Looking Back on Dick Ford’s 43 Years with Riggs



by Aaron Beatty

Richard Q. Ford, PhDIt is not uncommon to find people who have spent a decade or two working at the Austen Riggs Center. There are even some who have spent 30 years tending to the mission and work. But Richard Q. Ford, PhD, who recently retired as the coordinator of psychological testing at Riggs, cultivated a 43-year relationship with Riggs as a fellow, a staff psychologist, a researcher and, for the last 20 years, as the coordinator of psychological testing. 

His colleagues unanimously speak to the overwhelming generosity he embodied and the absolute clinical mastery with which he worked and taught. While his retirement is a huge loss for Riggs, his approach to psychological testing and the instruction and guidance he imparted will no doubt continue to have a marked influence for a long time to come. 

As a researcher, in 1982, Dr. Ford was co-recipient with Sidney J. Blatt, PhD, of a MacArthur Foundation research grant to study change in what we now call treatment resistant patients.  These were patients involved in intensive treatment offered at the Austen Riggs Center. The culmination of this research was the publication of Therapeutic Change: an Object Relations Perspective in 1994, a landmark study quantifying the benefits - through strict clinical research - of long-term, intensive, psychoanalytically informed treatment. 

Influential and groundbreaking as the study was, it was in his position as coordinator of psychological testing that he, in the words of James Sacksteder, medical director/CEO at Riggs, “became a legend.” Once a week, Dr. Ford led a testing seminar for the psychology fellows (also open to other clinical staff members) at Riggs. As Margaret Parish, PhD, director of patient care, remarked, “For those two hours, you could forget everything except for the data from the mind of one individual.” Jennifer Stevens, PhD, director of training at Riggs, elaborated, “It is easy to look for the pathology in the testing data – Dick could see the trouble and also articulate the leading edge of development – he was gifted in being able to see the whole patient, strengths and troubles, as revealed by the testing data.”

Dr. Ford’s testing seminars were, in some ways, an anachronism. In a results-driven culture that places such value on immediacy, Dr. Ford took an approach that thoroughly and thoughtfully examined and interpreted testing data with a true appreciation for the process of development occurring over time. For twenty years, Dr. Ford taught countless psychology fellows at Riggs how to interpret psychological tests, keeping an approach to understanding patients’ problems and gauging their response to treatment alive and vital.  “He stands for what psychological testing can be, how powerful a tool it can be and how much you can learn from it,” explained Dr. Stevens. 

Christina Biedermann, PsyD, current director of psychological testing at Riggs, commented, “Dick’s steadfast insistence that there is value in going slowly in therapy and in testing demonstrated a valuable clinical position and created invaluable learning opportunities; the testing seminar was a place where fellows, for four years, had the time to learn.” 

Dr. Ford’s contribution to the value of psychological testing at Riggs cannot be overstated. He will be missed at Riggs, but his legacy remains with those he taught. As Dr. Parish remarked, “the essence of his gifts are all around the place, however nascent or inchoate, and will continue to guide us for many years to come.”

Related resources:

The Value of Projective Psychological Testing