Psychology Isn’t All-white: Prominent Black Figures in Mental Health

The mental health field is overpopulated by white theories, clinicians, and white supremacist organizations that center practices based on white values, morals, and ideals. For over a century, these practices have been used in harming cis-POC and QTPOC (queer or trans people of color), especially those that identify as Black or African American. While we shouldn’t stop talking about the ways the mental health system has harmed Black folx until it’s dismantled, it’s Black History Month and I want to focus on the Black people and organizations that have been influential in the mental health field since the beginning.

The Association of Black Psychologists

The Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) was organized in 1968 in San Francisco by multiple Black psychologists across the US. These psychologists organized in the American Psychology Association (APA) to combat the racism they experienced in the association and the larger Black community experience daily. Eventually, they decided to form their own organization based on the African principle of self-determination. According to their website, ABPsi‘s purpose is:

  • Promoting and advancing the profession of African Psychology
  • Influencing and affecting social change; and
  • Developing programs whereby psychologists of African descent (hereafter known as Black Psychologists) can assist in solving problems of Black communities and other ethnic groups.

Check them out at https://abpsi.org/

Francis C. Sumner

Francis C Sumner, aka the Father of Black Psychology, was the first African American man to receive a PhD in Psychology in the US. He exhibited excellence early on at 15 after passing an entrance exam to Lincoln University before obtaining his high school diploma. He later graduated magna cum laude with honors. He graduated n 1920 from Clark University in Massachusetts with his PhD in Psychology. In 1928, he joined the faculty at Howard University, helped establish the Department of Psychology, and chaired the department until 1958. He trained many Bachelor’s and Master’s level psychologists and influenced the lives of many others, like the notable Mamie and Kenneth Clark.

Inez Beverly Prosser

Inez Beverly Prosser was the first African American woman to obtain her PhD in Psychology in 1933, thirteen years after the first African American man. Her dissertation, “The Non-Academic Development of Negro Children in Mixed Schools and Segregated Schools” found that Black children performed better in segregated schools because it was a healthier learning environment than Black children received in integrated schools, where they were abused and neglected. The concepts she studied in the 1930’s have been revisited in recent years. Studies support Prosser’s ideas that Black children have more positive educational outcomes when they have Black teachers in grade school.

Mamie and Kenneth Clark

Mamie Clark and Kenneth Clark were African American psychologists whose work went on to influence racial identification research and psychology in the US. They were the first African Americans to receive their PhD’s from Columbia University. Mamie’s master’s thesis, conducted at Howard University, was entitled, “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children.” In the 1940s, Mamie and Kenneth expanded that research, creating the infamous “doll test.” This experiment sought to investigate the development of Black children’s sense of racial identity, self-esteem, and internalized racism. This experiment was influential in the Brown vs. The Board of Education case. Kenneth Clark was the first African American man to president of the American Psychological Association.

Bebe Moore Campbell

Bebe Moore Campbell was an author, teacher, journalist, activist, and mental health advocate. She wrote several New York Times bestsellers in the 90s inspired by racist events, such as Emmet Till’s death and the Rodney King beating and riots. Her daughter’s experience with mental illness fueled a passion for mental health advocacy. In 2003, Campbell wrote a children’s book entitled, Sometimes Mommy Gets Angry, that was recognized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) with the Outstanding Media Award for Literature. She later continued her work in various capacities including, chartering the Inglewood, CA chapter of NAMI. Although she transitioned from this realm in 2006, her work and legacy lived on as Congress deemed July National Minority (now BIPOC) Mental Health Awareness Month.

photo posted on post-gazette.com

Black mental health organizations to follow on Instagram

Black Therapists Rock: @blacktherapistsrock

Therapy for Black Girls: @therapyforblackgirls

Therapy for Black Men: @therapyforblkmen

National Association of Black Social Workers: @nabswlove

National Association of Black Counselors: @nab_counselors

Black Creative Arts Therapists: @blackcreativeartstherapists

Black Music Therapy Network: @blackmusictherapynetwork

Black Art Therapy Network: @blackarttherapynetwork

Black Movement Affinity Group in Community: @blackdmtmagic

Dr. Jennifer Mullan of Decolonizing Therapy: @decolonizingtherapy

Melanated Social Work: @melanatedsocialwork

Radical Therapy Center: @radicaltherapycenter

Black Mental health matters in from of rainbow in shade of brown. Black power fist under rainbow
Photo courtesy Peer Support Space/Facebook via orlandoweekly.com

Leave a Reply