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Dr. Joyce BROTHERS, Mother of Media Psychology in America

“Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.” – Dr. Joyce Brothers.

Dr. Joyce Brothers (1927-2013) was an American psychologist, writer, and public figure who popularized Psychology in mainstream culture. She is a pioneer in her field; she combined her scientific expertise, her interest in mental health issues, and her skills with the media to become the first psychologist to destigmatize mental health and offer consultations on TV.

Doctor Joyce Brothers carrying one of her books in her hands in a black and white photo.

Portrait of Dr. Joyce Brothers carrying one of her books.

(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)

Scientific education and early career

Dr. Joyce Brothers graduated from Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) with a double major in Psychology and Home Economics. She then specialized in Psychology and obtained a PhD from Columbia University (New York) in 1953. She published her work entitled “An Investigation of Avoidance Anxiety and Escape Behavior in Human Subjects as Measured by Action Potentials in Muscles.”

After graduating, Dr. Brothers taught Psychology at Hunter College for several years. During this period, her interest to broadly explain Psychology rose. But in the 1950s and with financial difficulties – her husband was a young physician with limited pay – Dr. Brothers resigned her teaching position to find a better alternative.

Discovery by the general public

At the time, a TV show promised a big win to those who successfully answered high-level questions. On this TV show, “The $64,000 Question”, Dr. Brothers burst into the public consciousness. To win the jackpot, she became an expert in a field that was unknown to her – boxing. Her determination led her to win $64,000 twice, equivalent of $1 million today (taking into account inflation).

Popularization of Psychology

Dr. Joyce Brothers depicted as a character from The Simpsons, sitting on a chair in a television studio.

Cartoon character of Dr. Joyce Brothers in the episode "Last Exit to Springfield" of The Simpsons.

Building on her notoriety, Dr. Brothers participated in TV and radio shows to spread her knowledge – Psychology. She appeared on "The Tonight Show", and hosted several programs such as "The Dr. Joyce Brothers Show" and "Ask Dr. Brothers." Unafraid of offering psychological advice outside the therapist's office, she encountered resistance – jealousy ? – from her peers. But the American public followed her: she was the first to normalize mental health problems, associating to the title doctor to Psychology – she systematically introduced herself as Doctor Joyce in sign of recognition for her field of expertise. “Whether you agreed or disagreed with everything she said about relationships and human behavior, she was the first to introduce many people to the concept of a psychologist and to connect it to the term ‘doctor’.” – said Dr. Frank Farley, president of the American Psychological Association. Later, respect replaced the skepticism of her colleagues, and she got invited as a speaker to the annual convention of this association.

On a lighter note, Dr. Brothers played herself in TV series and even voiced her own character in an episode of The Simpsons.

Contribution to society

Dr. Joyce Brothers sitting at a table covered with letters and holding a letter in her hand. The letters are written by his listeners after saving the life of a listener who was threatening suicide

Dr. Joyce Brothers photographed in front of letters received after saving the life of a woman who was threatening suicide and with whom she remained on the phone until emergency services intervened (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler).

Dr. Brothers was a media sensation; she was also a committed woman. On several occasions, she saved people who call her radio show and threaten suicide by holding them on the phone, until help arrived.

Dr. Joyce Brothers's legacy endures: she is remembered for opening the debate on mental health. Her career has likely motivated young girls to pursue their goals. Cornell University pays tribute to the “Mother of Media Psychology” through an exhibition celebrating her achievements.

Written & edited by Tiffanie C.



Farley, F. (2014). Joyce Brothers (1927-2013). Am. Psychol. 69, 550. 10.1037/a0036810

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