Dennis (Denny) Hinkle lived a complex and
varied life, one could even say several lives. Most of you reading this
obituary know about the Hinkle who was a student of George Kelly and the writer
of a PhD thesis that was full of interesting, innovative ideas and
methodologies (Hinkle, 1965). These creative approaches have had major impacts
on many professional practices, whether therapeutic, organizational or research
oriented, as well as, ultimately, clients of those professionals.
However his personal life was a very
different matter. Burning Point
(Hinkle, 2000) is an account of his tortuous struggle between conflicting
forces: within himself; between himself, cared-for others and the broader
social forces of the McCarthy era and beyond. His autobiography presents the devastating
impact of conflicted identity development, especially concerning sexuality. More
broadly Denny saw it as a ‘universal story of the tension between the
individual and society, freedom and conformity’ (personal communication by
email). His autobiography has been a text in over 90 American university
courses (Hinkle, 2009), recommended by therapists and influential for numbers
of individuals struggling to find direction.
Following the publication of Burning Point I made contact with Denny
and encouraged him to write more about his time as a student of Kelly for the
Australasian Personal Construct Newsletter. That has been reprinted for wider
circulation (Hinkle, 2007). He had wanted to publish the last chapter of his
thesis called A brief autobiography of
the present research. An elaborated version about the evolution of the
thesis was included in Butler’s edited book on reflexivity (Hinkle, 2009). This
obituary relies heavily on these sources as well as my email correspondence
with Denny over a 12 year period and conversations during the few days I was privileged
to stay with him and his partner at their home in Placerville, California in
Born in 1935, Denny was the eldest child,
with a younger sister, Judy. His father held a managerial position in a large
company and the family moved frequently around the USA (Texas, Florida,
Missouri, Indiana and Ohio during Denny’s schooling), making it difficult to
maintain relationships. His parents’ marriage was not particularly happy. His
father was strict and conventional in both his expectations of his wife, as
well as his children. Denny’s mother had relinquished her creative and lively
self to one who adopted the philosophy that “This, too, shall pass”, an
approach she encouraged her son to live by. His father enforced rigid
conformity and encouraged his son in ‘male’ pursuits, such as shooting.
Growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s in
conservative communities, many struggled to accommodate their own nature and
values with the constraints, often legally enforced, of the McCarthy era in
American society. Denny just wanted to fit in, to be liked, to be ‘normal’.
But, as he began to explore sexuality he discovered that he found relationships
with those most like himself exhilarating and affirming. He understood other males
easily, felt empathy and oneness with them, more so than his relationships with
females. But this conflict between ‘normality’ and ‘perversion’ (as it was seen
in a culture in which homosexual acts were punishable by imprisonment) meant he
lived often in a ‘cage of fear’ (Hinkle, 2000, p. 138). He didn’t want to be
miserable, despised by others. He failed at an attempted suicide. The family
relocations were opportunities to change his life as he struggled to be what
others expected, to be a ‘normal’ person - “I had to be normal, or I couldn’t
imagine living” (Hinkle, 2000, p. 147).
Counselling sessions were recommended, as
Denny’s deep unhappiness was evident to others, even if its origins were kept
hidden. Batteries of tests were administered. Denny, a voracious reader,
researched the Rorschach Inkblot test prior to doing it. He decided he would
try to indicate his distress and sexual conflicts indirectly, not admitting to
anything overtly that would place him in legal jeopardy. Five hours later his
counselor was exhausted as Denny poured out his conflicted emotions by allusion
and symbolism. His parents were summoned and told of concerns that he might need
hospitalization as a paranoid schizophrenic. No one thought to ask Denny
himself why he had responded to the Rorschach in the way he had.
