Frontier psychiatrist – secret diary of a Myers-Briggs apprentice

Myers-Briggs is the personality-typing which allows you to test your skills and interests as well as finding out what you are good at. In turn it can be used to discern just what person you are about to hire. John Charlton went on the course to see whether the theories – and his own personality – were up to it.

The secret diary of a Myers-Briggs apprentice

It started in January when a cardboard box weighing only slightly more than Roman Abramovitch’s wallet landed with a thump by my desk.

Once the floor had settled down I investigated. It contained a blue satchel, sundry books and a manual thicker than a footballer.

“Oh that’s your Myers-Briggs (MB) stuff,” said a colleague who’d obtained, as he reminded me constantly, a distinction in the end-of-course test. “I wouldn’t bother with that till you do the course.”

I was amazed. I’d registered for a five-day August and September Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) qualifying course only days before. So, hats off to course provider OPP for alacrity and efficiency. Eight years of Blairism hadn’t blunted its efficiency.

What I failed to recognise was that the prompt arrival of said material gave me time aplenty to prepare for the course.

Six months later

Just back from a week en famille in the Isle of Wet and the MBTI course is looming larger than the US national debt. I finally get to grips with the material. There’s more to this than I thought. Might have known the Swiss were to blame.

Carl Jung – the sometime pal and contemporary of Freud and originator of type theory and the collective unconscious – is responsible for this little lot.

It was time to get in touch with my selective unconscious and do some serious reading. Turns out Myers and Briggs were a mother and daughter act who got off on Jung’s theories and decided to find a way to help ordinary Joes discover their type.

One week later

Well here I am on a sweaty August day at a posh hotel just outside Oxford along with 20-odd other MBTI hopefuls. Practically all are HR and training types and it’s a 60:40 female-male split. Everyone is casually attired apart from one dapper gent who is a senior medical man.

There are two trainers – bright, breezy and bubbly. They tell us not to worry. You don’t work with someone who reminds me daily he got a distinction, I thought.

Now it’s introductions.

“Tell everyone your name, your job title and say something surprising about yourself. Write it down on flipchart paper.”

Don’t you just hate it when that happens? I’m a lamb to the slaughter on this one. I do the necessary and write down the surprise. “I can read a map.”

I later learn that, according to type theory, this reply puts me in the as yet undiscovered 17th type: BERK.

Still time heals all intros and I’m soon involved in discussions, exercises, and chatting to fellow delegates. My learning curve is rising and by end of day one I know we’re all one or other side of a dichotomy, we each have a dominant function and Myers begat Briggs and they both begat the MB Type Indicator.

Two days later

After two days driving to and from Oxford, plus an eight-hour training day I’m not at my sharpest. We’d been given homework the night before but as it was my birthday I judged that out of order and went to the pub to weep over my advancing years. This was not wise.

For today, day three, was guinea pig day. It was the day of the big practical, the day we practised our knowledge and skills on volunteer clients, paid a fee for their trouble, and were assessed on our performance.

This was done in pairs. My pair was frighteningly well-prepared whereas I was, in MB parlance, in the grip.

Somehow I blundered through without throwing the session off course. Our client was a pleasant laid-back male student from a local college. I learned later that two delegates’ guinea pig was what they called a “nutter”. Not sure how that fits with Jungian type theory but glad I didn’t have her.

I knew the worse was coming when my assessor gave me some praise followed by “but”. “But you haven’t done well enough for me to pass you on this part of the assessment. You’ll have to conduct three further practice assessments and send a recording of one of them to use for assessment.”

Three weeks later

I’m doing my third practice assessment with a volunteer colleague using the only cassette tape recorder I can find.

We get to matching self-assessed and reported types to find the best fit type. For non-MBTI types a few words of explanation.

The outcome of an MBTI session is to find a best-fit type based on the four dichotomies: extraversion (E) and intraversion (I); sensing (S) and intuition (N) ; thinking (T) and feeling (F) ; and judging (J) and perception (P). All types are expressed in a four-letter combination from which dominant and other functions can be deduced.

In about 75% of cases self-assessed and reported types will be the same four-letter combination. It’s rare for all four letters in a type to differ between the two modes.

Not in this case though. Turns out all four are different. The subject has done the MBTI more times than Kate Moss has crossed the white line. Is this a set-up?

I’ve no option but to send my first recorded assessment and feedback session. At least there was type agreement and, as it was recorded on an old tape, it ended with Van Morrison singing Brown-Eyed Girl.

One week later

The assessor calls and goes through the tape. “Have I passed?”
“Oh yes,” she replies. Relief and fig rolls all round. Funny, she didn’t mention Van Morrison. By the way, fellow-MBTIers,  I’d say he was an ENFP.

Late September

I’m back for the final two days in Oxford and the test that I’ve revised harder for than any since finals in 1975.

The two lively lady trainers have been joined by an earnest-looking chap. He’s pale and wears white chinos with turn-ups and a black blazer. I think he’s the Jungian buff par excellence. Perhaps even a distant relative.

He talks about a concept called “in the grip” and an MB expert called Quenk. I can’t get this name out of my mind. It’s so damn odd. I spend some time trying to find a word that rhymes with Quenk.

Said fellow refers to the test as “the quiz”. Some delegates find this quite demeaning, especially as they’ve boned up so hard for it.

Anyway, before you can say “Freud was a silly-billy”, the test starts.

“Only one in 10 fails,” said one of the lady trainers. “And you can re-sit the questions you fail on, in an open-book style.”

After two hours of multiple-choicing I finish the 100 questions with only one settled by the toss of a coin. Then I flee the hotel to beat traffic back to London.

Next and final day

It’s MBTI and teams time. This is meant to be fun and involves putting types into groups, lots of flip charting and jumping around quadrant and sections delineated on the floor by masking tape.

At lunchtime the hotel restaurant managers asks us to sing happy birthday to an old lady of 97 who’s dining at the hotel. I figure it’s just possible she could be Jung’s love-child.

“I just hope I’m still here next year,” she says when we finish.

Better make sure there’s an MBTI course group around to serenade her . 
One week later

I’ve become obsessed by type. Tony Blair has got to be an ENTP. Funny, I used to think he was a PRAT. But that’s Mysers-Briggs for you – it’s a world of possibilities. 

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