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Founding the Institute

About the founding of the Cape Cod Institute

In the words of our Founder, Gil Levin


Gil, you started the Cape Cod Institute when you were a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1980. What was your motivation at the time?

In 1978 a new dean arrived at the medical school. He brought with him a strong desire to bring the social and behavioral sciences to bear on all aspects of the medical school: teaching, research, patient care, community service.

I was honored when he invited me to lead that effort and accepted it with enthusiasm. The timing was perfect. I had just completed a long, highly technical policy research project. Worthwhile for sure, but isolating hardheaded stuff that drew me away from the real world of people, to which I could now return.

The job allowed me entry into every nook and cranny of the medical center and into contact with people in pretty much every role. Many of those people jumped in with me and we did some wonderful things mostly related to medical education and the human dimension of medicine.

At about that time the new discipline of health psychology was in formation, providing the opportunity for us to develop a doctoral program. And we did just that. In part because it was a good thing in itself and because a strong research oriented doctoral program would add to our credibility and influence in the medical center, which was vital to our mission. We were about ready to launch the new program in 1979, but were forced to delay for a year by a bureaucratic snag.

That delay allowed time for a two-week family vacation on Cape Cod. My wife and I, with our 7-year-old son Alex, and a close friend stayed in a simple cottage in the dunes of Eastham, a magical place for a little kid because at low tide the flats are so enormous you can walk for a mile into the sea.

As it turned out the weather was unusually awful throughout the stay. Our cottage, “True Grit”, true to its name, was very gritty. Sand everywhere, bed sheets damp and sandy, linoleum floors sandy. No magic anywhere.

I needed to find a way to escape cabin fever, and I had a plan. I am a world-class worrier and one of my worries concerned the expected half-life of deans, which was very brief in the still- turbulent 70s. What the new dean and I intended to do ran counter to the prevailing organizational culture. What would I do if a “new dean” came along who wasn’t crazy about what I was up to?

In an office near my own, a colleague was developing a program in continuing education and loved talking to me about it. There’s a historic connection between the Outer Cape and psychology. For many years psychoanalysts had been vacationing there during the month of August. So much, that there was a genre of jokes about the August angst experienced by Manhattanites when their analysts left town.

Back at True Grit, I began to wonder what a continuing ed program on the Cape would look like. There were many questions to ponder: Were there really enough analysts on the Cape to support a program? Could they spare the time during vacation? Who else on the Cape might attend? Would it be possible to attract others to the Cape? How? Where would we hold it?

Answering those questions rescued me from True Grit cabin fever. There were many places to go, people to talk to, a program to design, and a hundred other considerations. By the time we left the Cape, many of my questions had been answered and I knew pretty much what the Cape Cod Institute could be. The rest, shall we say, is history.

- March 16, 2016