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Obituaries

William Schutz, 81; Psychologist, Writer

November 16, 2002|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

William "Will" Schutz, a psychologist and pioneer of the human potential movement, died Nov. 9 at his home in Muir Beach, Calif. He was 81, and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.

As a faculty member of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur starting in 1967, Schutz led group encounter sessions that urged complete openness and honesty.

"If two people hated each other, Schutz might get them to wrestle then and there," Calvin Tomkins wrote in a profile of Esalen founder Michael Murphy for the New Yorker magazine in 1976.

A prolific writer, Schutz described many of his training techniques in "Joy," published in 1967, the year he joined the staff at Esalen, a center for experimental education. The book helped launch the institute from a small retreat and think tank to a nationally known center.

Other faculty members at the time included Frederick "Fritz" Perls, who founded gestalt therapy, and Ida Rolf, who invented "rolfing," or deep massage.

In a published tribute at the time of his death, Schutz's family wanted him remembered as a man with "a brilliant mind" who also was at home in the physical world. At sports events, they wrote, "he consumed hot dogs and garlic fries with mustard-stained hands."

Born in Chicago, Schutz earned a doctorate at UCLA and began his teaching career at the University of Chicago in 1950. He later taught at Tufts University, Harvard University, UC Berkeley and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. He went on to be the chairman of the holistic studies department at Antioch University in San Francisco until 1983.

Schutz also worked as a consultant to businesses and the military from the 1950s on. He led training seminars based on his theory of interpersonal behavior, and developed the "Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation" questionnaire that became a widely used tool in his field.

He once explained a basic conflict that he found in many businesses that called on him for advice: "Almost every organization I have ever worked with claims to place a high value on empowerment. Almost none really means it."

For example, he said, when he asked bosses to close their eyes and "say the first thing that comes into your head when I say 'creative,' " the replies included "beard," "sandals," "dirty," "unreliable," "late reports," "never there when you want him." When he asked for word associations for "uncreative," the answers ranged from "neat" to "reliable."

Getting corporate executives to break through their habit of self-deception to allow for the flow of creative ideas became Schutz's goal. In 1980, he founded Will Schutz Associates in San Francisco, offering training and consulting.

In 2001, he sold his company to Business Consultants of Japan International, which became known as BConWSA International, but remained president until his death. The company Web site asserts: "We are fiercely dedicated to lowering the 'defense costs' of doing business, i.e., pretending, blaming, shaming, avoiding, bullying, whining, criticizing, attacking, denying, plotting, kissing up, hidden agendas, etc."

Schutz is survived by his wife, Ailish; and five children. A memorial celebration will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Mill Valley Community Center in Mill Valley, Calif.

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