Theodore Millon, a Student of Personality, Dies at 85

February 3, 2014 | Alumni, Students

By BENEDICT CAREY

February 1, 2014

Theodore Millon, a psychologist whose theories helped define how scientists think about personality and its disorders, and who developed a widely used measure to analyze character traits, died on Wednesday at his home in Greenville Township, N.Y. He was 85.

The cause was complications of heart disease, his granddaughter Alyssa Boice said.

Dr. Millon (pronounced “Milan,” like the city in Italy) learned about the oddities of personality at first hand, by wandering the halls of Allentown State Hospital, a mental institution, after being named to the hospital’s board in the 1950s as a part an overhaul effort in Pennsylvania. A young assistant professor at nearby Lehigh University at the time, he “frequently ventured incognito through the hospital,” he wrote in an essay in 2001, “at times clothed in typical hospital garb overnight or for entire weekend periods, conversing at length with patients housed in a variety of acute and chronic wards.”

At the University of Illinois in the 1970s, he began to think and write more deeply about the patterns underlying specific character types that therapists had described: the narcissist, with fragile, grandiose self-approval; the dependent, with smothering clinginess; the histrionic, always in the thick of some drama, desperate to be the center of attention. By 1980, he had pulled together the bulk of the work on such so-called personality disorders, most of it descriptive, and turned it into a set of 10 standardized types for the American Psychiatric Association’s third diagnostic manual.

Along the way he developed the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI), which became the most commonly used diagnostic assessment for personality problems. It is still widely used today, in its third edition, the MCMI-III.

“He was a monumental figure in shaping the understanding of personality disorders,” said Thomas Widiger, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. “Prior to Ted, there wasn’t any measure to speak of. He just dominated the field during a key period of its growth.”

Theodore Millon was born in Manhattan on Aug. 18, 1928, the only child of Abner Millon, a tailor, and the former Mollie Gorkowitz. He grew up in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn and graduated from Lafayette High School in 1945 before earning bachelor’s degrees in psychology, physics and philosophy at City College of New York. After graduating in 1950, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1953, the year after he married Renée Baratz. She survives him, as do three daughters, Diane Bobb, Dr. Carrie Millon and Adrienne Hemsley; a son, Andy; and eight grandchildren.

Loquacious and opinionated, Dr. Millon, who described himself as an exemplar of “secure narcissism,” became a kind of institution unto himself after laying a foundation for the study of personality disorders. He left the University of Illinois for the Coral Gables campus of the University of Miami, where — between visiting professorships at Harvard and McLean Hospital — he founded the Institute for Advanced Studies in Personology and Psychopathology, a platform to advance his ideas, publishing analyses, books and various personality assessments.

Dr. Millon wrote more than 25 books and co-wrote more than 50 academic papers. The American Psychological Association awarded him its Gold Medal Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008.

In one of his books, an encyclopedia of behavioral scientists called “Masters of the Mind” (2004), he included an entry for “Theodore Millon (1928 — ).” Dr. Millon, he wrote of himself, was distinguished from many others in the book “by the fact that he appears, contrawise, to be invariably buoyant, if not jovial. Critics are not invariably enamored, however, finding his work to be, at times, too speculative, his writing unduly imaginative, and his creativity overly expansive.”

Originally published by The New York Times