From self-help to sadists, Spofford’s Knaus a wealth of psychological expertise | Local News


SPOFFORD – It’s a warm morning, already in the 80s and aiming to reach the mid-90s, but a refreshing breeze is blowing from Lake Spofford, gently ruffling the leaves of nearby birch, maple and oak trees.

Bill Knaus is seated at a table on the veranda of his house, located about 100 feet from the shore of the lake, sipping coffee and watching the view in front of him. It is a bucolic and peaceful setting that he and his wife Nancy have enjoyed since buying the property as a summer home in 1991.

Incongruously, however, the subjects tackled by the 82-year-old psychologist are anything but serene. He talks about the many years he researched topics such as anxiety and depression, and treated dozens of patients who suffered from these afflictions. And he also talks about his new research in a more sinister field people psychology experts call the “dark tetrads” – narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths and sadists, many of whom are in positions of authority.

“These are people hiding in plain sight,” he says. “Schemers, accomplices, exploiters, and they can seem easy enough at first. “

Knaus carries with him significant seriousness and credibility, as for more than five decades he has served as a clinical psychologist, researcher, consultant, lecturer and postdoctoral instructor to hundreds of psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. He is also a leader in what is called Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT).

Knaus explains that REBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps people identify self-harming thoughts and feelings, question the rationality of those feelings, and replace them with healthier, more productive beliefs. It was developed during the 1950s and 1960s by the famous American psychotherapist Albert Ellis, with whom Knaus worked closely until the man’s death in 2007. In a Psychology Today article titled “The Prince of reason ”it is written of Ellis:“ No individual – not even Freud himself – has had a greater impact on modern psychotherapy.

Knaus is also the author of 25 books, some of an academic nature but most of the self-help genre which have sold over 2.5 million copies. He writes a blog and column for Psychology Today, his latest installment, an article titled “How to Protect Yourself from Anger in the Age of Rabies.”

The book he is currently writing deals with how people can protect themselves, and others, from these “dark tetrads” and their manipulative and exploitative behavior.

“These people have been around for eons,” he says, and some, like Adolf Hitler, are infamous historical figures. Famous authors such as Shakespeare and Dickens based their characters on these evil and corrosive attributes. But more often than not, these people are ordinary managers, bosses, bureaucrats, executives and politicians.

“There may be a genetic predisposition towards this guy, but their characteristics are that they see themselves as the smartest people in the room and should always be commended. They are universally manipulative and Machiavellian, ”he says.

“They tend to lead ‘Teflon lives’, adept at marginalizing others and posing as victims,” he adds. They can make the people who partner with them or work for them to feel “decimated” and miserable.

“They tend to externalize blame; they exonerate themselves from all responsibility and blame others.

Although Knaus has published a stupendous amount over the course of his long career, he says his high school English teachers would likely have named him the least likely student to succeed. Then he was much more interested in auto repairs, primarily for executives at the Milton Bradley Company, then a major employer in his hometown of Springfield, Mass.

The eldest of three children, his father, Wilbert, an employee of the old Westinghouse factory in town, he attended Buckingham Junior High School, and a school counselor told him that since he was showing aptitude for mechanics he would be in the best position to continue his studies at a local high school specializing in trades.

His mother, Catherine O’Connor Knaus, whom he describes as a determined Irish immigrant – and who would live to a mature age of 102 – would have none of these, and walked to school to insist that her son attend Classical High School in Springfield, an institution with higher academic standards. He was admitted.

“It was one of the great transitions of my life,” he says, “attending the Classic”.

After graduating from the school, which is now closed, Knaus joined the military and ended up serving six years in a combination of active duty and reserve.

After active service, he enrolled at American International College in Springfield, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Then he got a job as a collection agent for a local loan company.

“I learned that it was much easier to negotiate with those who owed money, rather than threaten them. I learned a lot about human nature in this job, and it was another turning point in my life.

He received a master’s degree in psychology from Springfield College and began working with children with developmental disabilities in centers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Eager to pursue an academic career, he obtained a doctorate from the University of Tennessee, with a concentration in clinical and educational psychology.

In the late 1960s he moved to New York City and his association with Ellis began.

“I had read his books,” he says, and I enrolled in a post-doctoral program at the institute headed by Ellis. Knaus also started his own clinical practice in Manhattan.

He eventually became responsible for the post-doctoral program of the Ellis Institute, broadening his field of action to professionals in the field.

It was also around this time that Knaus began working with a New York City public school – PS 76 in the South Bronx – which was plagued by high dropout rates, poor student performance. , classroom fights and a variety of other issues.

He instituted a curriculum in the school using aspects of the REBT precepts developed by Ellis, and within three years the school was transformed, with significant improvements in student performance and behavior. News of the school’s success spread to educators and led Knaus to write scientific papers and a book on how it happened.

Although he could have accepted a permanent position at New York City University, Knaus chose to follow his own path in psychology, keeping his options open. He started writing and his work took off in many different directions in the self-help genre, with books on topics as diverse as illusions, anxiety, depression, blame, mental health. of children and procrastination.

He wrote “The SMART Recovery Primer” to help people overcome addiction, which has undergone four revisions and launched the popular SMART Recovery self-help network. (SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training.) Other books included “The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression,” “The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety,” and “Fearless Job Hunting,” which describes job seekers how to use psychological techniques to stand out from the crowd of applicants.

On top of that, Knaus is considered a leading authority on procrastination, having written six books on the subject.

Sales of his books have been bolstered by frequent appearances on network morning shows, radio interviews, and articles and quotes in national newspapers and magazines.

“Books have provided a steady source of income,” he says when asked specifically how lucrative his publishing career has been.

Even though writing took time and brought him financial success, Knaus still viewed his clinical and academic work as a primary focus. He maintained a close association with Ellis and continued to lead the institute’s post-doctoral program. It was in this program during the early years that he met his wife, who had obtained her doctorate in psychology from the University of Virginia. The couple married in 1976 and are the parents of two sons, William Knaus II, plastic surgeon at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and Robert Knaus, engineer at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, one of the three researchers from the National Nuclear Security Administration and Development Laboratories in the United States.

A few years after their marriage, they moved to Longmeadow, Mass., Because Nancy found life in New York not to her liking. Bill Knaus maintained his clinical practice and academic work in the city, commuting several days a week, while Nancy, now 72, worked at the Monson Developmental Center in Massachusetts (closed in 2012) and maintained a practice private clinic. They also bought property in Punta Gorda, Florida, as well as Spofford.

Although he is still working hard in his ninth decade, Knaus has some compelling thoughts on his life.

“These are the people you meet along the way. It is the path which is not trodden. It’s what you see that others don’t – all are part of an interesting life flow.

“It’s not the accomplishments that matter as much as the way you live your day-to-day life, your contributions to others, and your attitude towards life. It is better to be an unrealistic optimist than a pessimist with reason. You will live longer.


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