Schucman, Helen (1910-1981)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Schucman, Helen (1910-1981)

Helen Schucman, the psychologist and channel who received the material later incorporated into A Course in Miracles (ACIM), the most successful channelled work of the late twentieth century, was born Helen Cohn, the daughter of Sigmund Cohn, a chemist. Her mother had dabbled both in Theosophy and Christian Science, but Helen had not been interested in either. She was influenced by a Roman Catholic governess and throughout her life she periodically attended mass and possessed a number of rosaries she had collected over the years. During her teens, she was attended by an African-American maid who saw to her baptism as a Baptist. However, through most of her life, she was a professing atheist who was quite aware of the dominant secularism of her professional colleagues.

She attended New York University, aiming for a career as a writer or possibly an English teacher, but following her graduation suffered a traumatic experience from complications following a gall bladder operation. In 1933 she married Louis Schucman, the owner of an antiquarian bookstore, and settled down to life as a housewife and sometime assistant to her husband. In 1952, however, she decided to return to school and entered the psychology program at her alma mater. She specialized in clinical psychology and concentrated upon the problems of mental retardation in children.

Following her graduation with a Ph.D., in 1958 she accepted a position at Colombia-Presbyterian Medical Center. Here she met William N. Tetford, the new head of the hospital's Psychology Department. The pair was temperamentally very different, and the next seven years they had an often stormy relationship. Then in 1965, Tetford, who had been dabbling in metaphysical literature, suggested that they attempt to change their relationship and shortly thereafter, at Tetford's suggestion, they began to practice meditation. Schucman began to have vivid visual experiences. Tetford suggested that she record her experiences, but and on October 21, 1965, she heard an inner voice that told her, "This is a course in miracles. Please take notes." Again Tetford suggested that she do what the voice told her.

Schucman recorded what she was told in shorthand and over the next seven years read her notes to Tetford, who transcribed them. Eventually some 1,200 pages were received. She then worked with Kenneth Wapnick to edit the materials that would later be published as the three-volume A Course in Miracles. The material, whose teachings are very close to those found in New Thought metaphysics, claims to have been dictated by Jesus Christ. It offers a means to a more meaningful life as an awakened child of god who learns the self-recrimination that manifests as guilt and hostility can be overcome through forgiveness and learning to forgive.

Schucman was ambivalent about the material and the method of its reception, both of which contradicted her selfprofessed atheism. However, she slowly became more comfortable with the material and finally allowed its publication in 1975. She assigned the copyrights to the Foundation for Inner Peace, a corporation set up to publish the books and disseminate the teachings. The Course took off and quickly spread through the New Thought and New Age communities. However, Schucman continued to be in the background and, while identified as the channel, was known only to a small circle of early leaders in the New York area.

In 1980, she developed pancreatic cancer and withdrew even more and lived largely cut off from the growing ACIM community until her death in 1981. Only in the years after her death was the story of her life made known.

Sources:

A Course in Miracles. 3 vols. New York: Foundation for Inner Peace, 1975.

Koggend, John. "The Gospel According to Helen." Psychology Today 14 (September 1980): 74-78.

Miller, D. Patrick. The Complete Story of the Course: The History, The People and the Controversies Behind A Course in Miracles. Berkeley, Calif.: Fearless Books, 1997.

Skutch, Judith. "A Course in Miracles, the Untold Story." Parts 1 &2. New Realities 4, no. 1, 2 (August, September/October 1984): 17-27; 8-15, 78.

Wapnick, Kenneth. Absence of Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of A Course in Miracles. Roscoe, N.Y.: Foundation for "A Course in Miracles," 1991.