Though the field of psychology has been defined by the research and theories proposed by male psychologists that have become famous worldwide, female psychologists have also played a significant role in shaping this field and have made important contributions in many areas of psychology.
Isabel Briggs Myers was an American psychological theorist that created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) together with her mother, Katharine Briggs. The MBTI has become one of the most widely used and highly regarded personality inventories ever created. It gained international recognition and to this date, it has been translated into over 16 languages. Despite lacking formal education in the field of psychology, Isabel Myers was fascinated by the variety of human behavior and was gifted with a keen awareness and curiosity about the differences between individuals. Her passionate endeavor in the field of personality typology started when her mother introduced her to Carl Jung’s ideas about personality types. Over the next four decades, she worked on the MBTI with her mother and created a personality inventory that is still popular and useful to people to this very day.
Karen Horney was a German psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, famous for her contributions in the areas of feminine psychology, the theory of neurosis and her new, defining ideas that created Neo-Freudian psychology. As a pioneer in the field of feminine psychology, she published various essays and papers that dealt with the overvaluation of men in society and the problems that arise in relationships as a consequence of women being seen as inferior and dependent on men. She also viewed neurosis in a different light than her contemporaries and identified ten types of neurotic needs that can affect individuals. Though she agreed with much of Freud’s theories, she criticized some of them and proposed new ideas that set the foundations of Neo-Freudian psychology. Most of her ideas and insights are still considered valid and relevant today, and have sparked an interest for areas that were overlooked by psychologists of her time.
Virginia Satir was an American author and psychotherapist that became famous for her invaluable contribution to the area of family therapy by creating the family system therapy branch of psychotherapy. She offset the focus from illness towards encouraging healthy behavior that is the base of a good family life and considered that, while the family is an important unit, every individual should develop healthy self-esteem and self-worth in order to be happy. While her contemporaries had a narrow and traditional view of the relationships between members of families, she came up with ideas that changed and expanded this view, and ultimately offered a better understanding of the dynamics of family relationships.
Melanie Klein was a British psychoanalyst who became well-known for her contribution to the areas of child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis. Though she followed Freud’s theories, she criticized some of them and came up with innovatory ideas that would become significant and widely accepted. For example, she contradicted Freud by saying that children can be psychoanalyzed, and though that earned her a lot of criticism at the time, she became the first person that used psychoanalysis on young children. She also innovated by using toys while working with children. She also co-founded the object relations theory and developed her play therapy technique that is still widely used today. She had an important impact on developmental psychology and recognized the essential role played by the mother in a child’s development.
Mary Whiton Calkins was an American philosopher and psychologist well-known for being the first woman to be elected president of the American Psychological Association, as well as for her contributions in the areas of psychology of the self, dreams research and inventing the paired associate's technique. Despite encountering educational setbacks and being refused a doctorate by Harvard just because she was a woman, she dedicated her life to studying psychology. She published many papers and books on the psychology of the self and spent many years trying to define it. She also had an interest in the study of memory and created the paired associate’s technique that served as a research method.
Though, at a first glance, the field of psychology appears to be dominated by male figures, there have been many important female psychologists that have had a major impact on shaping this science and whose innovatory, daring ideas have changed its approach to dealing with the individual’s problems and understanding human nature.