WYCKOFF, N.J. — Ken Herman of Wyckoff, an 89-year-old clinical psychologist, spoke to a packed auditorium at the Ridgewood library Tuesday on “How to Live a Meaningful Life.”
“A lot of people are looking to cope more effectively, deal with obesity, deal with parenting, deal with anxiety and depression,” said Herman.
“They want answers,” he added. “They want a meaningful life.”
At this point in his career, Herman has become a sagelike figure to whom people turn.
They always have.
For 50 years, Herman, who holds a doctorate from Columbia University, treated patients at his Teaneck office, The Psychological Service Center.
Television crews from Nightline and The Joe Franklin Show came to that office to shoot shows on depression, anxiety, and other mental health topics.
Herman liked media attention for the only reason that ever matters to him: he could reach, and therefore help, more people.
So in his semi-retirement he continues to speak, often at the Wyckoff Family YMCA.
Usually, he gives away his book, “Secrets from the Sofa: A Psychologist’s Guide to Achieving Personal Peace.” In its pages he presents all he learned about humans and happiness over a lifetime.
The book is for anyone in any situation. In the end, according to Herman, there’s only one way to deal with all of life’s difficulties.
“Think well of yourself,” Herman said. “Then you think and you do what makes you proud. You don’t put on a dirty shirt. You’re kind. You use your time well. You also don’t have self-destructive habits like overdrinking or overeating.”
Herman shared a story: he was donning his Columbia University gown behind the scenes at an auspicious event. A young woman helped him and asked, “Are you somebody very important?”
Herman replied, “Yes, I am, and so are you.”
That’s his essential message: If you feel self-worth, you make things happen.
“It’s hard to sell self-reliance and self-confidence,” Herman said, “to people who don’t feel worthy.”
In his younger years, Herman, too, had to find his own worth. Serving in the U.S. Army during World War II helped him build confidence and transform him from a poor high school student to who he is today.
These days, Herman remains devoted to yet another project: the Bergen Volunteer Medical Initiative (BVMI), which he helped found. The Hackensack-based BVMI provides free medical treatment to the uninsured.
He’ll always be involved with BVMI, he said, because it helps people.