Most of these mental healthcare professionals couldn’t legally vote, or hold office, or openly reject the sexism of their age—but they still changed healthcare and humanity forever.
Melanie Klein (1882-1960)
Klein was a controversial figure in her day—and as the founder of Kleinian psychoanalysis—she was the first mental health professional to apply the tenets of traditional psychoanalysis to children. This methodology flew in the face of the academic and medical establishment, which at that time considered women to be unreliable, second-class scientists who were semi-invalid during their monthly menstrual cycles.
Klein pioneered “play-therapy” as a way to better understand the communication, intention, and neurosis of children. This methodology is an important underpinning for the modern behavioral analysis of children, and is an unshakeable contribution to the psychoanalytical school of thought.
Leta Stetter Hollingworth (1886-1939)
An American contemporary of Klein, Hollingworth too is known for her diligent work with children—but she also took time out of her busy schedule at Columbia University to eviscerate the misconception that women were “semi-invalid” every fourth week while menstruating, and that they were less mentally capable than men, in general.
In her short life, Hollingworth conducted and published research that continually supported her hypothesis that culture, rather than genetic superiority, gave men a socially powerful edge over women. No women were surprised by these findings.
Karen Horney (1885-1952)
An outspoken, neo-Freudian psychologist who detested Freud’s theory of female “penis envy” so much that she explored and published the theory of “womb envy.” Basically, the theory explores how men overcompensate for their inability to carry and nurture children by being sadistic douche-bags to everyone they come in contact with.
More than anything, Horney distinguished herself as an advocate for female psychiatry during an era when seeking psychological help (as a man or a woman) was taboo. She encouraged women to lean on one another and to avoid the masochism of a life spent in servitude to men, exclusively. She stressed self-awareness, and in her later life she even wrote a “self-help” book for people considering psychoanalysis.
Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D (1917-1983)
Clark was the first black woman to receive a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University; she dedicated much of her life to offering psychological understanding and support to Americans of color, who were (and continue to be) disproportionately underserved by advances in mental health.
Like many of her female predecessors, Clark began her work with children, and she extensively studied the revelations of “blackness” in relation to the personal and social identities of young, black Americans.
She counseled homeless black girls, battled segregation in academia, and sought to make mental health accessible to more of America’s most vulnerable individuals.
Uta Frith (1941-present)
Frith’s work has made today’s emerging understanding of dyslexia, autism, and Asperger’s syndrome possible. She is an author, a researcher, and a participant in the Medical Research Council at University College London, as well as an active member of Aarhus University’s Interacting Minds Centre in Denmark.
Frith has helped debunk the theory that cruel or cold parenting can result in the appearance of such complications in children, and has made formative contributions to understanding cognitive development in humans.
Dr. Marsha Linehan
Dr. Linehan is one of our heroines at THIRA, as she is the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and a true pioneer in the field. We’re fortunate that our own Dr. Kathryn Korslund trained and worked with Dr. Linehan directly for years before joining our team, where we benefit from her unique expertise daily.
Linehan is the founder of many important organizations in the field, including the Linehan Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing leading-edge behavioral technologies, making compassionate and effective treatments available to all persons with complex and severe mental disorders.
Mental healthcare wouldn’t be where it is today without Dr. Linehan’s development of DBT. Currently, Dr. Linehan is a professor at the University of Washington.
We here at THIRA are grateful to all the amazing women who have shaped mental health throughout the years!