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Jean Pettifor



Training Location(s):

PhD (Clinical Psychology), Wayne State University, (1964)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of Calgary, (1989-present)

Media Links:

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript





Career Focus: Ethical and professional standards; educational psychology; clinical training; community psychology; social change.


Born on October 14, 1922 in Scott, Saskatchewan, Jean L. Pettifor was raised on a farm. Her home environment engendered a lifelong commitment to social justice and community activism. She credits her parents for much of her social and political awareness: "I certainly grew up in that atmosphere on the farm - that we have got to solve problems with regard to war and peace, with regard to the economic distribution of goods, with regard to health care, with regard to education, and all of these things." She points out, however, that the words "feminism" and "social justice" were never part of her parents' vocabulary. It was their fundamental belief in the dignity of all people regardless of class and gender that dictated their progressive activism, even in the midst of what she refers to as the "primitive life." In fact, she recalls that a few days before her parents were married, "they voted in a federal election that elected a number of progressive people from western Canada as well as Agnes MacPhail who was the first woman in the House of Commons and represented the constituency in Ontario where my father grew up."


Perhaps one may trace Pettifor's feminism back to MacPhail's historic election. Indeed, her election led Pettifor's mother to the conviction that it was finally time for women to get involved in making political change. As Pettifor recounts, "in 1927 there was ... a big farmer's meeting in Regina and Mother managed to get enough coverage for her four kids to attend and set up a personal friendship with Agnes MacPhail, and Agnes never married because she said she [had] to pave the way for women to get into the public life". Thus, as she continues, "growing up in that background has probably had a great deal of influence in terms of my concern for other people." It is, undeniably, this concern for people that eventually led Pettifor into a teaching career - one of the very few occupations available to women at the time.


Having taken the teaching route, Pettifor later went back to university and became interested in psychology - again in the spirit of care for all people. She took a Master's of Education degree in which she focused primarily on educational psychology. In 1948, she was hired as a psychologist for the first full-time Guidance Clinic in Edmonton. When asked what it was like to be a woman in psychology, providing psychological services at the time, Pettifor remembers: "I didn't see too many really visible issues [for women], as long as you were single! If you were married, you were not expected to work....  And if you were pregnant you had to resign. Now, they had a clause that you could be reinstated at the pleasure of the minister but you needed not be if it was not his pleasure! That seems to be a little hard to believe these days. I got married in 1961 and that was the case then."


Pettifor received her PhD in 1964 from Wayne State University in Detroit. Shortly after, she became involved in the founding of the Psychologists' Association of Alberta and ethics became a theme in her career. Indeed professional ethics has continued to be the major focus of her work. Her perceptive and judicious insight as an ethicist propelled her onto the international scene. She has written extensively on international ethics codes and how to arrive at an adequate balance between universal principles, on the one hand, and respect for cultural diversity and cultural relativism on the other.  For Pettifor - and the several other Canadian psychologist colleagues with whom she works - the emphasis must be placed on ethical principles as values rather than on an attempt to dictate ethical conduct in different countries and cultures. One must remain constantly vigilant about the tendency to impose one's own ethical standards on the rest of the world. You must be careful, she points out, "that you don't sound as if you are giving orders, as if you are colonizing the rest of the world and the rest of the world must do as you do to be recognized!"


Pettifor is also one of the founding forces behind the development of specific guidelines for women's counseling and therapy. Based in the 1975 United Nations' International Women's Year, the guidelines were specifically intended to expose and condemn sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual contact in therapy. Real life stories revealing the sexual abuse of women by therapists were used to make their case, but even then, resistance from Canadian Psychological Association board members was often quite blatant: "even into the nineties, on the board there was some opposition to some things ... proposed.  It was like, 'that's more of the feminist/sex rhetoric with no empirical support' type of thing!" Pettifor and her colleagues' responses to such comments often attempted to place feminism within the larger context of diversity and discrimination:


We sort of said: "... if we are talking about diversity and guidelines for non-discriminatory practice, ... that includes ethnicity, ... disabilities, [and] yes it includes women, ... you know there is a whole range of things here in terms of discrimination - you wouldn't be opposed to all of these other [things], would you?" ... And it almost seemed to me that if you put the feminist proposals in the bigger context you got a better response!"


