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date: 29 June 2022

Psychology as Mental Health Practice in the United States, 1945–1980locked

Psychology as Mental Health Practice in the United States, 1945–1980locked

  • Wade E. PickrenWade E. PickrenIthaca College
  •  and Ingrid G. FarrerasIngrid G. FarrerasHood College


In a relatively brief period of time, the discipline of psychology in the United States changed from being mostly concerned with its status as a legitimate science, qua physics or biology, to a rapidly growing field caught up in the tensions between academic science and the practice of psychology as a mental health profession. The numerical growth of the field’s members was heavily concentrated in the professional areas of mental health application. This was due primarily to the changed conditions of postwar life and the concerns of policymakers about the mental health of citizens in a dynamic, fast-changing, and fast-paced society. Government funding for psychology dramatically increased, especially funds for training clinical psychologists and for conducting research on mental health problems. It was not long before many of the clinical psychologists moved away from solely academic work and into the private practice of providing psychotherapy to clients. The discipline’s main organizational body of the time was the American Psychological Association, which came under pressure to allocate intellectual, organizational, and financial resources to the support of its practitioner members. One of the most intense battles of this period was that of creating different training models for clinical psychology. The early postwar model placed priority on training clinical psychology students to be scientists first, but by the 1960s, the demand for greater emphasis on training for practice had to be addressed for the field to remain coherent. Along with the internal tensions, psychology had to come to terms with external pressures as well. Among its challenges were those from competing professions, such as medicine, to its legal and cultural authority to provide professional services. Psychology eventually won those battles, but only after a state-by-state fight. Psychology was also presented with the challenges of a society wrestling with social problems, such as the demands for equal civil rights and opportunities. By the late 1960s, there were increasing demands for inclusion of students and faculty of color in graduate training and while there were some successes, there remained challenges that endured into the 21st century.


  • History and Systems of Psychology

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