Rollo May's Mentors

Rollo May's 

Key Mentors

Rollo May's Key Mentors in Chronological Order   

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) 

May’s first mentor in psychology was the internationally renowned Adler. He gave summer seminars in Austria during the early 1930s that impacted young May tremendously, especially on the practice of counseling. Adler’s view on courage as a vital trait was also influential on May’s evolving outlook.

Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich (1886-1965)

Originally Tillich’s student at the Union Theological Seminary in the mid-1930s, May became a close friend until the latter’s death more than 30 years later. Tillich’s theology profoundly shaped May’s development of existential psychology and existential psychotherapy.

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm (1900-1980)

May trained with Fromm at the William Alanson White Institute in the 1940s and valued his insights about how culture affects personality, such as altruism versus selfishness.  

Otto Klineberg

Otto Klineberg (1899-1992)

While engaging in doctoral psychology at Columbia University in the 1940s, May studied with Klineberg, whose specialty was social psychology. He was a  lifelong debunker of racial superiority theories and championed cross-cultural social research. 

Frieda Fromm-Reichmann

Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (1889-1957)

May trained too with psychiatrist Fromm-Reichmann at the William Alanson White Institute in the 1940s and considered her to be a brilliant therapist. He was influenced by her work on loneliness as a detrimental psychological force.    

Harry Stack Sullivan

Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949)

A leading figure at the William Alanson White Institute during this same period, he influenced May’s conception of the healthy personality: that is, the ability to form emotionally intimate relations. Sullivan’s system is known as interpersonal psychiatry.

Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Beginning with May’s life-threatening bout with tuberculosis in the early-to-mid 1940s, he was most influenced philosophically by Kierkegaard. As summarized by the Stanford Encyclopedia (2017), “he is known as `the father of existentialism’” whose “work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature, and fiction.”   

 Some representative quotes by Kierkegaard:

  • “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” 
  •  “Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.” 
  •  “The most common form of despair is not being who you are.”  
  • “What labels me, negates me.”
  • “Love discovers truths about individuals that others cannot see.”