“Jung’s Divided Family:” Jung on Theory

“Jung’s Divided Family:” Jung on Theory



Theories in psychology are the very devil…

                                                                        Jung (1938)[2]


The psychotherapist should realize that so long as he believes in a theory and in a definite method he is likely to be fooled by certain cases, namely by those clever enough to select a safe hiding-place for themselves behind the trappings of the theory,…

                                                                        Jung (1946)[3]


… it is imperative that we should not pare down the meaning of the dream to fit some narrow doctrine… Therefore I leave theory aside as much as possible…

                                                                        Jung (1933)[4]


You get nowhere with theories. Try to be simple and … follow your nose….           

                                                                        Jung (1950)[5]


I always stumble over the frequent use of the term “theory” or “system.” … I have no “theory” but I describe facts. I do not theorize about how neuroses originate,… Nor have I any theory of dreams…

                                                                        Jung (1956)[6]


            This essay arose as a more in-depth response to a question a student recently posed to me: Why am I not active in the local network of type practitioners? Aside from the sheer reality of limited time (working 80 hours a week doesn’t leave lots of free time!),[7] there are other reasons—reasons that provide an opportunity to discuss Jung’s attitude toward theories. Before discussing Jung on theory, I need to explain what I mean by “type practitioners” and how Jung came to develop his ideas around type.

            In previous essays on this blog site,[8] I referred to Jung’s work on psychological type and how our American type is ESTJ—Extraverted in orientation, Sensate in how we gather information (via our senses), Thinking in how we go about making decisions (using logic, reason and objective bases for our choices), and Judging in how we handle time (punctually, with order and organization, preferring closure and decisiveness). Jung developed his ideas about the different personality temperaments in his effort to understand his split with Freud.[9] He came to conclude that he and Freud were different types, Freud being an ESFJ, while Jung was an INTP.[10] In volume 6 of his Collected Works Jung explicated his ideas.[11]

            CW 6 was translated into English in 1923, and was quickly taken up by Katherine Cook Briggs, a highly-educated and prolific American author who became a passionate advocate of Jung’s ideas on personality differences and an expander of his system.[12] She wrote six letters to Jung, visited him in New Haven in 1937 when he came to the United States to deliver the Terry Lectures, and got her daughter, Isabel, involved in her work to extend Jung’s type idea farther. Together Katherine and Isabel (who married Clarence Myers) added the J/P difference and developed a “type instrument” that they used to determine individuals’ type.[13] This instrument has come to be known as the “Myers-Briggs Type Instrument” or the MBTI, and the people who are trained to administer it are “type practitioners.” The MBTI is one of the most widely-used and thoroughly-tested of all the various psychological tests, as well as being perhaps the psychological instrument with the widest application in corporate business, schools, government and other venues.[14]

            Jung however lost interest in types. Myths, legends, archetypes and, in later life, alchemy, came to supercede the subject of type in his research and writing.[15] Some people in Jungian circles claimed that Jung had “disowned” type theory.[16] After her mother died, Isabel Myers pursued her work with type for decades with very little input from Jung or the community of Jungian analysts.[17] The result? What John Giannini, a Jungian analyst and student of type, calls “Jung’s Divided Family.”

            In chapter 11 of his Compass of the Soul,[18] Giannini tries to explain this division: why analysts have so little involvement with typologists, and why so few type practitioners get into other aspects of Jung’s work. He offers many reasons—e.g. the E and I differences (that most type practitioners are Extraverts, oriented to outer reality, while most analysts are Introverts, oriented to the inner life);[19] the collective versus the individual focus (most typologists deal with collectives—businesses, schools, social groups etc., while analysts work with individual persons in one-to-one settings);[20] the “boxed-in” quality of Myers’ type table[21]—but I feel he misses a crucial point that is the main reason I have not pursued the type idea.

