Bernard G. Guerney, Jr.: Four Tributes from his Memorial Service

Bernard G. Guerney, Jr.: A Personal Tribute

Robert F. Scuka, Ph.D.

When I think of Bernie in personal terms, I think of his eternal warmth and caring as a human being, his inviting, infectious smile, and his love and respect for everyone he encountered.

I also think of Bernie’s supreme kindness and his generosity of spirit.

And, of course, I think of Bernie’s in-born empathetic nature, embodying in his person what he spent his life teaching others.

These were some of Bernie’s personal gifts – to his wife Louise, his children Janis, Bruce and Robert, his friends, his colleagues and the hundreds if not thousands of people whose lives he touched.

And I myself have been blessed to experience all these personal qualities of Bernie.

When I think of Bernie in professional terms, I think of his keen intellect, his patience and his wry humor. One of my favorite moments of the latter was exhibited in the P-Family videos, when the husband stumbles the first time he tries to follow Bernie’s lead in empathizing with his wife, and Bernie affectionately but firmly declares to him, “You don’t exist right now.” I have used that line many times in therapy with clients, I hope always with a tone of supportive playfulness.

When I continue to think of Bernie in professional terms, I again think of his personal qualities of kindness, patience and above all his generosity. I cannot express enough how deeply grateful I feel for how Bernie mentored me to become the professional I have been able to become under his tutelage. His generosity was exemplified in inviting me to co-lead his signature three-day RE Therapy training when I was still a pretty green therapist, out of Social Work school at the University of Maryland for less than two years.

This was the first of approximately a dozen times that I had the incredible opportunity to co-lead with Bernie, which allowed me to watch and absorb his masterly workshop leadership. This was especially evident in roleplay demonstrations in which he exhibited calmness and patient tolerance of some role-players who would intentionally create extremely difficult scenarios for him so that he could demonstrate the skillful use of special RE Therapy techniques.

Bernie’s generosity extended to allowing me to gradually assume more and more of the leadership of those RE Therapy trainings, starting with him agreeing for me to teach and demonstrate his beloved Empathic Skill. His ideal modeling of empathy, as well as his supportive and affirmative feedback, helped me to deepen my ability to become more empathetic in my therapy work with clients.

Returning to how I think of Bernie in personal terms, I will always remember, with fondness and appreciation, how deeply he felt and communicated his gratitude to me at the conclusion of every RE/Filial Conference. In those brief but moving moments I felt Bernie’s love, gratitude and appreciation. Those special moments, in addition to the entire course of my personal and professional relationship with Bernie, spurred me to do what I could to continue creating those moments of joy for Bernie. And they continue to spur me to do what I can to perpetuate his legacy as one of the giants of 20th Century couple and family therapy.

Thank you, Bernie, for all your gifts to the world and the thousands of people whose lives you have directly and indirectly affected for the good.

May you now rest in peace.

My personal tribute to Bernard G. Guerney, Jr.

Risë VanFleet, Ph.D.

Very simply, Bernie changed my life. I attended a 3-day RE workshop around 1979, and I loved it so much, and the sense of competence and confidence I gained from it, I decided I needed to go to Penn State to learn more from this man. Once I was there, he urged me to take Louise’s courses, and so I was doubly blessed. I have spent much of my career using and teaching RE and Filial just as I learned from them. There was no need to change anything in the approaches because they were so brilliantly conceived and developed. Even when I ventured into other areas, such as helping dog trainers work better with people, or into Animal Assisted Play Therapy, I took Bernie and Louise with me. The core values and skills work beautifully everywhere, and the integrative, empowering, psychoeducational model still makes complete sense to me.

Bernie was unassuming and humble in style, and he was a great man, a brilliant thinker, and a very empathic human who contributed so much to the betterment of families, as well as to his colleagues and students. In addition to his huge accomplishments, he was a man of character–a man who loved to innovate, integrate, and teach, and who truly listened and learned from everyone. I have often said that Bernie and Louise, more than anyone else I know, always practiced what they preached. There is no higher praise than that.

When I was Bernie’s teaching assistant, he surprised me one day in the class where third term students supervised second term students’ cases. He came into the room, handed me a videotape and said, “I have a few questions about this marital case I have, and I’d like you to supervise me.” I thought he was kidding, but I quickly learned he was not. Although I almost never felt anxious around Bernie, that day I did! Even so, we went through his case and, apparently, I did say something that he found useful. Through the years, I have often thought of this incredible act that demonstrated his humility and modeled his genuineness and grace. He was one in a gazillion.

