Spotlight on history

Profiles in military psychology: Col. Robert S. Nichols

Reflections on the life and career of Col. Robert Nichols.

By Gerald P. Krueger

Just to note, I am still looking for new members for the history committee. I should add that student members are most welcome. We have many things we could do to improve the society's history knowledge and to ensure we archive important historical facts and events as they unfold. I need help. As of now I am a committee of one—need I say more? Maybe. We'll see how many volunteers I get for the committee.


That said, the true focus of this issue's spotlight on history is a profile of one our important ancestors, Bob Nichols, contributed by Jerry Krueger, a fellow and former president of our society. Jerry has not only contributed this excellent profile but still continues to serve the society in many important ways, including as a member of the Fellows Committee. I should point out that the society's Robert S. Nichols Award, established in Bob's honor, recognizes excellence in service by uniformed clinical psychologists to military personnel and their families. I also should note that Charles Gersoni, another of our important ancestors, was one of Bob's heroes and Bob was instrumental in the renaming of the society's Military Psychology Award as the Charles S. Gersoni Award.


Jerry's profile article of Bob describes his many contributions to psychology and to military clinical psychology in particular. Bob was one of our society's most significant and beloved members, as you will see in Jerry's profile of his career. We are indebted to Bob's daughter Kathryn and especially to his wife Rose Ann, who was always at Bob's side and a great supporter of his military psychology endeavors, for the photo of Bob that appears in the article.


—Paul A. Gade, Editor, Spotlight on History

Profile: Col. Robert S. Nichols

Col. Robert Stanton Nichols had a distinguished 30-year active duty career as an Army clinical psychologist. He served as president of our society in 1982-83 and as its representative to the APA Council from 1983-86. In his life's work, Nichols was truly dedicated to improving the lot of those people who chose to serve our nation in the military. Bob, as he was always known to his friends and colleagues, was a tireless advocate of military psychology, focusing his numerous efforts first within the U.S. Army and then, after retirement, as an active, prominent spokesperson for our profession within APA.

Bob earned his bachelor's degree and his commission as an Army Medical Service Corps lieutenant at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1950. He received his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Rochester, New York, in 1956 and was board certified in clinical psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology in 1961. He earned a master's degree in hygiene from the Harvard School of Public Health in 1963. He graduated from the U.S. Army's Medical Field Service School at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas; the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1969; and the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1973.

Bob did his psychology internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He then served as a staff psychologist at Fitzsimons Hospital in Denver, Colorado, and as the chief psychologist in the mental hygiene consultation service at Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. From 1964-68, Bob served as the chief psychologist in the psychiatry department at the Army hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, where he supervised those providing mental health services to 50,000 military and dependents throughout Southwest Germany and served as regional mental health consultant to commanders, chaplains, dependent schools and medical agencies.

From 1969-73, he served in the Mental Hygiene Consultation Service (MHCS) at the Army's Silas B. Hays Hospital at Fort Ord, California. In 1972, Bob became the first psychologist to be appointed as chief of that MHCS, a role that previously was limited to psychiatrists and, at the time, this was considered to be an exception to Army policy. It would be 1984 before the Army acknowledged the greater autonomy and broader roles of nonphysician professionals. In his role as chief of the Fort Ord MHCS, Bob directed 35 members of a multidisciplinary staff providing community mental health services to 100,000 active duty and retired personnel and their families. While also serving as chief psychologist and director of training (1970-73), Bob founded and developed the Army's new community-oriented clinical psychology internship program. The interns were encouraged to live on the military base, where they could and did have frequent contact with the military community's personnel and activities where Bob said they learned the skills of community psychology in addition to more traditional clinical skills. Bob shepherded that internship program through the process of attaining full APA accreditation in 1971. The Fort Ord internship program lasted over two decades. It ended when Fort Ord was downsized in 1993.

Nichols was indeed a unique military psychologist. From 1973-78, he was director of human resources development and of curricular research and was director of American studies at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There he taught high-level command and management; national and international security studies, including political, economic and social psychological military analyses of the United States and foreign nations; and special applications of military psychology.

As assistant dean for academic support and assistant professor of medical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland (1978-79), Nichols directed admissions for the new military medical school. As chief of the Health Education and Training Division at the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Personnel Support Agency in Washington, D.C. (1979-81), Nichols supervised all Army medical health-related education, which included formulating training for 45,000 AMEDD students per year while overseeing an annual budget of over $50 million.

Bob completed his distinguished 30-year military career by serving two years as the psychology consultant to the Army Surgeon General where he supervised recruitment and career development for 150 commissioned Army psychologists and 50 psychology graduate student officers. For senior leaders in the Pentagon, Bob provided advice on psychological aspects of a wide variety of military operations. At his retirement from the active U.S. Army in December 1982, Colonel Nichols received the Legion of Merit medal. The Legion of Merit is one of the U.S. military's most prestigious awards, ranking just below the Silver Star and ahead of the Distinguished Flying Cross. It is one of only two decorations to be issued as neck wear, the other being the Medal of Honor. Later, in 1988, he received the Award for Excellence in Army Psychology from the Association of Army Psychologists.

Bob became the director of Mental Health Programs, Policy and Planning for the Fairfax and Falls Church, Virginia Community Services Board (1983–94). There he directed a large community mental health program with a budget of over $24 million and a 500-person staff providing clinical and community services to 17,000 clients per year.

