It was the decision of Silvan Tomkins's son, Mark, to ask help not from any of the scientists who had worked with Professor Tomkins during his active career, but a clinician who had spent the past decade working with Tomkins on possible applications of the theoretical work that had occupied him for more than 40 years. Donald L. Nathanson, MD, trained initially as an endocrinologist, then as a psychiatrist, had committed himself to study the role of affect in every aspect of human life. Nathanson’s background in psychopharma-cology encouraged him to reinterpret the action of psychoactive medications in terms of their interaction with the affect system, and a decade earlier he had initiated a Study Group through which he and other clinicians learned the psychology of affect. Nathanson’s first two edited books - "The Many Faces of Shame" (Guilford, 1987) and "Denial: A Theoretical Clarification of Concepts and Research" (Plenum, 1989) - had established his reputation as a leader in the study of affect in normal life and psychopathology. Nathanson had worked closely with Tomkins during the two year gestation of his monograph "Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self." Tomkins respected the amount of work expended to make his ideas clear to a wide audience, was grateful for the opportunity to go over every page of the manuscript to make sure it was free of errors, and expressed great respect that Nathanson had extended Tomkins’s work on affect and drive to develop a matching and interwoven theory of sexuality. Dedicated to Tomkins, this book was released early in 1992, some months after his death.
With the assistance of his long time colleague, psychiatrist Vernon C. Kelly, Jr., MD, a campaign was mounted to find other clinicians who shared their conviction that emotion deserved far more attention than it received at that moment. Dr. Kelly took the responsibility for all educational programs presented by the Institute, and as its Training Director began to find new ways to gain an audience for these ideas. Using their own personal funds, they organized an October 1993 public conference in Philadelphia that presented the basic tenets of Tomkins’s Affect Theory, Nathanson’s work on the psychology of shame and the relation between affect and psychopharmacology, and Kelly’s work with Tomkins on a blueprint for interpersonal intimacy leading to a new system of couples therapy that Dr. Kelly derived from this concept. More than half of those who attended joined the Institute and took an active part in its work.
Dr. Kelly initiated a Study Group system for which they developed a curriculum based on selected passages from Tomkins's "Affect Imagery Consciousness" (AIC) and sections culled from "Shame and Pride." Questions asked by Study Group members were answered by Dr. Kelly, and these interactions were folded into the formal program. In rapid succession, Dr. Kelly developed the complex manuals and protocols required to allow certification of both the annual conferences and the Study Groups for Continuing Education credit acceptable to all the major professional organizations. As the leadership of the Tomkins Institute began to study the recently released final volumes of AIC, a Second Year program was added to the Study Group syllabus. Under the leadership of New York based psychologist Melvyn Hill, a committee then developed a Third Year program concentrating on the management of clinical issues. A list of all the annual conferences may be found elsewhere on this site, for each of which an album of audiotapes may be purchased.
Between 1994 and 1997, Drs. Nathanson and Kelly produced a small journal featuring articles on theoretical and clinical matters called "The Bulletin of the Tomkins Institute." Articles from this short-lived venture found their way into the Study Group syllabus. In 1996, Gilbert Levin, PhD, director of the highly regarded symposia produced for the Cape Cod Institute summer programs, initiated Behavior OnLine, the first Internet based site through which the lay public could address questions to professional psychotherapists. Dr. Nathanson was asked to open this series with an interactive offering called the Shame and Affect Theory Forum, which he led until mid-2003 when the Institute began work on its own website. For the past several years, all Institute members capable of processing electronic mail have been linked through a listserv called Tomkins-Talk, managed by Chuck Yopst, D.Min. Under the direction of editor John Brodsky, MD, the Tomkins Institute has for several years published a Newsletter featuring articles about affect and script based interpretations of sociocultural matters including feature films and current events. Members have given formal presentations to a wide range of scholarly and clinical organizations, consulted for many newspapers and magazines, advised organizations and local governments, and taught in a surprisingly large number of venues. And the steady incorporation of affect script psychology insights into both their personal and professional lives has resulted in members publishing a number of useful and inspiring books. A list of these titles as well as books by non-members who refer to Tomkins can be found here at Books about ASP.
In June 2009, after 18 years as Executive Director, Dr. Nathanson felt it was time to step down from his leadership role. A new Board of Directors was elected and Dr. Nathanson, with much gratitude for his tireless work for the Institute, appointed as Founding Executive Director Emeritus. Over two days of intensive meetings, members of the new Board discovered that their interest-excitement in affect script psychology remained high and that they shared a mutual desire to revitalize the Institute and to extend its reach worldwide both to professional and to lay audiences. The new members of the Board of Directors included: Lauren Abramson, PhD; John Brodsky, MD; Gary David, PhD; John Fontana III, MBA, MRE; Charles Gaby, LPC; Jonathan Grindlinger, MD; Vernon C. Kelly, Jr., MD; Rev David W. McShane, D.D.; David E Morrison, III, MD; and Mark Tomkins, LFD.
The Tomkins Institute has been fortunate to receive significant grants from a number of individuals and Foundations. Among the Foundations that have supported our research and teaching have been the Bank of America, The Carpenter Foundation, the Prudential Foundation, the Oxford Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The Tzadeka Foundation.