Victoria Dickerson

Victoria C. Dickerson, Ph.D, (Vicki) died peacefully of a progressive illness at her home in Aptos, California, April 3, 2024, under hospice care, with loved ones by her side. She died as she had lived, fully in charge. She chose to use California’s End of Life Option Act (EOLOA), also known as death with dignity process. Despite limited energy, she managed to contact many of her dearest family and friends in the days before she died to let them know of her failing health and imminent death. Despite how ill she was, her voice and clarity remained strong.

Vicki was born June 30, 1939, near Lincoln, Nebraska and grew up in Boise, Idaho, the eldest of three daughters to Violet and Harold Dickerson. She excelled at her Catholic schools and got a scholarship to a Catholic College after her father died when she was fifteen and money was scarce. She double majored in chemistry and an integrated history/philosophy/literature course, going on for a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Notre Dame. Before launching a career as a clinical psychologist, finishing her Ph.D. in 1987, she taught high school chemistry. It was in those years as a teacher that she realized she had a knack for reaching out to young people, who trusted her with their concerns. She decided that counseling not chemistry was her calling.

Vicki is clear that her Catholic upbringing and schooling focused her on the importance of community, relationships, and the interconnectedness of all beings. As she wrote in one of her papers, “Growing up Catholic introduced me to the notion of the ‘Mystical Body,’ which, when separated from the religious aspect, helped me understand the wholeness of the universe and of all beings as somehow connected.” This background prepared the way for what she has called a “conversion experience” when she heard Michael White, an Australian therapist, speak at a two-day workshop in 1988. The ideas she was exposed to in those two days led to decades of learning and collaborations with therapists from all over the world who were similarly “converted” to the theoretical paradigm that influenced Michael White: postmodernism. In a number of articles written for professional journals, Vicki traces her path from structural to systemic to poststructural therapies, staying within the narrative therapy community from 1988 onward.

One of her earliest collaborations, with Jeff Zimmerman, started in 1985 when both attended a three-week externship program at the Family Therapy Program at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, a program headed by Karl Tomm. Neither she nor Jeff knew that Karl Tomm would be out of town during their externship and that they would be studying instead with co-directors, Evan Imber-Black and Gary Saunders, with whom she also maintained lifetime connections. She and Jeff eventually opened the Bay Area Family Therapy Training Associates (BAFTTA) in 1989. In 1992, Jeff and Vicki published the first article that appeared in the journal Family Process on narrative therapy entitled: “Families with adolescents: Escaping problem lifestyles” (Dickerson & Zimmerman, 1992). This was a career milestone of which Vicki was very proud. Jeff and Vicki’s collaboration lasted for many years, including presenting workshops, and publishing many articles and book chapters, culminating in their 1996 book If Problems Talked: Narrative Therapy in Action.

Early collaborations with other narrative therapists flourished in the 1990s when the number of narrative therapists in North America was still so few that most knew each other and had taken workshops with Michael White, David Epston and each other; presented at narrative conferences and published together. Among early narrative colleagues Vicki included Jill Freedman, Gene Combs, Melissa (now Elliott) and James “Griff” Griffith, Janet Adams-Westcott, Stephen Madigan, Kaethe Weingarten and Sallyann Roth.

By the end of the decade, international professional and friendship connections flourished. In 1999, Vicki went to the 1st International Narrative Conference in Adelaide, Australia and in 2000, she presented at the New Zealand Association of Counselors (NZAC) conference in Hamilton, at the University of Waikato. She met, and stayed in touch, with John Winslade, Gerald Monk, Wally McKenzie, Kathie Crocket, Dorothea Lewis, Aileen Cheshire, Johnella Bird and Wendy Drewery. One of her favorite book chapters was written with Kathie Crocket, “El Tigre, El Tigre: A Story of Narrative Practice” in Al Gurman’s (Ed., 2010) Clinical Casebook of Couple Therapy.

It is not easy to sustain friendships over thousands of miles, but Vicki was devoted to her friends and she did so. Vicki made international phone calls to her friends regularly and talked at length. Vicki was not funny, but she had a great sense of humor and many of her friends remarked often how much fun it was to get Vicki to laugh. She had a great laugh and was, in fact, laughing right up until the end. She told this anecdote on herself, laughing: “The guy who runs the local grocery store is wonderful. He will do anything for me. He came in today and started to bawl and I said, ‘George, no tears!’ so he turned his back and walked away. I had to yell at him: ‘Come back!’ So, he did.”

In the 1990s, Vicki, Stephen Madigan, Bill Lax and Jeff Zimmerman embarked on two ventures that did well for a while and then as times changed, ended up not flourishing. Both were wonderful ideas. The first, Narrative on Tour, was intended to bring narrative ideas across the country to therapists who were unlikely to go to narrative conferences, especially those in Vancouver, Canada. This venture, with four clinicians, turned out to be too costly for many venues to afford. The second, which Stephen Madigan named was an early web based portal to learn narrative therapy. As with many start-ups, funding was never adequate to fully support the effort.

