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Maria Root


Training Location(s):

PhD (Clinical Psychology), University of Washington, (1983)

MA (Cognitive Psychology), Claremont Graduate School, (1979)

BA (Psychology, Sociology), College of the Holy Cross, (1977)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of Washington, (1981-1982, 1987-1999)

University of Hawaii, (1989-1990)

Media Links:

Psychology's Feminist Voices Oral History Transcript

Professional Website

Maria P.P. Root, PhD, Clinical Psychology

Monitor on Psychology Profile

Maria Root, American Psychological Association, 2006


Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Filipino Experience

Oral History Excerpt on YouTube: Oppression



Career Focus: Clinical psychology; multiracial identity; multiracial families; eating disorders.


Maria Primitiva Paz Root was born in Manila, Philippines on September 13, 1955. She has a multiracial identity (her father is of Caucasian descent and her mother is of Filipino descent). Root grew up "fairly poor, meaning not enough food for everyone" in the family. She is the oldest child, with two younger brothers. Her family immigrated to the US when she was very young when the Asiatic Barred Zone, an act limiting entry of migrants from many Asian countries, was in effect.  Root and her mother had to take a circuitous route to enter the US. They went through British Honduras (now Beliz), through Guatemala, and then to the US.


Her interests in psychology perhaps stemmed from her experience in Catholic school. Due to her issues with "internalizing guilt," it was recommended that Root see a psychologist, who told her parents that she should be transferred to public school. This was the first time she encountered psychology. 


Root believes her non-conventional mother shaped the person she is today. Because education was very important to her family, her mother was educated: "It was important for the women to go to school if at all possible." When her mother moved to the United States, she pursued a degree in psychology. Root remembers how she used to act as her mother's experimental participant when she tried out relaxation methods and biofeedback. Root's mother would also bring home animals for experimental research. Root believes that this experience influenced her to pursue psychobiology. However, in university Root did not satisfy the general requirements of chemistry and calculus courses required for this major, so she decided to continue as a psychology major instead. To make up for the lack of social aspects in her psychology courses, Root decided to take some classes in sociology and eventually decided to double major in psychology and sociology.


Root planned to pursue graduate studies in psychology and attended Claremont Graduate School to study cognitive psychology, but quickly realized that she did not have much of an interest in this area. She reapplied to a clinical program, working under Laura Schrivam, with whom she gained some valuable lab experience. Root was then accepted into the PhD program at the University of Washington. Root was drawn to the city's significant population of Asians and the good reputation of the university's clinical program. When her advisor suddenly transfer to another university, Root began working with Shirley Feldman. Studying with Feldman, who was doing research with women and sexual assaults, was a very enriching experience.  With Feldman, Root was able to pursue one of her main interests, the study of social systems. After obtaining her PhD in Clinical Psychology in 1987, Root set up a private practice handling a group treatment program she had started earlier.


Root continued to publish while in private practice. She was approached to write a book about bulimia based on her treatment program. The book, which was published in 1986, focused on eating disorders and experiences of trauma. Root found that this kind of research was more successful in reaching unrepresented groups (e.g., ethnic minority groups, women). Root also published work about Asian-Americans. Although not her original intention, Root was glad she was in private practice. She felt that it allowed her to be more open in terms of areas of research as being in private practice relieved Root of the need to focus on research that would lead to tenure.


In 1989, Root accepted a position as a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii. It was at this time that she wanted to write a book about multiracialism. With a group of scholars from a number of different disciplines including sociology, ethnic studies, and Latin American studies, they collaborated to publish the book, called Racially Mixed People in America (1992). Root felt it was important to publish the book because the population of multiracial people was growing and that much of the early work on multiracialism was very racist. At the time, there was "no contemporary published literature that was very good." The book and other multiracial works published by Root prompted new formations of race questions in the US census. Earlier versions of the census dealt with race in a monoracial manner. For multiracial identities, "initially you were identified by the father's race." If you're father was white, "then you were identified by the mother because then you wouldn't be identified as anything that isn't quote 'pure while' is not white, so you have to check off the other white boxes." Root's book influenced the census so that respondents were able to check more than one box for race questions.


Root remembers experiencing racism based on her racial identity as a Filipino. During elementary school and again in graduate school, she was accused of plagiarism because her teachers could not believe the work she submitted was her own work. They had strong doubts about her abilities. However, having a multiracial identity, Root feels that "there is strength in being sort of a hybridized culture" and that her rich cultural background made her think differently and not have a linear causality belief system.  Root was taught that people should be cognitively flexible and that the world doesn't revolve around finding one particular answer. She feels that cognitive flexibility is "an incredible strength we bring to psychology."


Root is currently in private practice. She works as a consultant with law enforcement, providing services such as formal psychological evaluations and expert testimonies. She also continues to work as an independent scholar. Root is currently involved in researching trauma, multiracial identities, eating disorders, multicultural psychology and feminist therapy. She held a tenured position as an associate professor of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, but left the position because she felt "constrained by the academic environment."  She was also the former president of the Washington State Psychological Association (WSPA) and the former chair of American Psychological Assocation's (APA) board for the Advancement of Psychology in Public Interest.  She was also a former member-at-large of the APA's board of the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues (Division 45). She is currently an active member of the Asian American Psychology Association (AAPA).


by Florence Truong (2010)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works:


Root, M. P. P. (2004). From Exotic to a Dime a Dozen. Women and Therapy (special issue), 27(1/2), 19-31.


Root, M. P. P. and Kelley, M. (Eds.) (2003). The Multiracial Child Resource Book. Seattle, WA: Mavin Foundation.


Root, M. P. P. (2001). Future Considerations in Research on Eating Disorders. The Counseling Psychologist,29(5), 754-762.


Root, M. P. P. (Ed.) (1997). Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage Publications.


Root, M. P. P. (Ed.) (1992). Racially Mixed People in America. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.


Root, M. P. P., Fallon, P., & Friedrich, W. N. (l986). Bulimia: A Systems Approach To Treatment. NY: Norton Books.


Interview with Maria Root: Filipino Experience

Interview conducted on January 26, 2007 by Wade Pickren in Seattle, Washington, USA.


Interview with Maria Root: Oppression

Interview conducted on January 26, 2007 by Wade Pickren in Seattle, Washington, USA.