earning his doctorate at Ohio State University in 1956 and teaching briefly at Pennsylvania State University, Sechrest took a faculty position at Northwestern University in 1958. There, he co-authored his first major book, "Psychotherapy and the Psychology of Behavior Change" (Wiley, 1966).
"I think that [book] best represents my views of how psychology should be used," he says. "It has to do with methodology, but it also has to do with how psychology should relate to various other areas--in this case the practice of psychotherapy."
Sechrest may be best known, however, for another book he co-authored in 1966: "Unobtrusive Measures: A Survey of Nonreactive Research in Social Science" (Rand McNally, 1966), which is still in print in a revised edition (Corwin Press, 1999).
"'Unobtrusive Measures' invoked the notion that we do not have the correct, right, accurate, valid measure of anything," says Sechrest. "We have measures that are more or less useful under different circumstances. And the best response that we can make to our measurement problem is to use measures that get at the construct of interest in very different way."
The book has served as an inspiration to many psychologists, encouraging them to go beyond surveys and questionnaires in their attempts to understand behavior, says University of Arizona psychologist Richard Bootzin, PhD, who organized the conference with Patrick E. McKnight, PhD.
"[Lee's] concern has always been 'How does one do really first-rate, quality research?'" says Bootzin. "He always wants to understand how's the best way to do it, not how it's been done before."
After leaving Northwestern in 1973, Sechrest taught at Florida State University for seven years before moving to the University of Michigan to head the Center for the Utilization of Scientific Knowledge. In 1984, he took a professorship at the University of Arizona, where he has remained since.
Throughout his career, Sechrest has combined academic research with applied work. For more than 25 years, he has served as a consultant for health services at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which co-sponsored the conference with APA, the University of Arizona and the American Psychological Society (APS).
Although officially emeritus, the 74-year-old Sechrest continues to conduct research. One of his current projects focuses on proxy variables--race, age, education, socioeconomic status and other variables that stand in for more complex and less observable factors, such as life experience and cultural background.
Sechrest has received numerous honors, including awards from Div. 5 (Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics) and Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service) for his contributions to science and public service. APS gave him its lifetime achievement award at the festschrift.
"Lee Sechrest is an uncompromising methodologist who applies that methodology to all of psychology with just enough common sense to make it all unassailable," says Kurt Salzinger, PhD, APA's executive director for science.
From Sechrest's perspective, his main contribution to psychology has been his students, he says. Over the course of his career, he has advised more than 100 graduate students and served as a mentor and role model to many more.
One of them is Ron Gallimore, PhD, now a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a first-year graduate student at Northwestern in 1960, Gallimore says, he found Sechrest an inspiring teacher "bursting with enthusiasm and overflowing with ideas."
A few years later, when Gallimore was an assistant professor in California, Sechrest helped him join a project in a remote Hawaiian village that gave him a cross-cultural perspective on psychology long before that was common, says Gallimore. Sechrest has remained a teacher, mentor and friend ever since, he adds.
"What I learned from Lee in grad school was what many others have as well," says Gallimore. "How to maintain an optimistic vision of the future of psychology and yet remain a hard-eyed skeptic about the quality of the methods and data underlying it."