Featured Psychologist: Martha E. Bernal, PhD

Dr. Martha E. BernalMartha E. Bernal, PhD was the first woman of Mexican descent to successfully complete her PhD in clinical psychology. She earned her doctoral degree in 1962 at Indiana University.

Bernal's graduate experience was marked by a dearth of women and minorities in psychology, which pinnacled during her postgraduate job search for a faculty position when she received replies from schools that said, "We do not hire women." She then pursued a U.S. Public Health Service Postdoctoral Fellowship, and completed research training in human psychophysiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Health Sciences Center. In 1966, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) gave her a grant to establish a laboratory to study orienting responses and classical conditioning in autistic children.

In 1979, Bernal received a National Research Service Award from NIMH to study how psychologists prepared for work with multicultural populations. She published the results that showed APA-accredited clinical psychology programs had few multicultural curricula for psychologists, and a scarcity of students and faculty of color. That same year, she helped establish the National Hispanic Psychological Association and later served as its second president. In 1986, Bernal became a professor at Arizona State University, where she focused on finding out how Mexican-American children developed their identities and how schools could improve their efforts to provide clinical psychologists with training in minority mental health issues. In 2000, Bernal was recognized for her contributions to Latino psychologists at the Latino Psychology Conference. At APA's 2001 Annual Convention, the Public Interest Directorate awarded Bernal the 2001 Contributions to Psychology Award.


Distinguished Contributions to psychology on the public interest. (2001, July/August).  Monitor on Psychology, 31.

Ballie R. (2002, January 1). Martha E. Bernal dies at age 70. Monitor on Psychology, 33.

Vasquez, J.T. Melba. (2003). The life and death of a multicultural feminist pioneer. The Feminist Psychologist of the American Psychological Association, 30.