A Unified Wave That’s Revolutionized the Mental Health Field Since the 19th Century Historically, the mental health field was heavily male-dominated and highlighted psychological advances from only a male lens. This narrow view led to the non-inclusion and lack of representation of the lived experiences of many people, primarily women.
I invite you to meet the female pioneers who advanced the psychological field through their research, clinical work, dedication to breaking oppressive cycles and stigma, and commitment to enhancing mental health awareness in the public.
I start by remembering and honouring some of the influential women therapists of the 19th and 20th centuries whose work paved the way for women clinicians today. This list is not exhaustive, and I present it in alphabetical order.
Mary Ainsworth (1913–1999)
Image from Public Domain by William Hamilton. http://jhir.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/56114
Ainsworth was an American Canadian developmental psychologist who studied and researched mother-child attachments. Her research subsequently contributed to the development of attachment theory and attachment styles (Mcleod, 2023).
Martha Bernal (1931–2001)
Image from American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity health/psychologists/bernal
Bernal was an American psychologist and the first Latina to earn a PhD. Bernal developed the widely used Ethnic Identity Questionnaire that expanded the multicultural studies field (Vasquez & Lopez, 2002).
Anna Freud (1895–1982)
Image licensed under Creative Commons CC0 1.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_Freud_1957.jpg
A. Freud was an Austrian-British psychoanalyst who influenced the development of child psychotherapy and founded the concept of defense mechanisms (Sandler, 2015).
Carol Gilligan (1936–Present)
Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike by Deror avi. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carol_Gilligan_P1010970_-_cropped.jpg
Gilligan developed the ethics of care framework which is a feminist approach to ethics that challenges the injustices rooted in patriarchy (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022).
Leta Stetter Hollingworth (1886–1939)
Image from Public Domain. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Letta_Setter_Hollingsworth_1915-02-26_NY_Tribune.png
Stetter Hollingworth was an American psychologist who added to the feminist movement by challenging the assumptions that women are intellectually and mentally inferior to men. Her research proved that women are as intelligent and skillful as men (Hochman, n.d.).
Karen Horney (1885–1952)
Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike by Renate Horney Patterson & Culver Pictures, NY. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Karen_Horney_1938.jpg#filelinks
Horney was a German psychoanalyst and the main scholar to question S. Freud’s work. This challenge resulted in her founding feminist psychology (Eckardt, 2005).
Melanie Klein (1882–1960)
Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International by Douglas Glass. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melanie_Klein_1952.jpg
Klein was an Austrian British psychoanalyst who first discovered the power of play in working with children, and she developed her work into play therapy. Klein was also the developer of the object relations theory which led to a deeper understanding of how early attachments form (Amos, 2015).
Eleanor Maccoby (1917–2018)
Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike by Quynh834. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ELEANOR_EMMONS_MACCOBY_(1916_-_2018).jpg
Maccoby was an American psychologist known for her ground-breaking research on the impact of social, environmental, and cultural influences on gender roles and preferences (Gunnar & Phillips, 2019).
Mamie Phipps Clark (1917–1983)
Image from Public Domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mamie_Clark_1958.jpg
Phipps Clark was an African American social psychologist who developed the Clark Doll test to study the psychological effect of racism on African American children. Her research assisted in the desegregation of schools in the United States (Butler, 2023).
Inez Beverly Prosser (1895–1934)
Image from Public Domain by Gwendolyn Gray. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inez_Beverly_Prosser_Portrait.png
Prosser was the first African American to achieve a PhD in psychology. She was the first researcher to explore the debilitating effects of segregation on African American children (Benjamin et al., 2005).
Virginia Satir (1916–1988)
Image from Public Domain by William Meyer. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:VirginiaSatir.jpg
Satir was an American psychotherapist who developed the change model process which revolutionized the family therapy field (Edwards, 2019).
