100 Years of Misunderstanding: Type and Academia


Personality clashIt is a true honour to open this special BAPT 2021 Conference, celebrating the centenary of Carl Gustav Jung’s book Psychological Types (first published in German as Psychologische Typen by Verlag Rascher & Co in 1921). It is very possible that without that momentous event BAPT would never have existed.

My own story with Type began somewhere around 2007, inspiring a career change and lasting passion for psychology, self-understanding and especially Jung’s work. I enjoyed studying, through MBTI® Certification and wider Type literature, to an MSc in Organisational Psychology including a thesis on Big 5 trait facets. Next came certification in coaching and various other Type and trait assessments. However, along the way it became clear that not everyone shared my enthusiasm for Type.

Despite the fact that there were many decades of widespread popularity of MBTI® in the corporate world, and a wealth of research using it (second only to Big 5 research), there was reluctance amongst academics to take psychological type seriously or to research it further. Some were individually supportive of Type use in practice through their personal and work experience, however a growing ‘generally accepted’ anti-Type narrative within Journals and on social media had become well entrenched. Therefore positive voices generally stayed quiet to fit in and avoid conflict, unbalancing the discourse.

At worst the vocal minority of extreme Type detractors, often professional psychologists and other scientists, can be quite offensive towards anything Type related. Social media articles and posts sometimes descend into a kind of intellectual bullying, with Type (or more often specifically the MBTI®) becoming like the unpopular kid in the playground, with the mean kids bonding through collaborative persecution, and gaining kudos from kicking the victim while they’re down. Crucially, many of the attacks are based on misrepresentations and misunderstandings of good Type theory and practice.

Whilst I enjoy genuinely constructive critical thinking, and am well aware that traditional Type theory and practice is imperfect in many ways, it often seems that there is a deeper level to the conflict I see out there. There is an elephant in the room, or unarticulated fundamental assumptions and viewpoints that underpin the attacks on the surface. So I have spent a lot of time trying to fully understand the academically favoured trait models of personality, and the roots of Type, to see how they might be reconciled.

The situation is complex; especially because Jung’s original work was so difficult to understand. Furthermore there are 100 years of differing interpretations and expansions:

  • C.G. Jung’s original writings
  • Post Jungians (Von-Franz, Hillman, Spoto, Beebe, etc)
  • Official MBTI® theory and materials
  • Academic research articles (mainstream journals and CAPT)
  • Practitioner based publications (APT conferences and practitioner books)
  • Socionics (Jungian typology’s Russian offspring)
  • #MBTI (Enthusiasts blogging on social media)

To really understand the claims of Type theory, one must navigate this diverse maze of material to see the assumptions, divergence and evolution along the way. There are differences in theory between these areas, between authors within each area, and even contradictions over time for individual authors (as we sometimes see with Jung himself). It is no wonder that critics get confused if there isn’t even a unified narrative to draw from. At the Conference we shall look at some possible misunderstandings that have crept into our conception of Type over time.

We haven’t even touched on the history of the Big 5 and trait personality here, but it is equally as complex. In my Conference session we shall explore some of the fundamental ways which mainstream academia prefers to investigate and define personality, and why those perspectives come into tension with the underlying foundations of Type.

About the Author

Richard OwenCurrent BAPT Director of Finance, Richard Owen, M.Sc. (INTJ) is an independent practitioner, delivering workshops and coaching in London, Brighton and online. He uses a depth typology approach to personal development; helping clients address challenges in relationships and life transitions through his Personality PartsTM model. Richard holds an M.Sc in Organisational Psychology, an Accredited Diploma in Transformational Coaching and is certified with MBTI® and a range of other Type and Trait assessments. Email: richard@personalityparts.com.

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