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Martha Bern al: the life of a woman minority psychologist. History of Psychology June 20, 2006. Early Influences and Zeitgeist Andrea Villareal. Early Life. Born in San Antonio, Texas on April 13, 1931. Parents were Alicia and Enrique de Bernal, who were Mexican emigrants.

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early life
Early Life
  • Born in San Antonio, Texas on April 13, 1931.
  • Parents were Alicia and Enrique de Bernal, who were Mexican emigrants.
  • Martha was immersed in a bi-cultural experience.
  • Conflicting messages about culture and education.
  • Martha graduated from El Paso High School
  • Attended Texas Western College (now University of El Paso)
  • Earned her Master of Arts degree from Syracuse University in 1955.
  • Earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Indiana University in 1962.
educational influences
Educational Influences
  • The impact of other influential psychologists.
    • Skinner and Pavlov
    • Dissertation mentors: Roland Davis & Arnold Binder
    • Charles Ferstner& Ogden Lindsley
  • Postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA
  • Early work at University of Arizona
    • Ronald Tharp
    • Ralph Wetzel
  • Return to UCLA
    • Influence of Ivar Lovaas
motivation to improve minority status in the field
Motivation to Improve Minority Status in the Field
  • Under representation of women and minorities.
  • Disrespect faculty showed towards women.
  • Challenges women faced with research participation.
  • Series of National Conferences in Denver that raised her awareness of the negative effects minority psychologists suffered.
the zeitgeist martha faced
The Zeitgeist Martha Faced
  • Educational challenges associated with her cultural background.
  • Family pressure and expectations.
  • Gender expectations of women.
  • Issues of respect and equality associated with education, work and research participation.
obstacles of women psychologists
Obstacles of Women Psychologists
  • “Naturally” Inferior to Men
  • Less opportunities
    • Education
    • Work
  • Social Appearance
  • Unrecognized
obstacles of ethnic minority psychologists
Termed as “undesirables” in society

Portrayed as less intelligent

Held back in their education

Supported by few, if any


Denied opportunity to study psychology

Denied publication of their work

Denied academic appointments

Not understood

Obstacles of Ethnic Minority Psychologists
martha bernal s personal obstacles
Martha Bernal’s Personal Obstacles
  • Her Father
    • education a “waste”
    • traditional standards for women
  • Society’s views on Ethnicity
    • “violence, crime, and drugs”
    • high school drop out rate
      • Hispanic girls age 16-24 highest rate
      • Lack of encouragement from teachers
martha s personal obstacles continued
Martha’s Personal Obstaclescontinued...
  • College
    • no research
    • mainly Whites
    • sexual harassment
    • quiet bystanders
    • 1 in 4 chance to finish degree
  • Post Graduate
    • “we do not hire women”

Despite struggles, Martha held on to the belief that the chance to succeed exists alongside the challenge to overcome obstacles.

“Throughout my life, however critical I might be of this country, I have felt grateful for the opportunities of which I availed myself. They would most likely not have existed had I lived in Mexico.” - Martha Bernal

martha bernal s work ideas
Martha Bernal’s Work & Ideas
  • There are two distinct phases of Dr. Bernal’s career.
    • Behavioral and Learning conceptualization of childhood problems.
      • “It was interesting to have been a part of a major advance in treatment of human problems, and advance that initially met strong resistance from prevailing mental health professional establishment” (Bernal, 1988, p 270)
    • Researched and promoted importance of training psychologists in diversity.
phase one behavioral
Phase One: Behavioral
  • 1970: Autistic Schizophrenic children stimulation vs. normal children
  • 1976: Excuses and drop out rate
  • 1978: Parent Training Manual
  • 1982: Parents labeling of conduct disorders
phase two diversity
Phase Two: Diversity
  • Saw previous research as dissatisfying, decided to start out a new field of research
  • Denver University: Set 3 goals
    • Research/teach topics of more interested to people of color
    • Advocate for people of color using publications and presentations
    • Work with APA to improve minority status
phase two diveristy continued
Phase Two: Diveristy continued…
  • 1982: Survey of Clinical Programs
  • 1985: 6 skill sets identified as necessary
      • Broad-based understanding of minorities
      • Positive attitudes toward all groups
      • Study of socio-cultural variables as behavioral determinants
      • Culturally appropriate interventions
      • Ability to communicate in client’s own language
      • Ethics of research/practice of psychology apply to all groups
  • 1993: Formation of ethnic identity
phase two diversity continued
Phase Two: Diversity continued…
  • 1994: Decade of Progress
      • Engagement in a change process leading to cultural competence (rather than minimal exposure to culture)
      • Increase in minority faculty
  • 1995: Counseling vs. Clinical programs
  • Practicality
    • How to integrate these principles in training programs
    • How to improve current required courses
  • Outcome Research
    • Training necessary, but are these ideas helpful?
    • How have programs successfully or unsuccessfullly integrated concepts?
  • Used research to address a HUGE need
  • Translated her misfortune into opportunity
  • Identified key deficit areas in training
  • Gathered others and influenced APA
influence on ideas and events
Influence on Ideas and Events
  • Guidelines now offer specific behavioral recommendations that psychologists learn more about specific ethnic minority groups with which they may be working with
  • They must also increase their contact with ethnic minorities to enhance their cultural awareness and knowledge
influence on apa
The 40-year journey beginning in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in Congress

