What sad news! I wanted to add a few thoughts to Alan's reflections.
Alan and I were the "youth movement" that started at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1976. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that Nate was at the time one of the most famous "behavior therapists" in the world - so influential in so many different areas of applied behavior analysis. I felt very much like a graduate student in first meeting with this famous man. Yet I quickly learned how humble and friendly a person he was - and how generous he was in sharing his experience and knowledge with our group. Nate and his wife Vicky were always very kind to my wife and me.
It was always great to touch base with Nate over the following years - usually at AABT meetings. It was wonderful to reminisce about that year. But then I did not see him for a long period - until two years ago. Lars Goran Ost organized a major CBT meeting in Stockholm. I was one of the participants - and Nate was one of the other keynote speakers. I learned why I had seen little of him for the past 10 years or so. He had been struggling – bravely - with a challenging illness. Yet at this meeting it was the same old Nate! Quintessential Nate - enthusiastic about new developments, curious about how we might develop even more effective interventions, and always encouraging the various students and colleagues who were eager to talk with him. He gave a marvelous talk - although even in very summary form he did not have enough time to comment on the many innovations he had made. At a dinner one of the nights with me and Lars Goran he explained how as a graduate student at Harvard he had ended-up working with Skinner - and the rest is history, as they say. In short, he wanted to help people and promote change. His goal was to take the principles and philosophy of applied behavior analysis and apply them to social behavior.
Aside from his own immense contributions to the field, he inspired countless colleagues and students around the world. What a lovely and brilliant man!
Major loss. Nate was one of the most creative of our pioneers. A great and mischievous wit and a thoroughly nice person. A mensch.
ABCT has lost a pioneer and a past president.
A major loss to the field. A great scientist who also was just a very decent human being. He will be missed.
Yes, he will be missed...a major pioneer and thinker! Very, very sad.
His work and that of Wolpe and Lazarus inspired me in the early years. And we still benefit daily from his genius.
Robert L. Leahy
Nate was the eye of a ripple that became a tidal wave that restored effectiveness and credibility to mental health services. He was able to strip away the irrelevant and articulate the dynamics of human behavior at its simplest level. He demonstrated the essence of the goal of science: replicable parsimonious explanation.
My first indirect contact with him was through his token economies work with Ted Ayllon. I had psychoanalytic training and had just started teaching at the University of Michigan and was doing some consulting at Ypsilanti State Hospital. As such I was stupidly (though I didn't realize it at the time) trying to identify early infantile fixations in chronic schizophrenics. I was skeptical about what Nate and Ted had written so I wrote to him. To my amazement he responded by challenging me: why dismiss any idea that had a chance of being credible without testing it? Because what I was doing was getting nowhere I tried to crudely replicate what he was doing and saw some immediate changes. So I tried the same logic with the obese women and couples I was working with at the time and the results made me an analyst no more.
That was the kind of impact that the sharpness of Nate's thinking had on me--and a great many others. We have lost one of the prime movers of applied behavioral analysis, a man who played a key role in spawning an intellectual revolution in mental health. The best way to honor his memory is to critically analyze all of our core beliefs, find ways to simplify them and expand their impact, measure the results, and disseminate what we have learned so others can do better. As I got to know him over the years, it was always Nate's hope that someone would outdo his thinking and take the field another step ahead. And as he liked to say, the measure of impact was the extent to which people used your ideas without citing you because they had become axioms. By that standard Nate's impact is in everything we do today.
In the late 1960s when I first became interested in behavior therapy I subscribed to Behaviour Research and Therapy and was astounded how in every issue there was a seminal article by Nate. I particularly was impressed on the broad range of issues that he tackled with ingenuity and absolute methodological rigor. I didn't know him personally at that time but realized what a seminal thinker he was in our fledgling field. Later on between 1992 and 1997 I was privileged to be a colleague of his at Nova Southeastern University. I think that the field of behavior therapy owes him an enormous debt of gratitude for how he relentlessly developed, advanced, and perfected so many therapeutic modalities. He was our quintessential pioneer.