In 1992, Vicki joined the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA), which became an important professional home for the rest of her life. Early in her association with AFTA she formed an important friendship with Rachel Hare-Mustin, that lasted until Rachel’s death in 2020. Her contributions early on were recognized and she chaired a controversial program in 1996, remaining friends with all of the presenters. She served on, or was the Chair of, numerous AFTA committees, was Vice-President of AFTA 2007-2009, President of the organization from 2017-2019 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. As AFTA president, she helped organize two outstanding conferences, one in 2018 chaired by Justine D’Arrigo-Patrick and one in 2019 chaired by Pilar Hernandez-Wolfe.

Vicki was enormously committed to mentoring young people, both in her teaching position at San Jose State University (2005-2012), where she was an adjunct associate professor in the graduate clinical psychology program and with younger therapists eager to learn with her. Many young therapists felt singled out and encouraged by Vicki as having something special to teach and write. She used her position within AFTA to promote younger therapists.

Perhaps her most significant relationship with a younger person was her life-long and devoted relationship with her goddaughter, Brandy Hyer – and now Brandy’s wife, Krista. Vicki could never say enough about how wonderful Brandy was. (She was extolling Brandy’s virtues on the phone to callers just hours before her death!). Brandy introduced Vicki to Transcendental Meditation (TM) in 2009 and this became a daily practice for her. A particular delight for Vicki was visiting Brandy and Krista in Fairfield, Iowa to help Brandy with her dissertation. This work eventually spread out over a year and Vicki couldn’t have been prouder when she learned that Brandy was awarded the distinction of having the best dissertation in her program for 2020.

The decade of the aughts was a time when Vicki published articles and chapters on her own. The title of her 2004 solo authored book Who Cares What You’re Supposed to Do: Breaking the Rules to Get What You Want in Love, Life, and Work speaks to an enduring quality of hers that she shared in this book for a popular audience. Comfortable breaking the rules, Vicki did so with kindness and finesse. She also pushed back on speculation after the untimely and tragic death of Michael White, in 2008, that his death would mark the end of narrative therapy by successfully proposing and shepherding a special section of papers in a 2009 volume of Family Process honoring Michael White and his legacy.

Always a lifelong learner and always happy to push boundaries, if politely, in 2012 Vicki accepted a new position created by Jay Lebow, the editor of Family Process from 2012-2023, to be the Associate Editor for New Media; this was in 2012, when Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter were newly becoming media giants. She created accounts in all three sites and began the process of making the journal known through social media. She held that position for two years and then transitioned to Social Media / Communications Strategist and acted in that position from 2014-2018.

As for so many others, the Covid pandemic put an end to Vicki’s travel to see friends and colleagues, but she remained in touch over Zoom. She continued playing golf until the last few months of her life and invested more energy in her local neighborhood friendships. She also completed a paper that provides an overview of her life, from which this obituary is drawn. It does not have section headings named after the dogs she has lived with over her lifetime, although this was a perennial joke she made over the last twenty years about a hypothetical autobiography she would author. The conclusion of her paper is one that makes this writer incredibly happy: She writes that she looks back on her life with “joy and happiness” and that her life has been “fuller than [she] ever could have imagined.” Ours too, Vicki, because you were in it.

Donations in her honor can be made to: Golden Retriever Foundation,

Kaethe Weingarten, Ph.D., friend and colleague

Tribute from Brandy Hyer:

Most of you know my Godmother, Victoria “Vicki” Dickerson, either personally, or through my stories of our adventures. I was very fortunate and grateful to have spent two full and intense weeks 24/7 with her in her home as her progressive, failing health conditions declined at an accelerated pace. The dramatic turn in her health was so sudden that it was shocking for many whom she was in close contact with and she was working up until two weeks before she passed. She remained mentally sharp right up until the end even as her physicality waned. My wife, Krista, and I flew out to CA to advocate for her, get Hospice of Santa Cruz in place, make meals for her and just be with her.

On Wednesday, April 3, 2024, at the age of 84, she passed away quickly, painlessly, and peacefully as I held her hands and my wife held me. Vicki chose to utilize California’s End of Life Act (EOLA) that upholds the right to die with dignity, a choice she was grateful existed. With this decision, she was able to spend her last two weeks doing exactly what she loved: watching Giants baseball, Warriors basketball, laughing with friends on the phone, and “taking care of business.”

