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Walter E. "Buzz" O'Connell

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Walter E. "Buzz" O'Connell Walter E. "Buzz" O'Connell was an active, innovative, and productive pioneer in the art and science of clinical psychology. He was an incarnation of the ideal of that helping profession, the scientist-practitioner. As a psychotherapist, he introduced and refined as many as one hundred concepts and techniques for the theory and practice of positive inner and outer life style changes. In the process of over fifty years of ultimate concern for the human condition, he treated over one thousand families and ten thousand patients, both private and hospitalized clients. Seven thousand others participated in college courses and weekend workshops on the taboo topic of death and dying. Always one to illustrate the holistic logic of "Both...And" rather than separating "Either...Or", Buzz, at the same times, researched and practiced the sense of humor, another taboo subject of our times. Dr. O'Connell, always opposed to inauthentic suffering and mindless waste, wove his research and clinical findings into his humanistic-depth psychology, named over time as Humanistic Identification, Natural High Theory and Practice (NHTP), and finally NHTP Psychospirituality. Living out his "Both...And" logic, Buzz integrated his therapeutic career with that of the hospital researcher on change. Five hundred scientific publications came from this vocational choice. A dozen performance awards were given to his hospital programs. The one he valued the most was the Veterans Administration annual award for "the highest example of therapeutic rehabilitation services to veterans". The award for his movement-oriented psychotherapy with drug addiction and post-traumatic stress patients reflected Walter's insatiable curiosity about what community interactions stimulate changes in inner and outer movements; and how the perceived actions of others contribute to any persons' decisions. Dr. Raymond Corsini, internationally acknowledged historian of therapies, wrote, both in 1981 and 2001, "Psychotherapy...undoubtedly reveals the personality of the practitioner/theoretician...A unique personality of our times, Buzz O'Connell has something very important to say...Read (him) very slowly and carefully. From his broad and intense interest in lived life, Buzz was called "a Renaissance man". He loved to teach in a democratic-interactive manner, and did so as a college lecturer in the evenings. On the adjunctive staff at Baylor University (Waco), the University of Texas, the University of Houston, and the C.G. Jung Center, it was his work at the University of St. Thomas (Houston) that was closest to his heart. In the mid-sixties, Buzz became the psychology department, teaching all subjects, often priests, set up the innovative Institute for Creative Community Living where housewives could earn graduate credit for teaching skills in the process of encouragement to families. On the more structured level at the Baylor College of Medicine, he taught group psychotherapy and psychodrama, often playing difficult patients with groups of medical students as a form of real-life practice. For Dr. O'Connell, psychology was for community use. Over the years, his "community" extended to an expanding Universe and hidden, loving non-pampering God who never stops communicating. To this end, his theoretical creativity forged the sickness-health continuum in a productively innovative way. Interactional relationships of physical, psychological, spiritual, social and interpersonal factors create the personal life style, both unique and similar to the styles of others. Like any dynamic system of relationships, change in one element leads to perturbations of others. And so Buzz was called "the breach boy", taking his commitment to the process of encouragement into dysfunctional states anywhere. With his black colleagues, he was asked to create, lead and research the first police-community interventions in the late 60s. Over an eighteen-month period, the entire police force met with community militants in group interactions to stop the rioting of that time. Dr. O'Connell conducted "Adlerian" group session using psychodrama on prime time ABC-TV, in the initial show of "Time for Americans". His group techniques and concepts were always in the service of transforming adversarial goals into cooperative community ones. Buzz's sociodramas based on the solution of community problems were shown on Houston TV, as family educational entertainment, long before Oprah and Dr. Phil. These early career years were called by Buzz "Camelot days". With the advent of Vatican II and the President's Commission on Mental Health and Illness, institutions appeared to be ready to make the quantum leap into the practice of encouragement workshops with religious orders which heard of his didactic-experiential labs where participants were exposed to short lectures followed by group practice on the issues of altruistic love. He became a consultant to all the school districts around Houston on creating encouraging groups and communities. The Diocese of Galveston-Houston made churches available as parish educational centers for teaching encouragement to dysfunctional families. Buzz never wavered in his conviction that institutions have never learned the process of democratic encouragement. And so the "Camelot days" were (a necessary) false dawn. Like the true American cowboy who rode the range only from 1866-1886, this initial wave of teaching cooperation-as-equals lasted only twenty years. Downsizing of awareness of psychological, spiritual (Self-esteem_ and Soulful (compassionate connections) followed the hidden decisions to criminalize and medicalize any and perturbations of social quietment. Parents and teachers intensified the running after externals which never give happy, humor and joy for long. Lacking time commitment and skills in listening, parents chose instead ineffective pills for pseudo-diseases. Politicians prate, institutions punish and doctors prescribe. But teaching of discipline, which has never been a popular practice with institutions and the institutionalized mind, has all but disappeared. Dr. O'Connell retired from Houston when V.A. patients were discharged according to the time stay of Florida V.A. hospital with the most rapid turn-over rate. Social Darwinism was born again when the profit motive dictated a deeply discouraged perception of treatment (drugs alone). Active treatment for change was discontinued. Drug programs took on punishment perspective and teaching of discipline once again became seen as a wasteful "softness" toward patients (and prisoners). For fifteen years Buzz was involved with fifteen companies in managed health care, a task which everyone saw as totally impossible. Finally he concluded that the treatment of mental illness was being decided by the profit motive of the stock exchange. Managed health care was really mangled health care. Money went out of the system for exorbitant CEO competitions. Training and research on practitioner skills were non-existent. While retired, Dr. O'Connell continued to serve community issues, mainly as a volunteer. He helped establish the Bastrop Senior Center and conducted psychospiritual groups and line-dance classes there for a decade. He taught psychospiritual prayer groups for churches, and did group work in schools, churches, and prisons. After a successful experience with melanoma, Buzz wrote a weekly column called "Close to Eternity" for THE BASTROP ADVERTISER for a few years. Now for the punch line. If traditional professional helpers had seen an objective report on someone with Buzz's background and dysfunctionalities, they never ever would have predicted that persons would ever live a non-institutionalized life. All because, for the most part, they never knew the relati
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Oct. 27, 2007
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