ATHABASCA – A man who spent his formative years in Athabasca has been appointed as an Officer in the Order of Canada June 30 in recognition of his 40-year career in academia, as well as his work as a mental-health advocate.
Dr. Keith Dobson, 69, who is currently a Professor Emeritus with the University of Calgary, was joined by 84 other Canadians this year, with 60 members, 22 officers, and three companions in the order that “honours people who make extraordinary contributions to the nation,” according to the Governor General’s website.
“I’m deeply humbled by the recognition for the work that I’ve done over the years, but at the same time I am extremely pleased,” said Dr. Dobson, who retired in 2020 but remains a registered psychologist. “I think it’s just something that recognizes the work that I’ve been able to do. Being in an academic position is an extremely privileged role in any society. We’re able to do the work that we want, we can travel, we often get benefits that people don’t see. It’s been a great career.”
Dr. Dobson’s family moved around when he was child, before settling on a farm south of Athabasca in the late 1950s. Dr. Dobson graduated from Edwin Parr Composite School in 1971, where he also met his wife and occasional academic partner, Dr. Debbie Dobson, who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary later this month.
When asked about how his rural upbringing influenced his later life, Dr. Dobson said that his practicality stemmed from a childhood spent on the farm.
“I’ve always tried to be practical, and I think I learned that on the farm … learning the importance of taking knowledge and applying it on a day-to-day basis. I always try and do that, think about how someone can take what they know and then use it to help people in the field of psychology.”
From the farm, Dr. Dobson went off to the University of Alberta, earning his Bachelor of Arts (Psychology/Sociology) in 1975. His Master of Arts (Psychology) came from the University of Western Ontario, London, in 1977, and he finished his PhD three years later from the same institution.
“I discovered psychology in my undergrad, and I think the desire to understand people, and to look behind the mask, so to speak, really drew me into the field,” said Dr. Dobson. “By the end of my undergrad, I knew that I was definitely interested in a career in clinical psychology, trying to understand the problems that people had and the reasons behind them.”
His doctoral thesis was on assessing the interface between anxiety and depression, and he became a staunch advocate for mental health issues as his career developed.
“My main work was on the psychological and social processes associated with depression, and then converting those into treatments that work,” said the professor.
“I’ve been able to do work in a lot of areas; besides depression, professional psychology was a focus, I’ve been involved in ethics writing and other work, and then in the last fifteen years I’ve been heavily involved with the Mental Health Commission of Canada around stigma reduction.”
Dr. Dobson also helped build the University of Calgary’s Psychology department as well, serving three terms as department head, and remaining involved even in his retirement. Dr. Mike Antle, the current head of the department, said that Dr. Dobson set the bar high, and helped push the institution to where it is today.
“Certainly, he was one of my mentors and role models as I’ve gone on to become department head. His leadership and efficiency were unsurpassed, and he is such a thoughtful hardworking and caring individual,” said Dr. Antle. “When he took on the role, I think it was a chance for him to give back to the department that he helped to build and create, and it was a nice capstone experience for the department, although his leadership extended way beyond us.”