In Memoriam of Nicholas A. Cummings, Ph.D.
Nicholas A. Cummings, PhD, former president of APA and Divisions 12 (Clinical) and 29 (Psychotherapy), died in Reno, Nevada on June 8, 2020 at age 95. Nick was a visionary, healthcare pioneer, prolific writer, legendary change agent and controversial iconoclast. Among his many accomplishments he advocated for coverage of psychological services within Medicare and other third-party payers and began the professional school movement. He foresaw that in order to survive and thrive, the practice of psychology would need to morph from a cottage industry to become a force within health care by integrating behavioral health into primary care.
Dr. Cummings is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and children Janet, also a psychologist, and son, Andrew, a healthcare attorney.
Nick was a lightning rod in the psychology community. People either loved and admired him or reviled him. I saw him as a brilliant, insightful but highly complex human being who could be kind and generous but also harsh and dismissive. I experienced first-hand several aspects of his flawed humanness.
My first contact with Nick Cummings was in 1996 at the Ohio Psychological Association’s retirement party for Henry Saeman, founder of The National Psychologist. A few months later while searching for contributors for an edited book on integrated healthcare that I was developing, I wanted Nick to write a chapter but felt intimidated about calling the famous psychologist until Henry encouraged me to do so. Dr. Cummings was preparing to go the U.K. as a healthcare consultant and initially said he had no time to write the chapter. As I was ready to thank him and hang up, he paused and said, “Well I always wanted to write about my experience in Florida with the Humana system when we reached out to older adults who had lost their spouses to see if we could save money. “Well, Dr. Cummings, now is your grand chance,” I quickly said. He laughed, commented on my persuasiveness and agreed to write the chapter. It was an evidence-based account about medical-cost offset by preventing depression in older adults, the first chapter sent to me and the best in the book.
I am honored that Nick maintained contact with me on a professional and personal level for 23 years, until he was age 95. He influenced my clinical approach with patients beginning in 1998 after I attended an eight-day training program in Scottsdale, Arizona on behavioral healthcare delivery. Our small group of about 24 psychologists dubbed ourselves, the Scotties. The experience was like sitting at the foot of a master teacher.
Nick took a grandfatherly interest in my son during his childhood, sending him postcards for several years from exotic locations throughout the world. During a trip to Reno when my son saw a casino for the first time at age 12, he asked Dr. Cummings if he gambled. Nick looked him in the eye and said, “Eric, I have never put a nickel in those slot machines because the casinos always win in the end.”
To this day, my 31-year old son has never gambled.
Nick was consistently generous with his time, providing advice and support to me on both professional and personal issues until about 8 months before he died. He encouraged me to continue to write for The National Psychologist and regularly sent me a positive comment about my articles. He frequently criticized the APA and once told me I had been “redlined” by the organization because they could not control what I write.
Although most of our interactions were positive, I experienced a darker side in front of a group at the 1998 conference when he harshly criticized my clinical approach with a challenging
borderline patient. Several of the participants consoled me later about the public humiliation. I recall standing up to Nick the next day, asking why he had embarrassed me publicly. I may have taken him off guard, but in a quick-witted manner he complimented my willingness to question him. He did not apologize but said he did so to toughen me up because he wanted me to believe in myself!
I interviewed Nick for at least a dozen news stories on topics ranging from the importance of Psychology integrating with primary care, the need for creative extremism, to his philanthropic gift of 5 million dollars to develop the museum of the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio.
The profession of psychology lost a tireless advocate, courageous innovator and legendary futurist. A prediction he made in 2012 has come to bear in 2020. On an email he wrote, “A day of reckoning is just around the corner, as online teaching is about to multiply very rapidly. This makes possible the availability of the best-of-the-best from coast-to-coast, and internationally.”
I am grateful to have known this man and only hope future generations of psychologists will remember Nick Cummings’ legacy of unmatched contributions to the field.
September 16, 2020