A Conversation with Katharine Myers
on Myers-Briggs Personality Type & the MBTI ® Instrument
following draws upon a series of e-mail and phone conversations with Katharine
Myers. Katharine's history with psychological type and with her mother-in-law,
Isabel Myers, is rich in depth and breadth. She has made notable contributions
to the type community, including "An Introduction to Type" and "An Introduction
to Type Dynamics and Development." Jeanne Marlowe interviewed her by phone and e-mail correspondence in 2002.
Katharine D. Myers exemplifies the INFP pioneer. A long list of 'firsts'
began in high school, when she was voted "Most Likely to Succeed." At a
time when most women did not engage in sports or paid work, Kathy did
both. She made varsity in hockey, basketball, and lacrosse and was a
member of the All-American Women's lacrosse team.
At a time when Wharton did not accept women, Kathy managed to take this
prestigious business school's graduate level classes while working as an
assistant in statistics at Bryn Mawr College. The dean told her, "We
don't admit women. All they do is get married" (cited in "Katharine and
Isabel," by Frances Saunders, p.167).
Kathy first became involved with MBTI ® research in 1942, during her junior year
at Swarthmore High School. Isabel Myers gave a pilot version to
the high school class which included her son and daughter, as well as Kathy.
Although a 'successful student' in conventional terms: good grades, editor of the school paper, National Honor Society, Kathy had never felt truly part of 'the scene.' Isabel told her of individuals who had a natural preference for something called introversion and that
was an OK way to be. Learning that different people had different
preferences and thus different advantages and disadvantages freed Kathy.
She credits Isabel and her mother, Katharine C. Briggs, for making
comparable self-knowledge available to millions. The power of Jung's
theory was no longer restricted to those who could afford years of
analysis or had the background and interest to read and understand his
writings. "These two women democratized psychological type," Kathy says.
They also focused on normal developmental issues rather than pathology.
Mary McCaulley quotes Isabel as saying, "You psychologists focus on what
is wrong with people; I want to focus on what is right and what could be
Kathy believes this approach is the secret of the worldwide enthusiasm
for psychological type and the MBTI instrument. When Isabel began her work, psychological testing was in its early stages. No one had created an instrument that was theory based. Statistics were
primarily based on the normal curve. Because Jungian theory postulated a
bimodal distribution which required different statistics, Isabel created
her own statistics.
Since Isabel's death in 1980, Kathy has been co-guardian, with Peter
Myers, of the MBTI. She was the first president of the Association for
Psychological Type and co-author, with Margaret Hartzler, of the first
publisher approved Qualifying Program. Type development in the second half of life and
the years past 65 has been her primary interest the last 17 years.
Although Kathy has not seen major changes in type theory over the last 20
years, she does see a change in the type community's understanding of the
theory. It has proceeded in gradual steps to include type dynamics; type
development; the relationship of type to the Jungian psyche, the
interactions between the conscious and unconscious, archetypes, and the
lifelong process of individuation. Each person's use and interpretation
of the theory is colored by the individual's unique perception and
interaction with the theory.
Wrestling with the tension between preserving intellectual integrity and
becoming dogmatic, Kathy thinks that any theory should have a flexible
skin, which shifts in shape, size, and content as sound new data is
integrated. "It's all hypothesis," she says, crediting Angelo Spoto for
giving her a structure for thinking about theory: When assessing a
theory, you are not looking for 'The Truth'; you are assessing its power
to explain and to describe. If it does this well, not only for oneself
but also for others, it's a useful theory.
Type has become the lens through which Kathy views both the outer and
inner world. She uses it every day to hypothesize about individuals and
situations, learning from both those hypotheses that work and those that
don't. It is like breathing: rarely a conscious effort. The ideas and
values behind the MBTI provide a tool for learning to respect and value
each individual, including ourselves, and to delight in diversity.
The diversity of our globalizing world requires us to hone our skills for
appreciating differences. Jungian type has been the focus and
perspective throughout her extraordinarily creative life. She advises us to keep asking questions and checking the accuracy of our opinions and conclusions. "A bit of ongoing
skepticism and humility is helpful. Personality will always have an
element of mystery."
The link below is to an excerpt about the connection between Type and Temperament from an e-mail correspondence on November 25, 2002.
On the relationship of Personality Type and Temperament
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