Remembering Sandy Sela-Smith

It is with much sadness that I share on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Humanistic Counseling and Psychological Association of the death of Sandy Sela-Smith. Sandy died on June 6, 2021 of pancreatic cancer. She was a founding member of the Rocky Mountain Humanistic Counseling and Psychological Association and the 2010 recipient of the Humanistic Exemplar Award, which was subsequently named after Dr. Sela-Smith. 

I first met Sandy when we taught together at Saybrook University. She taught courses on writing and transpersonal psychology, and she remained deeply involved with the Existential and Humansitic Psychology Specialization. In her capacity as a writing instructor and editor, she worked with numerous doctoral students at Saybrook University. Early on in my time at Saybrook, I was surprised at the depth of relationships she developed with many of her dissertation students—both those for whom she was serving on their committee and those for whom she was serving as editor. Her compassion and concern for students, and their writing, impacted more than the quality of the dissertation. Truly, she embodied a humanistic approach to editing and mentoring. 

In the years that I knew Sandy, I had the opportunity to work with her on dissertation committees, present workshops together, and serve on faculty committees with her. Some of my fondest memories of Sandy were in committee meetings when dealing with difficult topics. She routinely urged us to consider how our humanistic values should inform the way we approach difficult challenges. You could hear the compassion and the commitment in her voice as she time and again brought us back to our foundation. 

Sandy, too, was a dog lover, and I would be amiss not to share this important part of her life. She often sent me photos and videos of her dogs. Although I never met them, I felt like I had come to know their personalities. And her love for her dogs was evident in all her stories about them. This reflected how her humanistic values were not just about people. The interconnectedness of life—including the value of animals and nature—were part of who Sandy was. 

As Sandy went through her battle with pancreatic cancer, I stayed regularly in contact with her. She shared in many emails and texts, as well as a few phone calls, of how she was faring as she approached facing her own mortality. Her award presentation at the 2020 RMHCPA conference also discussed this journey and inspired many who were able to attend. Reading the responses to this presentation was truly heartening. Sandy loved life and wanted to live, but she also knew that, in reality, she wouldn’t. Through her writing and processing of her struggle, she also came to a peace with death that did not tarnish her love for life. This was not a perfect peace, as it rarely is when facing such a difficult path. Yet, she was honest with her struggle and with her peace, which was a gift to those who were part of this final journey of Sandy’s. I will always remember and cherish these final conversations—and I will miss them, too, as I miss my friend, Dr. Sandy Sela-Smith. These conversations were not unique with me. I know she shared her journey with many, and in doing this modeled again how her humanistic values informed every aspect of her life. 

In 2020, the RMHCPA board unanimously voted to name our humanistic exemplar award as the Sandy Sela-Smith Humansitic Exemplar Award because of the way that she consistently lived her humanistic values. Please join me and the board of the Rocky Mountain Humanistic Counseling and Psychological Association in mourning the loss and celebrating the life of Dr. Sandy Sela-Smith. We invite you to share your memories and appreciations of Sandy as a comment on our website or Facebook page. We will compile these and, once we have established our archives, we will have a photo of Dr. Sela-Smith in the archives along with the compiled messages to honor her legacy.