Admired for her pioneering work in multicultural psychology, she is a teacher, scholar, clinician, advocate and humanitarian.
By Bonnie Eissner
Beverly Greene, M.A. ’77, Ph.D. ’83, is a teacher, scholar, clinician, advocate and humanitarian. Admired for her pioneering work in multicultural psychology, she embodies the empathic psychologist that Gordon F. Derner and the institute that bears his name are known for training.
In 1974, at the age of 24, Dr. Greene embarked on her doctoral training at Adelphi. She was one of five African American students in her class of 25. She credits Gordon Derner with emphasizing the importance of diversity in student recruitment, noting that attending graduate school with other students of color made a tremendous difference for her. “We understood that it was important to help one another,” she said, “that this was a challenging situation and we needed to help one another to get through.”
Still, Dr. Greene said of herself and the other African American Ph.D. students, “There were ways that we saw the world differently.” She gave as an example that they would find themselves at odds with white colleagues in interpreting cases involving black patients. Where white colleagues might see a suspicious or guarded African American patient as being paranoid, she and the other African American students would see a person who was “responding appropriately to a world and an environment that has been hostile.”
In 1982, Dr. Greene got her first, as she termed it, “real job,” working as a staff psychologist at Kings County Municipal Hospital’s Inpatient Child Psychiatry Division in Brooklyn, where, she said, “90 percent of the clients were poor, African American children.” Yet, the professional staff members working with them were largely white. According to Dr. Greene, chief psychologist Dorothy Gartner, her supervisor, saw an opportunity and urged a reluctant Dr. Greene to teach interns and residents in the division’s sizable training program about the dynamics of white professionals treating children and families from minority backgrounds. “Initially, I really didn’t want to do it because I knew it would involve a lot of extra work, and I wasn’t going to be given time during the workday to do the research nor would I be paid extra for doing it on my own time,” Dr. Greene said, adding, “I didn’t see myself as a teacher.”
Ultimately, Dr. Gartner prevailed, changing Dr. Greene’s career trajectory. With the encouragement of Dr. Gartner and other colleagues, Dr. Greene began to write about the topics she was teaching. “I think people read those things and asked me to write more,” Dr. Greene said. “And so I wrote more, and at some point I found that I was writing so much that I had to seriously think about an academic career.”
Less than a decade after starting her career in public mental health, Dr. Greene entered the ivory tower, having been appointed an associate clinical professor at St. John’s University in Queens. On being hired, she was told that she was the first African American in a tenure-track position in the college. Four years later she was awarded tenure and promoted to the rank of full professor. “I have to say it was probably the best career move I ever made,” Dr. Greene said. “I’m there 21 years this past fall. I never expected this sort of outcome, nor did I expect an academic career.”
Dr. Greene currently has 11 books in print. The most recent are the Psychologists’ Desk Reference (with Gerald Koocher and John Norcross), Oxford Univ Press 2013; and Psychological Health of Women of Color: Intersections, Challenges and Opportunities (Lillian Comas Diaz), Praeger Press 2013. She has received more than 32 national awards for distinguished professional contributions of which 10 are for publications deemed to make a significant contribution to the psychological literature. She has also published more than 100 articles, book chapters and commentaries.
In 2011, she was recognized with an American Psychological Association Presidential Citation for “groundbreaking work on the lives of African American women, particularly African American lesbians, and her brilliant theoretical formulations regarding the deepening of competencies in working with this and other marginalized populations, for her forceful advocacy for the integration of practice and social justice, and in recognition of her many important contributions to psychology and the American Psychological Association.” The APA citation stands among dozens of awards and honors that Dr. Greene has received for her prolific work in these areas.
Summing up such a volume of work is no mean task, but Dr. Greene can identify some overarching themes. “What my work does is look at people as having intersecting, multiple identities,” she explained. “There has been a tendency to study race, to study gender, to study sexual orientation, to study socioeconomic class, and all of those things as if they occur in silos. In human development, those things are in the same person interacting all the time. It’s what they bring with them to every situation they are in. It’s the context that changes, but what’s in the person is always interacting in the person.”
Dr. Greene’s work has centered largely on people who, for a variety of reasons, are marginalized in society. “The more marginalized a person is, the greater the psychological challenges the person faces,” Dr. Greene said. “It’s about complicating the narrative, rather than reducing the narrative because people are complicated.”
Throughout her career, Dr. Greene has maintained the clinical practice which she began in 1984; she sees her academic and clinical work as influencing each other in a reciprocal way. She also finds them mutually beneficial. “It’s important for people who are going to teach people how to do therapy that they have spent some time actually doing therapy because the intellectual process and the real deal are very different,” Dr. Greene said.
Gordon Derner would have agreed.
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