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March 13, 2023

Celebrating the Contributions of Women of Color in the Field of Therapy

As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, it is important to recognize the groundbreaking work of women in the field of therapy, particularly those who have been pioneers for women of color. The field of psychology has long been dominated by white men- but in the wake of the Civil Rights and Women’s movements in the 1960s and 70s, women have been making strides in many professions. From Inez Beverly Prosser to Jennifer Eberhardt—these women have blazed trails in the world of psychology and continue to inspire generations of therapists.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these amazing women and their legacy.

Inez Beverly Prosser (1895-1934)

Inez Beverly Prosser was one of the first African American women to earn a doctorate in Psychology. Prosser studied at the University of Cincinnati and became a professor at Texas College after completing her doctorate in 1933. Her study on race prejudice among African American students revealed that racial prejudice affected their academic achievements and self-esteem. She was also an advocate for better representation for black psychologists in professional associations. She published several articles on intelligence testing as well as race relations during her career. Prosser also wrote extensively about her experiences as an African American woman in academia, which later inspired other Black female psychologists. Prosser was instrumental in assisting many black students in obtaining funds for college and for graduate study.

Her dissertation research examined self-esteem and personality variables in matched pairs of African-American middle-school children, with half the children having attended segregated schools and the other half attending integrated schools in the Cincinnati area. She concluded that black children fared better in segregated schools with black classmates and black teachers. Specifically, she found that black children from integrated schools experienced more social maladjustment, felt less secure in their social relations and had less satisfactory relationships with their families. They were also more likely to feel inferior at school, had less satisfactory relationships with their teachers and were more eager to leave school early.

Martha Bernal (1931-2001)

Martha Bernal was an educator and clinical psychologist who championed for Latinx rights during her life’s work. She was the first Latina to receive a Ph.D. in psychology in the United States. She was born in Los Angeles, California but moved to Mexico City in 1938 to pursue her career as a psychotherapist and social worker. She earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1962. She opened a clinic that focused on treating people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and used group therapy techniques within her practice. Bernal also wrote several books including “The Psychology of Stereotyping” which explored how stereotypes affect behavior and mental health.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Bernal dedicated herself to the goal of ensuring that students of color had the opportunity to receive graduate training.  She applied much of her research to increase the status of ethnic minority recruitment, retention and training.  Her social action research was designed to focus attention on the dearth of ethnic minority psychologists and to recommend steps for addressing that problem.

Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983)

Mamie Phipps Clark was an African American psychologist who is most known for her research into racial identity formation among children. She conducted groundbreaking studies examining how environmental factors such as segregation affect children’s self-esteem, which laid the groundwork for subsequent research into this area. Clark also co-authored The Doll Test with her husband Kenneth Clark, which revealed that segregated schools had a negative impact on children’s self-image due to racism and discrimination they experienced at school or in their community. This research helped pave the way for Brown v Board of Education ruling which declared segregated schools unconstitutional in 1954.

Clark’s work on the impact of racial discrimination and stereotypes provided important contributions to the field of developmental psychology and the psychology of race. She worked as a research psychologist for the United States Armed Forces Institute and the Public Health Association. Her effort on the identity and self-esteem of Black people expanded the work on identity development.

Reiko True (1933-)

Reiko True is a Japanese American feminist psychologist whose work focuses on the intersectionality between gender, race, culture, sexuality, religion, class, age and nationality within therapeutic practices. Dr. True attended the California School of Professional Psychology in Berkeley, California. True has written several books including “Feminist Therapy Theory & Practice” which explores how traditional therapeutic approaches can be adapted to include feminist principles such as respect for diversity and empowerment through collaboration with clients . She has also developed several courses on multicultural counseling which she teaches at various universities around the world. She played an active role in the creation of the Asian American Community Mental Health Program, which is located in Oakland, California. After becoming the first female director of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Forensic Services she was able to demonstrate the importance of creating multicultural focused programs and also generating programs for women with children.

Her studies focus on understanding the psychological effects of acculturation, immigration, prejudice and discrimination faced by Asian Americans—topics that were largely overlooked by mainstream psychologists prior to True’s research.

Jennifer Eberhardt (1965–)

Jennifer Eberhardt is an African American psychologist best known for her work related to implicit bias and racial stereotyping. Her research has highlighted how unconscious biases can lead to disparities in law enforcement practices such as stop-and-frisk policies or harsher sentencing for people of color than their white counterparts who commit similar offenses. Eberhardt has also been recognized for using data science methods such as computer vision algorithms to uncover patterns related to implicit bias that would be difficult or impossible for humans alone to detect or measure accurately.

Her book “Biased: Uncovering The Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See Think And Do” explores how unconscious biases can lead to discriminatory behavior even when people are not aware they are doing so . Eberhardt has received numerous awards including a MacArthur Fellowship Award (also known as a “Genius Grant”) for her contributions to this field .

E. Kitch Childs (1937–1993)

Ellen Kitch Childs was an African American clinical psychologist whose work focused on developing culturally competent treatment approaches for minority populations facing mental health issues such as depression or substance abuse disorder. Childs was known for her participation in the women’s liberation movement in North America and for advocating for minority women, prostitutes, gays and lesbians. Childs also researched how racism affects mental health outcomes among minority communities, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS or other chronic illnesses disproportionately experienced by people of color due to health care disparities within our society .

She was a founding member of the University of Chicago’s Gay Liberation Front, and was later inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame for her work to dismantle the American Psychiatric Association’s discriminatory position on homosexuality, which was officially classified as a mental disorder until 1973.

Celebrating Womxn of Color Therapists Today

We owe it all to these inspiring women! These women opened doors for others after them through their pioneering efforts—not only making strides within their respective fields but also helping shape public policy around topics like racial identity formation, implicit bias, cultural competency, bilingualism, immigration issues and more! Their collective contributions have helped us create more equitable environments where everyone can receive quality care regardless of individual backgrounds or circumstances — something we should all strive towards today! 

They paved the way not only for other women but also people from all walks of life who seek therapeutic help without fear or judgement due to their gender or ethnicity. It is our duty now more than ever before to continue their legacy by amplifying diverse perspectives in our practices so that everyone can access quality mental health care regardless of their background or identity . 

Inez Beverly Prosser, Martha Bernal, Mamie Phipps Clark, Reiko True, Jennifer Eberhardt, Kitch Childs, Beverly Greene, Hope Landrine, Jacki McKinney, and many others – may your influence live forever! Our amazing therapists at Womxn of Color Therapy are following in their footsteps.  Contact us now and learn how to become a part of our amazing community!