Professor pioneers hypnotic educational styles


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Psychology professor Steven Greer has taught at CCC for over 45 years and has filled many positions here, including track coach and athletic academic counselor. He is also a co-creator of the health and human services department.

By Ryan Geller, News Editor

We don’t normally think of hypnosis as a practical skill that people need, but it is one of the pillars on which psychology professor Stephen Greer has built his career. When Greer proposed teaching a course on hypnosis at Contra Costa College he used the phrase “Selective Awareness” to describe the curriculum he wanted to create.

The dean of instruction responded by saying, “That’s hypnosis! Why don’t we just call it ‘stress management’.”

They settled on calling the course the “Psychology of Stress.”

The class was first held in the spring of 1983 and it enjoyed a lot of popularity partly due to the holistic health movement, Greer said.

“Folks at Kaiser Hospital in Richmond heard about it so we did a program there for three years. But it all started with my athletes.”

At the same time, Greer worked at John F. Kennedy University with Dr. Tom Tutko, who is one of the pioneers of sports psychology.

“One of the mental errors for a person or athlete getting ready to do an event,” Greer said, “is that sometimes, in their mind, they will prepare themselves for mediocrity.”

Hypnosis is just a heightened state of relaxation and it is good for anyone who wants to create a mental edge for peak performance. It’s not a meditation. There is relaxation, deep breathing and a mental rehearsal of what you are going to do in your mind.

You must see yourself doing it correctly, Greer said.

Greer’s path to a career that includes over 45 years at CCC is as unusual as some of the techniques he employs in what he calls the “helping fields.”

Greer lived half a block off Haight Street in San Francisco in the late 60s. Students were demanding an ethnic studies program at San Francisco State University.

There was a lot of social change going on, Greer said.

“Partly due to music and the social growth where I was, I ended up being pushed in the direction of the helping fields and education.

“I played funk music with Sly Stone and through the music, I was exposed to many different people and places.

But the main thing that pushed me in the direction of the helping fields was working with the kids at juvenile hall,” Greer said.

According to Greer, after he graduated he had trouble finding a job because he had not yet turned 21. He got hired for a social services position, but it wasn’t quite right so when a friend told him about a position working at West County Juvenile Hall he took the job.

Greer found the work rewarding and he went on to become a probation officer.

“I was still working with some of the same kids from juvenile hall. I was able to talk them into going to school. Many were successful and many of those students joined the College Readiness Program that we created at CCC.”

Greer started working at CCC in September of 1970 as a counselor and a few years later he began coaching track. One of the students that Greer recruited for the CCC track team was Fred Jackson, who graduated from Richmond High in 1976.

Jackson lost his father when he was 11 years old.

“When you don’t have a father, it’s important to have a mentor to look up to. When I reflect on my life, I know I was blessed to have Stephen Greer as a coach,” he said.

Jackson said that many of the skills that Greer taught him on the track have been useful throughout his life. When he faced challenging situations at work he reminded himself to stay focused just as if he was competing in a track event.

When his mother fell ill, he was able to use the mental focus techniques to stay present and care for her, it even helped him rebuild his life after his wife passed away.

“Many of those athletes are raising a family and doing well. I know for a fact that a little piece of (Greer’s) wisdom and guidance is there with them.

“What he did for me personally as a man was invaluable. I have two daughters now who are doing great things,” he said.

Over the years Greer made his mark at CCC in many ways including creating the health and human services department. Although, Greer said, current department Chairperson Aminta Mickles is the one who really developed the programs and made the department a success.

Of course, when Mickles was a student here at CCC she had Greer as her track coach.

“When continuing my career in college, he helped me to know that I could go a lot further,” Mickles said.