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Black Mental Health Pioneers

This Black History Month we express our gratitude for the contributions of Black Americans who have fought, and continue to fight, for health equity.

We recognize that there is more to be done to achieve equity in healthcare. Beacon Health Options is dedicated to advancing Behavioral Health Equity so that all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and geographic or financial access can receive individualized care that demonstrates cultural humility and improves their health and well-being.

This month, we shine a light on just a few of the pioneers who have paved the way for deeper understanding and better lives for all. From groundbreaking early research sparking debate on desegregation, to new techniques and therapies we recognize Black counselors, researchers, therapists, doctors, social workers and advocates who elevated our understanding of mental health and made invaluable contributions to the field.

Check out these trailblazers!

Dr. Robert Lee Williams, II (1930-2020)

Dr. Robert Lee Williams, II was an influential voice in American psychology and a vocal critic of racial and cultural biases in IQ testing. Dr. Williams called out these biases by creating his own standardized test showing how testing structure negatively influenced outcomes for and perceptions of African Americans.

Throughout his long career, Dr. Williams had many accomplishments. He authored more than 60 professional articles as well as the influential book “Ebonics: The True Language of Black Folks,” which was first published in 1975. Dr. Williams was a founder and the first president of the National Association of Black Psychologists and was professor emeritus of psychology and African and Afro-American studies at the Washington University in St. Louis.

Solomon Carter Fuller, M.D. (1872-1953)

Not only was Solomon Carter Fuller the first Black psychiatrist, he was also a pioneer in the study of Alzheimer’s disease. After excelling in his medical career early on, Dr. Fuller became one of five research assistants selected by Alois Alzheimer to work with him at the Royal Psychiatric Hospital in Munich. Among his numerous contributions to trailblazing research in Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Fuller published the first comprehensive review of it at a time when Black physicians were greatly under-represented and underappreciated.

Dr. Fuller became professor emeritus of neurology at Boston University and worked in private practice for many years as a physician, neurologist and psychiatrist. After World War I, he recruited Black psychiatrists for the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Medical Center, training them for key positions. Dr. Fuller’s contributions to Alzheimer’s disease and his long career filled with achievements deserve to be recognized.

Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D. (1897-1934)

Inez Beverly Prosser is considered the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in psychology, a remarkable achievement. In a family that could only afford to send one child to college, Dr. Prosser’s parents chose to send her instead of her brother due to her obvious passion for learning.

After teaching for 18 years and earning bachelors and masters degrees along the way, Dr. Prosser earned her Ph.D. in psychology in 1933. Her dissertation research led to important conversations about the effects of segregation on school children and called for radical changes in attitude on the part of teachers and administrators to help kids have a more positive experience with desegregation. Dr. Prosser strongly believed in the transformative power of education and channeled her passion to help others. One of eleven children, she helped to fund higher education for 5 of her younger siblings, which allowed them to earn college degrees. Dr. Prosser’s life was cut short in a fatal car accident in 1934, but her passion and legacy live on.

Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr., M.D. (1932-2016)

Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr. was an accomplished psychiatrist, author and innovator in the field of behavioral health. He is the author of several books on emotional and behavioral self-management, and the founder of both Rational Behavior Therapy and Rational Self-Counseling. His work on Rational Behavioral Therapy contributed to the field in many important ways, focusing on the human brain’s physiology and challenging old approaches.

Dr. Maultsby’s many accolades include Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists and professor emeritus at Howard University School of Medicine.

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