Recruitment and Diversity

Early in the history of the psychology/counseling profession, few efforts were made to “recruit” culturally diverse persons; rather, diverse persons, typically through grassroots and organizational efforts, sought entry into psychology despite major resistance. This was especially true during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, as time has passed, especially within the last 3 to 4 decades, more of a concerted effort to attract diverse persons has been made by professional mental health organizations.

The U.S. civil rights movement in the late 1960s was instrumental in raising awareness within psychology and counseling that the academic and professional ends of the fields might not be effectively meeting the needs of certain diverse groups, especially women and individuals from groups that differed racially or ethnically from the majority. This realization led to a focus on diversifying the personnel in the professions and the recruitment of persons from underrepresented groups.

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However, this early recruitment effort did not immediately extend in equally forceful ways to all groups. For example, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) individuals were not initially included. In addition, although women were initially an underrepresented group, the discipline of psychology is actually now more popular with women than with men at the undergraduate and graduate levels, especially within the applied branches. So, in the 21st century, the idea of who is underrepresented has changed, and males are now considered underrepresented persons in psychology and counseling.

At the current time, there are many divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA) and special interest groups within the APA that focus on diverse groups, such as persons with physical disabilities (Division 22; Rehabilitation Psychology), persons from outside the United States (Division 52; International Psychology), persons with neurocognitive disorders (Division 33; Mental Rehabilitation and Developmental Disabilities and Division 40; Clinical Neuropsychology), men (Division 51; Psychology of Men and Masculinity) as well as more traditional demographic groups such as women (Division 35; Psychology of Women), LGBT persons (Division 44; Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues), and people of color (Division 45; Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues). In addition, the APA Public Interest Directorate also has committees focused on women (established in 1973), on LGBT persons (established in 1980), on persons with disabilities (established in 1985), and on socioeconomic status (established in 2006), among others.

The profession of counseling, represented by the American Counseling Association, also has specialty divisions focusing on diverse groups of people, such as the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association (established in 1958), the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (established in 1972), the Association for Adult Development and Aging (established in 1986), and the Association for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues in Counseling (established in 1997).

Recruitment of Women

Without question, the culturally diverse group with the most long-standing matriculation into psychology would be women, specifically European American women. The initially limited U.S. academic programs in psychology at the end of the 19th century (e.g., Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Columbia) were staffed solely with European American men, most frequently operating experimental labs focused on sensation and perception, physiological psychology, and learning and memory; these labs were patterned after those labs in which they trained in Europe. The entry of women into the ranks of psychology was a slow process, one pioneered by several outstanding female scholars such as Mary Caukins, Christine Ladd-Franklin, and Margret Floy Washburn. Even after these women proved to be psychological scientists par excellence, it still took several years before most academic training programs became truly coeducational. The application of psychology to everyday life and psychopathology, championed in the United States by Lightner Witmer and Hugo Munsterburg during the late 1800s, as well as Sigmund Freud’s first and only visit to the United States to discuss his “talking cure” at Clark University in 1909, opened the doorway for the beginnings of clinical psychology and ultimately, from the 1960s on, the pathway for large numbers of women to matriculate into applied psychology training programs.

Recruitment of Persons of Color

The recruitment of persons of color in psychology has largely highlighted the bringing of African Americans into the discipline; this parallels the focus of racial issues in the general U.S. society during the past 50 years as being predominantly about Black-White race relations. In 1963, an APA Ad Hoc Committee of Equality of Opportunity in Psychology was established to examine racial inequality in the discipline. Soon thereafter, in 1970, the Association of Black Psychologists (founded in 1968) developed a 10-point program for graduate departments of psychology as an effort to increase African American representation.

This initial recruitment effort by the APA aimed toward persons of color underwent a metamorphosis and expansion over the next few decades via the creation of the APA Ad Hoc Committee on Minority Affairs (1971), the APA Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA, 1979), the APA Board of Ethnic Minority Affairs (BEMA, 1980), and the APA Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA, 1990). The APA Public Interest Directorate also has a specific arm of the discipline focused on recruitment and retention of individuals from racially and ethnically diverse groups, the Committee on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention, and Training in Psychology (CEMRRAT), established in 1994.

Changes in U.S. demographics over the past decades—specifically the sharp increase in numbers of Latino, Spanish-speaking persons, which has made this group bigger than that of African Americans— will likely bring more efforts to matriculate Latinos and Spanish speakers into the discipline. In addition, the increasing numbers and awareness of unique needs across all racial groups will likely bring more focus on Asian Americans and American Indians as well as on the many subgroups of the Latino group (e.g., Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American), Asian (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai) and American Indian (e.g., Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Comanche) groups.

There are psychological organizations outside of APA for non-African American racial and ethnic groups, such as the National Latino/a Psychological Association, the Asian American Psychological Association (founded 1972), and the Society for Indian Psychologists, which parallel the mission of Association of Black Psychologists. Professional counselors may have state caucuses that focus on special interest groups (e.g., Black counselors)

Recruitment of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Persons

With respect to LGBT persons, this population was pathologized to a degree that outdistanced even the immense biases present in U.S. psychology (and society) against women and people of color. Homosexuality was defined as a mental illness until 1973 when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association formally removed the official disorder from its text (replacing it with the category of egodystonic homosexuality) and the American Psychological Association endorsed this new perspective for its own professional discipline in 1975. In the recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), homosexuality is no longer included specifically as a mental disorder, albeit the category of Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified has “persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation” listed as an example of a situation warranting this diagnosis.

Although the awakening of psychology and counseling to its discriminatory position brought much needed attention and advocacy to LGBT persons and their psychological needs in the ensuing decades, the longstanding viewing of homosexuality as a mental disorder also suggests a lack of active recruitment of LGBT persons into the professions before the early 1970s.

Kimmel and Browning, in a historical review of APA Division 44, identified several initiatives put in place to support psychology students and professionals once they are in the pipeline; however, it is not as clear that specific efforts have been made by APA to actively recruit LGBT persons into the discipline and profession equivalent to those made to diversify the gender or racial balance of the discipline. Division 44 has historically provided a formal mentoring program, a divisional listserv, and informal programs at annual APA conventions as avenues to extend a warm and inclusive welcome to LGBT-affirming persons within psychology. Recent data from the APA Office of Research suggest that APA Division 44 enjoys a good number of student affiliates and members, indicating that many psychologists and psychology trainees are taking advantage of what this division has to offer.

Future Directions

The field of psychology and counseling has made significant strides in diversifying its professional ranks as well as in eliminating oppression and discrimination against persons from culturally diverse groups. However, there is still a lack of parity within specific diverse group domains (e.g., race/ethnicity) and across diverse group domains (e.g., race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex) in terms of the extent to which professional organizations are expending resources to recruit diverse members into their ranks. The APA, for example, reports that the majority of students matriculating into psychology are women, but that people of color and LGBT students and trainees still are comparatively much less well represented. This lack of parity notwithstanding, the future looks hopeful in that there is increasing movement toward an approximation of demographic variability within these mental health professions that more accurately reflects the demography and life experiences of the clientele they serve (and need to serve) in our society.


  1. American Psychological Association. (1997, January). Visions and transformations: The final report of the Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention, and Training in psychology. Washington, DC: Author.
  2. Scarborough, E., & Furumoto, L. (1987). Untold lives: The first generation of American women in psychology. New York: Columbia University Press.
  3. Vacc, N., & Loesch, L. (2000). Professional orientation to counseling (3rd ed.). Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge.

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