Dr. Cummings is a visionary who, for half a century not only was able to foresee the future of professional psychology, but also helped create it. A former president of the American Psychological Association (APA) as well as its Divisions 12 (Clinical Psychology) and 29 (Psychotherapy), he formed a number of national organizations in response to trends. Since organized psychology resisted these inevitable changes, Dr. Cummings blazed the way, expecting others would follow. He launched the professional school movement by founding the four campuses of the California School of Professional Psychology that established clinicians as full-fledged members of the faculty. As chief of mental health for the Kaiser Permanente health system in the 1950s, he wrote and implemented the first prepaid psychotherapy contract in the era when psychotherapy was an exclusion rather than a covered benefit in health insurance. He wrote what is known as the freedom-of-choice legislation that requires insurers to reimburse psychologists along with psychiatrists, and he conducted the medical cost offset research showing that psychological interventions save medical/surgical dollars.
Foreseeing the industrialization of healthcare, and particularly behavioral healthcare, he founded American Biodyne, the nation’s first and only psychology-driven managed behavioral health organization (MBHO), to be emulated so that the profession could own managed behavioral care before it fell into the hands of business interests. For two years he limited enrollment to 500,000 covered lives, but when the professions of psychology and psychiatry ignored the model, he took his foot off the brake, and the number of covered lives soared to 14.5 million in the next 5 years and to 25 million shortly thereafter. Other organizations he founded included the National Academies of Practice (the 150 most distinguished practitioners in each of dentistry, medicine, nursing, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, pediatric medicine, psychology, social work, and veterinary medicine), the National Council of Professional Schools of Psychology (NCSPP), the San Joaquin County Psychological Association, and the American Managed Behavioral Healthcare Association (AMBHA). With others he co-founded the California Psychological Association, the San Francisco Bay Area Psychological Association, and the Council for the Advancement of the Psychological Professions and Sciences (CAPPS).
In spite of being controversial all of his life, he is the recipient of numerous awards, including psychology’s highest, the APF Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Practice.
Dr. Cummings received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, his master’s degree in psychology from Claremont Graduate School, and his doctorate in clinical psychology from Adelphi University. He has been awarded five honorary doctorates for his innovations in such diverse fields as education and the Greek classics. Along with his professional, scientific and educational contributions, he has been feted as the foremost entrepreneur in psychology.
Dr. Cummings was a member of President Kennedy’s Mental Health Task Force and President Carter’s Mental Health Commission. He was an advisor to the Health Economics Branch of the then Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Senate Subcommittee on Health (Senator Edward Kennedy, Chair), and the Senate Finance Committee (Senator Russell Long, Chair). He has testified before the Congress of the United States 18 times. On behalf of the Health Care Financing Administration, he conducted the 7-year Hawaii Medicaid Project that prompted the federal government to overhaul the way Medicaid was being delivered.
His daughter, Dr. Janet Cummings, remembers that her father always had two, and usually 3 full time jobs. She attributes this to her father’s ability to get along with only 3 hours of sleep at night. He served as executive director of the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, and he has written over 450 book chapters and journal articles, along with 51 books, 10 with Janet. Throughout the half-century of professional activity, Dr. Cummings never saw less than 40 to 50 patients per week in private practice. His belief has been that once he lost contact with hands-on clinical practice, he would lose sight of the important factors in clinical psychology.
In 2007 and in concert with ASU President Michael Crow and ASU Foundation President Robert Bulla, he designed and launched with Provost Betty Capaldi the state-of-the-art Doctor of Behavioral Health program, now in ASU’s School of Health Solutions, where will be housed the planned medical school, and where currently the nursing school and other innovative healthcare programs are flourishing. Known also as the Nicholas A. Cummings Doctor of Behavioral Health Program, it not only was for 7 years at the innovative forefront of primary/behavioral integrated healthcare, it also trained the DBH to be an integral highly innovative part of the nation’s healthcare system.
At the present time he resides in Reno, Nevada with the one love of his life, Dorothy Mills Cummings. They maintain a winter home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He held the title of Distinguished Founder at ASU until the Nicholas A. Cummings Doctor of Behavioral Health was discontinued by ASU. He continues as Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno, and active president of the Cummings Foundation for Behavioral Health Studies. He also chairs the Board of Directors of the Nicholas & Dorothy Cummings Foundation.