In his retirement years, Bob did much volunteer work, such as representing the Association for the Advancement of Psychology in the Washington-based Mental Health Liaison Group. Bob served as president of APA's Div. 19 (1982–83) and as chairman of Div. 19's Clinical Practice Committee, and he served as the division's representative to the APA Council of Representatives (1983-86). For the benefit of all of us in Div. 19, Bob continued tirelessly to teach and to advocate, making significant progress on the important issues that were the hallmark of his active duty career, stressing the following: social and psychological aspects of the military experience in Vietnam, dealing with ineffective military personnel;, equal opportunity; drug and alcohol abuse problems; understanding women's changing roles in the military and society; prevalence and nature of race relations; concerns over acceptance of gays and lesbians in the uniformed service of our nation; provision of clinical psychology and social services for military families; and pushing for improvements in community organizational psychology and mental health programs.

For several decades, Bob became our principal spokesperson and advocate for ensuring that the broader membership of the APA understood and recognized the significant accomplishments of deserving military psychologists. He served for years on the Div. 19 Fellows Committee. One of my own recollections of Bob in action was watching him educate the APA Membership Committee as to why deserving uniformed clinical psychologists ought to be recognized as APA fellows for their numerous contributions in caring for our troops, their leaders and their families in the military theater and on deployments overseas to harsh environments. He patiently explained that such noteworthy assignments simply are not conducive to producing published articles in referred journals, but the impact of providing cogent consultation and advice to field commanders on the preservation of the health, performance and morale of thousands of troops in a combat zone was critically important to accomplishing the military mission. The eye-opening insights into the career of uniformed psychologists was much appreciated by our APA psychologist colleagues as most of them have too little grasp of what we do for a living.

In the post-Vietnam era, there was within APA somewhat of a rift among APA general membership, some outspoken members of APA Council and those of us who called ourselves military psychologists. During the years of friction over the role of military psychologists in an unpopular war and over Department of Defense (DoD) policies regarding gays and lesbians in the military, Bob worked ardently within APA to help resolve the disagreements. He worked to regain recognition of the importance of decades of good work by military psychologists. He was a key member of the APA's Div. 19/44 Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Military Service. The groundbreaking work of this task force led to a number of forward-looking recommendations and resulted in rescinding APA's restrictive ban on DoD recruitment or internship advertising in APA publications and at APA conventions.

Bob spearheaded efforts to convince the APA Council to recognize and honor those uniformed psychologists who made numerous contributions during the Vietnam conflict over three decades previously. Through Bob's considerable efforts, the APA president and the APA Council, at the 2001 convention in Chicago, gave formal recognition and presidential citations for their contributions to all psychologists who served in the Vietnam War. Col. Paul Bartone, past president of Div. 19, recalled the moving moments when the APA Council members gave a spontaneous standing ovation to those veteran psychologists. This moving tribute was a turning point in the modern era of APA, for it helped to restore the rightful recognition of the contributions and role of military psychologists.

Among his mentors, Bob included Col. Charles S. Gersoni, the first clinical psychology consultant to the Army Surgeon General (1947–51). Gersoni established precedent by requiring all uniformed clinical psychologists to have doctoral training. Additionally, Bob admired Col. Charles A. Thomas as the most effective clinical psychology consultant to the Army Surgeon General. Bob was particularly inspired by Patrick H. DeLeon (president of APA in 2000), whom he regarded as one of APA's hardest workers. Particularly noteworthy among DeLeon's significant efforts was his work to enact congressional legislation that greatly assisted military psychology, including directing the military to ensure that psychology services at hospitals where psychologists were trained were organizationally separated from psychiatry departments and thus free of psychiatric control. DeLeon also exhibited support of military psychology by guiding the legislative effort to initiate the DoD Psychopharmacology Demonstration Project, which, beginning in 1991, trained seven military clinical psychologists to prescribe psychoactive medications—a seminal initiative that later found its way into civilian health care settings.

In addition to being a fellow in our society, Bob was a fellow in APA Divs. 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology) and 48 (Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence). The Association for the Advancement of Psychology presented him with the Outstanding Advocate for Psychology Award in 1998. In 2002, our society recognized Nichols' long history of service to military psychology by awarding him the John C. Flanagan Award Lifetime Achievement Award in military psychology.

During his last year with us, Bob organized our first annual workshop for military clinical psychologists: “Psychological Services for Warriors During Combat and Combat-Related Missions.” It was a grand success at the 2005 APA Annual Convention, and it has continued from time to time in Bob's memory.

At the 2005 APA Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., Brig. Gen. Dana Born and Col. Paul Bartone recognized Nichols with a special APA Div. 19 Award for Exceptional Service to Military Psychology for his many contributions to military psychology over several decades. Bartone pointed out that Bob's life exemplified service and that he continually worked for the ethical and humane applications of psychology within the military. Nichols worked vigorously within APA and in our society to advance military psychology, always with the clear goal of helping those who serve.

For a fascinating historical perspective explaining the history and achievements of the remarkable clinical psychologists who served in the U.S. Army after World War II, it is recommended that readers see Nichols' (2006) chapter, which describes how uniformed Army clinical psychologists were recruited and trained, explains the services they provided and discusses the important professional innovations that have greatly benefited soldiers and their families.

Recipients of the Robert S. Nichols Award are as follows:

  • 2010: L. Morgan Banks III
  • 2011: Larry C. James
  • 2012: Thomas Williams
  • 2013: James A. Young
  • 2014: Scott Edwards
  • 2015: Sally C. Harvey


Nichols, R. S. (2006). Clinical psychology in the U.S. Army: 1946-2004. In A. D. Mangelsdorff (Ed.), Psychology in the service of national security (pp. 153–167). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

For further information, please contact Paul A. Gade.