Now I present the women therapists of the 21st century who continued the work of their predecessors and are still revolutionizing the therapeutic field with new theoretical approaches. This list is not exhaustive, and I present it in alphabetical order.
Insoo Kim Berg (1934–2007)
Image retrieved from https://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/insoo-kim-berg
Berg was a Korean American psychotherapist who founded the widely used solution focused therapy approach (Yalom & Rubin, 2003).
Image retrieved from https://psychology.org.au/aps-ccoun-conf/2022/program/keynote-speakers/dana
Dana is a complex trauma clinician, consultant, and author who facilitates the clinical application of polyvagal theory to public and mental health professionals. People seek her trainings to learn more about emotional regulation, repatterning the nervous system, and building neurological pathways rooted in connection and safety (Dana, 2018).
Dana’s Polyvagal Flip Chart (Dana, 2020) and book Polyvagal Theory in Therapy (Dana, 2018) are must-have companions for clinicians in the therapy room.
Image by John D. & Catherine t. Macarthur Foundation. https://www.macfound.org/fellows/class-of-2014/jennifer-l-eberhardt#photos
Eberhardt is an American social psychologist who contributes greatly to the cognitive psychology field by researching the relationships between race and crime while investigating people’s unconscious biased beliefs (Chang, 2019).
Image retrieved from https://janinafisher.com
Fisher is a clinical psychologist and an international expert in the treatment of complex trauma and dissociation. She teaches the latest trauma treatments and how to integrate them in clinical settings.
Fisher’s books are highly recommended for the general public and mental health professionals: Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma (Fisher, 2021) and Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors (Fisher, 2017).
Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike by The Gottman Institute. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Julie_Gottman.jpg
Gottman is an American clinical psychologist and cofounder of the Gottman Institute and the Gottman method for couples therapy.
Gottman’s training is highly recommended for practitioners working with trauma in couples therapy. To access resources and trainings, please go to the Gottman Institute’s website: https://www.gottman.com.
Reiko Homma True
Image retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/women/iampsyched/museum-day/speakers
Homma True is a Japanese American psychologist known for expanding and making the mental health field more accessible for Asians, Asian Americans, and minority groups (Rayburn et al., 2010).
Image retrieved from https://drsuejohnson.com
Johnson is a British clinical psychologist and founder of emotionally focused therapy (EFT), a cutting edge and evidence-based approach to couples therapy.
The following EFT books are highly recommended for couples and practitioners; Hold me Tight (Johnson, 2008), An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples: The Two of Us (Kallos-Lilly & Fitzgerald, 2014).
Image retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/marsha-m-linehan
Linehan is an American psychologist and creator of dialectical behavioural therapy which has become a standard treatment for people with personality disorders and addiction (Carey, 2011).
Image by Gary Hardwood. https://www.simonandschuster.ca/authors/Angela-Neal-Barnett/16904250
Neal-Barnett is an American child psychologist whose work enhances the lives of young African Americans with anxiety (Rowell & Neal-Barnett, 2022).
Image retrieved from https://self-compassion.org
Neff is an associate professor at the University of Texas who has done pioneering work in the self-compassion field and she developed the Self-Compassion Scale (Houston, 2019).
Image retrieved from https://sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/therapist-directory/pat-ogden-phd/
Ogden is a psychotherapist known for developing sensorimotor psychotherapy, a body-based modality that enhanced the way clinicians work with trauma. The book Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment (Ogden & Fisher, 2015) is a highly recommend resource for trauma therapists.
Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike by PopTech. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Esther_Perel_2017.jpg
Perel is a Belgian American marriage and family therapist, a sex therapy supervisor, and a bestselling author who revolutionized the realm of couples work. Perel adds much wisdom and compassion to the understanding of modern relationships.
Perel’s card game Where Should We Begin (Perel, 2021) is highly recommended to increase intimacy, curiosity, and playfulness among couples and friends.
