Anthony Marsella

Anthony J. Marsella, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Hawai’i, Honolulu, is a pioneer in the study of cultural determinants of psychopathology and therapies. He has also been a major contributor to cross-cultural psychology and global and international psychology. Many of his writings are considered essential reading for students and scholars in psychology, psychiatry, and the social sciences. During his career he has been a leader in the field, challenging the ethnocentricity and inherent cultural and racial biases of Western psychology and psy-chiatry assumptions and practices. In an article published in 1998, he voiced the need for a new and expanded cross-cultural emphasis in psychology for the global era, calling for psychology to recognize and reconsider its cultural/racial biases and to acknowledge the validity and value of the traditional healing psychologies used in different cultures. In this publication and related publications on internationalizing the psychology curriculum, Marsella proposed changes in the training of psychologists to prepare them to participate in a global era filled with the complex challenges of poverty, war, migration, terrorism, urbanization, and population growth. His more recent writings have focused on these global problems and proposed solutions, calling for peace and social justice and for better understanding of terrorism through the use of cultural psychology approaches.

Marsella was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 12, 1940, into a first- and second-generation Sicilian family that maintained the rich cultural traditions of their ancestral heritage. The large family dinners, gender role distinctions, expressive emotions, the centrality of children, and religious and superstitious practices were part of everyday life. He spoke Sicilian with his grandmother, other relatives, and his stepfather, with whom he had a nurturing caring relationship. Marsella claims that even in these early years he had become acutely aware of the complexities of cultural differences and the power of one’s ethnic culture to shape one’s identity and worldview. This was especially true when he entered school and encountered the contrasting values and expectations of the dominant culture of the day. His adjustment to school was initially quite difficult, and he, like so many others from immigrant families, often found himself embarrassed about his Sicilian heritage. This was to change later in his life when he began to grasp the nuances and abuses of cultural power, marginalization, and privilege. Indeed, in 2004, in collaboration with Elizabeth Messina, he organized the Italian-American Psychology Assembly, to promote studies and collegiality among psychologists interested in Italian culture and history.

At an early age, the nascent educational and psychological testing program at his school suggested he had exceptional intellectual skills. This was puzzling to his teachers, as his family was essentially poor and uneducated. Thus, how could he speak and write so fluently? Nonetheless, because of his test performance, he soon became a subject for psychometric demonstrations at nearby universities, colleges, and clinics. He remembers the audience’s applause and laughter when, at 8 years old, he successfully answered a question about the meaning of the term apocalypse in a demonstration session. He never told the audience that he had heard the priest use the term the previous Sunday in a sermon.

During high school years at John Adams High School, a large public inner-city school in Cleveland, Anthony emerged as a school leader (e.g., president of the Student Council and president of the senior class) and also participated in athletics and community activities. His academic and extracurricular record resulted in his selection as Teenager of the Year in 1958 in a citywide contest sponsored by the Cleveland Press leading to a 4-year General Motors Scholarship to Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. It was here that he fell in love with psychology and subsequently graduated with honors in psychology. During his undergraduate years, he was a volunteer at local mental hospitals where he interacted with severely disturbed clients, stimulating a lifelong interest in schizophrenia, mood disorders, and trauma, that subsequently became the topic of his doctoral dissertation in clinical psychology at Pennsylvania State University.

It was at Baldwin-Wallace College that Anthony met his wife of 43 years, Joy Ann Marsella, Professor Emeritus, Department of English, University of Hawai’i. They were married in 1963 and together survived the peregrinations of graduate school, field-work, and the development of professional careers.

In 1964, Marsella entered the Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Pennsylvania State University. It was here that his long interests in cultural variations in behavior were nurtured and sustained as he began to work with George Guthrie, an established cross-cultural psychologist who pioneered studies of Filipino child development. From Penn State, he went on to Worcester State Hospital for his internship. There he was mentored further in cross-cultural studies by Juris Draguns, a notable figure in the field of culture and mental health. Following a Fulbright Research scholar award to the Philippines in 1967, and a stint as field director of a psychiatric epidemiology project in Sarawak, Malaysia, that examined rates of mental disorder among Iban tribes people, he received an appointment as a National Institute of Mental Health Culture and Mental Health Fellow at the University of Hawai’i in 1968.

