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The Women Warriors of Mental Health

International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8, campaigning for all to #ChoosetoChallenge gender bias and inequality. As long as you don’t live under a rock, you should have some awareness of the expanding women’s movement in recent years. We’ve seen a new wave of feminist mobilization with events like the Women’s March and #MeToo phenomenon.

To promote continued “Girl Power” energy, let’s ensure that all are educated on the remarkable women leaders in the mental health field. Most of the academic world discusses men as the primary historical figures. For instance, it’s likely that you’ve heard of Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist credited as the father of modern psychology. What you may not know is that Freud’s original theories are about as useful as an outdated fossil; they show evidence of the historical groundwork but have little relevance to current practice.  In fact, there are countless women, including Freud’s own daughter, who have made equally significant and more contemporary contributions to the field.

Let’s review, shall we?

Anna Freud (1895-1982) – Freud is credited as the founder for child psychoanalysis and expanded insights into children’s developmental stages.

Leta Stetter Hollingworth (1886-1939) – Hollingworth was an early advocate for the research of women’s psychology, intelligence, and gifted children. She is renowned for her work in children services while much of her work also looked to destroy the misconception that women became “semi-invalid” and “less capable than men” during their monthly menstruation cycle. Her research in gender and culture supported the idea that society, rather than genetics, gives men the superiority complex recognizable by all parties.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) – Clark was the first black woman to receive her doctorate in psychology from Colombia University. She dedicated her research to finding ways of supporting marginalized people disproportionately underserved in the mental health field.

Dr. Marie Nyswander (1919-1986) – Nyswander was one of the co-discoverers for the use of methadone maintenance in the treatment of heroin addiction in the 1960s. Their clinical trials became models for maintenance programs across the world.

Vivian Meehan, RN (1925-2019) – Meehan is recognized as the mother of eating disorder treatment. Following her daughter’s diagnosis with anorexia nervosa in 1975, Meehan offered support groups and eventually founded the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. This led to nationwide studies as well as comprehensive reeducation and prevention programs. It is estimated that 90% of people suffering with an eating disorder are women.

Dr. Francine Shapiro (1948-2019) – Shapiro is the originator of EMDR; Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is now recommended internationally as one of the leading treatments for trauma. She founded the Trauma Recovery EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs, a non-profit agency that coordinates disaster response worldwide.

Dr. Marsha Linehan (1943-present) – Linehan is the creator of Dialectical Behavior Theory and founder of numerous institutions that focus on providing trainings to mental health practitioners. DBT began as a treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder, a disorder estimated to effect 1.4% of Americans. Nearly 75% of them being women.

At Spectrum Health, we’ve capitalized on employing strong women with 85% of our total workforce and over 60% of our agency leadership identifying as female. So yes, we support #EmpoweredWomenEmpowerWomen. If you are looking to join our dynamic team, check out Spectrum Health’s open positions at!

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We’re getting through this.

By Jessica Okoniewski, LMHC, NCC
Director of Clinical Operations Springville Counseling Center

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