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The ‘supporter’ type: is this you? Nick Halpin discusses analytical typology and the counselling personality, as shown in the detail of the typical female counsellor – but the male profile was a near match. It could be you!
From the archive
This article was first published in September 2005 Therapy Today
She knows what is important to her and will protect it at all costs. Tenacious persistence and dedication to a cause are her character hallmarks. She is warm and gracious and believes in a philosophy of ‘live and let live’.
Does that sound familiar to you? It comes from the Insights1 typological profile of a typical female counsellor. The 23-page report, describing in detail the counsellor’s personality, was extracted from the profiles of a small sample of Scottish female counsellors who have completed the Insights Discovery Preference Evaluator (IDPE) within the past two years under my auspices.
My findings are confirmed by the Insights Reveal analysis of 373 female Relate (previously Marriage Guidance) counsellors, who completed their IDPE during the period June to October 2002. The typical profile of the 74 male Relate counsellors, who also completed the IDPE in 2002, was very similar.
Three issues need to be taken into account at the outset:
• The Insights system was initially developed as a training tool for those with little prior exposure to a psychology of personal development.
• In contrast, most counsellors who have gained some measure of self-awareness through intensive coursework and continued personal development may find the profile to be more pertinent to an earlier stage in their lives.
• For counsellors who think that they are of a different type, the profile of our typical counsellor may be at odds even with their perception of their former selves.
However, although the counselling community embraces a wide range of uniquely caring and highly gifted individuals, there is a distinctly recognisable type of personality that is drawn to counselling. If we turn to an earlier and well-established typological system, namely the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI2), we learn that the majority of counsellors and teachers figure strongly in terms of their preference for introversion, feeling and intuition (MBTI type INF). In contrast we know that typical accountants and auditors are represented by their preference for thinking and sensing (MBTI type ST). Counsellors tend to share the following traits: they value, above all, harmony in the inner life of feeling; are best at individual work involving personal values; have feelings that are deep but seldom expressed; maintain independence from the judgment of others, being bound by inner moral law; direct judgment inwardly towards keeping all lesser values subordinate to the greater; have a strong sense of duty and faithfulness to obligations, having no desire to impress or influence others; are idealistic and loyal, capable of great devotion to a loved person, purpose or cause.3
This compelling description of a counsellor derives its authority from the extensive work of MBTI practitioners using a system based on the clinical studies of Jung.
Carl Jung (1875-1961) – psychiatrist, writer and philosopher – had long been interested in typology. The depth of his clinical and psychological insights over 20 years enabled him to identify two opposing attitudes to the external world, introversion and extroversion, and two pairs of opposing preferences, thinking and feeling, sensation and intuition. Knowing where a person was located on these dimensions allowed him to describe personality with a now proven and uncanny accuracy. His book, Psychological Types,4 was to provide the framework for most subsequent theories on type development.
Typology was central to Jung’s practice. As Deirdre Bair5 noted in her excellent biography, ‘the first stage in therapy for anyone who made the pilgrimage to Zurich was to leave no doubt about the [analysand’s] personality type and function’. However, Jung was concerned lest people regard his system as a parlour game: ‘He never intended his type theory as a facile categorisation of people. Jung’s position was that typology is a great help in understanding the wide variations that occur among individuals’ (Giannini6). His work on typology led to the development of several commercial applications, of which the MBTI is currently the best known.
The Insights development
The Insights system faithfully mirrors the original concepts and work of Jung and his associate Jolande Jacobi.7 It was devised and developed by Andrew Lothian, founder of Insights Training and Development, and has been steadily refined over the past 10 years. It is currently being used in a variety of settings including personal development, management training, organisational development, couple counselling and higher education.8 More recently, its work in analytical typology has resulted in a fascinating exploration of the shadow elements in personality.
Starting with the Jungian attitudes and preferences, Insights assigns each individual to a location on the ‘Insights Wheel’. The wheel is divided, for ease of recognition, into four colour quadrants – distinct personality energies: fiery red (extroverted thinking), sunshine yellow (extroverted feeling), earth green (introverted feeling) and cool blue (introverted thinking). Eight personality types are superimposed on the wheel together with a total of 72 subtypes (the earlier version of the wheel used in the Relate study included only 56 of the subtypes). In theory the number of subtypes is infinite, but they are restricted for practical and theoretical reasons to those clearly identifiable within Jung’s typology. The typical female counsellor is placed in the ‘green’ quadrant (the feeling preference), typed as ‘Supporter’ and located at subtype position 30. This equates with the MBTI type INF previously mentioned.