Vicki was a courageous and fierce woman who lived a life she forged for herself. She was proud of her accomplishments: her impact and influence on individuals and within organizations/institutions. Professionally, her talents shined brightest when working with clients in family therapy. She found her niche in family therapy with the Narrative Therapy model. She enjoyed training and working with other therapists through her co-founding of Bay Area Family Therapy Association. One of her lifetime achievement highlights was being elected President of the American Family Therapy Association (AFTA) from 2017-2019. She made life-long friends, and this illustrious honor brought her great enjoyment and fulfillment. She was well-published, writing two books and numerous articles in top-tier psychology journals.

Vicki possessed a strong intellect and keen mind for learning and thinking, which she loved to engage in independently and even more so with others. She loved to hear how others thought about things and would frequently initiate conversations for which the topic was rarely as important as the way a person thought about the topic. Her alacrity and intuition culminated in a sparkling and dynamic manner naturally making friends with her smile and laugh.

Vicki had a healthy ego and sense of herself, which for her generation, let alone for a woman, was a rebellious act. She had a good sense of humor and loved to laugh. In fact, during the first few days my wife Krista and I were with her, knowing she was not doing well, she said, “Only make me laugh.” This was the space she asked us to hold for her over the next two weeks, and she was serious about it. She did not want any “sad sacks” around her.

My relationship with Vicki was complex and spanned my entire life. She was present at my birth and she became a functional parental figure in my formative years. Vicki was private and I will continue to honor that aspect of her. She did not voluntarily share details of her life with just anyone. She was highly selective in whom she chose to tell what, and I will continue to honor her ways. Nevertheless, Vicki was always generous with me in all ways a child should appreciate, but it would take me becoming an adult before I could fully appreciate her generosity. She was instrumental in helping support my finishing my dissertation and getting my Ph.D., for which I will always be grateful. The times spent with her working on it were a testament to how well we could work together, and it brought out both our strengths.

Vicki did not personally want a funeral or service, but I will be helping others coordinate some tribute services spread out over the next few months with details sent separately. She had four main communities with which she was active up until she passed away (in no particular order). Vicki loved to play golf when her health allowed, and she could be found on the greens at the Seascape Golf Club where she was a member and friend. Vicki’s love of animals, most notably her Golden Retrievers, made her a fixture at the Polo Grounds, where she walked her celebrity dogs: Dante, Rio, and Tia. Vicki was known as “Mayor” of her neighborhood enclave where she lived for almost 30 years and brought people together for laughs and drinks over the decades. Vicki was well known, appreciated, and respected among her chosen circles of therapist-colleagues-friends, publishers, editors and the like.

Vicki will be missed by those whose lives she impacted, and her legacy will live on in all the people she worked with, played with, talked endlessly with, and loved with over all the years. She can always be remembered by entering into a pithy intellectual conversation on any topic where the fun is in how people are thinking differently and less on the outcome of the conversation, and by listening to others with the intention of truly understanding their feelings and way of thinking about themselves and their life.

She lived and loved the life she made for herself, and she said she did not want to live when she no longer loved her life, so she didn’t. I would like to believe that she is traveling free and unbounded over the earth, visiting all the people she loved and all the places she loved (and some she may have wanted to see but never had the chance)! Fly high, Vicki! You are a superstar! Till we meet again!

On January 31, 2024, Vicki did a Podcast with Navid Zamani about her life experience posited within the context of Vicki having introduced Navid into AFTA (American Family Therapy Association) and his genuine and mutual respect for her work-life. If you would like to listen to the Podcast it is available online HERE at

Donations in her honor can be made to: Golden Retriever Foundation,

With Much Love,

Victoria C. Dickerson, Ph.D. was a licensed clinical psychologist who has been teaching narrative ideas and practices in workshops and seminars worldwide for over twenty years. She has taught for Santa Clara University, San José State University, Johns Hopkins University, and Mercy College in New York.

She is the President of the American Family Therapy Academy (2017-2019), from whom she received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.  She has been the director of two training centers, working with students/interns as she teaches family and narrative therapy.

She has an ongoing psychotherapy practice in Aptos and Los Gatos where she works with couples, young adults, families, and older adults.  Her work with couples and with young adults has been well publicized.  See her articles for more information.

Dr. Dickerson actively publishes on narrative therapy with couples, young adults, and families. Her books, both popular and academic, are described here, and her articles are available for download upon request. She was the Social Media Strategist (2015-2018) for the Family Process Institute, which oversees the journal Family Process. In that position, she assisted authors in creating video abstracts, which are also available on the FamilyProcess1 YouTube channel FamilyProcess1 to promote their articles and increase their altmetrics. She utilizes a Family Process Facebook page to promote featured articles. She tweets regularly articles and videos of interest. She  initiated a series of webinars #FPIwebinars in partnership with the Ackerman Institute to further the mission of the Family Process Institute.

Contact her for information regarding upcoming teaching events and consultation opportunities.