2002:The approval of the “GuidelinesonMulticultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists” (American Psychological Association [APA], 2003)

Influence on APA
infuence as a woman and minority
Infuence as a Woman and Minority
  • Struggles present, but not like before
  • People of color to make up 50 percent of population by middle of 20th century
  • Now Lillian Comas-Diaz, a Latina psychologist edits a journal on multicultural mental health
influence as a woman and minority continued
Influence as a Woman and Minority continued...
  • Psychologists of color are some of the leading researchers on the development of identity among persons of color
  • The development of multicultural competencies and guidelines within psychology are described as a difficult process; however, with dialogues, progress, and many breakthroughs
summary of accomplishments
Summary of Accomplishments
  • First Latina in the United States to earn a doctoral degree in psychology
  • Awarded at the First National Multicultural Conference and Summit
  • Established a Laboratory for the Study of Classical Conditioning in Autistic Children
summary of accomplishments continued
Summary of Accomplishments continued...
  • Studied Ethnic Identity in Mexican American children
  • Drafted a Speech in Which the APA Was Urged to Take Steps to Address Ethnic Minority Issues
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues
how is martha remembered
How is Martha Remembered?

“[Martha] was passionate about her ideas, she spoke out effectively against injustice, she maintained high standards of scholarship and professionalism, she demonstrated much compassion for fellow human beings, and she had considerable energy.”

-Vasquez & Lopez, 2002, p. 362



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Bernal, M. & Castro, F.G. (1994). Are clinical psychologists prepared for service and research with ethnic minorities? Report of a decade of progress. American Psychologist, 49, 797-805.

Bernal, M., & Kreutzer, S.L. (1976). Relationship between excuses and dropout at a mental health center. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 494.

Bernal, M., & Miller, W.H. (1970). Electrodermal and cardiac responses of schizophrenic children to sensory stimuli. Psychophysiology, 7, 155-168.

Bernal, M., & North, J.A. (1978). A survey of parent training manuals. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 11, 533-544.

Bernal, M., & Padilla, A.M. (1982). Status of minority curricula and training in clinical psychology. American Psychologist, 37, 780-787.

Faludi, S. (1991). Backlash. New York: Crown Publishers Inc.

Martha Bernal: Award for distinguished senior career contributions in the public interest. (2001). American Psychologist, 56, 922-924.

Martha Bernal: Life and contributions. Women’s Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society. Retrieved from

O’Connell, A.N., & Russo, N.F. (Eds.). (1988). Models of achievement: Reflections of

eminent women in psychology (Vol. 2). Erlbaum.

Knight, G.P., Bernal, M.E., Garza, C.A., & Cota, M.K. (1993). Family socialization and the ethnic identity of Mexican-American children. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 24, 99-114.

Knight, G.P., Cota, M.K, & Bernal, M.E. (1993). The socialization of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic preferences among Mexican American children: The mediating role of ethnic identity. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 15, 291-309.

Quintana, S.M., & Bernal, M. (1995). Ethnic minority training in counseling psychology: Comparisons with clinical psychology nd proposed standards. Counseling Psychologist, 23, 102-121.

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Vasquez, M. J.T. (2002). Complexities of the latina experience: A tribute to Martha Bernal. American Psychologist, 57, 880-888.

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