            It is my impression that most type practitioners regard the MBTI and the ideas undergirding it as well-tested and verified theories, finely honed and refined into a very solid instrument that can describe the individual, his/her superior, auxiliary and inferior functions, anima or animus. Some years ago I undertook the training to be certified to administer the MBTI and sat through the many hours this entails. I discovered there that,

with the results of the MBTI in front of him/her, a well-trained type practitioner can make all sorts of statements about a person that he/she has never met. To a Feeling type (like me) this seems to put theory before the individual person, and I found it very cold. As Dostoyevsky said of Raskolnikov, “…he was young, abstract and therefore cruel.”[22]

            Perhaps Jung was aware of the potential for cruelty when theory supplants the personal. Certainly, as the quotes opening this essay note, Jung was aware that theory has little use in psychology, in the treatment of souls, in the handling of dreams, or in working with symbols. Jung noted, in the context of working with patients, that

“Theoretical formulations give one absolutely no idea of the practice, which is infinitely more multifaceted and alive than any theory could convey.”[23]  The practice of Jungian analysis is “multifaceted” because it is personal, focused on the unique individual sitting before the analyst, a being who cannot be known through theories or abstractions, much as a map cannot capture the true nature of a territory, or a painting the depth of a soul.

            As I sat through the hours of MBTI training I found myself recalling the myth of Procrustes and his bed


… Polypemon or Damastes… was nicknamed Procrustes, “Beater,” because of the way in which he dealt with the wayfarers whom he lured into his house on the promise of hospitality. He forced his victim to lie on one of his two beds, one of which was short and one long, then saw to it that they exactly fitted the bed. He put short men into the long bed and hammered them to length, tall men into the short bed and lopped off their extremities…. Theseus meted out this same treatment to him.[24]


It seemed to me that the whole theoretical orientation of type practice was asking me to lay out a “Procrustean bed” for any customer who might come my way. Did I really want to use some theoretical construct as the basis for beginning a person-to-person relationship? Wasn’t there the possibility that the individual might show up in reality in a configuration that differed from the MBTI results? I recalled my experience when I began my analysis, reporting to my analyst that my MBTI type was ISTJ. She shook her head, knowing that was not my true type, and how right she was. So what about us “turn types”?[25] How would the MBTI theory handle us?

            Jung recognized how “highly abstract and exclusively rational”[26] theory is and, as such, how inappropriate it is in the context of analysis. An analyst works via his “nose,”[27] i.e. intuition, and handles contents offered up from the psyche, much of which is irrational,[28] not susceptible to the logic of theory. Jung also knew that when theory is primary, the person is lost. When theory is the starting point, the method is not empirical.

            Jung described himself repeatedly as an empiricist: “I am thoroughly empirical and therefore I have no system at all.”[29] He handled each patient in a unique way,[30] never following a model or theory—all in order to respond to the vagaries of the psyche. In a letter giving feedback to his student Jolande Jacobi on a book she was writing, he said:


… I always stumble over the frequent use of the term “theory” or “system.” Freud has a “theory,” I have no “theory” but I describe facts. I do not theorize about how neuroses originate, I describe what you find in neuroses. Nor have I any theory of dreams, I only indicate what kind of method I use and what the possible results are. I must emphasize this because people always fail to see that I am talking about and naming facts, and that my concepts are mere names and not philosophical terms.[31]


Given the Thinking bias in Western culture (and certainly in American society) it is hard for people to appreciate Jung’s negative take on theory. Given how difficult Jung is to read[32] it is understandable why so few type practitioners are familiar with the wider range of Jung’s work, but the result is to leave them bereft of Jung’s warnings about the dangers of theorizing when we deal with human beings. As a Feeling type I shy away from the impersonal and theoretical, and I think many Jungian analysts do too.




Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (n.d.), Crime and Punishment. New York: Modern Library.

Giannini, John (2004), Compass of the Soul. Gainesville FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

Hannah, Barbara (1976), Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Jung, C.G. (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), ”The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1965), Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books.

Kroeger, Otto & Janet Thuesen (1988), Type Talk. New York: Dell.

March, Jenny (1998), Dictionary of Classical Mythology. London: Cassell






[1] This is the title of chapter 11 of John Giannini’s Compass of the Soul; Giannini (2004), 469.

[2] “Foreword to the Third Edition” of “Psychic Conflicts in a Child,” Collected Works, 17, p. 7. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[3] Ibid., ¶202.

[4] CW 16, ¶318.

[5] “Letter to Dr. N,” 10 June 1950; Letters, I, 559.

[6] “Letter to Jolande Jacobi,” 13 March 1956; Letters, II, 293.

[7] Why such long hours? Besides teaching at a local college I run the Jungian Center (administrative tasks), write these blog essays, create new courses (56 courses between 2005 and 2012, plus 23 distance-learning courses), work one-on-one with a dozen dream students, and maintain an active consultancy in astrology. As a result I have on average about 5 hours a week when I am not eating, sleeping or doing the work I love.

