Celebrating the Semicentennial of the
Scribing of A Course in Miracles
The Professional World of the Scribes
of A Course in Miracles
by William W. Whitson, Ph.D.
The story of the inception of A Course in Miracles is well known to its students. By 1965, Drs. William Thetford and Helen Schucman were not run-of-the-mill psychologists. They were at the top of their field. Bill was co-editor of the prestigious Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Helen was a statistician without rival. What is less well known is the nature of their professional work between 1951 and 1965, fourteen years before the advent of the Course. In what way did their work prepare them for the Course?
In 1951, Bill began to work with John Gittinger to develop the Personality Assessment System (or PAS). In 1958, Helen joined him under a grant at Columbia College School of Physicians and Surgeons. Unlike the Myers-Briggs questionnaire (MBTI), first published eight years earlier in 1943, the PAS aimed at understanding a deeply personal drama: the process by which every human being makes his or her own sense of self: a personality. Gittinger and his staff reviewed all known concepts and methods to identify and measure subtle childhood choices and decisions. Gradually they began to categorize personality types along three different dimensions: intellectual, procedural, and social-interpersonal. More exciting was their discovery that each life cycle goes through three different developmental stages: the “Primitive” phase from birth to about 6 years of age; the “Basic” phase from 6 to 12; and the “Contact” phase between 13 to 21. After that age, the PAS proposed, a person’s greatest work of art, their deep, hard-won sense of identity, would not usually undergo further changes. By 1962, the PAS had matured to a level of descriptive and predictive power that far exceeded anything ever imagined by John Gittinger, not to mention Freud or Jung.
In a word then, Bill and Helen helped Gittinger craft a tool for measuring key attributes of the ego-self. How ironic! And yet how perfect for paving the way for the Course and its teachings! How did that happen?
In the spring of 1965, disgusted with the competitive environment of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Bill turned to Helen, his research associate, and said with passion, “There must be another way.” To his surprise, she responded, “I will join you to find it.”
What a challenge they faced. Bill and Helen had already plumbed the nature of the ego to its depths. They continued to take pride in the utility of the PAS, and for those who knew them only through their research and teaching roles, it was indeed their crowning professional achievement. But as the Course states, “[T]he ego enjoys studying itself, and thoroughly approves the undertakings of students who would ‘analyze’ it, thus approving its importance. Yet they but study form with meaningless content." (T-14.X.8:7-8)
By 1965 Bill had grown weary of empty form without content. He was looking for another way, a path inward that did not rely on the vagaries of personality and ego. And together, in A Course in Miracles, he and Helen were given it. For which, fifty years later, we continue to be grateful.