Influential Women in Psychology
Posted on 8th March 2021 at 14:39
The study of psychology has long been dominated by the male mind. Although there were equal or perhaps more female minds to match, they were often overlooked in both textbooks and historical timelines. Many women made critical contributions that helped to shape the development of the psychology field.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that many of these women faced difficulties in getting their voices heard. Sexism and discrimination were very real obstacles, as much as they are today. There were instances when women weren’t allowed to study with men, they were unable to obtain qualifications or indeed be formally recognised academically, allowing for professional research and publication.
It can’t be denied, the significant and groundbreaking additions women have made to the field of psychology despite barriers and hinderances presented because of their sex. Absolutely deserving of recognition, we explore three female psychologists who have played a crucial role in carving psychological study and providing a framework for Relate’s therapeutic practices.
Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein led pioneering research into the development of children from babyhood and onwards. She recognised that younger children are not responsive to or capable of the more common techniques of psychoanalysis such as Freudian free association. From this, she developed play therapy and objects relations theory in order to investigate the feelings and anxieties of young children. Play being a child’s primary means of communication, Klein was able to utilise this to allow therapists to tap into children’s unconscious fears and experiences which impacted the development of the ego and superego.
Interestingly, Klein’s theory was at odds with one of the other fantastic female theorists on our list – Anna Freud who didn’t believe children could be psychoanalysed. Despite this, Kleinian theory is still one of the major schools of thought and an important model we at Relate use in our work with couples.
Undeniably, when we hear the name Freud, we think of the founder of psychoanalysis – Sigmund Freud. However, it's impossible to overlook his immensely influential daughter – Anna Freud. Anna expanded on her famous father's ideas but also explored different fields and came up with interesting theories in her own right. Particularly in the area of child psychotherapy, including introducing the concept of defense mechanisms. She was also wildly influential on fellow thinker Erik Erikson, who wrote about the stages of child psychosocial development. His book is on the reading list for basic training here at Relate, meaning Anna Freud’s thoughts and theories have been integral to our counselling and therapy approach.
Helen Singer Kaplan
In the field of psychosexual therapy, we can thank Helen Singer Kaplan for her innovative approach. Her work moved the study of sexology on from the male point of view such as that of Alfred Kinsey. A lot of our work here at Relate within psychosexual therapy contains much of what Helen brought us. She was pioneering, in that she was one of the first therapists to add psychotherapeutic ways of working together with the behavioural approach. Her research and theory have provided roots for the specialist nature of our own sex therapists, which is what makes them so unique and able to make such a difference to the people and relationships they work with.
When working with people as we do at Relate, it proves a compelling advantage to know about the wider nature and dynamics of relationships. Our therapists are highly qualified and all have a background and grounding in couple counselling. Their knowledge and awareness of relationship dynamics gives them the edge over other psychosexual therapists who work in a purely behavioural way.
As a progression of psychology – the science of mind and behaviour, comes psychotherapy or counselling – the dealing with and resolving of problematic behaviours through discourse with a trained therapist. It is in this field, that women are at the foundations. They have created and developed leading theories that have remained prominent through the years and vital for practice today. Of course, there are countless other important women in the field of psychotherapy than those that made our list. These women act as champions for their fellow and of course sometimes oppositional female psychologists and psychoanalysts alike.
Furthermore, female counsellors have always made up the main body of Relate counsellors. We spoke to one of these women - our trustee and former counsellor Barbara, who possesses an immense passion for Relate training, our therapists and the specialist nature of what we offer. She says “We have been incredibly fortunate in the calibre of counsellors we have had in Nottingham over the years, which is in no small part down to our stringent selection process. Our therapists are second to none because of this. I am inordinately proud of them and of the remarkable training they have received”.
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