When I was a kid I used think of what a giant would be like. When I become an academic, I found out.
Skinner was a giant. He looked like a normal person but his breadth of thinking, persistance, and creativity set him apart.
Nate Azrin was a giant, and for the same reason. Nate was so intellectually powerful, creative, and hardworking that in the area of basic behavior analysis people practically quaked when they were working in areas he was involved in. Nate was there first, over and over again.
He practically owned the area of punishment and aversive conditioning in animal operant work (until he moved on to applied work). When a new issue of JEAB came out, you could be certain
Nate would have something ground breaking in it. I've never seen anything like it since -- in which a single individual so towered over an area that everyone was in his shadow.
You saw those same qualities after he entered into the applied arena. In area after area he came up with creative ideas that have withstood the test of time. To this day, many of them are gold standards.
Despite his productivity, he cared about the work more so than the praise ... it wasn't a big ego thing with him.
When I approached him as a student (over 40 years ago), he would sit down and chat as if my interests were worthy.
I never saw him get entangled in self-importance.
The word "giant" is not overblown in his case. In the area of research and application, he's the very definition of the term.
Steven C. Hayes
One lasting memory for me was our joint service on the ABCT board in the 1970s. Nate came in with an already well-established international reputation for scholarship and creativity and yet his demeanor was at all times humble and soft-spoken. This set a great example for me and probably for all of us as we dealt with the controversial issues and occasional outright attacks we occasionally endured as we tried to establish a science of behavior change. Nate was not only present at the creation, he was a large part of creation.
David H. Barlow
Reflections on Nate
In the 1970s, a group of behavioral/empirical types (Nathan Azrin, Stewart Agras, Walter Mischel, Jack Rachman, Terry Wilson, and I) was assembled for a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford, CA) to work on our own projects but also to collaborate and assess the status of behavior therapy given its strong and burgeoning evidence base. During that time we worked closely, collaborated, met, and got to know each other and the friendships endured long after the year ended. At the Center, there was some initial confusion of staff between "Azrin" and "Kazdin." This even led to me being given a pseudonym (Kazrin), which is another story. Yet, to me the confusion was professionally ludicrous. For anyone who knows me and has had at least a nanosecond of exposure to Nate's mind, perspective, and creativity, leaving aside accomplishments, there could never be any confusion.
Among his enduring talents was his ability to cut through all sorts of highfalutin theory and move to creative and practical hypotheses about interventions. In the mid-1950s with laboratory work on cooperation with children (with Ogden Lindsley) and then in the early 1960s in hospital work with psychiatric patients (with Ted Ayllon), he already had empirical demonstrations of this type using contingencies to alter behaviors. By the time of the first ever book on the token economy (1968) he was on the steep cumulative record slope of creative interventions. His intervention research was innovative, his designs often novel, and his thinking cutting-through and cutting edge. I wonder if he was amused at the much later emergence or delineation of evidence-based treatments given he was a one-man anthology of so many of them long before that term was common in psychology.
At the beginning of the year with him, it was immediately apparent how quickly and easily he moved to creative ideas often with just little twists of things that were known but made for bigger ideas. I would be sitting across from him at a table with just 4 or 5 other people and he would take a deliberative turn to speak and fairly slowly present a stunning alternative approach to something. After watching him, I was one of his most appreciative fans. I never felt for a moment anything like the thought, "I could have thought of that." No, I could not have, even if aided by the infinite number of monkeys plunking at their tablets or laptops to write all the great novels. Being with him at small meetings would be like watching Picasso begin with a white canvas and quickly stroke some lines, add a few colors, and now there would be a face, a mood, a message, and something truly novel. How did a few lines lead to that? Nate did this with his mind, knowledge, and creative palate. A pleasure to watch in part because he made nothing of it-presumably Picasso did not paint a stroke and stop to say, "Hey did you see that?" Natural talent coupled with disciplined training is such a pleasure to watch. That same creativity smeared into his humor. He could turn a point so quickly and have you expecting one of his genuinely novel substantive hypotheses about how to change a clinical problem or address a weighty professional issue, when the surprise came of some clever quip about a what if this or that-and great humor he sneaked in while you might be waiting for great science.
