Authors: Jean Baker Miller

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American psychologist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Toward a New Psychology of Women 1976, revised 1986

Women’s Growth in Connection, 1991 (with others)

The Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life, 1997 (with Irene Pierce Stiver)

Edited Texts:

Psychoanalysis and Women: Contributions to New Theory and Therapy, 1973

Psychoanalyis and Women, 1974

Biography

Jean Baker Miller was born to a working-class family and grew up in New York City during the Depression. When she was less than a year old, she became ill with polio and had to wear leg braces until she was seven. Her determination was evident even at an early age; she soon became a fine swimmer. She was also inspired by two of the nurses who treated her, twin sisters who provided a glimpse of the wider world. Determined not to follow the example of women around her who were in terrible economic straits from a husband’s job loss or death, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and received a bachelor’s degree in 1948. She was then accepted at Columbia University’s medical school.{$I[A]Miller, Jean Baker}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Miller, Jean Baker}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Miller, Jean Baker}{$I[tim]1927;Miller, Jean Baker}

Upon obtaining her M.D. degree, she held psychiatric residencies and took training in psychoanalysis at the New York Medical College. From 1956 on, she conducted a private practice in psychiatry. Along with this central work, she taught at various times in medical centers in New York City, upstate New York, London, and Massachusetts.

At the time Miller started her career, the theories of Viennese therapist Sigmund Freud were the reigning paradigm in psychology and psychoanalysis. Freudian theory took the adult human male as the normative model of human behavior, labeling women’s greater concern with relationships than independence as dependent and immature. Miller’s work with women patients led to the conclusion that this model was seriously flawed: Women were regarded as incomplete and pathological for acting as caregivers and sustainers of human bonds, the very roles society expects them to fill.

After more than twenty years of observing this situation in her clinical practice and in life, Miller wrote Toward a New Psychology of Women, which laid the foundation for an entirely different way of looking at women’s development and psychological health. In this trailblazing book, she describes the patterns of submerged conflict, leading to guilt or somatic symptoms, which occur from continually being subjected to contradictory demands. Miller concludes that all human beings learn and develop in relationship to others, though men are encouraged to outgrow this and develop mastery of other skills. Because women have been given more than half of society’s responsibilities for maintaining human ties, they carry on this essential work but often feel powerless and unrealistic for doing so.

Miller’s theory does not concentrate only upon women; she states that men suffer equally from the indifference to emotions and human connections that is expected of them. A healthy adult, she says, needs both independence and affiliation. Women need to learn to use power for positive ends, and men need to recognize that all people are emotional and vulnerable.

Unlike earlier women psychoanalytic theorists, Miller neither argues the details of Freud’s ideas nor employs the usual jargon of psychoanalysis to present her own. She writes in an easily understood style. This lucidness has made her accessible to a large audience, and her book has had influence far beyond the boundaries of the psychoanalytic and psychology communities. Few of the ideas Miller presents are wholly new to her. Many surfaced in other feminist thought and discussion during the decade her book was written. However, Miller tied them together in a whole new theory of women’s, and human, development.

Following this major work, Miller published several others which use her theory to describe and analyze various social phenomena and personal dilemmas. In 1986 she accepted an appointment in psychology at Wellesley College, where she became director of the Stone Center for Developmental Service and Studies. The center publishes a series of monographs and papers on topics related to Miller’s interests. During a distinguished career, she received many awards and honors, both from psychological and psychiatric groups and from women’s associations. Jean Baker Miller married and had two children.

BibliographyPapadopoulos, Yiota. “Jean Baker Miller.” In Feminist Writers. Detroit: St. James Press, 1996. A good summary of Miller’s contributions to the fields of psychological theory and psychotherapy. Includes some hard-to-find biographical information.Poirier, Suzanne, and Lioness Ayres. Stories of Family Caregiving. Indianapolis: Sigma Theta Tau, 2002. An examination of the factors that sustain caregivers’ well-being, published by the honor society of nursing. Draws heavily from Miller’s work to discuss qualities that caregivers bring to their tasks.
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