La Jolla psychologist earns ‘distinguished’ honor

By Ashley Mackin

“Everything that you are is in everything you do,” said psychologist Richard Schere, speaking with

La Jolla Light

in his Fay Avenue office. Truer words were never spoken for a person like Schere, who integrates his passion as psychologist, artist and educator into each element of his professional and personal life, all with a level of care that is undeniable.
Dr. Richard Schere

The San Diego Psychological Association recognized Schere with a Distinguished Contribution to Psychology award on Oct. 12 during its 2013 fall conference.

One of the distinguished contributions (Schere makes a point to use air quotes around distinguished) is from his time at the helm of an American Psychological Association task force, when he wrote the first operational definition of learning disability.

“Before we started to work on the problem of learning disabilities, students would have trouble in school and nobody realized that the problems (students) had were not about their ability to learn. We saw that a lot of these youngsters were quite bright,” he said with a smile.

Schere recalled a child he worked with in his early research who struggled with reading. When someone would read something to him, he was able comprehend and answer questions about the material. But if he would read something to himself, he was unable to understand it.

“The big question is, ‘Why is that?’ ” Schere posed.

“A learning disability is basically an underachievement in a particular area that causes a certain set of skills to be weaker than others. So I make the analogy of a radio where all the stations work, except one, which is static-y.”

In this child’s case, it was a weakness in visual perception. He saw the letters p and q, as well as b and d, as the same thing, among other issues, making it harder to process what each word actually was. “He reads word by word, and when you read word by word you cannot automatically, like most people do, see a group of letters that form words and form sentences with meaning, and understand that meaning,” Schere said.

“It’s not that he doesn’t have the ability to learn, it’s that he has skill weaknesses that are significant.”

Schere was later able to find a way to identify the weaker skills and develop strategies for teachers to use to help repair those skills or find another way to teach certain students.

Finding alternatives to the norm extends to his psychology practice as well. Because he is a musician and artist as well, Schere’s office is surrounded by examples of art that helped his young patients express themselves when they couldn’t with words.

Pointing to a drawing of a tiger, he said, “This one is by a girl who had a lot of problems with an explosive personality. She would get into trouble. She was able to explain, only through drawing, that the tiger in her comes out right through her skin.”

He added, “Sometimes the inside is relieved to get to the outside and (expressing what’s on the inside) helps people cope with things.”

While using art in therapy is nothing new, Schere said he hopes his approach to addressing young adulthood will be integrated into the general practice of psychology.

Schere argues that there is a stage of life between adolescence and young adulthood. He recommends considering the “odyssey” stage when working with people in that demographic.

“Adolescents used to be able to graduate from high school, get a job, make some money, then make a little more money then get a place away from home and start a family,” he explained. “Now you can’t do that. What you need togetajobisalotof training. Today’s jobs require a lot of specific skills and there aren’t that many jobs. A lot of kids are not yet young adults, and they are scared. They are worried about the future and how they are going to make anything happen.”

Schere has already integrated the odyssey stage into his therapy and focuses on that time when working with patients. He teaches them to assess how their skills could be used in a marketable way.

That approach and acknowledgement of challenges has worked for him in his personal life, as his two adult children are both also successful psychologists.

“The contribution (to the world) I should get an award for is my family. My wife and I have two great kids who are both psychologists and helping a lot of people — not that we pushed them that way.”

Though he could win an award for his family and their collective contribution, the actual reason he earned the award, he said, “is for writing and innovating programs that weren’t there before, like in ADHD or learning disabilities, and creating courses that seemed to be needed to fill in the gaps of what wasn’t there.”