Psychology's Feminist Voices
Women PastFeminist PresenceAbout Us

Twitter YouTube Follow us on Facebook Changing Face of Feminist Psychology: watch the video


Profile

Louise Silverstein

Birth:
1946

Training Location(s):

PhD, New York University, (1981)

MA, New York University, (1972)

BA, Tulane University, (1967)



Primary Affiliation(s):

Yeshiva University , (1992- Present)



Media Links:
Websites

Louise Silverstein's Professional Website

 

Interview

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript

 

Videos

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: On Acceptance in Pyschology as a Feminist

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: On Feminism in Early Motherhood 

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Looking Back on Academic Accomplishments


Biography:

 

Career Focus: Men and masculinity; fatherhood; feminist family therapy; educational psychology; childhood learning and development.


 

Reflecting on the development of her feminist consciousness, Louise Silverstein recalls that her feminist identity evolved long before she was even aware of having one. Born July 3, 1946, Silverstein was raised in a multigenerational Jewish home that indirectly nurtured feminist values. Although she spent the first five years of her life in New Orleans, the death of her father in the early 1950s impelled her mother to move in with her grandparents and aunt in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Faced with single parenthood, Silverstein’s mother sought work outside the home in order to support herself and her child, challenging the gender norms of the times. In addition, her aunt, who had no children of her own, also held a job. The change in Silverstein’s family structure and the display of unconventional gender roles resonated deeply with her at a very young age: “I understood the meaning of not having a man in one’s life, of women having to work.” The presence of two strong and ambitious working women during her youth kindled a fierce desire for Silverstein to develop a career of her own. Additionally, although her father passed away during her early childhood, his appreciation for her early displays of intelligence left a lasting impression that further encouraged Silverstein to make the most of her intellect.

 

In an attempt to reacquaint herself with her father’s family, Silverstein moved back to the city of her birth during her late teens. While living in New Orleans, she earned her BA in Political Science at Tulane University. By the end of her undergraduate career, Silverstein had gained much more than a degree. On the day of her graduation, she married her husband, a fellow student at Tulane University just days before she turned 21. However in doing so she forfeited the opportunity to receive a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for which she had been nominated by two of her male professors and mentors. Instead she began a doctorate program in political science at Tulane University, while her husband started his own graduate work at the same institution.  Within months of starting the program, Silverstein realized she was dissatisfied with her educational path and dropped out after the first semester. During her hiatus from academia, Silverstein accepted a position as a third grade teacher at a private school and became fascinated with children’s ability to learn. Shortly after, in search of a fresh start, Silverstein and her husband relocated to New York City. With a newly sparked interest in child learning and development, Silverstein decided to resume her academic journey and pursued a Master’s degree in educational psychology at New York University.

 

Although she did not openly identify as a feminist until her thirties, Silverstein recalls making many decisions during her adulthood that were informed by feminist principles. Completing her course work before she had children was one of these decisions. An unusual choice for a young woman in the seventies, Silverstein was thirty years old when she became pregnant: “I lived in Brooklyn Heights and I didn’t know anyone else who was in graduate school [or] any other woman who had a professional identity. All of the women were full-time mothers or worked part-time, but were not identified as professional women.” Her experience of motherhood triggered a conscious reformation of her identity. Having to temporarily reduce her commitment to her own career while her husband worked full-time, Silverstein suddenly realized that everything she had read about feminism was being pplayed out in her own life. Following the completion of her Master’s degree and the birth of her first child, Silverstein entered a doctoral program in school psychology at NYU. Motivated by her transition into motherhood, Silverstein’s PhD dissertation, A comparison of the effects of Leboyer and standard childbirth management techniques on selected infant behaviors, maternal attitudes, and postnatal adjustment at one and four months postpartum looked at the effects of childbirth techniques on over 80 mother/infant pairs. Results indicated that the mother adjusted best if she had the power to choose a particular method of childbirth and if her choice was upheld during the process. She attributed her findings to “radicalizing” her new identity and solidifying her association with feminism.