Denny failed his studies at Purdue
University, and also Miami University, Ohio – he “… simply couldn’t concentrate
on academics while …(he) bobbed helplessly in a surging sea of emotions beyond
…(his) comprehension” (p. 172). But he read widely in philosophy and
psychology, with the aim, ultimately, to become a clinical psychologist. He had
other interests, having passed the exams for a commercial radio license and an
amateur radio operator license aged 15, and had been introduced to diving and
camping, activities he continued to enjoy throughout most of his life. Eventually
he found a therapist whom he felt he could trust. He told him of his conflicts
and the therapist convinced him that this was a normal phase that many males go
through. It was just that, for some reason, his sexual development was arrested
and he had not moved on to the next, heterosexual stage. To achieve the desired
developmental progression he had to try harder, and this Denny did for many
In the mid-50’s Denny enlisted for two
years in the military. After basic training Denny, with a little help from a $20
note to the clerk who allocated the placements, was assigned to the medical
training corps. He worked at a hospital attached to the Army chemical centre,
near Baltimore, where chemical weapons were developed and tested. There he
began a relationship with a woman older than himself, but, in 1957 when he was
admitted to Ohio State University, Columbus at the end of his military commitment,
aged 22, he went alone.
At Columbus Denny met two of the most
important people in his life. The first was Joyce, whom he married in September
1959, 90 days after they met. Denny describes her as open, warm and kindly
receptive, with interests in academic pursuits and science. She was the kindest
person he had known and all he “looked for in a woman and more” (p. 217).
Before they married he told her about his previous sexual history and his
belief that he had passed through the homosexual exploratory stage. Joyce was
his best friend and their marriage was “better than most” (p. 222).
The second person was George Kelly. At the
end of Denny’s undergraduate degree he won a scholarship to complete his
postgraduate clinical studies in psychology at Ohio, arguably the best clinical
program in the country at that time. Kelly had been appointed as its head in
1946 and became Denny’s ‘spiritual father’ (p. 223), his ‘good father’ (p. 224),
his mentor for the 5-year doctorate haul. Kelly advised him to choose a topic about
which he was passionate and Denny opted for change. Why do people change? Why
don’t people change? He had wrestled with the problems of his own desire to
change throughout his life. On reflection he realized that his reluctance to
change primarily had to do either with the many things that would happen as a
consequence of that change – the implications – or with the consequences that
were unimaginable, and hence producing anxiety or worse. This led him to
elaborate and formalize a theory of construct implications and to develop a
number of techniques to explore the hypotheses that followed (Fransella, 2010).
It was the techniques he was most proud of.
The best known is what we now term ‘laddering’ which is a powerful way of
structuring conversations and interviews to elucidate latent meaning (see
Walker & Crittenden, 2012 for a recent overview). He also developed two
forms of grid that explored the inter-relationships between constructs, supplementing
the repertory grid approach that focused on relationships between construct and
elements. One, the Implications grid, examined the extent to which constructs
implied other constructs. The other, a Resistance to change grid, focused on
which constructs individuals would be willing to change on more readily and
which not (Fransella, Bell & Bannister, 2004 give further details).
Kelly accepted the prestigious Riklis Chair
of Behavioral Science at Brandeis university, near Boston in 1965, with Denny
receiving a post-doctoral fellowship. Joyce and he moved to Massachusetts and
their first son was born. However Kelly’s health was not good. He had survived
a heart attack in 1959, but by 1966 was again experiencing angina pain. Early
in 1967 his gall bladder collapsed and, following an operation, his condition
deteriorated and he died.
Later that year the Hinkles moved to
Boulder, Colorado, where Denny had gained a faculty position in the clinical
psychology program, despite ambivalence about being a university professor. His
thesis had attracted the attention of Don Bannister and others in the UK and he
was invited to address the British Psychological Society. He told me that he
spent an evening with Fay Fransella, who was struggling in the early stages of
his doctoral thesis, discussing how she might apply his work to explore the
resistance to change of those who stuttered .
Denny felt the trip changed his life. His day-long
visit to Westminster Abbey was particularly momentous, bringing home the
contrast between that spiritual, holy place and the ‘spiritual wasteland of my
country and self’ (Hinkle, 2000, p. 227). He saw himself as ‘a man of constant
sorrow and I don’t know why…dying of separation and loneliness’ (p. 227). As he
subsequently reflected, he was ‘damn good at depressive thinking’ (p. 228). Initially
he considered this sorrow as a reflection of the social turmoil of the 60’s and
his deep unease with the pressure to publish research, any research, in
academia. The Hinkles moved to Miami University, Ohio, where the pressure to
publish was not as great. Before they left their third son was born and Joyce
completed her Masters in counseling psychology.
