Barbara S. Held

Affiliation: Psychology
Barry N. Wish Professor of Psychology and Social Studies Emerita

Professor Barbara S. Held is both a clinical psychologist and a theoretical/philosophical psychologist. Her scholarship focuses on the nature of psychological/mental states and processes, how to change them therapeutically, and what we can know about them in ourselves and in others. 

Held is the 2012 recipient of the American Psychological Foundation Joseph B. Gittler Award, which recognizes “the most scholarly contribution to the philosophical foundations of psychological knowledge." She served as the 2008 - 2009 President of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology of the American Psychological Association.

Back to Reality Book Cover Image

Professor Held is the author of Back to Reality: A Critique of Postmodern Theory in Psychotherapy (W. W. Norton, 1995), in which she analyzes the postmodern linguistic turn in psychotherapy and its consequences for clinical practice.  She is also author of Psychology’s Interpretive Turn: The Search for Truth and Agency in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (American Psychological Association Books, 2007), in which she defends a realist ontology and an objectivist epistemology in psychological science.

Trained as a clinical psychologist, Held practiced therapy for 15 years. She is the author of many scholarly articles and chapters about psychotherapy and psychological science, and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy, Society of Clinical Psychology, and Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology.  She has a long-standing interest in the philosophy of science, in particular the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of psychological inquiry.

Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching book cover

In her popular book Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching: A 5-Step Guide to Creative Complaining (St. Martin’s, 2001) and in subsequent scholarly articles, she has challenged what she calls the “tyranny of the positive attitude in America” and as a result has become a leading critic of the positive psychology movement. This work has led to extensive worldwide media attention, including features in the New York Times and People magazine, as well as appearances on NBC’s Today show, ABC News, CBS News, National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, the BBC, CBC, RTE. (Media list available on request)  

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Held has been publishing opinion pieces in Maine and out-of-state newspapers.  The theme of discerning truth (in our sociopolitical world, in everyday life, and/or in science) runs through the diverse topics of her op-eds. 

Barbara Held headshot


  • PhD, University of Nebraska
  • AB, Douglass College