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Associates

A group of colleagues and professionals interested in promoting Guided Autobiography teamed up with Jim Birren more than six years ago. We meet on a regular basis and develop new venues for Guided Autobiography, create new products, and research the effects of the Guided Autobiography process. We call ourselves, The GAB Workgroup.

Pauline Abbott, Ph.D.
James Birren, Ph.D.
Betty Birren, M.A.
Barry Bortnick, Ph.D.
Thomas Collins, B.A.
Linda Grant, MSG, LCSW.
Helen Kerschner, Ph.D.
Elyse Salend, MSW.
Philip Spradling, Ph.D., MSG
Cheryl Svensson, MSG, Ph.D.

Pauline Abbott, Ed.D.
Dr. Pauline Abbott is the Director of the CSUF Institute of Gerontology and the Ruby Gerontology Center. In this capacity, she led the campus in the creation and implementation of the graduate gerontology program. Research activities of the Institute include lifelong learning, health and wellness as well as county and city survey research related to senior needs and participation. Over a million dollars from public and private sources support this work. Also, Dr. Abbott is the past president of the California Council of Gerontology and Geriatrics and in that capacity has developed and testified at a number of hearings of the California State Senate and Assembly committees on Aging/Long Term Care. She was appointed by the Assembly Chair for Aging/Long Term Care to a committee charged to identify legislative priorities in aging. Pauline Abbott is a longtime friend and colleague of Jim Birren, first connecting with him at USC. After taking the Guided Autobiography class with Dr. Birren, she has become an avid supporter of the program and advocate for its expansion. She continues to promote Guided Autobiography classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at CSUF where she is the Director.

Betty Birren, M.A.
Betty and Jim Birren have been married for nearly 63 years. They met in their first graduate class in Psychology at Northwestern University in 1941 and have been together ever since. While Jim went on to pursue a doctorate and career, Betty finished her master's degree 24 hours before their first child was born. She then worked at home to provide the family support for Jim to further his career. This is not to say that Betty has been a 'stay at home Mom' only, raising three children. Betty has always had a capacity for organization and has been in leadership positions in several organizations. Betty was the first female president of the Palisades Lutheran church and served two terms. She also was the first Executive Director of the California Council on Gerontology and Geriatrics (CCGG). In addition, she was the program chair and the president of the Division on Adult Development and Aging of the American Psychological Asscotiation, and the program chair of the Gerontological Society. Betty also served as a volunteer in the UCLA Extension school for twenty years as an academic counselor.

When Jim taught the first Guided Autobiography course at the Summer Institute at USC in the 1970s, Betty took the class. After that, Betty has been by Jim's side, co-leading Guided Autobiography classes whenever possible. Betty shares in the history of the development of the classes as well as working with Jim to promote classes for the future.

James E. Birren, Ph.D.
James Birren is a living legend in the field of Gerontology. He received his Ph.D. from Northwestern University and began his research career at the Naval Medical Research Center. In 1947 he joined the U.S. Public Health Service in Baltimore and did research on aging at the Gerontology unit. Jim attended the very first meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in 1948 at the Hotel Commodore in New York. As he quips, "The hotel where the first GSA meeting was held has been torn down, but I'm still here." In 1950 he joined the National Institute of Mental Health and created the first section on aging. In 1964 he became the Director for the Program on Aging for the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development. Jim moved to the University of Southern California in 1965 where he remained until 1989. There he was the founding director of the Ethel Percy Andrus Gerontology Center. In 1989 Jim moved to UCLA where he remained as the associate Director of the UCLA Center on Aging until he retired in 2003.

Jim's early research had an experimental base and he studied cognitive change and aging. Since developing the course, Guided Autobiography, more than thirty years ago, he has devoted much of his time and energy in the area of autobiographical studies.

Jim Birren's accomplishments and awards are far too numerous to mention. Most recently (2004) he was honored by the National Council on Aging and he received the Ollie Randall award. The American Society on Aging (ASA) inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 2004. In addition to more than 250 publications in academic journals and books, Jim is Series Editor for the internationally recognized handbooks on aging i.e. The Handbook on the Psychology of Aging. The handbooks are currently being prepared for the sixth edition. He has written two books specifically on Guided Autobiography: Guiding Autobiography Groups for Older Adults with D. Deutchman (1991) and Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography with K. Cochran (2001).