It was 16 years since Denny had had a
homosexual relationship, but despite his love for Joyce and the family, he
found himself in love with a married man. Eventually they went on a camping
trip together and, after a night of passion, he felt he had become ‘real and
whole and alive again’ (p. 242). The relationship continued until Denny’s
lover, after seeing a psychiatrist, broke it off. Denny spiraled into deep
depression, began drinking heavily and had terrible nightmares. Finally he
recognized that he was not grieving for the loss of his relationship, but for
himself - ‘I am lonely beyond endurance’ (p. 250).
Eventually Joyce told him that he would not
be happy without loving a man, and that she would rather he be gay than dead.
She invited a 26 year old graduate student, Gary Bushweiler, who had been
working with her at the Counseling Center, to dinner and they continued to meet
socially. With Joyce’s blessing, this became a loving, sexual relationship.
The family and Gary moved to California,
living together. After some time Joyce and Denny divorced, with two of the
children electing to live with Denny and Gary full time and the other child
dividing his time between his parents. Joyce re-married and Denny and Gary
lived together until Denny’s death in January, 2014, marrying when California
legalized gay marriage. Denny went into private practice in Santa Clara,
California, where he often saw distressed young people whom he felt he could
help as he understood what it was like to stand in their shoes. He just had to
Denny and Gary traveled widely, often
diving or camping. They built a house in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
mountains, in Placerville, near Sacramento, where they retired. Judy, Denny’s
sister, lives nearby. They entertained friends and their children and
grandchildren, studied university subjects via the internet, read widely,
walked and played with their dogs. Denny kept up his amateur radio while Gary
returned to playing the piano.
Denny kept in regular correspondence with
friends by email. Most weeks he sent me (and others) what I considered to be a
present, something to make my life richer, more enjoyable, if only for a
moment. Sometimes it was a Buddhist saying, sometimes a beautiful photograph of
a wilderness area or an animal, a clever joke or an uplifting political or human
rights speech. I have kept his gifts to be enjoyed again and again.
Denny had been in ill health for some time.
He died as he wanted, in Gary’s arms (as they had once promised each other) and
with others he loved - Judy, two of his sons and an ‘adopted’ sister, Bonnie.
(1) This is at variance with Fransella’s (2010)
account. She wrote that she couldn’t remember when she first met Denny, but
that it was after she completed her PhD. However the dates of Denny’s trip do
not seem to support her version..
Fransella, F. (2010). Introducing you to Dennis
N. Hinkle. Personal Construct Theory &
Practice. 7, Supplement No 1, iii-iv, 2010 (Retrieved from http://www.pcp-net.org/journal/pctp10/fransella10.pdf,
accessed 26 May, 2014)
Fransella, F., Bell, R.C. & Bannister,
D. (2004). A manual for repertory grid
technique, 2nd ed., Chichester, UK: Wiley.
Hinkle, D.N. (1965). The change of personal constructs from the viewpoint of a theory of
construct implications. Dissertation, Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate
School of Ohio State University. (reprinted in Personal Construct Theory
& Practice, 7, Suppl. No 1, 1-61, 2010 (Retrieved from http://www.pcp-net.org/journal/pctp10/hinkle1965.pdf,
accessed 26 May, 2014)
Hinkle, D.N. (2000). Burning point. New Mexico: Alamo Square Press.
Hinkle, D.N. (2007). Choice, or Wu Wei. Constructive Interventionist. No 34: 2-3
Hinkle, D.N. (2009). Reflections on the
creation of a dissertation. In R.J. Butler (ed.). Reflections in Personal Construct Theory. (pp. 319-328). Chichester,
Walker, B.M. & Crittenden, N. (2012).
The use of laddering: techniques, applications and problems. In P. Caputi, L.L.
Viney, B.M. Walker & N. Crittenden (eds.). Personal construct methodology. (pp 71-88). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.