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Wed, Oct. 16

'First Lady of Arizona Psychology' dead at 90

Mathilda “Matty” Bushel Canter, Ph.D.

Mathilda “Matty” Bushel Canter, Ph.D.

Many people knew clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Mathilda "Matty" Bushel Canter, Ph.D., as the "First Lady of Arizona Psychology," a title bestowed on her by the Arizona Psychological Association in 2005.

Steven Canter just called her mother.

"She was a good listener, and that was part of what kept her open to and appreciating a broad spectrum of people," he said in a recent phone interview.

Canter, a summer resident of Prescott and Groom Creek since 1956, died on Jan. 30, 2015, at the age of 90.

"She was just someone who really cared about people," her son said. He added that he hopes she'll be remembered for "recognizing that people are different and those differences aren't necessarily good or bad, they're just different."

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Canter was only 15 when she started attending Brooklyn College.

"She was the baby of her family. As I recall hearing the story, all her siblings were going to school and she wanted to," Steven said. So when Canter was 4 1/2, her mother took her to the school and begged them to let her start. She was bright and quickly advanced through school.

Canter earned her undergrad degree in sociology and started grad school at Columbia University. Life intervened, and, in 1949, she moved with husband Aaron to Phoenix. (He got a job as the chief psychologist at the VA there.)

Because she'd promised her father she'd get a master's degree, she started classes at Arizona State University. ASU offered a doctoral program, and she signed up, becoming the second woman to receive a Ph.D. from ASU in any field, her son said.

A leader in the American Psychological Association and Arizona Psychological Association, she received numerous professional honors. Among them were the two highest: American Psychological Association's Distinguished Contributions to Applied Psychology as a Professional Practice in 2000 and the APA Foundation's Gold Medal for Life Achievement in the Practice of Psychology in 2002.

During her almost 50 years as a member of APA, Canter served on the board of directors and chaired the ethics committee that in 1992 ushered in the profession's modern ethics code. She also was the first woman elected president of the APA's Division of Psychotherapy.

On the state level, she served as president of the AzPA, was a board member of the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners (twice serving as its chair), and was AzPA's liaison to the board as recently as 2014.

"If you were to Google the word 'indefatigable,' there is no doubt that you would see page after page of references to Dr. Matty Canter," said an article in the Fall 2007 newsletter of Association for the Advancement of Psychology. "Diplomacy is one of her great strengths and a thread that runs through her action style."

The article, touting her receipt of the AAP 2007 Lifetime Advocacy Award, continued: "As the First Lady of psychology in her home state of Arizona, Dr. Canter is a true psychology rock star. She has been a role model to countless psychologists over her years there, opening her home to scores of colleagues. All of these qualities certainly demonstrate that Matty is deserving of the recognition for her life of giving to psychology."

While the Canters lived in Phoenix, they came to Prescott to escape the summer heat and relax. The family shared a cabin in Groom Creek with another family, the Rosens. So many people said they were crazy for trying to have two families share one place that they dubbed the place "Psycottage" - a name it has to this day, Steven said.

"The family shared the place for a number of years," he said. "It worked very well between the two families."

An architect, Steven rebuilt the cottage in the 80s.

"Frankly, it's the place I really consider home," he said.

Canter didn't focus on psychology 24/7.

"She liked reading, playing Scrabble, doing New York Times crossword puzzles," Steven said.

She also enjoyed doing jigsaw puzzles, something she started doing as a child. One year a friend - or maybe an enemy, they used to joke - gave her a puzzle called "Little Red Riding Hood's Hood." It was nothing but a big red circle.

"She worked on it the better part of one summer, but she finally finished it," Steven recalled.

Other non-psychology activities included being invited to join Charter 100 Arizona, a group of top women leaders in all fields. She was also an active supporter of the Phoenix Chamber Music Society for more than 50 years, as well as New York's Metropolitan Opera.

Steven plans to celebrate the fact that Canter had 90 amazing years. She saw her last patient in September.

Canter's memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Sunday, March 1, at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society Building, 122 E. Culver St, Phoenix.

Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc

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