Los Altos-based Bonnie Bernell, Ed.D., recently won the California Psychological Association’s Distinguished Contribution to Psychology Award.
The longtime psychologist and former professor received this year’s award at a ceremony held in April.
“I’m quite humbled by it because there are a lot of hardworking, talented, smart psychologists in this state,” Bernell said.
Adam Dorsay, Psy.D., one of her graduate students at Santa Clara University in 1993, nominated her for the honor.
“When I think about psychologists, they have to have so many abilities,” Dorsay said. “They have to be health-care practitioners. They have to be teachers. They have to be interpreters, coaches and accurate mirrors. Bonnie goes beyond that; she’s what I would call a super-psychologist. She is a real advocate for the field by reaching out to people from other disciplines to explain what psychology is.”
Bernell counsels adults, both individually and in couples, and also holds workshops. She said she helps people talk about their problems and occasionally invites her border terrier Brodie to join her patients’ sessions.
“He’s so important that there are people who will only come on the days he’s there,” she said of Brodie. “He stays on the floor and when somebody’s upset, he’ll wait for them to call him up and sit with them. It’s very touching to see.”
A psychologist for 40 years – and a certified pet therapist – Bernell discovered her passion for psychology as a child.
“When I was an 11-year-old girl in southern New Jersey, I watched my father, who was a physician, talk to people, and it seemed like he made a difference in their lives,” she said. “I knew then that that was what I wanted to do.”
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in psychology, Bernell earned her doctorate from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
After practicing in Pennsylvania, she moved to California and opened her office on Fremont Avenue.
In the early 1980s, Bernell helped establish the Hope Counseling Center, which she said is the nation’s first mental health center for people with disabilities.
“I’ve been gone for a lot of years, but it’s still operating,” Bernell said of the San Jose-based center. “There were three of us who started it. The only reason I left in the mid-’80s was because I got tired of fundraising for mental health services rather than delivering mental health services, which is something I really wanted to do.”
Bernell taught graduate school at Santa Clara University for more than 20 years. Additionally, she taught multiple continued education classes and held free group training sessions for newly licensed psychologists.
“My core belief is that psychologists need to get out of their offices and teach people what psychology has to offer,” she said. “It is a wide-ranging field that has so many messages. Let people know what you know.”
Reaching her goals
In 2000, Bernell accomplished one of her many career goals – writing a book. Her first book, available for purchase on Amazon, is titled “Bountiful Women: Large Women’s Secrets for Living the Life They Desire.”
“A better title would have been ‘Stop Weighting to Live Your Life,’” Bernell said. “So many women are waiting to live their life until they’re perfect enough. The book, which won an award, is about how to be healthy at any size, take care of yourself, and not put your life on hold until you’re good enough to get out in the world – whether that’s for a new job, education or a relationship.”
Bernell is writing another book, slated for release in January, “Treasures That Matter: Writing for the Gold.”
“It’s a way to help people write from a psychological perspective on important things in their life,” she said.
Bernell is also an expert in ethics and has taught college courses on the subject.
“This was one of my goals besides the most important one, which is that I get to sit with people every day and talk about things that are really important to them,” she said.
For more information on Bernell, visit bonniebernell.com.