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Karen Wyche

Training Location(s):

PhD (Clinical Psychology), University of Missouri-Columbia, (1984)

MSW, University of Maryland

BA, Adelphi University

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of Oklahoma, Terrorism and Disaster Center

University of Oklahoma, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Media Links:

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript


Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Inroads and Roadblocks

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Research Themes and Being a Role Model

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Merging Feminism & Psychological Research



Career Focus: Research on terrorism and disaster; community resilience; HIV/AIDS and chronic illness; ethnic minority women and mental health; identity formations (socioeconomic status, ethnicity/race, gender).


In Dr. Karen Wyche's words, people's stories are transformative: "People tell their stories, we listen, and that's how we inform who we are and what we can learn."  Central to Wyche's personal and professional orientations is the critical importance of sociocultural and historical factors in shaping who we are and who we become. Here is part of her story.


Wyche was raised in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. Her family included strong women who always worked to have equal relationships. Thus, role models for both her counselling and feminist identities were present at an early age. After completing her undergraduate degree in political science at Adelphi University, she took a position at the YWCA facilitating after-school groups for girls. This experience, combined with the serendipitous discovery of an advertisement for graduate stipends, led her to pursue and earn a Master's of Social Work degree at the University of Maryland.  After completing an administrative position at Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, with her husband working full-time on his doctoral degree and one child to care for, balancing the demands of both family and professional development was not an easy task: "I'm pretty clear that if I had not been married to another academic, I probably wouldn't still be was very hard and I won't say that it wasn't.  I showed up at school sometimes with peanut butter on me."


After Wyche earned her MSW, she held a number of positions. She was a social worker in a juvenile facility, an administrator in a social service agency, and an Obstetrics and Gynecology social worker. But once again, she decided to return to school. Motivated by her desire to develop research skills, she entered the clinical psychology doctoral program at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She quickly developed a keen interest in mentoring future generations of women psychologists: "Many of the women entering the field [of psychology] go into clinical work, clinical practice, and so then I think we don't have the power base, because the power base is still who you train and how you train people...As a clinician I can do great one-on-one work with people, but as a teacher, if I can get three other women who want to go on and get PhDs, and then they train three other people, it's faster.  And especially for a woman of color - if you train ethnic minority women who feel that this could be a vision for them."


Wyche's appreciation of the importance of mentoring also stems from the support she has received from the Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the American Psychological Association (APA).  She identifies the Society and her participation in its activities as important forces in cultivating her feminist identity.  Her initial involvement with the Society and the APA was as secretary-treasurer for the Section on Black Women, and since then has included appointments on APA's Task Force on Socioeconomic Status and the Committee on Women in Psychology.  However, it was the initial invitation extended by Dr. Bernice Lott, then-president of Division 35, to join various task forces and committees that nurtured the emergence of that identity: "If you know Bernice, if she asks you to do it, you do it!  And that's when I started to get active, and that's when I started to...forge...a feminist identity...I think the word feminist, what it means in terms of your goals and objectives and values, I always had. I just didn't have the label."


Wyche's professional achievements include numerous teaching and research-based appointments at some of the most well-respected universities in the United States. She has published articles in Psychology of Women Quarterly, Journal of Social Issues, Women and Therapy, and Applied and Preventive Psychology, and she has served on the editorial boards of American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Psychology of Women Quarterly, Journal of Moral Education, and Sex Roles. Her co-edited book, Women's Ethnicities: Journeys Through Psychology has made a significant contribution to the literature on the experiences of ethnic minority psychologists across North America. However, while Wyche has no doubt been extremely successful in her professional pursuits, she too has encountered barriers and obstacles that she has had to negotiate along the way: "Sometimes being African American is the barrier, and other times being a woman is the barrier...And so I think when you're a woman of colour in academia, you wonder if they have chosen you because you fill two slots in their affirmative action plan: the gender slot and the race/ethnicity slot.  Or have they chosen you because you're competent? And I think that I have been in situations where I fulfilled their affirmative action slot, and the barrier you then face is that you have to prove yourself."


Karen Fraser Wyche has contributed her expertise, professionalism, and dedication to the development and advancement of the field of psychology. She has blended her feminist politics and professional work in intelligent and creative ways. From her work with women coping with HIV aids and chronic illnesses, to her involvement in APA governance, to her more recent work on terrorism and disaster with hurricane Katrina survivors and first responders, Wyche's commitment to advocating for the rights of the disadvantaged, while honoring their strengths and life experiences, is surely a model to which all psychologists can aspire. 


by Tera Beaulieu (2010)
To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:

Wyche, K. F. (2010). Memories, reflections, and questions. Women & Therapy, 33 (3), 437-441.


Johnson, R., Gold, M., & Wyche, K. (2010). Distress in women with gynecologic cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 19, 665-668.


Pfefferbaum, B., Houston, J., Wyche, K., Van Horn, R., Reyes, G., Slaughter, J., & North, C. (2008). Children displaced by Hurricane Katrina: A focus group study. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 13, 303-318.


Norris, F., Stevens, S., Pfefferbaum, B., Wyche, K., Pfefferbaum, R. (2008). Community resilience as a metaphor, theory, set of capacities, and strategy for disaster readiness. American Journal of Community Psychology, 41(1-2), 127-150.


Wyche, K. F. (2006). Healthy environments for youth and families. In J. Worell & C. D. Goodheart (Eds.), Handbook of girls' and women's psychological health: Gender and well-being across the lifespan (pp. 218-228). New York, NY: Oxford  University Press.


Wyche, K. F. (2004). African-American Muslim women: An invisible group. Sex Roles, 51(5-6), 319-328.


Wyche, K. F. (2001). Sociocultural issues in counseling for women of color. In R. K. Unger (Ed.), Handbook of the psychology of women and gender (pp. 330-340). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.


Wyche, K. F. (1998). Teaching the psychology of women course in another discipline: The case of African-American studies. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22, 69-76.


Wyche, K. F. (1998). Let me suffer so my kids won't: African-American mothers living    with HIV/AIDS. In C. G. Coll, J. L. Surrey, & K. Weingarten (Eds.), Mothering against the odds: Diverse voices of contemporary mothers (pp. 173-189). New York: Guilford Press.


Wyche, K. F. & Crosby, F. J. (Eds.)(1996). Women's ethnicities: Journeys through psychology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


Interview with Karen Wyche: Inroads and Roadblocks

Interview conducted on August 18, 2007 by Tera Beaulieu at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.


Interview with Karen Wyche: Research Themes and Being a Role Model

Interview conducted on August 18, 2007 by Tera Beaulieu at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.


Interview with Karen Wyche: Merging Feminism and Psychological Research

Interview conducted on August 18, 2007 by Tera Beaulieu at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.