Jim continues to teach the Guided Autobiography method and to facilitate groups. He is currently Senior Distinguished Research Faculty at California Sate University Fullerton. He lives in Pacific Palisades and frequently gives presentations on Guided Autobiography in the Southern California area. He is currently working with ASA and the MindAlert program to bring Guided Autobiography to locations as diverse as Kelowna, British Columbia and Atlanta, Georgia. Jim has organized a devoted group of colleagues who comprise a work group whose purpose is to spread the Guided Autobiography program.
Barry Bortnick, Ph.D.
Dr. Barry Bortnick is the Program Director for Humanities and Behavioral Sciences in UCLA Extension. In addition, he has recently been named the Program Director for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UCLA. He is very involved with innovative course development for older adults. He recently wrote a chapter entitled, “Music and Other Arts Activities in the Lives of Older Adults” in the book, Burnside’s Working With Older Adults, (B. Haight and F. Gibson, ed.s). Barry has participated with Dr. James Birren and the Guided Autobiography workgroup for the past six years. He has worked to promote Guided Autobiography classes as well as leading them himself. Barry has focused on aging and the arts, in particular music, and brought this to bear when working with Guided Autobiography.
Thomas F. Collins, B.A.
Since graduation from UCLA, Thom has been working in the field of applied information technology. He became a manager of a software development company and after four years left to start his own computer software company, Third Point Systems, Inc. He has specialized in the development of multi-media information systems that incorporate digitized audio, still image, and motion video data. These are some of the skills that he brings to the Birren Center. Since his participation in Guided Autobiography with Dr. Birren in 2001, he has remained working with the Guided Autobiography work group. His primary objective is to expand the participation and reach of the program through the use of information technology.
Linda G. Grant, MSG, LCSW
Linda G. Grant is a Gerontologist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is currently employed by Kaiser-Permanente as the Director of Bereavement Services for Hospice/Palliative care programs and three medical centers.
Linda met Jim Birren when she was completing her graduate studies at the University of Southern California.She became involved in Guided Autobiography as a result of taking the two week intensive course as part of her graduate studies in the summer, l982.After moving to Pacific Palisades, Linda has been part of a Jim Birren Saturday morning hiking group. Every Saturday morning at 8:30 AM, hikers converge on the Birren home to set out on a three plus hour hike through the canyons and into the Santa Monica hills. Similar to the bond that develops in Guided Autobiography groups, the hikers have become close friends and Linda and Jim have forged a long standing friendship.

Linda has been involved in teaching Guided Autobiography with Dr. Jim Birren for the last 10 years.They have taught this course in various settings, such as UCLA Extension and in the community, such as AARP.
Helen Kerschner, Ph.D.
With a degree in public administration from USC, Dr. Kerschner has spent more than 30 years in the field of health, aging, and international development. Her background is extensive and ranges from Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa to President of the American Association for International Aging where she promoted productive aging and senior enterprise in the U.S. and abroad. Currently she is President and CEO of the Beverly Foundation in Pasadena, California. There she promotes the quality of life of America's older population through research and education in senior transportation and long term care. A long time colleague of Dr. Birren's, she participated in his Guided Autobiography class in 1998 and became a founding member of the Guided Autobiography workgroup. Helen brings her expertise in qualitative research and training in focus group organization and implementation to the Birren center.
Philip Spradling, Ph.D., MSG
Philip Spradling is adjunct professor of psychology at Woodbury University and California State University Fullerton where he teaches the psychology of aging and general psychology. Philip holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Southern California where he teaches in the Rossier School of Education Master's Program. His doctoral research focused upon the acquisition of effective learning strategies among first semester college freshmen. Philip has been a college educator for nearly twenty years, teaching students from the ages of 18 to 85. His gerontological interests include the role of spirituality and faith in the development of the human person, personality stability and change across the lifespan, and issues of meaning and faith.

Philip’s first work among older adults was the creation of a book of oral life histories of older adults in a federally subsidized housing development in urban St. Louis, Missouri. After spending a summer recording the life stories of this diverse group of elders, he was hooked and went on to manage subsidized housing for elders and disabled adults for a period of five years.

Philip is active in a large Episcopal church in Pasadena, California, where he leads Guided Autobiography groups.
Cheryl Svensson, MSG, Ph.D.
Cheryl Svensson has been involved in the field of aging since the 1970s when she landed her first job out of college as a social work assistant in a convalescent hospital. That job motivated her to want to learn as much about aging as possible and she applied to the very first Masters in Gerontology program at USC. After completing her master's, she moved to Sweden and entered the doctoral program in psychology with an emphasis on research in aging. For the past seventeen years, she has taught a class for older adults in the Continuing Learning Experience (CLE) program at Cal State University Fullerton. The class is called Wisdom Exchange because of the reciprocity in information and exchange among all involved in the class. Six years ago Cheryl reconnected with Dr. Jim Birren and enrolled in his Guided Autobiography course. She has been a firm believer in the power of the process and the potential to change lives ever since. Cheryl continues to work closely with Jim Birren and the Guided Autobiography work group to develop and expand the Autobiographical studies program.