In a career spanning five decades, Joyce Brothers ’47 – better known to millions as Dr. Joyce Brothers – normalized therapy and brought psychological concepts from the psychoanalyst’s couch to the living room, earning her the nickname “the mother of TV psychology.”
Brothers majored in home economics and psychology at Cornell and received her Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University in 1953. In 1955, in a gambit to supplement her husband’s meager medical resident’s salary, she applied to be on “The $64,000 Question,” a popular game show featuring regular people with deep knowledge in an unexpected area. In an early indication of her media savvy, Brothers decided to become an expert in boxing, an especially unexpected topic for a petite, blond woman. She made it through all the rounds, becoming only the second person (the first woman) to win the grand prize – and launching a career in television.
In 1958, she debuted “Dr. Joyce Brothers,” an afternoon advice show about love, marriage and child-rearing. An evening program about more mature topics soon followed. Then in 1966, Brothers launched the first radio call-in show. Additional shows followed, along with a syndicated newspaper column, a monthly column in Good Housekeeping and eight books. When she wasn’t working on her own shows, Brothers appeared on others, guest starring on programs like Happy Days, Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, and becoming one of Johnny Carson’s most frequent guests.
In 2002, the American Psychological Association – which had criticized Brothers decades earlier for dispensing psychological advice outside the private office setting – awarded her a presidential citation for her “vital role as a pioneer in media psychology, presenting psychological research and practice to generations of the public.”
“When I first started, if you went in for help you were advertising that you were crazy,” Brothers told Cornell magazine in 1998. “Now people feel very comfortable about going to psychologists or psychiatrists for the problems of everyday life. I think I really had a hand in that.”