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International Women’s Day: Five Female Psychologists to Know

Famous female psychologists for International Women's Day including Anna Freud, Melanie Klein and Rosie Phillips Bingham.

Celebrate these great female psychologists who made a difference.

As International Women’s Day approaches (8th March), we felt it was only right to acknowledge some pioneering female psychologists throughout history, who so often get overlooked in favour of men.

You might not have heard of these female psychologists and psychoanalytic experts, but that’s okay – just be sure to pass on what you’ve learned, and spread the message that psychology isn’t a male-only career. There are many great women working hard, deserving of just as much credit.

Anna Freud (1895-1962)

Anna Freud’s legacy lives on with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, a charity centre where children can be psychoanalysed and given appropriate treatment. The centre began as a place for children bombed out of their homes in WWII. Since then, clinicians have been able to observe children playing and taking part in group activities, to support their development and relationship-building.

Freud’s father was Sigmund Freud, but she was the only one of his children to follow him into a psychoanalysis career. She published her first book, Introduction to the Technique of Child Analysis, in 1927 and, in the same year, she became General Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association – a post she held until 1934. However, in 1938 she fled from Austria to Britain to escape the Nazis.

By 1947, she was officially training fledgling child therapists. Her specialisms included children who had suffered poverty, emotional neglect, a family unit crisis, hospitalisation and other trauma; she changed the way clinicians approach separation anxiety in children. Her own childhood experience of having an appendectomy without being forewarned by her family may have played a part in this interest.

Melanie Klein (1882-1960)

‘What we learn about the child and the adult through psychoanalysis shows that all the sufferings of later life are for the most part repetitions of these earlier ones.’

Klein was born in Vienna, but it wasn’t until she began travelling around central Europe that she realised her passion for psychoanalysis. She joined the prestigious Berlin Psychoanalytical Society aged 38, and began applying Freudian teachings to analysis of children, studying them at play and using her case notes as the basis for her own theories. She later moved to London and joined the British Psychoanalytical Society, clashing with Anna Freud on aspects of child psychology.

Her caseload included studying child evacuees during WWII. Klein went on to study depression, paranoid schizophrenia and loneliness, and the Wellcome Library holds an archive of her published papers, books and notes. Her most famous books are Love, Guilt and Reparation and other works (1921-45), The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932), and Envy and Gratitude (1957).

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema (1959-2013)

As a psychology professor and chair of the psychology department at Yale University (where she obtained her undergraduate degree), Nolen-Hoeksema was known for her interest in women’s mental health, from ruminating thoughts to depression, and how they differed from the male experience. Famously, in 1987 she highlighted some of the reasons women are more prone to depression than men, and mainly analysed it from adolescence upwards.

Nolen-Hoeksema earned her Ph.D. at Pennsylvania University and worked at the universities of Stanford and Michigan before returning to Yale. Her books included Sex Differences in Depression (1990), Women Who Think Too Much (2003), and Women Conquering Depression (2010), plus she edited an academic journal, the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, from 2003.

She was passionate about identifying early indicators of mood disorders, eating disorders and addiction in young girls: primarily, the danger of unregulated ruminating thoughts, which not only distress patients, but discourage them from seeking help. Nolen-Hoeksema warned that, despite growing freedom and moves towards gender equality around the world, women can still fall victim to an ‘epidemic of overthinking’.

Rosie Phillips Bingham (1949-)

‘To deem my ideas as ordinary on Monday, but the same idea is brilliant when my white male colleagues delivers the idea on Wednesday is discouraging; in the classroom, to overlook the raised hands of students of colour is demoralizing.’

Currently President of the American Psychological Association (APA), Phillips Bingham has dedicated her career to counselling psychology, particularly for men and women of colour, who face conscious or unconscious prejudice. In 1996, she was given the Pioneering African American Women Award.

Phillips Bingham gained her Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from Ohio State University in 1977 and then balanced teaching and practice in both the University of Florida and the University of Memphis. Her published papers tend to focus on career counselling, racial equality, and the importance of college (university) education. We know attending university is a challenging and formative experience, and Phillips Bingham’s work ensures that students in need of emotional support or guidance will be helped to thrive.

Bluma Zeigarnik (1901-1988)

Lithuanian Jewish Zeigarnik became one of the first Russian women to attend university, and obtaining a doctorate from the University of Berlin in 1927. Yet she faced political and ideological obstacles throughout her life. Even in 1983, when she was given the Lewin Memorial Award for her psychological research, she was unable to collect it, and died before she could receive the award – particularly galling, as she had spent years working with her friend and colleague, Kurt Lewin, who the award was named after.

She worked at the Psychiatric Research Institute and the All-Union Institute of Experimental Medicine in Moscow, but was made to leave the latter in the 1950s due to anti-Semitism. Many of her scientific papers were suppressed under government restrictions. She also raised her two children single-handedly when her husband was sentenced to 10 years in a Russian prison for allegedly spying for the Germans.

The Zeigarnik effect (discovered in 1927) demonstrates that people remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. Zeigarnik undertook her research with adults and then children, but found the effect was obvious in both, and it made a huge contribution to gestalt psychology.

If you know someone who should have been on this list, do tweet us their name (we are @CT_Psychology on Twitter).

Written by guest contributor Polly Allen for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology ( 

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