Native American Contributors to Psychology

Article By: Lisa Eiland, LCSW-S

This year, we hope to recognize people who have contributed to the field that are often overlooked; for this blog, we want to recognize Dr. Carolyn Lewis Attneave, Dr. Logan Wright, Dr. Arthur McDonald, and Dr. Marigold Linton.

Dr. Carolyn Attneave

Dr. Carolyn Attneave is recognized as one of the most prolific scholars in the field of psychology. She is also one of the most well-known Native American psychologists. She was the first Native American woman to earn a degree in psychology within the United States. Dr. Attneave is a descendant of the Delaware Indian tribe, she has attributed her career choice to her deep connection to her Native American heritage. While earning her Ph.D in psychology Dr. Attneave focused on working with children in the context of family and community development. Upon graduation, she began working at the Oklahoma State Department of Health as the community guidance services coordinator while simultaneously providing services to 7 different Native American tribes.

In 1968, Dr. Attneave focused on refining retribalization by using network therapy for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia alongside Jay Haley and Ross Speck. Dr. Attneave then moved to Boston, where she was the Massachusetts Department of Health Public Service Program Coordinator. This move was a pinnacle moment in her career. Dr. Attneave founded one of North America’s largest Indian Centers, the Boston Indian Council. Following the start of that program, she then went on to found the Network of Indian Psychologists, a newsletter that exchanged information about services available to Native American communities. Dr. Attneave developed Networking Theory as it related to families in the 1970s. Dr. Attneave’s dedicated work led her to the department of behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, where she produced a nine-volume set of documents on the mental health needs, service networks, and utilization patterns for the Indian Health Service. She spent the last 15 years of her career as a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Washington and was the director of the American Indian Studies Program.

Dr. Logan Wright

Dr. Logan Wright of the Osage Nation is referenced as the father of pediatric psychology and advocated for using behavioral interventions in pediatric care. Dr. Wright received his master’s in psychology from George Peabody College in 1962 and his doctorate in clinical psychology from Vanderbilt University in 1964. He worked with the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (Oklahoma Children’s Memorial Hospital), where he worked in the pediatrics department.

Dr. Wright is the first known American Indian to serve as president of the APA; his term was from 1986-1987. He was also one of the founding members of the American Psychological Society, the American Association for Applied and Preventive Psychology, and the North American Association of Masters in Psychology. He helped found the Society of Pediatric Psychology, becoming the first president in 1969. Dr. Wright authored four books and wrote around 100 medical and child psychology articles. Dr. Wright has received many accolades for his many accomplishments in the field of psychology and for his work for advancing medical care for children.

Dr. Marigold Linton

Dr. Marigold Linton, a member of the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians, was the first Native American in the United States to earn a doctorate in psychology (she accomplished this in 1964). She was also the first in her tribe to leave the reservation to attend college at the University of California Riverside to obtain a bachelor’s and doctorate from UC Riverside. Throughout her career, Dr. Linton would work at multiple universities across the country. The first university was San Diego State University as a professor. Dr. Linton wanted to expand her reach, so her next career move was becoming an administrator at Arizona State University. During this time at ASU, Dr. Linton became the director of American Indian Programs, assisting tribes in Arizona through the Rural Systemic Initiative. She then moved to the University of Kansas, serving as the director of American Indian outreach. She was able to help associate the University of Kansas and the Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, in support of biomedical research opportunities for American Indian students and faculty. She helped raise $13 million from the National Institutes of Health, which was used to help give Native Americans the opportunity to earn advanced degrees in science. As an established psychologist in long-term memory, she published and authored multiple pieces of literature, such as the bestselling statistics book alongside P. Gallo, “The Practical Statistician.” Dr. Linton was a founding member of both the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and the National Indian Education Association. In 1993 & 1995, The Society of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science honored Dr. Linton with the Service Award and their founder’s medal

Dr. Arthur McDonald

Dr. Arthur McDonald was the first Native American man to earn a doctorate in psychology in 1966. Dr. McDonald is of the Oglala Lakota Tribe and grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation. He served in the Marines during the Korean War. After returning from war, Dr. McDonald attended the University of South Dakota through the GI Bill. Following graduating with his doctorate, Dr. McDonald began teaching at Montana State University. During his time there, he began to turn his focus to the needs of Native Americans in academic settings, specifically the lack of Native Americans working/studying in the field of psychology. Dr. McDonald left MSU to relocate to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, where he was appointed the director of education, eventually founding the Dull Knife Memorial College. He recruited 17 different Native American psychology graduate students who helped to teach classes and counsel students.

Dr. McDonald continued to push himself, now focusing on the lack of funding for Native Americans for undergraduate studies in the psychology field, where he created a funding agenda to be brought to congress. Through his efforts, Dr. McDonald was able to establish the INPSYCH program. INPSYCH is a program used to help recruit American Indian/Alaska Native undergraduates in the field of psychology, and this program also helps fund and train graduate students in Clinical Psychology. In 1992, Dr. McDonald became involved with the APA. Dr. McDonald earned multiple awards for his extraordinary career in psychology, the first happening in 1996 when he was honored by the APA’s Division 45 with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The next acknowledgment was for APA’s Education Directorate for his continued work advocating graduate-level educations for American Indians and Native Alaskans in psychology. In 2000, he was awarded the Presidential Citation from the APA for helping underserved individuals throughout the United States and American Indians and Alaska Natives. Dr. McDonald has spent his career fighting for the inclusion of Native American students in the psychology field and enduring to preserve Native languages, traditions, lands, and oral histories through his Morning Star Memorial Foundation.

Listed below are two resources to learn more about how Native Americans have impacted the field. If you have some time, check out the links below. 

The impact the Blackfoot tribe has had on psychology as a field: via:

Sources: Willis, D. (2000). In memoriam: Logan Wright, Jr., PhD. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 25, 359-361.

Wright, L. (1976). Psychology as a health profession. Clinical Psychologist®, 29, 16-19.

Teresa D. La Fromboise & Joseph E. Trimble (1996). Obituary of Carolyn Lewis Attneave (1920-1992). American Psychologist ® , 51, 549.

SACNAS (n.d.) Marigold Linton. Retrieved from

Westberg, J. (n.d.) Marigold Linton: Conquering fear and preparing the way for others. Retrieved from

Westberg, J. (n.d.) Arthur McDonald: Enhancing care of the underserved. Retrieved from

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