My deepest sympathies go out to Louise and his beautiful family, as well as the many gathered here to honor him. We were all fortunate to know this great man–a man who has made the lives of countless colleagues, students, and families so much richer. His legacy is beyond measure. While he is gone from this earthly plane, he is not gone from my mind. I’m not referring to all the great memories I have, though. I mean he is still in my mind, continuing to teach and guide and support, just as always. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Bernard G. Guerney, Jr.: A Tribute

William Nordling, Ph.D.

I greatly regret not being with you in person to honor the memory of my long-time mentor and good friend Bernard Guerney, Jr.  I take some solace in the fact that I am at this very minute introducing Bernie and Louise Guerney’s work to mental health professionals at the Annual Conference of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association.  So literally, Bernie’s legacy lives on in the broader world even as everyone is gathered here today.

I first encountered Bernard and Louise’s work in 1987 in coursework while I was completing doctoral studies at the University of Maryland.  I quickly recognized the importance of their work and knew I wanted to become part of it, so I began to travel to Penn State University to take further training and supervision from them.  This began a truly life transforming thirty year professional and personal relationship with Bernie and Louise.

In 1991 Bernie extended to me the greatest privilege of my life by asking me to assist him in the formation of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement in the Washington, DC area. Working with him and Louise on a daily basis was truly a joy.  After thirty years of working with Bernie and Louise I can confidently say that 80% of the most important things I have learned about helping children, couples and families heal, I learned from them.

Eventually I moved to the world of academia to become a professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences at Divine Mercy University.  Not a single week goes by when I am not teaching or supervising graduate students as they learn the very things I learned from Bernie.  Bernie and Louise have been good friends of my university.  They have served on the adjunct faculty and given guest lectures. Every student that has graduated from Divine Mercy University in the past 20 years has taken two courses where Relationship Enhancement Therapy and Filial Therapy are the main focus.

The Guerney’s have even mentored some of our best and brightest students even after they graduated.  (Light humor follows) The reason I know they were our best and brightest graduates is because like me they knew a good thing when they saw it and wanted to be around the Guerney’s as much as they could.

In closing, let me profess that I would not be the person I am now if I had not encountered Bernie and Louise.  It is not just their professional mentorship that has been transformative, but more importantly the thirty years of watching Bernie and Louise’s deep love for each other and their family, experiencing their humility and generosity to all, and observing their heroic sacrifices and efforts to do good things for the world. I will miss Bernie dearly, but he will continue to be vividly present in much that I do on a daily basis.

A Personal Tribute to Bernard G. Guerney, Jr.

Mary Ortwein, M.S.

When I first met Bernie at a Penn State RE workshop in 1989, I was about to encounter the darkest, most troubled season of my life. I was seeking to learn RE for my work with a teen pregnancy grant. Greg Brock sent me. At that time, I was without mental health background and, honestly, only got the value of empathy out of that workshop. I had come to learn how to teach psycho-social skills. Distressed as the workshop ended on Monday morning, I complained to Bernie. He listened patiently and said in his way, “How long can you stay? Can we have lunch? I think I can fix that for you over lunch.” We had a four-hour lunch that sent my life in a new direction. It not only fixed my understanding of RE and skills training, it sowed the seeds (which Bernie carefully tended over the years) for fixing me. From that workshop and lunch, I became committed to making the RE way how I live the practicalities of my Christian faith. Consequently, when that very dark time came, I was able to remain a loving person.

In our thirty-year relationship, Bernie and I have had many deep conversations, some of them about spiritual matters. During one of those conversations I shared this poem, saying, “Bernie, I think this describes you.” Bernie listened and said, “Yes, I like that very much. Yes, that is me.”

So, today, I offer the same poem, by Leigh Hunt, in deep gratitude to the man who practiced what he taught and taught what he practiced. He thought it out, wrote it down, and researched it through, that people across faiths, cultures, and classes can ALL better love.

Abou Ben Adhem

By Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight in his room,

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold:—

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

And to the presence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,

And with a look made of all sweet accord,

Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”

Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,

Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”


The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night

It came again with a great wakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.