Many of Pettifor's efforts to change psychology have been carried out at the community level. She believes that a health-promoting psychology can only be achieved by understanding environmental contexts and by focusing on strengthening communities. It is indeed this level of analysis, combined with her fundamental respect for the dignity of all people, that has imbued her work and distinguished her career. Pettifor's work, vision, and impact on professional ethics were recognized on the international stage. She was awarded the prestigeous Wilhelm Wundt-William James award at the 2013 European Congress of Psychology in Stockholm. A biannual award given by the American Psychological Foundation and European Federation of Psychologists Associations for subbstantial contributions to both European and Noth American psychology. The award noted her work in not only the Canadian and other national ethics codes but also the Interntational Declaration of Ethical Principals for Psychologists. 


A workshop two years later given by herself and colloborator Janel Gauthier at the 2015 American Psychological Association conference in Toronto would ber her last. It was apptly titled "Ethics and Virture - How to maintain moral engagement and prevent disengagement in a globalizing world." She became ill that weekend and returned home to find that a cancer believed to be eraticated had returned. Jean L. Pettifor died on November 8th, 2015 at the Chinook Hospice in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her memorial site noted that while she passed in peace it was not with out fristration - there was more work to be done. 


by Axelle Karera (2010) Updated (2015)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:


Pettifor, J.L., Stewart, D., McCarron, M., Schoepp, G., & Stark, C. (2011). Ethical supervision in teaching, research practice, and administration. Canadian Psychology, 52, 198-205.


Pettifor, J.L. (2011) Reflections on respect and caring for persons with disabilities: My sixty-one years of Alberta history. International Journal of Disability, Community, & Rehabilitation, 9(1). Link


Pettifor, J. L. (2008). Respect is more than autonomy: Implication for international psychology. In M. J. Stevens & D. Weddings (Eds.), IUPS Global Resource CD-ROM-Edition 2008. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.


Church, E., Pettifor, J.L., & Malone, J. (2006). Evolving Canadian guidelines for therapy and counselling with women. Feminism & Psychology, 16, 259-271.


Pettifor, J.L. (2004). Preferred strategies for learning ethics in the practice of a discipline.  Canadian Psychology, 43(4), 260-269.


Pettifor, J.L. (2004). Personal reflections of 60 years of psychology: Many roads to truth. Canadian Psychology, 45, 11-15.


Pettifor, J.L. (2001).  Are professional codes of ethics relevant for multicultural counselling?  Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 35(1), 26-35.


Pettifor, J.L. (1986).  Ethical standards for community psychology.  Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 5(1), 39-48.


Pettifor, J.L. (1996).  Ethics: Virtue and politics in the science and practice of psychology.  Canadian Psychology, 37(1), 1-12.


Pettifor, J.L. (1980).  Guidelines for therapy and counselling with women.  Canadian Psychology, 21(4), 185-186.


Pettifor, J.  & , Ferrero, A.  (2012). Ethical Dilemmas, Cultural Differences, and the Globalization of Psychology. International Handbook of Psychological Ethics.


Gauthier, J., & Pettifor, J. (2011). The evolution of ethics in psychology: Going international and global. In P. R. Martin, F. Cheung, M. Kyriose, L. Littlefield, M. Knowles, B. Ocrmier, & J. M. Prieto (Eds.), The IAAP Handbook of Applied Psychology (pp. 700-714). Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishing.


Pettifor, J. (2010). Ethics, diversity and respect in multicultural counselling. In N. Arthur & S. Collins (Eds.), Culture-infused counselling (2nd Ed., pp.167-188). Calgary, AB: Counselling Concepts.


Pettifor, J., & Malone, J. (2010). Counselling women: Ethics for diversity and social justice. In L. Ross (Ed.), Feminist counselling: Theory, issues and practice (pp. 241-262). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars Press Inc. & Women's Press.


Pettifor, J. (2009). Ethical principles for a global psychology: Building bridges of respect between and across cultures. In R. Roth, C. Hiew, & A-L. Comunian (Eds.), Peace, hope, and well-being across the cultures, Proceedings of the 65th Annual Convention International Council of Psychologists. Germany: Shaker Verlag.


Pettifor, J. (2007). Toward a global professionalization of psychology. In M.J. Stevens & U. P. Gielen (Eds.). Toward a global psychology: Theory, research, intervention and pedagogy.  Mahwah, N.J: Erlbaum, 229-331.


Bass, L.J., DeMers, S.T., Ogloff, J.R.P., Peterson, C., Pettifor, J.L., Reaves, R.P., Retfalvi, T., Simon, N.P., Sinclair, C., & Tipton, R.M. (1996). Professional conduct and discipline in psychology.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


Additional Resources

European Federation of Psychologists Associations. (2015). Former EFPA/APF Wundt-James award winner Dr. Jean Pettifor deceased at age of 93. EFPA Website


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