There will be scores of wonderful stories from his collaborators in praise of his genius, and they all deserve to be told. Here is one slightly more personal and of a different nature. One of my daughters was at toilet training age at the rise of then recently published Azrin and Richard Foxx's Toilet Training in a Day (1974). Nate and I just arrived at my home and we were looking at my daughter with parental admiration and joy commonly (and pretty noncontingently) heaped on one's children. I was holding her and thought it would be amusing to ask, "So how do you think we should toilet train her?" Without hesitating and with a mischievous smile, he said, "Just keep the door open when you and your wife go to the bathroom and that should take care of it." I was stunned and teased him. I said with stunned disbelief, "Mahh-dling? modeling? Are you kidding?!" After all that?!" ("All that" being his book, translations of the book all over the world, most of the people on the planet under 5 being trained in a day, and half of those being trained personally by Azrin and Foxx). He was serious and equally amused and we had yet one more Nate-generated source of joy.
He will be missed. Of all colleagues, I thought it would be so valuable to society and individuals in need of care to begin the process of identifying viable solutions by putting Nate in a room with a few like minds and have them brainstorm on strategies that could genuinely help people. The process might be accelerated by substituting mannequins for the other people so there no interruptions of Nate's enormously creative ideas. What a privilege to have known him and to have been exposed to his mind and wit. The loss as well as his impact will be enduring.
Yes, Alan, your description of Nate was excellent. Being in Champaign Illinois when Nate was at Anna State, he had an influence on many of us there in the late 60s, and my advisors/profs Becker, Ullmann, Bijou, and Paul all had great respect for Nate for his JEAB and animal work -- even before he designed the token economy for patients with Ted Allyon. But, as Alan said, once he moved to the applied areas, he amazed us all with his truly diverse contributions, Tiolet Training in Less Than a Day, changing marital discord, enhancing work skills and employment, etc, etc, -- and all with humility. Fortunately for many of us, Nate was instrumental in getting JABA started with some other great contributors like Todd Risley and Mont Wolf. And, with all due respect to statistical modeling, odds ratios, and other ways of parsing data (which I use), I still remember Nate saying if we need all those stats to make our point, do we really have much of an effect and when I see manuscripts with statistically significant effects for some variable with a very small amount of variance accounted for I think of Nate and am reminded of what he might say. He definitely was one of our greats!
K. Daniel O'Leary
Well, what remains to be said after the eloquent comments offered by so many? Although I was somewhat later to arrive on the AABT scene than some of you, I recall with great admiration his early work. At that time, in the mid to late 70's, I was at Western Psychiatric Institute in Pittsburgh and working with developmentally delayed and highly aggressive children and adolescents. I was actually trained in the psychodynamic tradition, and I remember thinking we could and must do more for these youngsters. Every time we set about establishing a program, Nate's name came up and whatever we sought to do, he had already done it! And, we were able to "replicate" his work! That was very rewarding, both for us and the youth we served. Like Alan Kazdin, I remember talking with him about toilet training - only in this instance about training some of the youngsters on that unit at WPIC. You might recall he wrote a book on that topic with Dick Foxx based on their work at Anna State Hospital in Southern Illinois. Nate always suggested a positive reinforcement approach, followed if necessary by a reductive approach including overcorrection and other forms of "mild" punishment. Yes, his early work was seminal. Moreover, his work over the years continued to be cutting edge, yet he rarely used a razor to get his points across. He influenced us by his behavior. Echoing what Steve Hayes had to say, he was truly a giant in our field - no, he was a gentle giant. We owe him much in the evolution and application of applied behavior analysis and behavior therapy, and his work has had a lasting impact on us and those we serve. His shoes will be very difficult to fill.
In addition to the highly personal remembrances some of our past presidents have offered, the Miami Herald has published an obituary that, according to Anne Marie Albano, is " a very nice tribute and also a history lesson for aspiring CBT therapists."