Wilma Bucci

Faculty, Professor

Wilma Bucci, Ph.D.


October 31, 2014
Tagged: Derner School of Psychology, Day Residue

Wilma Bucci

Faculty, Professor


Wilma-Bucci-PhDDr. Bucci has been part of the Derner community for 30 years. While she has continually supervised dissertations, she stopped teaching Cognition and Emotion in 2008 to focus on research and other projects. Though she hadn’t planned it, in 2012 she began teaching the course again and reentered the life of a Derner faculty member.

“Avigail Gordon, who was in my Emotion and Cognition class last semester, kindly asked to interview me for Day Residue. She sent me a number of questions, which I thought were quite interesting; I will respond to them in spirit rather than directly. So this is sort of a personal letter from me to Derner inspired and guided by Avigail.

“I came to Derner in 1983, taught what I thought was my last class at Derner in Spring of 2008, but kept my work group going on Wednesdays for the next several years. I was gradually moving my research base to our space at the Pacella Parent Child Center at New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and contemplating actual separation from Derner, when Chris asked me if I would teach Cognition and Emotion for one more year. Although I had taught that course for maybe about 20 years – since the early 1990s – it is a lot of work every time I teach it. I make changes every year, to keep the course timely and to keep myself interested. I also like to read the students’ work carefully and to give them feedback, so they have a chance to learn something, and that is very time consuming although (sometimes) rewarding work. (I know it is difficult for students to realize that paper reading can be as hard for the professor as paper writing is for them).

“Since I had many research and writing projects under way, and since I envisioned how much work teaching the course would be, I said no, with considerable regret, to Chris. (As you might infer, I have a strong love/hate relationship with teaching that course, and I could go on in considerable detail about that). Then the heavy artillery thumb in the eye charm brigade came in; i.e. Jacques asked me to teach, emphasized how it would be good for the book I am trying to write, etc. and etc. So there I was, teaching the course in the fall, and then somehow or other – was I asked?? – teaching it again in the spring.

“Am I glad I did it? Yes of course, how can I not be glad of the interaction with the students, and of the depth of understanding one can get from trying to teach complex material and being challenged by questions. Am I glad it is almost over? Yes of course. Would I want to do it again? Not this course at Derner, but I am happy to still have students working on our projects at several universities as well as here. We have a seminar that meets at the Manhattan Center about half the year on our research, and I get many invitations elsewhere to lecture and supervise on my theoretical work and our research. We now have a very nice website ( and people can go there to learn more about our research group and our publications.

“But I wanted to make these comments more personal, about how it feels to be an outsider looking in at a place where I was such an involved and active insider for so many years. I have seen so many changes since I first came. I think I was the last person hired by Gordon Derner and I arrived at Derner the day after the weekend he died. I met the faculty for the first time assembled at a meeting in which they were trying – in various states of emotional disarray and dissociation – to somehow incorporate this relatively sudden and terribly personally meaningful event (though he had been sick for a long time). I have had many relationships with my colleagues over the years, but I think I know some of them whom I met that day in a different way because I met them then. After a while, Marty Fisher (whom some of the faculty may remember) very kindly realized they had a new faculty member there and some kind of welcome occurred. I felt an outsider then, for sure, and remained that way in some respects, as a researcher, for a while.

“When I first came there were two tracks, a small four year track with a more intensive research component and a larger three year clinical track, and that made it a different kind of place than it is now. But there are still many different kinds of students, many different kind of faculty here today. I saw myself – still see myself – as on the interface between the theoretical clinical and research areas and I think there is still room and need for that here. To bring this around to my personal feelings about being an official outsider here now, I am glad not to have to fight the battles of various different sorts that I fought while I was here, and very glad to be out of officialdom with all its requirements and demands. Of course I miss the excitement – but it is interesting how the challenges can seem more like excitement when viewed from the outside and more like stress and acrimony when one is inside and one’s life and work are at stake.

“Finally – to make the point that what goes around comes around – whatever that means – I will tell you what I did last Monday. I have been looking at the basic process that I call Referential Activity (RA) in many ways, in many contexts from the beginning of my career, even before I came to Derner. RA refers to the bidirectional process of connecting nonverbal experience including emotional experience with language, as this operates in therapy and in many other contexts. All my students have learned to score the RA scales, and we have now also developed computerized versions of RA and many other related psycholinguistic processes that operate in emotional communication. 

“When I began this work we looked at both the trait and state aspects of RA. On the one hand, some people seem to have consistently closer, faster connections between nonverbal and verbal systems, whether learned or innate, that show up in many different kinds of tasks; on the other hand, level of RA varies with interpersonal context and internal state. We let some of this basic research on the trait or competence component lapse with our current emphasis on the process component, but are now becoming quite interested in that again. Valentina Stoycheva (who is now in the fourth year here) and Sean Murphy (who graduated a year ago and is doing a post-doctoral fellowship with me now) worked together on a referential competence study during the last couple of years with some mixed results. Last Monday, Sean and I went over to the library to look at some early dissertations from my work group that focused on the trait aspect of RA. We were looking in particular for the dissertation of Jill Bowen who looked in depth at the trait component; Jill got some very interesting results that raise some interesting questions that we plan to explore further now, in a study aimed at partly replicating and partly extending her work.

“Jill was my very first student here; she graduated in 1987. It seems serendipitous to pick up and continue Jill’s work in the last weeks of my teaching here. That visit to the stacks of dissertations was like a walk down memory lane as you can imagine. I have supervised about 3 or 4 students a year since I am here so you can do the math. The interesting thing is that I can vividly remember each one of them, their labor pains of producing the dissertation and the joy (in most cases) afterwards. It is a very special relationship to have a dissertation student, and it’s never lost. Even if one doesn’t see the person again, they are always ‘my students’, like members of my family; and Derner feels like and will continue to feel like my family as well.”

Published Spring 2013 in Day Residue, the Derner Institute Doctoral Student Newsletter
Tagged: Derner School of Psychology, Day Residue
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