Photo of Helen Coons

Helen Coons



Training Location(s):

PhD, Temple University (1990)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Women's Mental Health Associates

Drexel University College of Medicine

Other Media:

Professional Website

Dr. Helen Coons' Profile on APA

Career Focus:

Women's health and mental health across the lifespan; health policy; women and leadership.


Helen Coons has been clear about her intellectual interests and feminist values from a young age. She was raised in a family with a strong social consciousness, and Coons notes that her feminism started at home and continued to develop as she took women's studies courses during her undergraduate training. With a passion for women's health, Coons was unsure whether she wanted to train as a physician or a psychologist. Rather than pit biology against psychology, Coons was able to accomplish a merger. She enrolled in biology and psychology courses, and with the development of the field of Health Psychology, she found a natural disciplinary niche. easy.

Given that Coons's own training was interdisciplinary, many of her role models worked across disciplinary boundaries. One of the most important aspects of their work, which influenced her own goals as well, was their ability to translate academic research into community relevance. She believes that advocacy is an inseparable aspect of her work as a feminist researcher and clinician, as feminism is defined by its social change agenda. In describing the relationship between being a health professional and an advocate, Coons states:

"It is so important that we facilitate change and advocate for changes in policies that reduce the inequities that are some of the major underpinnings of depression, such as poverty and violence."

Although gains have been won, Coons acknowledges that economic and racial inequalities still exist and affect the health of peoples both nationally and globally. One of her main concerns in the contemporary American context is the lack of focus on prevention programs that would address issues of poverty, violence, and homelessness.

Coons was trained as a clinical psychologist at Temple University. Her first position following her PhD was an internship in Philadelphia where she developed research-based clinical programs. At the time she was did not see her professional life extending beyond academic medicine. However she was invited to apply for a position at the Health Federation of Philadelphia, to administer a multi-million dollar Ryan White grant which seeks to ensure services and medical care for individuals with HIV and AIDS in underserved communities. While this position kept Coons busy, she managed to find the time to have an independent practice in the evenings and run a group for women who were survivors of early childhood sexual abuse.

Over the course of her career, Coons has also been heavily involved with the American Psychological Association. This has allowed her to participate in initiatives on gender and health. Most notably, as a member of the Committee on Women in Psychology (CWP), Coons worked on the implementation of a leadership institute for women. CWP strives for the advancement of women in psychology, and the highly successful Leadership Institutes have been able "to ensure that women secure positions of leadership... and empower them to make both institutional and social change."

As her career is so multidimensional, Coons has had to establish boundaries. In integrating her personal life with her professional life, Coons is very protective of time for recreation. Three to five times a week she enjoys physical activities such as tennis, hiking, biking, and generally finding time to exercise whenever she can. She states that, "working out is a pleasure and priority and there are certainly...mental health benefits too, but for me it's part of my's not a hardship, I look forward to it." Another activity Coons takes pleasure in is adventure travel, and she is striving to visit all of the ancient Wonders of the World. In her travels to developing countries, Coons feels that she is able to gain a deeper understanding of poverty and social injustice, which motivates her to create change.

Since 2000, Coons's professional focus has been on developing her private practice where she utilizes a unique rotating model. In her practice she works with clients in primary care, gynaecology, urogynaecology, and oncology, which allows her to collaborate with various professionals. She describes this rotating practice as "a very rich way to work to ensure that women and families get the kinds of services they need in a collaborative model and it's a passion for me to ensure that women get the high quality evidence-based care that is gender-specific and really facilitates their resilience in coping."

Offering advice, Coons feels that young feminist psychologist should be visible, stay involved, and be focused. She feels that some of psychology's most important contributions have been in research on gender and diversity, and that this critical research needs to continue and to influence programs, education, and policy. Given her interdisciplinary training and career, Coons has learned to speak different languages for different audiences. This is a skill she feels others should embrace: "Sometimes we have to change our language. While my identity as a feminist is core, there are times when I am in a group where I have to adjust my language in order to make a point but not push away the very people I am trying to connect with and build coalitions with."

Coons has been successful in working across disciplines and engaging with each of her interests. She states that her proudest accomplishment is simply the work she does each and every day.

by Jenna MacKay (2010)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

Saab, P.G., McCalla, J.R., Coons, H.L., Christensen, A.J., Kaplan, R., Bennet Johnson, S., Ackerman, M.D., Stepanski, E., Krantz, D., & Melamed, B. (2004). Technological and medical advances: Implications for health psychology. Health Psychology, 23(2), 142-146.

Coons, H.L., Morgenstern, D., Hoffman, E.M., Striepe, M. I, & Buch, C. (2003). Psychologists in women's primary care and obstetrics and gynecology: Consultation and treatment issues. In R. Frank, S.H. McDaniel, J.H. Bray & M. Heldring (Eds). Primary Care Psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association Publications.

Striepe, M.I. & Coons, H.L. (2002). Women’s health in primary care: Interdisciplinary interventions. Families, Systems and Health, 20(3), 237-251.

Harwell, T.S., Casten, R.J., Armstrong, K.A., Dempsey, S., Coons, H.L., Davis, M. (1998). Results of a domestic violence training program offered to the staff of urban community health centers. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 15,235-242.

Morokoff, P.J., Mays, V.M., & Coons, H.L. (1997). HIV infection and AIDS. In S.J. Gallant, G.P. Keita, & R. Royak-Schaler (Eds.), Health care for women: Psychological, social, and behavioral influences. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Jenkins, S.R. & Coons, H.L. (1996). Psychosocial stress and adaptation processes for women coping with HIV/AIDS. In A. O'Leary & L.S. Jemmott (Eds.), Women and AIDS: Coping and Care. New York: Plenum Publishing.

Gallant, S.J., Coons, H.L., & Morokoff, P.J. (1993). Psychology and women's health: Some reflections and future directions. In V.J. Adeso, D.M. Reddy & R. Fleming (Eds.), Psychological Perspectives in Women's Health. Bristol, PA: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.

Leventhal, H., Easterling, D.V., Coons, H.L., Luchterhand, C.M., & Love, R.R. (1986). Adaptation to chemotherapy. In B.L. Andersen (Ed.), Women and Cancer: Psychological Perspectives. New York: Springer-Verlag.