[8] See “What is America’s Shadow?,” “Jung and Buridan’s Ass,” “Jung the Man: Part III,” “Jung on the J & P Attitudes.”

[9] Jung (1965), 207.

[10] Giannini (2004), 28.

[11] CW 6, ¶1-671.

[12] Giannini (2004), 28.

[13] Ibid., 37.

[14] Kroeger & Thuesen (1988), 282-284.

[15] See CW 7,8,9i,9ii,12,13,14 and 18.

[16] Mary McCaulley (co-founder in 1975 with Isabel Myers of the Center for Application of Psychological Type) said she heard this from “many analysts.” See her “Preface” in Giannini (2004), xviii.

[17] Ibid., xx.

[18] Ibid., 469-508.

[19] Ibid., 470.

[20] Ibid., 471.

[21] Ibid., 491.

[22] Dostoyevsky (n.d.), Part IV, ch, IV, 308.

[23] “Letter to Karl Srnetz,” 19 December 1942; Letters, I, 324.

[24] March (1998), 336.

[25] Jung felt such violations of a child’s natural disposition would set up the person for a neurosis in later life; CW 6, ¶560.

[26] CW 11, ¶81.

[27] “Letter to Dr. N,” 10 June 1950; Letters, I, 559.

[28] CW 11, ¶81.

[29] “Letter to Calvin S. Hall,” 6 October 1954; Letters, II, 185.

[30] Hannah (1976), 202.

[31] “Letter to Jolande Jacobi,” 13 March 1956; Letters, II, 293.

[32] I often tell my students (who complain about Jung’s non-linear style, erudite vocabulary, classical and mythological allusions and lengthy digressions) that Jung is easy to read if you are fluent in Latin, Greek, French and German and thoroughly versed in astrology, mythology, numerology, symbology, Gnosticism, mysticism, Kabbalah and alchemy. My 30 years’ immersion in Jung and his works makes me very grateful for my training as a medievalist.


  1. Sue, this was a very nice post. Well written and thought provoking. Thank you for addressing why you don’t practice MBTI but more importantly, for me, you used it as an opportunity direct my attention to Jung’s opposition to the dangers of theoretical assumptions as a basis of “a theory serving as a guide to self-knowledge”. I have had personal misgivings as to the efficacy of Type analysis and especially its use by corporate America to characterize their employees and job applicants


    [1] Jung, C. G. (2012-01-12). The Undiscovered Self: With Symbols and the Interpretation of Dreams (New in Paper) (Bollingen Series XX: the Collected Works of C. G. Jung) (Kindle Location 145). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

  2. I’m glad you found this essay helpful, Bob. I think it is very important to trust one’s personal misgivings, as these so often are intuitions from our inner wisdom, and, yes, if you have had experience with corporate America, you know how readily they jump on theory, as Thinking types. All too often, then, employees get labeled and put in a box with that label–not at all what Jung intended when he developed his ideas on type.
  3. Sue: Your blog post contains some unsupportable assumptions and assertions—just what you’re accusing type practitioners of doing. This is understandable since you are not a student of psychological type; and I felt you would want to hear the view of someone who is. Jung certainly did hold a certain disdain relating to psychological theories, as you have amply demonstrated with your quotes. He frequently stated that he was first and foremost an empiricist, dealing with his patients without preconceptions, and basing his writings directly on those experiences with patients. Yet he wrote prolifically throughout his life; and those writings, while citing examples from his clinical experience, focused on extrapolating the underlying principles that he saw at work, in order to apply them generally to the human psychological condition. Some of these underlying principles and mechanisms were pure postulates—“theories.”

    He stated, for example that the existence of the psychological complex that he called “self” could never be directly observed or “proven” to exist. “Self,” therefore, is quite “theoretical,” even though Jung and countless Jungians have found the concept to be eminently useful. But Jung never thought of his work on psychological type as theoretical at its foundation. He made this clear, along with explaining why his writings ‘sound’ theoretical in paragraph four of his introduction to Psychological Types: “The psychological reactions of a human being are so complicated that my powers of description would hardly suffice to draw an absolutely correct picture. From sheer necessity, therefore, I must confine myself to a presentation of principles which I have abstracted from a wealth of facts observed in many different individuals. In this there is no question of a deduction a priori, as it might appear; it is rather a deductive presentation of empirically gained insights.” Of course, much of his explanation for the hidden psychological dynamics that result in the typologies that one can observe is indeed theoretical; but not the basic model itself. And it is this basic model of dichotomous opposites that was empirically tested by Myers and Briggs, who amassed a database based on thousands of medical students followed longitudinally throughout life and on tens of thousands of nurses—a database that has been expanded and subjected to scrutiny and statistical analysis repeatedly by subsequent researchers. (The Center for Applications of Psychological Type maintains a database of Ph.D. dissertations and similar articles. Consulting Psychologists Press references scores of validation studies. And the Myers Briggs Foundation has additional info.)

