Exploring the MBTI and Myers Briggs Personality Types and applications | Personality Pathways

A Conversation with Katharine Myers on Myers-Briggs Personality Type & the MBTI ® Instrument

Jeanne Marlowe , INFP

The 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.

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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 right."

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

Learn More about the Background of the MBTI Personality Assessment

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About Jeanne Marlowe

For more than twenty years, Jeanne Marlowe has been an active student and observer of Myers-Briggs Personality Type theory and applications. She is the former President of the Columbus Ohio Chapter of the Association for Psychological Type and the former chair of the Great Lakes Region of the International Association for Psychological Type. Her credits also include presenting numerous workshops on Type as well as counseling individuals on various applications of the theory and the MBTI instrument.

Her current consulting activities emphasize Relationship Coaching, Life Management Strategies, Group Seminars, and Myers-Briggs & MBTI ® facilitation and interpretation. She is the originator and producer of Murder for All Occasions - a murder mystery party experience that serves as a fun and engaging way for people to get to know each other.


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