Photo of Susie Orbach

Susie Orbach



Training Location(s):

PhD, University College London (2001)

MSW, State University of New York at Stony Brook (1974)

BA, City University of New York (1972)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Private Practice in Psychotherapy (1984-present)


Women’s Therapy Centre Institute, New York (1981–1984)

Women’s Therapy Centre, London (1976–1981)

Psychology’s Feminist Voices Oral History Interview:

Career Focus:

Psychoanalysis; eating problems; body activism; emotional literacy; gender issues; psychotherapy, the practice of psychoanalysis, the analysand-analyst relationship.


Susie Orbach developed her interest in psychology via the feminist ideas that emerged from the 1960s civil rights movement and 1970s second wave feminism. In 1972, Orbach obtained her BA in the then-nascent field of Women’s Studies from the City University of New York (CUNY). It was during these formative years that Orbach came to recognize the importance of studying the internalized, psychological factors that, as she puts it “… incline us to not act in our own self-interest”. She reflects that her CUNY experience enabled her to see that patriarchy does not only exist “out there” but was also enacted when her peers had to "accommodate to the ways in which their lives, their thoughts, their imaginations, their longings, their desires, [were] structured…by their class position, their geography, their gender, their race and their general background.” Despite being critical of its formulations of gender, Orbach saw psychoanalysis as a key analytic tool for exploring these internalized structures.

Through attending classes on politics, consumerism, and feminism, Orbach developed a keen interest in women’s relational experiences in the context of popular culture. This focus on women’s relationships, to themselves as well as with one another, led Orbach toward a therapeutic vocation, which she pursued through a Masters of Social Work at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and later, through a PhD at University College London. At CUNY she met longtime friend and collaborator Luise Eichenbaum. Together, they would later co-found the Women's Therapy Centre in London in 1976. Inspired by writings such as Jean Strouse’s Women and Analysis: Dialogues on Psychoanalytic Views of Femininity (1974) and Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974), the Centre was a collective project built from the ground up that provided therapeutic services to meet the growing demand of women who did not have a place to talk about their particular issues and experiences. Moreover, Orbach and Eichenbaum endeavored to facilitate group discussions among therapists working at the Centre about the common themes encountered in clinical practice. Orbach and Eichenbaum subsequently embarked on many projects together, including their co-authored books Understanding Women (1982) and What Do Women Want (1984) which documented women's development throughout their lives and the meaningful experiences encountered at the Centre from the clients’ perspectives. They also wrote Bittersweet 1986.

During this time, Orbach also began writing for non-academic audiences, culminating in her pioneering book, Fat is a Feminist Issue (1978). This classic work explores the meaning of ‘fat’ and ‘thin’, and how eating problems affect and are affected by psychological, cultural, and economic factors. As her own ideas have developed, she has since updated and elaborated these thoughts in subsequent works including Hunger Strike (1986), On Eating (2002), and Bodies: Big Ideas/Small Books (2009, revised 2019).

In 1981, Orbach, Eichenbaum, and Carol Bloom co-founded the Women's Therapy Centre Institute in New York. Initially offered as a lecture series at the New York Academy of Science, the series transitioned into group training sessions on how to work with women in therapy, and finally became a full-fledged therapeutic training centre. After establishing the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute, Orbach returned to London to raise a family and to focus on her private psychotherapy practice. She had a column in The Guardian for 10 years.

Orbach’s drive to share her unique perspectives manifests not only in her writing, but through her dedication to activism and her focus on policy. She believes that employing a political perspective is incredibly beneficial to holistically understanding how people and political factors intersect. She has denounced oppressive systems such as the fast fashion industry, cosmetic surgery apps, and the food and diet industries. In 2002, she co-originated the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and maintains a consulting relationship with the company. She has advocated at the governmental level through government reports including “Two for the Price of One,” on body image for pregnant and postpartum people. She has also been involved in campaigns and initiatives such as AnyBody/Endangered Bodies, which aims to counteract body hatred, and “Antidote” which aims to assist in people’s development of emotional literacy.

Orbach continues to share her insights through her career as a psychotherapist, consultant, and supervising psychotherapist at a variety of medical and educational institutions. She does not view what she does as a singular ‘career,’ but as an all-encompassing lens through which she interacts with the world. Her vocational endeavors have been and continue to be a testament to her belief that psychology and feminism have the capacity to create meaningful change at the governmental, interpersonal, and individual levels.

by Victoria Weigand & Zoë Martin (2022)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

By Susie Orbach

Orbach, S. (2018). Hunger Strike : The Anorectic’s Struggle as a Metaphor for our Age (First edition.). Taylor and Francis.

Orbach, S. (2009). Bodies (1st Picador ed.). Picador.

Orbach, S. (2004) What can we learn from the therapist's body?, Attachment & Human Development, 6(2), 141-150.

Orbach, S. (2002). On eating. Penguin UK.

Orbach, S., (1999) The Impossibility of Sex. Allen Lane.

Orbach, S., & Eichenbaum, L. (1995). From objects to subjects. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 12(1), 89-97.

Eichenbaum, L., & Orbach, S. (1982). Understanding women. New York: Basic Books.

Orbach, S. (1978). Fat is a feminist issue: The anti-diet guide. London: Arrow.

About Susie Orbach

Starkman, H. (2016). Interview with Susie Orbach, Ph.D., C.S.W. Clinical Social Work Journal, 44(1), 4–7.

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