Oliver Sacks also would seem to fit into that rare mold. He and Borden first met over dinner after the latter gave a talk at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2002, Borden recalls. The dinner lasted for seven hours.
"We found that we shared many concerns and interests. We began corresponding and meeting to talk about our work, about cases, about our reading, what I was teaching. I think of him very much as a mentor."
Borden has incorporated Sacks' case reports into his human development courses for years. Sacks, in turn, published one of Borden's cases in his book Hallucinations, published in 2012.
Borden had hoped that Sacks would write the foreword to his latest book, Neuroscience, Psychotherapy, and Clinical Pragmatism, published this year by Routledge. Sacks died in 2015, however, shortly after Borden began writing the book.
One of the best ways to appreciate Borden's ability to connect the humanities and the social science is to reflect on his friendship with Sacks, Clark says. "That friendship was characterized by a sense of discovery, curiosity, and polymathic engagement on both sides. I think Oliver found Bill to be a soul mate precisely because they shared such unusual characteristics as American intellectuals," he says. "For example, both were drawn to case studies, the history of science and intellectual achievement, and the moral phenomenology of therapeutic work with patients."
Borden's new book is the latest of his prolific scholarly contributions to clinical literature. "Among his highly regarded journal articles and books, two volumes stand out, widely used in clinical training and practice," says Froma Walsh, the Mose and Sylvia Firestone Professor Emerita at SSA. These are Comparative Psychodynamic Theory and Perspectives (2009), and Reshaping Theory in Contemporary Social Work Practice: Toward a Critical Pluralism (2010). Both of these works focus on the conceptual and theoretical foundations of clinical social work practice.
"Bill espouses a critically reflexive practice, integrating comparative theoretical and interdisciplinary perspectives," she says. "He urges practitioners to avoid reductionistic, mechanistic approaches in favor of multiple conceptual frameworks."
His approach acknowledges the dynamic interaction of influences that encompass the neuroscientific, psychosocial, developmental, socioeconomic, and cultural, and the need to address social justice concerns and larger systemic barriers, she adds.
Borden also espouses psychodynamic theory because "it really challenges what I think of as a technical rationalism that has shaped reductive conceptions of evidence-based practice," he says. The psychodynamic concepts of therapeutic action, change, and growth focus on the subjectivity of the individual. "They focus on the crucial role of the therapeutic relationship and collaboration in health and care."
Borden's career has been almost as varied as his wide-ranging intellectual interests. For four years during the 1970s he worked as a journalist, first at the South Bend Tribune. Later he worked as a freelancer, writing about music, art, and social concerns for magazines and newspapers. He loved the work yet yearned for a change. "I found myself more and more an observer. I wanted to find points of entry into the authority of experience that comes through doing things in a different way," he says.
Borden joined the UChicago faculty in 1989 as an assistant professor. A year after his promotion to associate professor in 1993, he decided to reorient himself. "I was moving into midlife and I had always thought of myself first as a practitioner," he says. "I care a lot about ideas, but I care more about people and lives and how we put ideas to use. That's what really brought me into the field of social work."
He became a supervisory social worker in UChicago's student mental health clinic and began teaching as a lecturer in the psychiatry department. All the while, he continued to teach at SSA, first as an adjunct lecturer, then as a senior lecturer. His course evaluations consistently came back with high marks from his students.
In addition to teaching in the SSA master's and doctoral programs and in the psychiatry department, Borden also has provided advanced training to clinicians via SSA's Professional Development Program. For 20 years he also has directed the Fellows program in Advanced Psychoanalytic Clinical Practice. It's a nine-month program for clinicians who wish to deepen their understanding of theory and practice methods.
Borden, who received the 2000 SSA Excellence in Teaching Award, seeks to ensure that his students neither dogmatically embrace a single clinical paradigm nor a willy-nilly eclecticism in their practice.
"We have to establish a point of view and formulate basic principles and values that guide the way we make use of different theories, empirical findings, and technical procedures in a critically reflective practice," he says.
Karen Teigiser, former director of the Professional Development program and former Deputy Dean for the master's curriculum, compliments Borden for his stunning intellect, remarkable generosity of spirit, and an uncommon devotion to his students.
"He teaches how to integrate theories so that students would have the capacity to respond to what the client was presenting, not just respond from an understanding of a single theoretical orientation. His goal is always to convey how theories could be used to help students," says Teigiser, senior lecturer emerita at SSA.
She also credits Borden with helping to shape SSA's clinical curriculum. He did so by ensuring that the curriculum contained intellectually challenging material and that it included the complexities involved in helping people solve problems.
Outside the classroom, he helps students take advantage of the rich intellectual environment at SSA and the University more broadly, Teigiser adds. "He works with faculty from other departments such as divinity, the humanities, and psychiatry, and makes connections for students with courses and faculty colleagues to expand their overall learning.
In the end, Borden sees himself fundamentally as a clinical social worker who is also a professor and researcher. All three endeavors benefit from the interplay.
"Bill Borden has exemplified the very best in SSA's long tradition of clinical scholarship and practice," Walsh says. "Bill challenges us all to question and reach, to better understand the many influences—and messiness—in people's lives, to foster a deeper understanding of human suffering and, with clients who are struggling, to appreciate their potential for healing and positive growth."
* Bill Borden retired before the School became The University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice.