In Memory of Dr. Fern Cramer-Azima


In Memory of Dr. Fern Cramer-Azima

The Canadian Group Psychotherapy Foundation has established a scholarship in honour of Dr. Fern Cramer-Azima. Fern is legendary in the field of group psychotherapy nationally and internationally. She engaged in her life’s work with dedication and passion. She made a substantial contribution to the practice and advancement of group therapy through her strong leadership, extensive teaching and consultation, and enthusiastic mentoring.

Your donation to honour the memory of Dr. Fern Cramer–Azima will support this scholarship.

It is extremely painful for me to remember Fern, a close and loyal friend, and colleague for forty years. We originally met in 1972 at the annual conference of the American Group Psychotherapy Association, an organization where Fern has served with distinction in every possible capacity, including standing for president.

From the very beginning I was struck by her dynamic personality, vast knowledge and tremendous capacity for work. She was a strong, ambitious woman who did not suffer fools or less hard-working colleagues well. Along with Roy MacKenzie, Bill Powles and myself Fern epitomized the core bunch of pioneers who toiled to establish CGPA. She served as the second president of the association. Her contributions in the field of group therapy are too numerous to list. She wrote many articles, edited books and presented over two hundred papers internationally. Fern was an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University, president of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and a model to a whole generation of female colleagues in particular. I heard frequently from aspiring female group therapists how much Fern inspired them with her competence, confidence and great ability to network. At the age of 85, a few months before her death she was still making plans to respond to an invitation to deliver two lectures in Europe.

Fern belonged to a small gathering of Canadian group therapists who put our country on the world map at a time when we were we were punching above our weight. But Fern had a very personal side too. Having traveled very widely and knowing who is who in our field everywhere, she spun numerous entertaining stories about countries and people. She had a great interest in the arts and I remember numerous occasions strolling in galleries and outdoor exhibits and her buying a lot.

Fern was also very knowledgeable about food and wine, to the delight of her friends but often to the dismay of the waiters. She had a unique skill for engaging young people. My whole family remembers (now part of the Salvendy family lore) a dinner at our place where she was able to discuss at length the merits of the transgendered singer Boy George with our fourteen-year-old son.

People who did not know Fern well would have been surprised to know what a loving and hands-on mother and grandmother she was always.

For me, all of these memories make for a very sorrowful parting!

If there is some consolation, it is the memory of her work and of her unique personality…

– John Salvendy, First President of CGPA

I first encountered the force that was Fern Cramer-Azima in the 1980s, through involvements with the Canadian and American Group Psychotherapy Associations. She was most welcoming of another Canadian with an interest in group therapy practice and research; without any particular deliberation, she soon became a mentor and a close colleague. It was always a treat to get together with Fern at these annual meetings. If you were a bit slow getting up to speed, her energy could be infectious. Committee deliberations or academic presentations were of better quality when Fern was present and providing input. She was a delightful companion for social occasions, with a store of anecdotes from a life full of richness and diversity, and opinions on essentially every subject. Fern and I worked quite closely together as members of the Board of the Canadian Group Psychotherapy Foundation, and I served as Secretary-Treasurer for the entire time Fern served as President, close to 10 years. I like to think that we ignored the question of “term length” because our working relationship was so solid. I would kid her that, transferentially, she was my beloved grandmother; she was quite sweet and loving towards me, as a surrogate grandson. Of course, there is always a seed of truth in statements made to be humorous.

Fern was passionate about, and devoted to, the Foundation and the CGPA, as she was about the value of group therapy in Canada and globally. She worked tirelessly to promote the technique and to move both organizations forward. She saw as a priority the inclusion of trainees and junior clinicians in these organizations, and always maintained a focus on offering educational opportunities. Fern could also be relied on to provide the “big picture,” and speak to connections the CGPA and CGPF could foster south of the border and internationally. She was consistently mindful of the health of the relationships among colleagues across this huge country and did what she could to ensure that the fabric of this network remained strong. Fern knew everyone, and everyone knew Fern; she was the hub of the wheel. Quite recently, I helped co-author a paper on group therapy in Canada for an upcoming special issue of the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy. I contacted Fern (as well as John Salvendy and Molyn Leszcz) to solicit input for the history section of the paper. Needless to say, Fern regaled me with stories of the people that contributed to group therapy’s history in Canada well into the night, and cared not a whit that the clock was two hours later for her! I hope that we were able to do justice to Fern’s anecdotes in the paper; I am very aware that the history of group psychotherapy in Canada has recorded a significant milestone with her passing. Fern will be greatly missed.

– Anthony Joyce, on behalf of the Canadian Group Psychotherapy Foundation