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The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in Therapy

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The Myers-Briggs Type
Indicator in Therapy

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When it comes to personal development and therapy, the biggest advantage we can have is understanding our personality. The better we understand ourselves, the quicker we are to achieve our goals, discover outlets for personal fulfillment, and find people who we can nurture strong connections with.
However, the term “personality” is often viewed as abstract and nebulous. Some people might ask: “How does the way I think or feel compare to others?” or “Why is it that some skills, careers, relationships, or hobbies work for other people, but don't seem to work for me?” These questions are valid and an important part of the self-discovery process. However, in the beginning, they can often leave us feeling frustrated and confused.
That's where personality models come in. 🙂 And if incorporating these models into the therapy process is something you're interested in, click here to learn more.
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UNDERSTANDING THE MYERS-BRIGGS TYPE INDICATOR

For over 60 years, one of the most effective and widespread tools for identifying people’s personalities has been the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Also known as the MBTI, the Myers-Briggs is composed of 16 uniquely different types that provide us with a simplified framework for better understanding our personality. Most importantly, the MBTI gives us helpful, practical suggestions for improving our quality of life.

Categorizing Personality Traits

How does it accomplish this? By doing the one thing that’s most helpful with abstract concepts: it breaks it down into categories.
Some of you may be familiar with these categories. They are as follows:
  • Extroverted (E) or Introverted (I)
  • Intuitive (N) or Sensor (S)
  • Feeler (F) or Thinker (T)
  • Perceiver (P) or Judger (J)
We’re all born with different inherent personality traits. Taking the MBTI allows someone to determine which of these categories more closely aligns with their personality (i.e., “Am I more of a thinker or feeler when it comes to making decisions?”) An accurate and free test for discovering your personality type can be found here.
If someone took the MBTI and the results showed that they were an ISTJ, for example, that would mean the person tends to be more Introverted than Extroverted, more Sensory-oriented than Intuitive, more of a Thinker than a Feeler, and more of a Judger than a Perceiver.

Personality Trait Definitions

So, what does this mean exactly? To streamline things, here are some definitions:
  • E – Extroverts often feel motivated by their interactions with people. They tend to enjoy a wide circle of acquaintances, and they gain more energy in social situations (whereas introverts expend more energy). To extroverts, the outer world feels more “real.”
  • I – Introverts tend to be quieter and more reserved. They prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend more energy in social situations (whereas extroverts gain more energy). To introverts, the inner world feels more “real.”
  • N – Intuitives tend to be more abstract than concrete. They focus their attention on the big picture rather than the details, and on future possibilities rather than immediate realities.
  • S – Sensors tend to be more concrete than abstract. They focus their attention on the details rather than the big picture, and on immediate realities rather than future possibilities.
  • F – Feelers tend to value personal considerations above objective criteria. When making decisions, they often give more weight to social implications than to logic.
  • T – Thinkers tend to value objective criteria above personal preference. When making decisions, they often give more weight to logic than to social considerations.
  • P – Perceivers tend to withhold judgment and delay important decisions, preferring to "keep their options open" should circumstances change.
  • J – Judgers (not to be confused with “judgmental”) tend to plan their activities and make decisions early. They derive a sense of reliability through predictability.
(E, N, F, and P descriptions: https://library.cityvision.edu/enfp)
(I, S, T, and J descriptions: https://library.cityvision.edu/istj)

APPLYING YOUR MBTI TO DAY-TO-DAY LIFE

Once you have found out your personality type, the next step is to apply your findings to everyday life. This part is very important, as it is the step that fewer people know about and also happens to have the most positive impact on your self-empowerment. For this process, we use a tool known as the Car Model (aka the “Function Stack”) to show the dynamic interaction between the different mental functions of your mind. Once we model how they show up for you based on your type, then we can know what to do with them!

Car Model 101

Imagine your personality as a 4-passenger car (just bear with me).
In the front seat to the left, we have our driver. This is the part of our personality, or the “function”, that shows up for us 80% of the time. It is our most comfortable place to be, and it is often what people first notice when they interact with us. The driver likes to be behind the wheel and can often be slow to relinquish control.
Next to the driver, we have our co-pilot. This is the part of our personality that gives balance to the driver. We could imagine this function giving the driver directions or occasionally taking the wheel when the driver spills coffee on their lap. 😊 This part of our personality is also nicknamed our “growth state” as nurturing this function is our highest leverage area for growth.

Behind the copilot, we have our 10-year-old. This function is so named the 10-year-old because it has the development of roughly a 10-year-old child. We tend to go to this place when we are feeling defensive, and the healthiest time to engage with our 10-year-old is during a state of play. It will never become our driver or our co-pilot, but it is good at reminding us to take a break when we have been pushing ourselves too hard.