    When Jung temporarily veered away from the focus of his peers, the unconscious, to get a better understanding of consciousness, the result was his work Psychological Types. He was basically trying to understand what modern physicists call the “observer effect.” Freud’s theory held that all cases of neurosis and psychosis had their origins in a repressed forbidden sexual drive. Adler, another major voice in the field at that time, saw psychological problems as having their origins in a repressed, instinctual drive for power. It seemed to Jung that sometimes one of these theories fit the facts, sometimes the other, and sometimes neither. The question he sought to answer was: How could knowledgeable experts look at the same empirical information and consistently reach different conclusions? The answer, which he revealed in Psychological Types and in “A Psychology of the Unconscious,” is that they were looking from different “types of consciousness.” Adler had created a system consonant with his own consciousness, and Freud, one that ‘made sense’ to his. Jung then went to considerable effort to get a handle on what these types of consciousness are, how they operate, and why the psyche would manifest in consciousness according to these predictable patterns of “type.”

    Jung did not drop psychological type. He continued to work to refine these ideas and to write about them throughout his life. For example, in his memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, published in the year of his death, he wrote that “Psychological Types … discussed the various aspects of consciousness, the various attitudes the conscious mind might take toward the world, and thus constitutes a psychology of consciousness regarded from what might be called a clinical angle” (1961, p. 207). And he often referred to psychological type as his irreplaceable “compass” (the inspiration, according to Giannini, for his title, Compass of the Soul, to which you referred). What he did do, which gave some the impression that he had dropped it, was simply to move on to the next mysteries of the psyche that drew his attention. Having come up with a satisfactory way for understanding the biases, gifts, and shortcomings of individuals’ conscious standpoint, he could then resume exploring the mechanisms of the unconscious. He was first and foremost a practicing clinical psychoanalyst, so his day-to-day task was to unravel and assuage the neuroses of his patients. And he found their presenting symptoms to usually originate from unconscious parts of his patients’ psyches, manifesting in compensation for their unbalanced conscious attitudes. So of course he had to refocus on the ‘alchemy’ of the unconscious, now that he had a way of understanding the ‘conscious attitude’—the typology—that was being compensated for. Moreover, he continued to reiterate what he insistently stated in Psychological Types: that no matter what our conscious attitude is (e.g., extraverted thinking, introverted feeling, etc.), the unconscious attitude also exists and can at times take precedence. His typology of consciousness thus gave him a roadmap for understanding the unconscious as well.

    In addition to gaining insight into his patients, he could now take into account the influence on the clinical situation of the biases and blind-spots of his own type of consciousness. He even occasionally referred patients to other psychoanalysts when he found the gap between his conscious attitude and theirs unbridgeable. So psychological type was central to his entire analytical system: Paying attention to subjective influences was for him both a theoretical and a clinical imperative.

    Theory and models are obviously indispensable when trying to understand the psychoanalyst’s patient and the “type practitioner’s” client. Without these, the client would be talking to an untrained lay-person. What Jung objected to about theory wasn’t the theories themselves (after all, he created many of them), or the judicious use of them; it was the idea of putting the theory before the reality—of looking at the patient or client through the tinted and restrictive lenses of preconceptions and assumptions. This is what Jung felt that Freud was doing; and sadly, this is what some modern-day psychoanalysts and type practitioners do as well. It’s seductively easier, in the same way that “profiling” is easier than remaining open to the reality of every unique person you encounter.

    Briggs and Myers created a simplified codification of the basic elements of psychological type, in order to make it accessible to laypeople. Whenever a complex thing is simplified, the inevitable danger is that some will take it literally—will read simplified descriptions of complex ideas as concrete, rigid, and comprehensive statements of ‘the truth.’ But the fact that some practitioners don’t use it properly is no reason to reject the conceptual framework itself.

