Leona Tyler

Leona Elizabeth Tyler was born in Chetek, Wisconsin, on May 10, 1906; she died at the age of 86 in Eugene, Oregon, on April 23, 1993. By her own admission, an established field of counseling psychology did not exist when she began her full-time graduate training at the University of Minnesota in 1938, but Tyler made a significant contribution to the definition and evolution of the discipline throughout her career. She founded a university counseling service; wrote an authoritative counseling text, The Work of the Counselor; served as president of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) Division of Counseling Psychology (19591960); and was ultimately elected president of the APA (1972-1973). In fact, Tyler’s contributions to the counseling field were so significant that counseling psychology’s most prestigious award is named in her honor. Her professional and scholarly work was not confined, however, to counseling. Her career at the University of Oregon spanned more than three decades and included appointments as a professor in the psychology department and dean of the graduate college. A prolific author, she published more than 50 journal articles and penned books on diverse topics, including individual differences, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, psychological testing, intelligence, and creative thinking.

Education and Training

Although born in Wisconsin, Tyler lived most of her early years in Minnesota in the area of the Mesabi Iron Range. Her parents had not earned college degrees, but she spent 2 years at Virginia Junior College and ultimately graduated from the University of Minnesota at age 19 with a degree in English. She then began a career as a junior high school teacher. In her own writings, Tyler noted that she enjoyed teaching but found maintaining classroom discipline stressful. After more than a decade, she considered making a career change and becoming a counselor, which led her to enroll in a summer class at the University of Minnesota in 1937. Her professor for that class, Donald G. Paterson, recognized her talent, convinced her to pursue full-time graduate studies in psychology, and helped her to obtain a graduate assistantship.

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The psychology department in Minnesota did not provide specialty training at that time, but Tyler noted it did present significant opportunities for training in counseling. She completed a practicum at the University Testing Center and learned about assessment techniques, particularly interest assessment, and practiced educational and career guidance. In addition to her counseling experiences, Tyler’s comprehensive graduate training included a minor in statistics and interactions with noted professionals, such as developmental psychologist Florence Goodenough. Tyler became well versed in general psychology as well as specialized topics, which prepared her to teach courses from counseling and guidance to social psychology and research methods. She ultimately taught in all of these domains during her academic career at the University of Oregon, which began with her appointment as an instructor in the psychology department in 1940.

Early Years at the University of Oregon

When Tyler took the position in Oregon, she became the only woman in its small psychology department. These early years were both professionally productive and personally satisfying to Tyler, who would later describe them as some of her happiest. She enjoyed the intellectual stimulation that came from working with other faculty members and graduate students, and she considered herself quite successful at this career stage.

Always one to bridge the gap between science and practice, Tyler stayed active as a counselor while maintaining her scholarly and teaching activities. Although there were no counseling facilities at the University of Oregon, Tyler quickly started a counseling service to provide occupational assessment and guidance to students. However, as World War II came to an end, her focus shifted to providing counseling to veterans as they returned home from the war. Through the years, this counseling service developed into the official University Counseling Center, and she continued to work there part-time until 1965.

In addition to her success as a counselor and teacher, Tyler also published her first book, The Psychology of Human Differences, in 1947. The text, which would appear in three editions, addressed issues related to measuring and understanding individual differences in a wide range of constructs, including intelligence, personality, and perception. Tyler also discussed group differences in various domains based on sex, race or ethnicity, and social class.

Establishment as a Scholar and Professional

Although satisfied with her career progress at the time, Tyler acknowledged later that her advancement was most likely slowed by sexist attitudes held by many in the field. Her scholarly productivity continued, however, and she received recognition for her work during the 1950s. She identified her 1951 sabbatical in London as a pivotal time in her career for several reasons. First, she enjoyed scholarly success and had the opportunity to focus on data analysis and writing. Her time in London also brought her into contact with noted personality theorist Hans Eysenck. As important as her professional endeavors, her personal experiences in London broadened her cultural horizons and exerted a key influence. In fact, it was there that she first encountered existentialism, which she credited for impacting much of her later work.