Image retrieved from https://www.somatictraumatherapy.com
Rothschild is a highly experienced psychotherapist who developed somatic trauma therapy which highlights the importance of working with and through the body to process traumatic experiences.
Rothschild’s book 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery (Rothschild, 2009) is highly recommend for practitioners.
Francine Shapiro (1948–2019)
Image retrieved from https://www.emdr.com/francine-shapiro-ph-d/
Shapiro was an American psychologist who founded eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. EMDR has become a standard treatment for trauma symptoms (Shapiro, 2014).
As you read this, I hope you found the inspiration and strength to continue pursuing your dreams and goals. It is a privilege to witness the work of these women and to reflect on how far the field of psychology has come due to their perseverance, dedication, and emotional stamina to fight the stigma, oppression, and prejudices that women face on a daily basis.
Amos, A. (2015). Melanie Klein. Institute of Psychoanalysis British Psychoanalytical Society.
Benjamin, L. T., Jr., Henry, K. D., & McMahon, L. R. (2005). Inez Beverly Prosser and the education of African Americans. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 41(1), 43–62.
Butler, S. (2023, February 21). Mamie Katherine Phipps Clark. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
Carey, B. (2011, June 23). Expert on mental illness reveals her own fight. The New York Times.
Chang, A. (2019, March 28). Can we overcome racial bias? 'Biased' author says to start by acknowledging it [Radio broadcast]. NPR.
Dana, D. (2018). The polyvagal theory in therapy engaging the rhythm of regulation. Norton Professional Books.
Dana, D. (2020). Polyvagal flip chart: Understanding the science of safety. Norton Professional Books.
Eckardt, M. H. (2005). Karen Horney: A portrait. The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 65, 95–101.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2022, November 24). Carol Gilligan. Encyclopedia Britannica.
Edwards, B.G. (2019, August 31). Remembering family therapist guru Virginia Satir. Psychology Today.
Fisher, J. (2017). Healing the fragmented selves of trauma survivors: Overcoming internal self-alienation. Routledge.
Fisher, J. (2021). Transforming the living legacy of trauma: A workbook for survivors and therapists. PESI Publishing & Media.
Gunnar, M. R., & Phillips, D. A. (2019). Great leaders in developmental psychology: Eleanor Maccoby, PhD. APA Div. 7: Developmental Psychology.
Hochman, S. K. (n.d.). Leta Stetter Hollingsworth: Her life. Webster University.
Houston, E. (2019). The Self-Compassion Scale and Test. PositivePsychology.com.
Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. Little, Brown Spark.
Kallos-Lilly, V., & Fitzgerald, J. (2014). An emotionally focused workbook for couples: The two of us. Routledge.
Mcleod, S. (2023, March 8). Mary Ainsworth: Strange situation experiment & attachment theory. Simply Psychology.
Ogden, P., & Fisher, J. (2015). Sensorimotor psychotherapy: Interventions for trauma and attachment. W.W. Norton.
Perel, E. (2021). Where should we begin - A game of stories.
Rayburn C., Denmark, F., Reuder, M., & Austria, A., (2010). A handbook for women mentors: Transcending barriers of stereotype, race, and ethnicity. Praeger.
Rothschild, B. (2009). 8 keys to safe trauma recovery: Take-charge strategies for reclaiming your life. W.W. Norton.
Rowell, T., & Neal-Barnett, A. (2022). A systematic review of the effect of parental adverse childhood experiences on parenting and child psychopathology. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 15, 167–180.
Sandler, A. M. (2015). Anna Freud. Institute of Psychoanalysis British Psychoanalytical Society.
Shapiro, F. (2014). The role of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences. The Permanente Journal, 18(1).
Vasquez, M. J. T., & Lopez, S. (2002). Martha E. Bernal (1931–2001): Obituary. American Psychologist, 57(5), 362–363.
Yalom, V., & Rubin, B. (2003).Insoo Kim Berg on brief solution-focused therapy. Psychotherapy.net.