Male psychologists made up the majority of their field for most of history. But 15 years ago, female psychologists started turning the tide. Today, women dominate the mental health field. According to Statista, the percentage of women in psychology increased from 57% (2007) to 70% (2019). And along the way, they’ve effectively shaped the way we understand the mind.
Women are behind some of the most important findings and theories shaping psychology. For example, Anne Freud founded the child psychoanalysis field. Mary Ainsworth was a pioneer in developmental psychology. And Melanie Klein created the play therapy technique. The contributions of women are endless and significant.
As interest in psychology and mental health continues to grow, women will continue to offer unique viewpoints in the field. Whether they’re innovating new forms of treatment or helping eliminate gender stereotypes, here’s why women in psychology are a critical part of the medical field.
A First-Hand Perspective into the Female Psyche
During the many decades that men dominated psychology, there were a lot of misconceptions about the female mind. They perpetuated sexist myths commonly held by medical professionals of their time. For example, in the late 1800s, the idea that overeducated women could go insane. However, as society progressed and women gained more input in the psychology field, female patients better accessed non-discriminatory patients. Female psychologists fully empathized with the unique experiences that women faced.
Stressors in one’s life can degrade their mental health and lead to job-related burnout. However, women face unique stressors like menopause and increased risk of sexual harassment in the workplace. Women psychologists can use their real-life experiences to suggest particularly effective methods of treatment for women and offer new perspectives on age-old theories.
Women Psychologists Lead More Equitable Treatment
By understanding what adds stress to women’s lives, female psychologists are able to pave the way for more empowering psychotherapy for women. The development of feminist therapy is the perfect example. Feminist therapy is a practice that allows patients to explore their own identities and relationships, as they relate to gender and gender-based stressors.
While feminist therapy once began as a treatment exclusively for women by women, it has now evolved to offer psychological benefits to members of all underserved communities, including the immigrant, disabled, and LGBTQ+ communities. This women-led field now helps people of all sorts express themselves, heal relationships, and get guidance for their troubles and anxieties.
Erasing Gender Stereotypes
In addition to offering support to the minority, women psychologists play a big role in encouraging the majority to embrace equitable mindsets.
When psychologists publish research papers, the public generally takes their words as fact. But even when their data is accurate, poor framing can perpetuate sexist beliefs by acting as proof of societal beliefs. For example, headlines like ‘women are naturally better at multitasking’, might lead the society to undervalue the difficulties women face juggling household chores with employment. Women in psychology can eradicate these myths before they occur by helping identify biases.
Women are leaders in psychology today. Let’s eliminate the belief that women are calmer and gentler than men and, therefore, a better fit for household tasks.
Touching the Lives of Trauma Victims
Many people who seek therapy simply need support for their day-to-day struggles and mental health conditions. But, people who have experienced trauma make up a significant portion of long-term patients. In our male-led society, trauma victims are often women. In fact, women make up a significantly larger portion of physical and sexual violence victims than men. For women who experienced violence at the hands of men, working through their trauma with female therapists can feel much more comfortable than doing so with male therapists.
Well-known women in psychology have also made significant contributions to trauma treatment. For instance, Francine Shapiro developed eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This is now a staple psychotherapy treatment to help people process their traumatic memories and find resolutions.
The Future of Psychology Depends on Women
While women once weren’t welcome in the field of psychology, they’ve paved the way for more empowering, equitable treatments through the creation of feminist therapy. Plus, women offer a unique perspective that helps researchers combat harmful societal stereotypes, rather than perpetuate them.
Women therapists can also offer women patients more empathetic treatment since they fully understand the stressors that exclusively face women. Even if more men join the field of psychology in the future, women will continue to play a critical role in shaping mental health, society’s perceptions, and treatment in the field.
About The Author
Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing about the ways technology, education, and wellness intersect and impact our everyday lives. She is frequently lost in a good book.