    There are many type practitioners and Jungians who do indeed appreciate the nuanced complexity of the type model and understand its power and their obligation to use it responsibly and carefully. Many of us are even actively engaged in promoting better understanding of the model and its ethical use.

    There are a number of likely reasons explaining why the majority of Jungians have not yet embraced type, some of which you mentioned. But in my opinion, the biggest reason is that it is only in the past decade or so that the model has evolved to encompass the full spectrum of the psyche—and the word on this is still just getting out. Prior to psychoanalyst John Beebe’s expansion of the model, it was largely limited to describing the “ego” side of personality—except when used by the most knowledgeable of Jungian analysts, many of them students of Jung in Zurich, people like Joseph Wheelwright, Joseph Henderson, and Daryl Sharp. I am among those who believe that the demonstrated ‘fit’ and potent usefulness of this expanded “Beebe model” will inevitably draw more and more Jungians to add it to their toolkit—and there is evidence that this is already happening.

    On the ‘type practitioner’ side, many admittedly are simply satisfied with using the simplified version of the model as a way of speaking about the likely strengths and blind-spots of their clients; and don’t feel a need to understand the subtle dynamics of the system. But even these folks should be careful (and I find that most are) to couch their statements about the types in qualifiers like “tend to,” “may,” “often will,” etc., rather than making pronouncements. The MBTI® instrument is a self-assessment for the purpose of aiding in self-management and personal-development; and certified users are trained to view its results as only a “reported type,” which can only be verified as “true type” by the individuals themselves. A good type practitioner would never, for example, make the statement that you made: that “Jung was an INTP.” Jung did drop occasional hints about his own typology, and clearly indicated his preference for thinking and intuition in his 1959 interview with John Freeman, and for introversion, elsewhere. But this still leaves an incomplete picture of Jung’s self-declared typology. He could have been either an introverted thinking type, with strong extraverted intuition or an introverted intuitive, with extraverted thinking (INTP or INTJ, in terms of the MBTI code)—two very different types; and knowledgeable Jungians continue to debate this. I have my opinion, but if asked, I would simply say that “I believe that he was probably an INTJ and here’s why … .”

    You seem to have run into a type practitioner who was careless about all this; but that’s no reason to assume that it’s the norm. We can’t know how many are conscientious and how many are not; but anecdotally, I can say that the majority of the over two thousand subscribers to the free on-line journal, Personality Type in Depth (which I co-edit), are people who use type professionally; and their interest in the sort of articles we carry demonstrates their desire to gain a deeper understanding of the model and to use it judiciously.

    Using your own difficulties with determining your type preferences as an example, you ask, “What about us ‘turn types?’ How would the MBTI theory handle us?” First, neither the assessment instrument nor any certified and responsible MBTI administrator claims to determine anyone’s type. They are merely aids to you in exploring your own typology. There are many possible reasons for the not-uncommon occurrence of “type falsification” through the assessment, and most of them relate to strong external pressures to function in different modes from your natural way. Pressures to conform to the typology of one’s birth family, to school and early peer typological conventions, and to the demands of one’s job can all skew our sense of “who I am” towards “who I ‘should’ be,” and affect how we respond to the forced-choice questions of the MBTI instrument accordingly. In addition, we periodically go through times when we become focused (often without realizing it) on bringing non-preferred typological functions into consciousness. If we happen to take a type assessment during one of these periods of active “differentiation” work, we may well indicate, through our responses, a false preference for that function, simply because it is a current area of focus for our psyche. The stronger and earlier these falsification influences are for us, the more challenging it will be for us to identify our actual innate typology. But it’s worthy work, for it is the work of getting to better “know thyself.”

    A constant challenge for us type practitioners is to avoid leaving the impression that one’s typology “puts us in a box.” Type is about gaining insight into natural strengths and challenges that tend to ‘come with the package’ of how we think and operate. Some clients hear this as a restrictive ‘box,’ like Popeye’s “I yam what I yam.” But good type practitioners go to great lengths to get across that not only are we not limited by our natural typological preferences, but that life—growing and maturing—is in fact all about expanding beyond our initial toolset. Jung, as you know, called this process “individuation” and looked at his life’s work as being the study of individuation. But did you know that he subtitled his first Argentine edition of Psychological Types, as The Psychology of Individuation? I believe that this model can indeed serve as an eminently useful rough roadmap to help guide our lifelong, natural process of psychological development, and that is in this way that the framework of psychological type serves its highest purpose.

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