Finally, behind the driver and next to the 10-year-old we have our 3-year-old. This is the least developed part of our personality and serves as the inverse function of our driver. When we are in our 3-year-old we often don't recognize ourselves and can at times be in a state of despair, sadness, anxiety, or anger. The healthiest time to engage with our 3-year-old is when we are relaxing or resting and the stakes are low.

Now that we know the basis for the model, we can plug in the functions of a type to determine which of them sits in each car seat. A helpful resource for learning more about the car model, along with the function nicknames, can be found here.

Car Model Example

As an example for the car model, let’s use the personality type of an ENFP:
ENFP
The Campaigner
Ne – Driver
Extroverted intuition, aka “Exploration
Fi – Co-pilot
Introverted feeling, aka “Authenticity
Si – 3-year-old
Introverted sensing, aka “Memory
Te – 10-year-old
Extroverted thinking, aka “Effectiveness
Exploration (driver):
ENFPs thrive off novelty, ideas, intuitive connections, and freedom. They are constantly thinking about the future, and in real-time are engaging in a high level of intuitive pattern recognition. This often shows up when they’re speaking optimistically, cracking jokes, engaging in wordplay, and trying new things (“I’ll try the appetizer sampler!”). In their relationships, ENFPs are often viewed as the ones to propose fun new ideas and inject spontaneity into activities. They are always asking themselves the question “What if?” For ENFPs, this comes from a place of excitement and curiosity rather than dread.
Authenticity (co-pilot):
When in this function, ENFPs are checking in with their feelings. They're asking themselves, “How do I feel about this situation or how might someone else feel about this situation if this happened to them?” This often involves a lot of perspective shifting, sitting with feelings, and determining how their heart truly feels about something. This process takes time, as it is an introverted function, and is usually done after the fact unless an ENFP has thoroughly established how they feel about a particular value or issue.
Effectiveness (10-year-old):
When in this function, ENFPs are typically in “get it done” mode. They can be found checking things off a list, responding more shortly to people's questions, and just trying to get things out of the way. When in this function, you might find that they become shorter when talking about an issue as they are spending less time in their Authenticity and instead sharing their thoughts in the moment. This function can be balanced, however, when an ENFP is engaging in a low-stakes hobby, organizing, or spending time around trusted loved ones who can handle the ENFP being blunt from time to time.
Memory (3-year-old):
This being the inverse of the ENFPs driver of Exploration, instead of thinking about future possibilities, the ENFP will find themselves thinking about the past or a doomed future. Where normally they would find it easy to consider multiple different possibilities and options, instead, their mind will have them focusing on one possibility, often a negative one, and they can find themselves fixating or dwelling on that thing over and over. The best time for an ENFP to engage with Memory is in an environment where they are allowed to reminisce, experience nostalgia, or look back on their lives with gratitude. With appropriate time and perspective, an ENFP can learn that whenever their brain tells them that there is only one negative possibility, it's likely that they are in the grip of their 3-year-old and that there are more possibilities available to them that they are just having a tricky time seeing at the moment.

HOW DOES THIS SHOW UP IN THERAPY?

Let's say an ENFP in their early 20s came into therapy and their presenting concern was panic attacks. They share that almost out of nowhere, they have begun to worry about having a heart attack, stroke, or terminal illness which will cause them to die unexpectedly (and this is triggering a state of panic). They may experience this as having a doomed or trapped outlook on the future (i.e., developing a terminal illness while having a clean bill of health) in the case of Memory, and steeping in the emotions associated with that seemingly certain future (i.e., terror, shock, sadness, helplessness, and more) in the case of Authenticity.
ENFPs are normally very optimistic, so they will likely be struggling with this contrast. When creating goals in therapy, the ENFP will feel called to tap back into the optimistic energy that they feel they are missing. It will be important for them to validate their own thoughts and feelings around these experiences as they continue to make intuitive connections throughout the therapeutic process. Ultimately, ENFPs are wizzes at finding creative solutions and identifying positive future possibilities. The more they can sit with their feelings and honor what they are experiencing, the more likely they will be to identify the triggers for their panic attacks and engage in healing around these triggers with the help of a therapist.
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Beginning your therapy journey

While the Myers-Briggs is a fantastic starting point for better understanding yourself, therapy is an individualized, "one size fits one" process that can take your understanding of yourself to the next level. I specialize in using this approach with clients and would be happy to share more about how your personality type interacts with your mental health from a strengths-based perspective! Hopefully, you have found this article helpful, and if this topic has been of interest to you, please feel free to reach out to me at ndaileyarndt@mnclinicforhealth.com.
By Nick Dailey-Arndt, MS, Mental Health Practitioner