 

Silverstein’s postdoctoral years led to even greater professional growth. During the pursuit of her doctoral degree, Silverstein worked as a senior psychologist within the Division of Child Psychiatry at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. She quickly discovered that although her initial interests were related to children’s learning processes, it was difficult to work effectively with children without involving their families. This led to postgraduate work and training in family therapy and the establishment of her private practice in 1982. In acknowledgement of her identity as a feminist, she delved into the work of renowned feminist therapist Betty Carter, whose work shaped her own approach to family therapy. Since then, Silverstein has published a number of academic articles and chapters on feminist family therapy and collaborated with Thelma Jean Goodrich to edit the book Feminist Family Therapy: Empowerment In Social Context.

 

In addition to her work as a therapist, Silverstein has been affiliated with Yeshiva University for over two decades. Early on in her academic career, Silverstein published an article that critiqued psychology’s negative focus on childcare provided by persons other than the biological mother. Her research and writing led to a professorial appointment at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology in 1992. While there, she met Carl Auerbach who became a longstanding collaborator on a number of articles, presentations, and projects involving fatherhood. In staying true to her feminist identity, Silverstein has used the platform of fathering research to demonstrate the relationship between the inequalities of women and the traditional definitions of fatherhood and masculinity. One of Silverstein and Auerbach’s most notable contributions is a qualitative research study named the Yeshiva University Fatherhood Project. Since 1994, the study has archived a multicultural perspective of fatherhood via interviews with hundreds of men living in the United States. Silverstein’s fathering research earned her a Distinguished Research Award from Division 51, Society for the Psychological Study of Men & Masculinity, of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2002.    

 

Silverstein has also dedicated a great deal of time to working with other divisions within the APA that serve to empower women and broaden family research. She devoted five years to APA Division 43, The Society for Family Psychology and ultimately became president. During her involvement, she worked hard to infuse a multicultural and feminist perspective into the division, which led to her being honored with the Carolyn Attneave Award for Distinguished Contributions to Diversity in Family Psychology. She also worked extensively with APA’s Committee on Women in Psychology.

 

Over the years Silverstein has contributed to the body of feminist research in psychology in multiple pioneering ways. However, when asked about the status of feminism in psychology, Silverstein reveals that she believes that there is still room for improvement: “I think we have huge work to do [in terms of] integrating feminist theory and practice into mainstream psychology. I think psychology is still very male-oriented, very patriarchal in theory and practice.” However she does offer hopeful advice in terms of achieving this goal: “Women decrease their power by not working together. So if there were one thing that I would advise all women, feminist or not, it is to be collaborative with other women.”

 

by Jeahlisa Bridgeman (2014)

To cite this article, see Credits


Selected Works:
By Louise Silverstein

Goodrich, T. J. & Silverstein, L. B. (2005). Invited article. Now you see it, Now you don't. Feminist training in family therapy. Family Process, 44, 267-281.

 

Schacher, S., Auerbach, C. F., & Silverstein, L. B. (2005). Gay fathers. Expanding the possibilities for all of us. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 1(3), 31-52.

 

Silverstein, L. (1981).  A critical review of current research on infant day care. In S.B. Kamerman & A. Kahn (Eds.). Childcare, family benefits, and working parents. New York: Columbia University Press.

 

Silverstein, L. (1992). Transforming the debate about child care and maternal employment. Working Paper Series in Women's Studies, Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, New Orleans, LA.

 

Silverstein, L. B. & Auerbach, C. F. (1999). Deconstructing the essential father.American Psychologist, 54, 397-407.

 

Silverstein, L. B. & Goodrich, T. J. (Eds.). (2003). Feminist family therapy: Empowerment in social context. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

 

Silverstein, L. B. (2005). Integrating feminism and multiculturalism. Scientific fact or science fiction? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37, 21-28.

 

Silverstein, L. B. (2005). Bowen family systems theory as feminist therapy. In M. Harway (Ed.), Handbook of Couples Therapy (pp. 103-118). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

 

Silverstein, L. B., & Brooks, G. (2010). Gender Issues in Family Therapy and Couples Counseling. In J. C. Chrisler & D. R. McCreary (Eds.), Handbook of gender research in psychology. New York: Springer-Verlag.

 

Silverstein, L. B. (2013). A complicated friendship. In L. Comas-Diaz (Ed.).Sisters of the Heart. Special Issue. Women and Therapy, 36, 76-85.

 

Silverstein, L. B. (in press). Feminist family therapy. In Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Wiley-Blackwell.

 

Silverstein, L. B. Feminist masculinities. In J. Wong & S. R. Wester (Eds.) APA Handbook of Men and Masculinities. Manuscript in preparation.


Photo Gallery: