Diversity Spotlight: Beverly Greene, PhD

Available in TCP Vol. 76, Issue 2

The current spotlight focuses on the specific contributions of Dr. Beverly Greene, board-certified (ABPP) in Clinical Psychology and tenured Professor of psychology at St. John’s University. She is a founding co-editor of the Journal of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies of the new Institute for Critical Race and Ethnic Studies of St. John’s University. Her work focuses on psychotherapy with people who belong to marginalized and subordinate positions in the social hierarchy, and the psychological effects of social inequities such as heterosexism, sexism, and racism, as well as LGBTQIA+ psychology from an Intersectional identity and Black feminist lens. Dr. Greene earned her B.A. in Psychology from New York University in 1973 and received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the Derner Institute of Adelphi University in 1977 and 1983, respectively.  Dr Greene joined the faculty of St. John’s in 1991 after over a decade working in clinical public mental health with the NYC Board of Education, Brookdale and Kings County Hospitals Inpatient Child Psychiatry services in Brooklyn, NY, and Community Mental Health at UMDNJ in Newark, NJ.

With the tenacious encouragement and support of KCH Chief Psychologist Dr. Dorothy Gartner and peer mentors Laura Brown, Ellen Cole, and Adrienne Smith, Dr. Greene initiated scholarly work to develop more intersectional paradigms in clinical approaches to treating clients from marginalized groups and to actively engage in training activities offering those perspectives. Moreover, she has worked to develop material dedicated to improving training for providers of psychological services for socially marginalized populations. Dr. Greene has authored over 100 publications, a dozen of which have received national awards for significant, distinguished, and pioneering contributions, and has conducted hundreds of professional presentations.

Dr. Greene continues to serve as a professor, scholar, and clinical psychologist, specializing in materializing oppressive ideologies within organized mental health. By focusing on the vulnerabilities of marginalized communities, Dr. Greene has led social justice efforts to expand the dominant cultural narrative in mental health to one that is more representative of and better represents the realities of the broad spectrum of human diversity.

Dr. Greene is the recipient of over 40 national awards for pioneering contributions that include APA’s prestigious Senior Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest, and two APA Presidential Citations citing her over 30 years of distinguished contributions to multicultural psychology and social justice, and as an early contributor to the concept of intersectionality that now dominates the field. A prolific scholar, her critical analyses of psychology combined with clinical acumen have made a tremendous impact on the greater integration of psychological practice and social justice. Her work challenges old paradigms and develops new psychological approaches that are more reflective of a diverse reality and that create a legacy to guide the future.  Dr. Greene is a 2022 recipient of the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy’s annual Moving Families Forward Award.  Her contributions are also featured on Mental Health America’s 2021 website salute to Black Pioneers in Mental Health. Most recently, her notable expansion and critical research to the field of psychology and mental health counseling has resulted in her recognition from the Black Mental Health Graduate Academy.

Given her outstanding contributions to the field, I posed the following questions to Dr. Greene and have included her responses below.

1) You continue to improve the treatment of African Americans and other marginalized communities and build cultural sensitivity among clinicians. When did you first develop this niche? Was there ever a moment in time that fueled this passion into a life-long dedicated career?

During my time in graduate school, I had initially prioritized my training in psychotherapy. During this experience, I noticed that there were a lot of people and their realistic circumstances that did not get discussed or integrated into a positive psychological perspective. I noticed that the field of psychology was alarmingly silent about the social contexts of people’s lives and its bearing on their development, as well as how being required to manage social inequities like racism, sexism, and heterosexism contributed to mental health problems and complicated people’s lives in ways that their individual efforts could not circumvent. I found while the absence of these considerations glaring, there was resistance to examining and incorporating them. My perception was that less than optimal services were being rendered to people who were members of these populations and that this reinforced a system that did not adequately treat nor understand individuals who were not a part of the dominant cultural mainstream.

My fellow students of color and later colleagues were aware of these omissions, and we often discussed this and would verbalize how the realities of racism were never integrated into the discussions of therapies with clients of color. Our field never highlighted how racism could affect the therapeutic dynamic when we knew perfectly well, from our personal and professional experiences that it did. At this point in time, I did not have the plan to write about it. Rather, I was attending conferences on the matter and connected with the Association for Women in Psychology during their convention in New York. The feminist therapy theoretical position was that the subordinate social status of women and the discrimination that was a part of that subordinate status contributed to mental health problems in women and should be incorporated into any psychotherapeutic attempt to appropriately contextualize and understand the lives of women in psychotherapies. This informed my thoughts that aspects of this model could be applied to other groups that were not being addressed in mainstream psychology. As a response, I started to discuss more about these things and do presentations. Subsequently, I was aggressively encouraged by feminist and LGBTQ scholars Laura Brown, Ellen Cole, and Adrienne Smith to write about the things I was discussing in presentations.

At that stage I began to focus on shaping those ideas into scholarly papers and found there was interest in that material. Other opportunities began to develop. This was not part of the grand scheme of my career plan, but I am in deep gratitude to those who pushed me in the direction that it evolved in, because I do not know if I would have done it otherwise. Sometimes people see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. It’s important to listen when people that you care about in respect are saying, “you know this really is something worthwhile you need to do this.”

2) The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated significant inequalities (in resources, communities affected, persons vaccinated, etc.), particularly among marginalized populations. How has the pandemic influenced your work on oppression and resilience?

The primary genre of my work has not shifted, but the recent season of police violence has encouraged me to focus on how the day-to-day life of parenting black children in climates of racial hostility and police violence affects mothers beyond superficial ways and to collect those narratives for publication.  The panels with women who tell their stories and how they are affected are powerful testaments to the complexity of racial socialization and what the felt experience of that is like for mothers.  The collection of narratives is called “Threading Needles in the Dark, Wearing Gloves: How Mothers of Black Children Have the Talk then Walk the Walk. Considerations for Psychotherapy.” The panels are composed of a group of women telling their stories. I am focused on how this personally weighs on these mothers in ways that clinicians need to think about when they are working with these women. One thing that I continue to think about is a conversation I had with one of the participants. I asked her, “you know when you’re thinking about raising your children, what does it feel like?” She had told me, “Well it feels like I’m holding my breath, and I’ll breathe when I’m dead.” It’s a powerful statement that I believe reflects what I am trying to materialize in this work, as well as many of my other works; I am trying to illuminate the everyday realities of social oppression. I am also trying to look at what these thoughts and experiences do to people in terms of how they have to navigate and think about mundane and extreme life situations from positions of vulnerability and resilience. I believe that there is a story behind these experiences, and these stories need to be told, to promote better understandings of their dilemmas, particularly therapists.

3) You have provided significant efforts to dismantle sexist and racist oppressions in the field of clinical psychology. What additional contributions do you think rising clinicians and scholars should address in our current socio-political climate?

While I do believe that we have made progress, I am still having some of the same conversations I was having 30 years ago about the realities of racism and incorporating an understanding of the psychological work involved in navigating social inequity into psychotherapies. I still find students and therapists struggle with how to navigate the issue and how to discuss it with patients. A colleague, Kirkland Vaughans, the founding editor of the Journal of Infant Child and Adolescent psychotherapy and an analyst here in New York City, once said “you know race has this power to make people so anxious that they lose the capacity to think.” Hopefully the more we can have these discussions the more we can facilitate greater competence in our profession when it comes to understanding racialized aspects of clients’ experiences.

4) Your esteemed contributions continue to impact experts and developing professionals alike. What impact can the world expect from you next, Dr. Greene?

In addition to Threading Needles, I am  working on another book titled “The Rainbow That Never Was: Liberation Psychotherapy with LGBT POC” with Marie Miville and Angela Ferguson for the Division 44 book series. It is about the practice of liberation psychotherapy with LGBTQ+ POC.

Outside of those works in progress, I have a lot of ideas and topics of interest. However, these things take a lot of time, and as a full-time professor, I often have limited availability to develop these ideas to fruition. I hope that developing professionals can help continue this line of work, especially when it pertains to the social oppressions of many people with minority sexual orientations, gender diversity, ethno-racial identities, and other socially marginalized populations.

Written by Esther Lapite, M.A.