Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dr. Jordan Turner on the Myers-Briggs

Personality typology: the science wherein human personalities are dissected, categorized, and, with fanfare, revealed to an unsuspecting test-taker. One of the most famous and well-studied is the Meyers-Briggs typology, originated by Carl Jung but then elaborated by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers.

I remember the paralysis after a computer told me that I am an ‘ENFJ.’ What does that mean? Did I answer each question just right? Am I so… simplifiable? And from there, I was told about likely interests, intelligence styles, coping strategies, career placement, and, yes, optimal mate selection.

I remember almost going through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief – denial (“Nah, I’m NOT that”), anger (“Stupid test”), bargaining (“I’m more ‘P’ than ‘J’), depression (“Wish I was ‘INFP’”), and finally acceptance (“Well, okay, then.”). From then on I’ve enjoyed, if only very superficially, the satisfaction of seeing certain patterns in myself (“I think by talking”), in my loved ones (“so that’s why wife does that”), even in some of my patients (“’SJ’s’ tend to arrive on time”). Others follow typology more closely, if not religiously. One of my colleagues incorporates it systematically into his private psychiatric practice.

Typology has its critics. Some call the testing unreliable. Others decry its intent. Simplification invariably leads to over-simplification. Humans are complex, they’d say. Too true.

At the heart of such conflict hides the ancient debate between the reductionistic determinists and the more mystical free-willians (not a true appellation but I couldn’t resist). Are we explainable, predictable, subject to our natures? Or are we indefinable, incomprehensible, masters of our own becoming? And is your answer just a matter of your personality type? I’m not sure if typology pretends to enter such a conversation, nor should it. It is a practical tool, its value measured only by its utility. Does it help? That is the question.

I watched my brothers argue an issue the other day. I couldn’t help but see in the oldest, a corporate CFO, the ‘strategist’ considering contingencies at every turn. In the other, a police officer, I saw the ‘tactician’ playing to win. In myself was the ever wary ‘diplomat’ carefully choosing when and how to speak. These patters do not explain my brothers or me, but they fill me with appreciation and my love with nuance.

The very attempt, I’ve decided, to reveal ourselves is beautiful. Typology, in all its forms with all its flaws, stretches to give language to the ineffable. It is a reaching to put words to my experience, your experience, their experience, our experience. It is an exercise in acceptance, of others and ourselves. And, yes, I’d say it’s been helpful.

Dr. R. Jordan Turner, DO
Resident Psychiatrist at Loma Linda University Medical Center

To find out more about how we use the Myers-Briggs to help individuals, teams, and organizations perform at their peak please visit or write to

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