Marsella remained at the University of Hawai’i, rising to the rank of full professor of psychology until his retirement in 2003. At the University of Hawai’i, he began a career-long research effort studying ethno-cultural variations in psychopathology and psychology among Chinese American, Hawaiian American, Filipino American, and Japanese American populations. His publications in these projects called attention to basic differences in the expression and rates of mental illness and in normal patterns of behavior. In a bold study, he explored variations in the sensory patterns and sense uses of different ethnic groups. In 1978, he was appointed the director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu, one of twelve centers around the world engaged in international studies of psychosis. It is noteworthy that he was the only psychologist to serve in this capacity across the World Health Organization centers.

Throughout his 35-year career, Marsella supported the fusion of personal and professional goals. He proposed a Transcultural Mental Health Code that calls for professionals and scholars to adopt a total lifestyle characterized by advocacy and a commitment to progressive ideas to advance the field, including the use of factor-analytic stress-resource interactional and ecological models. He also has been pivotal in introducing indigenous terms and concepts into the field to ensure epidemiological accuracy, as well as increasing the use of qualitative methods as a source of insight into the cultural construction of reality. Another major contribution in advancing the field was Marsella’s recognition and application of multiple culturally responsive healing principles in therapies rather than adherence to single approaches (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis). His work in promoting issues in cross-cultural psychology, internationalizing the field, and doing psychological practice and research from a comprehensive framework that incorporates the ecological, social, political, and economic context has been pivotal in advancing the field.

As of 2007, Marsella has published 14 edited volumes, most in the area of cultural and international psychology, and 160 book chapters, journal articles, and technical reports in a wide range of areas, such as depression and disorders across cultures, culture and conflict, culture and mental health, social justice, global psychology, traditional healing, culture and psychopathology, internationalizing mental health, cross-cultural imagery, schizophrenia across cultures, and intercultural relations. He also served as a senior editor for the Wiley Encyclopedia of Psychology and the Oxford-American Psychological Association Encyclopedia of Psychology. Many of his 96 graduate students went on to become highly published major contributors to cultural and international psychology, including Pamela Hays (Professor, Antioch University), Howard Higginbotham (Professor, Newcastle University, Australia), Hwang Kwang Kuo (Professor, National Taiwan University), Velma Kameoka (Professor, University of Hawai’i), Junko Tanaka-Matsumi (Professor, Gakshuin University, Japan), and Anne Marie Yamada (Professor, University of Southern California). But perhaps more importantly, his graduate students include more than 30 international and ethnic minority students. Marsella now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he continues to write and lecture and also to cook, read, travel, and ponder the vicissitudes of life.


  1. Carr, S. C., Marsella, A. J., & Purcell, I. P. (2002). Researching intercultural relations: Towards a middle way? Asian Psychologist, 3, 58-64.
  2. Marsella, A. J. (1998). Toward a “global-community psychology”: Meeting the needs of a changing world. American Psychologist, 53, 1282-1291.
  3. Marsella, A. J. (2006). Justice in a global age: Becoming counselors to the world. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 19, 121-132.
  4. Marsella, A. J., & Pedersen, P. (2004). Internationalizing the counseling psychology curriculum: Toward new values, competencies, and directions. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 17, 413-123.
  5. Marsella, A. J., & Quijano, W. Y. (1974). A comparison of vividness of mental imagery across different sensory modalities in Filipinos and Caucasian-Americans. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 5, 451-464.
  6. Marsella, A. J., & Yamada, A. M. (2002). Culture and mental health: An introduction and overview of foundations, concepts and issues. In I. Cuellar & F. A. Paniagua (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural mental health: Assessment and treatment of diverse populations (pp. 3-24). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  7. Moghaddam, F. M., & Marsella, A. J. (Eds.). (2004). Understanding terrorism: Psychosocial roots, consequences, and interventions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  8. Shizuru, L. S., & Marsella, A. J. (1981). The sensory processes of Japanese-American and Caucasian-American students. Journal of Social Psychology, 114, 147-158.

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