Type Labels

or, A Critical Psychology of Psychic Processes


In 1934, Carl Jung penned a new foreword to his book, Psychological Types, for the publication of the Argentine edition of the book. He opened his foreword by acknowledging that “No book that makes an essentially new contribution to knowledge enjoys the privilege of being thoroughly understood.”

Today, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jung’s original German language version of “Psychologische Typen” it seems like his book still fails to enjoy the privilege of being thoroughly understood, to the contrary, like much of Jung’s work – it instead seems to enjoy the privilege of being largely misunderstood.

It is ironic that Jung’s efforts to clarify an understanding of human psychology by providing what he termed “a critical apparatus serving to sort out and organize the welter of empirical material, but not in any sense to stick labels on people at first sight” should largely, in our day and age, be viewed in exactly that latter light.

The work of Isabel Briggs-Myers and her mother Katherine deserve both credit and blame for their efforts to avoid labelling people at first sight – by launching an indicator which has been revised over the years – a psychometric instrument to help identify types empirically. Before that, people were left, as Jung suggests, to infer type based on nothing but looks and intuition.

“It is not a physiognomy” Jung continues in the quote above, “ … but a critical psychology dealing with the organization and delimitation of psychic processes that can be shown to be typical.”

For Jung, psychic processes were a key element of his view of the human psyche. The human psyche was the focus of Jung’s psychology, and moreover, the human psyche in it’s healthy existence, as opposed to the Freudian and Adlerian approaches which were built upon the analysis of neurotically unhealthy individuals.

American academia has largely omitted the psyche from study, veering off instead into the “behavioral sciences”, behavioralism, behavior modification and eventually cognitive behavioral therapy. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2003 that the Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker admitted in his book The Blank Slate, that humans are, in fact, not blank slates.

In that Argentine forward, Jung points to his motivation: “one feels the need for some kind of order among the chaotic multiplicity of points of view. This need calls for a critical orientation and for general principles and criteria, not too specific in their formulation, which may serve as points de repere in sorting out the empirical material. What I have attempted in this book is essentially a critical psychology.”

The irony mentioned above, is that the “critical” and “empirical” aspects of studying the human psyche have largely been abandoned by both academia and many of Jung’s followers.

Indeed, even within the field of typology, the concern that Jung raised in 1934 still rings true: “Even in medical circles the opinion has got about that my method of treatment consists in fitting patients into this system and giving them corresponding “advice.””

How many of us today are guilty of exactly that approach? How many of us have abandoned the human psyche and are merely labelling people (if not at first sight – so an improvement) and simply doling out typical advice?

Jung’s recommendation for a deeper understanding was to avoid focusing exclusively on Chapter 10, where his typology is enumerated, and instead to dig more deeply into chapters 2 and 5. “I would therefore recommend the reader who really wants to understand my book to immerse himself first of all in chapters II and V.”

Having done so myself, I will be presenting at the BAPT conference this year (2021) on chapter 2 “Schiller’s Ideas on the Type Problem.” For those wishing to dig deeper into where Jung’s model comes from, I invite you to join me for an exploration of Friedrich Schiller’s ideas and their influence on Jung’s understanding of the human psyche.

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