When it comes to her life’s work, Phyllis Hansell knew what she wanted to do from a young age.

Hansell says she knew as a seventh-grader that she wanted to be a psychologist. One reason: She felt that understanding the human mind would help her understand almost anything. 

The other reason: Hansell wanted to help people.

“There’s nothing more satisfying, really, for me,” Hansell said.

The desire to help people stems from her parents, who were both professors. They didn’t have a lot of money to give, but they did give their time to students and to the community. 

Over the years, Hansell, who now consults with businesses in areas such as executive coaching and leadership development, has had the chance to help plenty of people. 

She spent about 37 years in private practice as a clinical psychologist before closing the practice about three years ago to do more organizational consulting, which she had also done throughout much of her career.

Hansell’s background in psychology helps her to assist organizations in their efforts to change. Most research done on leadership, organizations or teamwork comes out of psychology, she said, and it helps to have a knowledge of the role that emotions can play in the workplace.

“Thinking about how to effect behavior change is what I’ve spent a career doing,” she said. “I feel like I’ve benefited greatly by having that training.””

Among the things Hansell is most proud of are being appointed to serve on the Iowa Board of Psychology and the Iowa Council on Human Services. 

As a member of the Iowa Psychological Foundation board, Hansell recently has been interested in the effect that media such as television and video games has on children and families, particularly as it relates to violence. 

In their free time, Hansell and her husband, Ed, like to travel to their cabin in Minnesota, where they sail, boat and spend time with family. 

Three areas of influence

Hansell has served on many boards, including the Iowa Psychological Foundation board, the Iowa Council for Human Services and the Orchard Place Foundation board.

Hansell received the Ann Ernst Award from the Iowa Psychological Association, given to psychologists who retire from their primary work but continue to serve their community or profession.

“In a profession where it’s hard to share whom she has helped, there are still hundreds of testimonials of her professionalism and gentle manner as she has changed each person’s life,” wrote Kaye Lozier, director of donor relations at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, in nominating Hansell.