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I have just returned once again from being a tutor on the AGCAS Guidance Skills (Advanced) course in Warwick. We had an intensive four days in which we encouraged a group of higher education careers advisers to deconstruct and rebuild their guidance practices and attitudes.
Reframing is a crucial element of the course. We explore how to help clients reframe their career dilemmas in more constructive ways. However, we also do a lot of reframing with the participants. Through workshop discussions, models, theories, observation and feedback, we encouraged everyone to explore different perspectives on the skills and processes of the guidance discussion as well as their role, assumptions and motivations within it.
It’s rewarding but exhausting!
One thing I noticed was that our ability to resist break-time pastries and dinner-time desserts diminished considerably as the course progressed.
And now I think I know why…
In part 1 of this series, I gave my take on some of the weaknesses and limitations of MBTI and its underlying Jungian theory of psychological types. In part 2, I tried to reconstruct Jung’s ideas into a rather over-simplified model of how we deal with information and make decisions, leaving out a few of his most troublesome assumptions. Now I will explain how this model influences my work with clients and how I actually use MBTI in practice.
In defence of dynamics
Before I do that though, having criticised the MBTI, I would like to balance things a little.
One of the criticisms levelled at the MBTI is that, compared to other psychometric instruments, it has poor test-retest reliability. This means that if the same person answers the questionnaire on two separate occasions they might come out with different results. This is a fair criticism if what you are trying to measure is a fixed trait which ought not to change over time. Part of this is probably due to the arbitrary allocation of people in the middle of the spectrum to one preference or another, something I have never been comfortable with.
However, if Jung’s model is not really about fixed preferences between opposing traits, but a dynamic balance of complementary functions that depend on the needs of the situation as much as the natural inclinations of the individual, then the low reliability of the MBTI may be giving an insight into the adaptability of our brains.
One way of testing this situational hypothesis might involve getting people to focus on a scenario geared towards a particular mode of thinking before they complete the questionnaire. If you made them think about the same scenario before they did it again then test-retest reliability ought to get better, and if you gave them a different type of scenario it should get worse. If anyone knows of any research along these lines, please let me know.
In a rather cute bit of research by Takashi Nakao at Nagoya University, Japan (and a whole host of researchers at Hiroshima University), students were prompted with random pairings of job titles and asked to choose which occupation they thought they could do better. The researchers then used EEG to measure the students’ brain activity in certain areas that are associated with conflict in relation to decisions.
In the first study they demonstrated that the amount of activity recorded was related to the difficulty of choosing between the options. There was more activity (more conflict) as well as a slower reaction time when students were choosing between two options that they found equally attractive.
Rita Carter is a science writer who has written a number of books on the human brain and how it works. Her most recent book is called Multiplicity and it examines the idea that we do not have one consistent and constant personality or identity. Instead, some psychologists suggest that we have a number of different personalities inside us, linked to different clusters of memories. The different situations and contexts we experience prompt different mini-personalities to take control of our thoughts and actions.
A similar theme is approached from a slightly different angle by Peter MacIlveen and Wendy Patton from Queensland University of Technology in their article ‘Dialogical self: author and narrator of career life themes’ in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance (Volume 7, Number 2, August, 2007 – or try here for an alternative version).