Marcia returns to first love

May 16, 2002, vol. 24, no. 2
By Diane Luckow

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Open a clinical developmental psychology textbook and chances are, you'll find SFU psychology professor James Marcia's name frequently cited.

A scholar well-respected at home and abroad for his work in adolescent developmental theory, Marcia (above) will retire this August after 30 years at SFU, where he has had a tremendous impact on students in the clinical psychology program.

“He has probably trained half the psychologists in Vancouver,” says the clinic's current associate director, Cheryl Bradley. “Jim's presence as a clinician and teacher will be felt in this clinic and in this town for a very long time.”

Marcia established SFU's first clinical psychology centre in1986, converting a dingy old rat lab into consultation rooms, observation rooms and a small office. For many years, this clinic provided the local communities surrounding Burnaby Mountain with counselling services and, at the same time, served as a research and training ground for graduate students.

It was an important step for the university's psychology program, notes Bradley, since the clinic was essential if the program was to attain U.S. accreditation, a prestigious credential allowing SFU students to obtain U.S. internships.

Today, a much larger clinic resides in the east annex. Over the years, about 135 graduate students have counselled more than 850 people under the watchful eye of supervisors, including Marcia. “He has an ability to really sit and listen to people and he has absolute respect for others' humanity,” says Bradley. “He expects competence and brings out the best in his students as a result.”

“There are so many things about his teaching that I admire,” says fifth year graduate student Vaneesa Wiebe. “He teaches with a wonderful sense of humour, with enthusiasm for sharing knowledge, and with incredible respect and thoughtfulness for students. Through his example, I think we are able to pass these qualities on in our own clinical work.”

Marcia, 65, plans to continue his private counselling clinical practice, but says he's ready to retire from teaching. “I've been flogging this gig for 35 years - I taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo before I came here, and I have other things that are important to me outside of the university.”

Those “other things” include his ever-enlarging garden on Saturna Island and his passion for music. An accomplished trombonist, an instrument he has played since elementary school, he will devote more time to playing with the Vancouver Philharmonic, the West Coast Symphony, the New Westminster Symphony and to freelancing.

“I was originally going to be a musician,” he says, “but, given that I had more brains than talent, psychology was a wiser career choice. Now I have a chance to see how far I could really have gone.”

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