Written by Alice Palioura
It is undeniable that male psychologists have had major contributions in the mental health system, but, unfortunately, the importance of the work that women psychologists offered to shape it from its early years is usually overlooked rather than recognized. Many of them faced discrimination, couldn’t even vote or have their own office at the time, but still managed to alter the mental health system under these unfavorable conditions.
A good example of an underestimated psychologist is Anna Freud. Everyone’s aware of her father, Sigmund Freud, but how many actually know about her efforts? The truth is that Anna not only expanded her father’s ideas and played a huge role in child psychotherapy, but also became one of the greatest psychoanalysts in the world.
Another important figure, often described as one of the founders of neuropsychology, is Brenda Milner, currently at 102 years old. She led the way for a better understanding of the brain structure and memory and worked with the famous patient H.M. for over 30 years following his experimental surgery where portions of his brain were removed to ease his epilepsy.
Mamie Phipps Clark, the first African American woman to earn a Phd in psychology, revealed the harmful effects of racism in children through the “Clark doll test”, which was used on the historic 1954 American supreme court case Brown v. Board of education. She also provided support to Americans of color and homeless black girls and overall improved the terms of mental health care about people of color. Similarly, Reiko True, a Japanese American psychologist born in 1933 strived to upgrade mental health services for Asian-Americans and other minorities.
Moreover, a pioneer at child psychoanalysis was Melanie Klein, most known for her never before applied techniques such as play therapy that assisted children’s treatment. She also was one of the founders of object relations theory that shaped psychoanalysis.
As an active member of the women’s suffrage party, educator and psychologist, Leta Stetter Hollingworth left her mark on the psychology of women and gifted children, especially the nature of gifted girls and women. Likewise, Helen Thompson Wooley, born in 1874, made contributions in the educational division but most importantly she was the first to research sex differences scientifically.
Although women were once the minority in the mental health system, the tables have turned. Now they make up more than half the members of APA (American Psychological Association), replenishing those who were excluded all the previous years because of their sex.