Tyler also started her second book, The Work of the Counselor, during her sabbatical year. Published in 1953, this textbook for counselors in training became profoundly influential. It was used in training programs across the globe, spawned two subsequent editions, and established her as an expert in the field. These texts integrated research and practice and covered everything from conducting the first interview to evaluating the effects of counseling.

Following the success of her second book, Tyler assumed a number of professional leadership roles. She became the president of the Oregon Psychological Association in 1956, the Western Psychological Association in 1957, and the APA’s Division of Counseling Psychology in 1959. Her allegiance to counseling did not keep her from branching into other disciplines. She collaborated on a developmental psychology text with Florence Goodenough, a graduate school mentor, and wrote a clinical psychology textbook with colleague Norman Sundberg.

Tyler is best known for her books and her work in professional leadership roles, but she also enjoyed success during this time publishing original research. Her work often involved interest measurement in children and adolescents. She also developed a new theoretical framework for individuality. She used her 1958 Western Psychological Association presidential address to present her perspective that a person’s uniqueness results from making choices among available possibilities and providing a mental organization to those choices. She viewed these ideas as an important complement to existing approaches to trait measurement, and they influenced her development of the choice pattern technique as a career counseling assessment tool.

Late Career and Professional Legacy

Already a textbook author and authority in counseling, clinical, and developmental psychology, Tyler added psychological testing to that list with the publication of Tests and Measurements in 1963. Her scholarly work during the 1960s and 1970s also included several collaborative cross-cultural studies, including an examination of choice patterns in teens from India, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Tyler’s final appointment at the University of Oregon was as the first female dean of the graduate college, a position she held from 1965 until she reached mandatory retirement age in 1971. Even after official retirement, she continued with an active professional life. She served as president of the American Psychological Association from 1972 to 1973, and she worked on various boards for the organization into the 1980s. She also wrote with consistency and frequency, authoring books on individuality and creative thinking.

Tyler’s legacy is significant. She influenced the field of psychology as a whole through substantial empirical research, important books in several fields, a record of mentoring significant numbers of graduate students, and work within APA governance at its highest levels. Her mark on the counseling profession was profound. In fact, she helped to define the counseling field and its professional training with her text, research, counseling center work, and service to the Division of Counseling Psychology. Beginning with The Work of the Counselor in the 1950s and continuing into the 1990s, Tyler advocated for counseling as an activity and profession that could be helpful to any person by facilitating self-understanding, development, and making the choices she saw as so central to individuality.


  1. Delworth, U. (2000). Leona Tyler: Explorer and map maker. The Counseling Psychologist, 28, 425—133.
  2. Fassinger, R. E. (2003). Leona Tyler: Pioneer of possibilities. In G. A. Kimble & M. Wertheimer (Eds.), Portraits of pioneers in psychology (Vol. V, pp. 231-247). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  3. Sundberg, N. D. (1991) Award citation. American Psychologist, 46, 330-332.
  4. Sundberg, N. D., & Littman, R. A. (1993). Leona Elizabeth Tyler (1906-1993). American Psychologist, 49, 211-212.
  5. Tyler, L. E. (1956). The psychology of human differences (2nd ed.). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  6. Tyler, L. E. (1959). Toward a workable psychology of individuality. American Psychologist, 14, 75-81.
  7. Tyler, L. E. (1961). The work of the counselor (2nd ed.). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  8. Tyler, L. E. (1972). Reflections on counseling psychology. The Counseling Psychologist, 3, 6-11.
  9. Tyler, L. E. (1973). Design for a hopeful psychology. American Psychologist, 28, 1021-1029.
  10. Tyler, L. E. (1988). Leona E. Tyler. In A. N. O’Connell & N. F. Russo (Eds.), Models of achievement: Reflections on eminent women in psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 44-55). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  11. Tyler, L. E. (1992). Counseling psychology—Why? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 23, 342-344.

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