Susan gave us an interesting, informative and enjoyable evening exploring the Myers-Briggs type indicator. It was particularly enjoyable that we were able to work in groups exploring the four spectra of the test: Extraversion v Introversion, Sensing v Intuition, Thinking v Feeling, and Judging v Perceiving, and trying to decide where we were on each spectrum.
The idea of the test is that you find where you are on each of these spectra and then you can know which of the sixteen types you might be. In theory someone can find that (s)he is an extraverted, sensation/feeling/judging type (ESFJ) for example and then can look up at what that means: “Outgoing, friendly, and accepting ….. Enjoy working with others to make things happen” etc. Then there is advice available for a particular type. The ESFJ type (not me by the way!) is advised to reflect on the possible need to “start asking critical questions” and to “stop avoiding conflict” and so on.
In practice many of us at the talk found it extremely difficult to say which type we were. “It depends on the situation” was a common observation when we were looking at whether we are Extraverted or Introverted or Thinking or Feeling. Of course it is also the case that most of us are probably middling on many if not all of these spectra.
The test is based mostly on Jungian descriptions of the psyche. (The most relevant original work is volume 6 of Jung’s complete works, “Psychological Types.”) However, Jung himself found the development of the Myers Briggs test quite disturbing and not true to his own understanding of the psyche. Jung was interested in “individuation” – the growing wholeness of people. This means we need to explore “shadow” functions (or types) and integrate them into our psyche. The idea that we have an innate type (one of sixteen) and that this remains with us for life has been scorned by many psychologists, certainly by Jungians. It is just too simplistic.
In my own case, as with many men, I did not explore the Feeling function fully till later in life, and what richness there is to be found in that function. How would it have been for me if I had remained stranded at the other end of the Thinking – Feeling end of that spectrum? Isn’t counselling / psychotherapy in part to do with helping the client to make such shifts?
Personally I am fascinated by the elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth, from which Jung’s four functions: Thinking, Intuition, Feeling and Sensation sprang. I am most familiar with the element of Air and I like being with Air types, but I can’t get through life without the other Elements at work and am learning to enjoy more and more the practicality of Earth, the passion of Fire and the flow of Water, and I make an effort to embrace and enjoy those other aspects of being. (I will be giving an HACP workshop on Working with the Elements on November 10th. See page 5 for more information.)
As for relationships, an assumption was made in the talk (if I heard it rightly) that the more different one partner is in terms of psychological type, the more likely it is that the relationship will fail. Really?! The interest and value of learning from a partner with a different approach to life can be inestimable. In Jungian terms, the partner of a different “type” can help one to explore the “shadow” (less familiar ways of being.)
So, I find myself reflecting on the evening with thanks for the way it was planned, thanks for the enjoyable and honest conversation with the people at my table, and for the materials we worked with. I am also grateful for the opportunity to remind myself of the richness of the Self and to realise how this is not reflected deeply, clearly or adequately in psychometric tests. This is why, in my opinion, as counsellors/psychotherapists we can gain insights from such systems as the Myers-Briggs type indicator but need to be very cautious indeed in their interpretation and application.