Photo of Tania Israel

Tania Israel



Training Location(s):

PhD, Arizona State University (1998)

BA, University of Pennsylvania (1988)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of California, Santa Barbara (2000-present)

University of Memphis (1998-2000)

Career Focus:

Psychological health and well-being of LGBTQ individuals and communities; bisexuality; privilege and oppression; intersections among gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation; social justice.


Tania Israel was born in Pomona, California in 1966 to a Chinese-American mother and Jewish-American father. Her family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia in 1968, just one year after the Loving v. Virginia decision that removed anti-miscegenation laws.

Growing up in Charlottesville as a biracial Asian American, Israel often faced the question “What are you?” from her peers at school. Confused by these queries, she recalls asking her parents “What am I? What do I tell people?” and her parents replying, “You’re half Chinese and half Jewish.” This satisfied the kids at school, but in university her peers challenged her by saying “You can’t be half Chinese and half Jewish, one is a nationality and one is a religion.” Eventually, to resolve the issue, Israel decided “I can be whatever I want - this is my identity.”

Israel credits her parents with instilling an early commitment to social justice. She recalls that growing up “there would be fundraisers for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in our back yard, they advocated for things within the school system, my mother was president of the PTA. There was a lot of advocacy.” Still, Israel noticed small things that did not accord with her sense of social justice. She remembers asking her mother when she was young “Why do all the letters to you say Mrs. John Israel? Your name is Mary.” It was feminism that eventually provided Israel with the words to name the societal inequities she encountered.

After taking a high school psychology class at the age of 16, Israel knew she wanted to be a psychologist. She went to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In her freshman year she was introduced to feminism. She recalls taking a psychology of women course with Michelle Fine that utterly changed her life: “It changed my understanding of why people are the way they are, why things happen the why they happen. It gave me just a new lens to see everything with and it set the trajectory for the rest of my life.” Fine was influential in Israel’s development of an intersectional feminist lens. She recalls “one of the things I value so much about having learned feminism with Michelle Fine is that feminism to me has always been intersectional. It has always been about gender and race and class and ability and sexual orientation.” With her newly formed feminist lens and ignited by the course, Israel added a second major and became part of the first graduating class of Women’s Studies majors at the University of Pennsylvania.

Upon graduation, Israel left the field of Psychology feeling uninspired: “the psychology department did not inspire me. There were some very socio-biological perspectives, it was research oriented, and I wanted to know how to help people.” Israel began working at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Aspiring to do more prevention work, Israel then went to work at the Red Cross and provided HIV education in the Philadelphia suburbs. Realizing that it would be helpful if she had more knowledge in the area, Israel returned to the University of Pennsylvania to complete a Masters of Human Sexuality Education.

During her master’s, Israel found her way to counseling psychology through elective courses. “I chose these electives that turned out were counseling psychology, because they had a counseling psychology program there. And so, as soon as I did that I was like ‘Oh, this is my field’. And so that’s what I did. I decided at that point, I want to get a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology.” She completed her Ph.D. at Arizona State University in 1998. Her dissertation was on training counsellors to work with LGB clients.

At the heart of Israel’s work is a desire for social justice. Her scholarship focuses on supporting LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) individuals and communities; privilege and oppression; intersections among gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation; and social justice. Israel is director of project RISE - Research & Interventions for Sexual & Gender Minority Empowerment, and a Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she is the Chair of the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology.

Israel’s work is relevant to communities and to policy. She has presented a widely viewed TED Talk on “Bisexuality and Beyond,” participated in the first White House Bisexual Community Policy Briefing, and presented at a Congressional briefing on the Violence Against Women Act. She is also active within professional organizations currently as a member of the American Psychological Association’s Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Policy Writing Group and the Society of Counseling Psychology’s Strategic Planning Special Task Group. Israel is past president of the Society of Counseling Psychology and was the youngest person to serve as president, elected to the position only 11 years after receiving her Ph.D.

When asked what advice she has for aspiring feminist psychologists, Israel emphasizes the importance of doing work that is meaningful to you and being brave enough to get past your feelings of vulnerability. Because once you move past your vulnerability then “we can do work that’s not just going to help people like us, but help people who are allies too.”

by Stephanie Gill (2018)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

Israel, T. (2020). Beyond your bubble: How to connect across the political divide, skills and strategies for conversations that work. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Israel, T. (2018). Bisexuality: From margin to center. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 5 (2), 233-242.

Israel, T. (2018). Envisioning bisexuality as inclusive, celebratory, and liberatory. In J. Swan & S. Habibi (Eds.) Bisexuality: Theories, Research, and Recommendations for the Invisible Sexuality (pp. 189-193). Springer.

Vencill, J. A., & Israel, T. (Eds.) (2018). Shining a light into the darkness: Bisexuality and relationships. Special issue of Sexual and Relationship Therapy.

Israel, T., & Bettergarcia, J. N. (2017). Evidence-based teaching of LGBTQ issues in psychology. In T. Burnes & J. L. Stanley (Eds.) Teaching LGBTQ Psychology: Queering Innovative Pedagogy and Practice (pp. 181-200). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Israel, T., Bettergarcia, J. N., Delucio, K., Avellar, T. R., Harkness, A., & Goodman, J. A. (2017). Responses of law enforcement to LGBTQ diversity training. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 28 (2), 197-226.

Israel, T. (2012). Exploring privilege in counseling psychology: Shifting the lens. The Counseling Psychologist, 40, 158-180.

Israel, T. (Ed.) (2010). Special issue on bisexuality and youth. Journal of Bisexuality.

Israel, T., Gorcheva, R., Burnes, T. R., & Walther, W. A. (2008). Helpful and unhelpful therapy experiences of LGBT clients. Psychotherapy Research, 18 (3), 294-305.

Israel, T. (2007). Training counselors to work ethically and effectively with bisexual clients. In B. A. Firestein (Ed.), Becoming visible: Counseling bisexuals across the lifespan (pp. 381-394). New York: Columbia University Press.

Toporek, R., Gerstein, L., Roysicar, G., Fouad, N., & Israel, T. (Eds.) (2006). Handbook for social justice in counseling psychology: Leadership, vision, and action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Israel, T. (2004). Conversations, not categories: The intersection of biracial and bisexual identities. Women and Therapy, 27, 173-84.

Israel, T. (2003). Integrating gender and sexual orientation into multicultural counseling competencies. In G. Roysircar, P. Arredondo, J. N. Fuertes, J. G. Ponterotto, & R. L. Toporek (Eds.), Multicultural counseling competencies 2003: Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development (pp. 69-77). Alexandria, VA: AMCD.