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 theories and philosophies of psychology and psychotherapy, especially 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 received the 2012 Joseph B. Gittler Award, which recognizes “the most scholarly contribution to the philosophical foundations of psychological knowledge,” by the American Psychological Foundation, of the American Psychological Association.She has served as the 2008 - 2009 President of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (Division 24) of the American Psychological Association.

Back to Reality Book Cover ImageProfessor Held is the author of Back to Reality: A Critique of Postmodern Theory in Psychotherapy (W. W. Norton, 1995), in which she provides theoretical and philosophical analysis of the postmodern linguistic turn in psychotherapy. Trained as a clinical psychologist, she practiced therapy for many years. She is the author of numerous scholarly articles and chapters about psychotherapy and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association Divisions 29 (Psychotherapy), 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology), and 24 (Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, of which she was elected President in 2007). She has a long-standing interest in the philosophy of science, in particular the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of psychological inquiry. In this regard, Professor Held has published in and reviewed for the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology and Theory & Psychology, among other journals, and she is the author of Psychology’s Interpretive Turn: The Search for Truth and Agency in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology (American Psychological Association Books, 2007).

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 the Today show, National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation and a 2007 edition of All Things Considered, the BBC, and the CBC.

Barbara Held headshot


  • PhD, University of Nebraska
  • AB, Douglass College