Lillian Comas-Díaz

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Lillian Comas-Díaz
Lillian Comas-Diaz .jpg
Education University of Puerto Rico
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Occupation Psychologist
Years active1980–present

Lillian Comas-Díaz is an American professor and researcher of multiethnic and multicultural communities. She was the 2019 winner of American Psychological Association (APA) Gold Medal Award for life achievement in the practice of psychology.



Lillian Comas-Díaz was born in Chicago, Illinois, though at the age of six she moved to Puerto Rico, where both her parents are from. [1] They relocated to Yabucoa, which had been recently devastated by a hurricane. In consoling her classmates, she discovered an interest in psychology and healing. [2] She continued to live in Puerto Rico until she was in her twenties. [3] She cites these times of her upbringing as formative to her decision to become a psychologist. After earning her MA she moved to Connecticut, where she did work with local schools and underserved communities. [3] She now works at a mental health institute and as a professor in Washington DC. [4]

Education and academic work

Comas-Díaz earned her BA and MA from the University of Puerto Rico in 1970 and 1973 respectively. [3] She then earned her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1979. [3]

In 1984 she began working at the American Psychological Association in the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs. [1] She has dedicated much of her career to serving underrepresented communities. Comas-Díaz took part in the creation of Division 45 of the APA (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race), for which she later acted as treasurer, and as the first editor-in-chief of its journal, Cultural Diversity and Mental Health. [5]

She was previously a member of the Yale University Psychiatry department from 1979 to 1984. [4] Comas-Díaz has been a professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine since 1986. As of 2021, her title is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. [6] As of 2021, she also serves at the Transcultural Mental Health Institute, which she founded so she could work with clients across cultures. [4]

In 2019, Comas-Díaz became the first person of color to win the American Psychological Association Gold Medal Award for life achievement in the practice of psychology. [2] [7]


Comas-Díaz has dedicated her work and research to serving people, women especially, across cultures and ethnicities. Much of her work has been to help guide representation and services, and she does so having recognized the limitations of psychology in serving such communities and as being ethnocentric. [3] [7] She credits growing up mixed race as having an impact on her personal and professional development as a clinical, feminist, and ethnocultural psychologist. [7]

One of Comas-Díaz’s general areas of research has to do with developing approaches to racial trauma that employ more culturally competent methods and understandings that acknowledge the roots of the trauma as being linked to sociopolitical and historic events. [7] She explains that in terms of psychotherapy approaches people can go to therapy to learn to develop critical thinking about how one’s trauma has developed outside of themselves and to work to decolonize people’s thinking and deconstruct these systems of oppression. [7]

Published work

Comas-Díaz has published works related to racial trauma and how to address it from ethnocultural and multicultural standpoints. [7] Her publications include Ethnocultural Psychotherapy (1996), Multicultural Care: A Clinician’s Guide To Cultural Competence (2012), and Multicultural Care in Practice (2013).

Ethnocultural Psychotherapy, is an APA training video that shows Comas-Díaz’s ethnocultural approach in practice with a person acting out a client from an actual case. [8] Her book Multicultural Care: A Clinician’s Guide To Cultural Competence was written as a guide to clinicians to help them navigate and practice her multicultural approach to therapy, while also fostering more cultural awareness to better serve clients. [9] Multicultural Care in Practice is another APA training video in which she discusses the importance of cultural competency in informing therapeutic relationships and demonstrates this approach. [10]

Many of her academic articles also explore ethnocultural and sociocultural approaches to therapy, Latinx identity and healing, and feminism. [3]

Selected publications

Related Research Articles

Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual's well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills. There are also numerous types of psychotherapy designed for children and adolescents, such as play therapy. Certain psychotherapies are considered evidence-based for treating some diagnosed mental disorders. Others have been criticized as pseudoscience.

American Psychological Association Scientific and professional organization

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States, with over 122,000 members, including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. It has 54 divisions—interest groups for different subspecialties of psychology or topical areas. The APA has an annual budget of around $115m.

Psychologist Professional who evaluates, diagnoses, treats, and studies behavior and mental processes

A psychologist is a person who studies normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by experimenting with, and observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments. Psychologists usually acquire a four-year university degree, often with post-graduate work required. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists usually cannot prescribe medication. Psychologists can work with a range of institutions and people, such as schools, prisons, in a private clinic, in a workplace, or with a sports team.

Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory, and clinical knowledge for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

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PTSD is a psychiatric disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts and memories, dreams, or flashbacks of the event; avoidance of people, places, and activities that remind the individual of the event; ongoing negative beliefs about oneself or the world, mood changes, and persistent feelings of anger, guilt, or fear; alterations in arousal such as increased irritability, angry outbursts, being hypervigilant, or having difficulty with concentration and sleep. PTSD is commonly treated with various types of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy.

Carol D. Goodheart is an American psychologist and a past president of the American Psychological Association (APA). Goodheart worked as a nurse before entering psychology. She completed a doctorate in counseling psychology from Rutgers University. While serving as the 2010 APA president, Goodheart supported the Presidential Task Force on Advancing Practice and the Presidential Task Force on Caregivers. Goodheart is in private practice in Princeton, New Jersey.

Nadine Kaslow

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  1. 1 2 "Gold medal award for life achievement in the practice of psychology: Lillian Comas-Díaz". APA PsycNet. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Feminist Voices Page". Feminist Voices. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  3. 1 2 3 Miville, Marie L.; Comas-Díaz, Lillian; Helms, Janet E. (January 2016). "Celebrating 25 Years the Janet E. Helms Mentoring Award: A Conversation With Lillian Comas-Díaz and Janet E. Helms". The Counseling Psychologist. 44 (1): 122–140. doi:10.1177/0011000015620282. S2CID   146291550 . Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  4. "Division 45 Chronology". Division 45. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  5. "GW Professor Profile". George Washington University. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Mad in America: Rethinking Mental Health Podcast". Poddtoppen. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  7. "Ethnocultural Psychotherapy". American Psychological Association. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  8. "Multicultural Care: A Clinician's Guide To Cultural Competence". American Psychological Association. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  9. "Multicultural Care in Practice". American Psychological Association. Retrieved June 14, 2021.