Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Clinical Psychology, PhD




Psychology Department

Faculty Advisor

Debra Harkins

Second Advisor

Sukanya Ray

Third Advisor

Keith Morton


The practice of psychotherapy developed in the United States within and in response to its sociopolitical context. As such it has always been unable to live up to its stated value of being accessible and effective for all people who are willing to seek and accept help. We explore the practice of psychotherapy within the larger field of Psychology and its ongoing commitment to capitalism and the social hierarchy at its center. We consider how Psychology’s intentional avoidance of class identity in the therapy space has allowed the field to justify and maintain this hierarchy while simultaneously ignoring its existence. We detail the ways in which Psychology packaged itself as a valuable tool for capitalism in a rapidly urbanizing and developing United States and explore our country’s historic use of class to create division between those on the lower levels of the social hierarchy in a way that allows power and privilege to remain concentrated at the top.

This study sought to address the gap our field of psychology has intentionally ignored by exploring class identity and its influence on distress, attitudes toward therapy, and willingness to help-seek. First, we compared attitudes of working- and middle-class survey respondents regarding their sense of life satisfaction, stability, and expectations for the future to operationalize a definition of class. Next, we used this working definition to examine the impact of class identity on distress, attitudes toward therapy, and willingness to help-seek by comparing survey responses from middle- and working-class respondents. We then used semi-structured interviews to contextualize survey responses and identify overarching themes about attitudes toward therapy both within and across class status. Finally, we offer a model of critical narrative humility as a framework for clinicians interested in decolonizing their own practice and offer suggestions for use of this framework to extend individual dismantling to a systems level.


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