Position 30 of the typical female counsellor is also generally representative of all those other subtypes who fall in the ‘Supporter’ segment of the wheel. Looking at the Insights Wheel for the female Relate counsellors, it is evident, despite clustering around the Supporter norm, that they are widely distributed, bring different gifts to their counselling practice and include many types. Interestingly no one of the Reformer type is represented in the sample – which is to be expected since the gifts and values of this type are almost diametrically opposed to those of the Supporter.
The profile provides three kinds of information: an accurate description of the individual, an overview of how the individual fits into a team, and suggestions as to how the individual’s psychological development might be encouraged. It is a positive and deeply respectful document that echoes the previously mentioned MBTI description of the counsellor’s gifts, but amplifying it in ways that are constructive and intuitively make sense.
Let’s start by getting an overview of the Supporter type; the type which, more than any other, represents the personality gifts of the typical counsellor:
Emotions: Moderation and accommodation
Goal: Controlled environment; minimum change
Judges others by: Friendship and relating abilities
Influences others by: Consistency and amiability
Value to the organisation: Predictable, maintains steady pace, loyal
Over uses: Low risk-taking, is passively resistant to change
Under moderate pressure becomes: Quasi adaptable to authority and peers
Fears: Change, disorganisation, redundancy
Would be more effective with more: Sharing ideas, self-confidence based on affirming feedback.
Now let’s look at the detail, which has been taken from some sections of the profile.
1. Her personal style
She is gently forceful in having her ideas applied where it matters to her. She is loyal, supportive, idealistic and creative. She is a steady individual who lends a quiet stability to everything. Because she tends to live for the present moment, she does not sense the need to plan more than is necessary.
If her efforts are not recognised, or approval is withheld, she may feel deflated as her feelings of worth can depend on how others regard her. She resists being labelled by others and is engaged in a never-ending search for self-knowledge and self-identity. She values people who take the time to understand her personal goals and values. She tends to be at her most flexible, adaptable and easy-going in everyday living, preferring to fit in harmoniously with those around her.
Despite her matter-of-factness, she will sometimes experience a private reaction to something she senses is wrong, and if she articulates this, it can come as a surprise to those around her. Even if a mistake has been made she may spend a lot of time sympathising with the ‘guilty’ party and attempting to spread the responsibility.
She is known for her patience and ability to conform. Loving and unselfconscious, she may lack a clear sense of her own identity and self worth. She will stick to her ideals with passionate conviction, even though she may find these difficult to talk about at times.
2 Her interactional style
She has a deeply empathic way of understanding people’s feelings, drawing out the individuality of each person and instinctively caring for people’s emotional needs. She has little motivation to lead others through control, but hopes to see everyone living together harmoniously. If she feels she is being put under too much pressure, she may dig her heels in and become stubborn.
She tends to avoid conflict rather than engage it with creative solutions. Reticent about conflict, she can usually detect, ahead of others, when a disagreement is about to erupt. Her dependability and willingness to lend a sympathetic ear makes her a supportive team player.
Intent on keeping a low profile, she is quiet and reserved, especially around strangers. As she gets to know you she becomes more enthusiastic and open. As most of her energies are directed towards improving the human condition, she has difficulty understanding why she may not be universally accepted by others. Her view of people is non-judgmental, understanding and forgiving.
3 Her decision making
Non-confrontational and accepting of others’ behaviour in a rather factual way, she notices things around her and will generally find the deeper meanings in most situations. She is not usually prepared to commit to high-risk decisions. She may choose to change her decisions if it turns out that someone may be adversely affected by them. She makes decisions relying on her personal experiences to get her through. It is in gaining others’ acceptance of her ideas that she provides quality leadership. Her decisions are influenced by ethical, moral and interpersonal issues. She is frustrated by authoritative restrictions and resents being told how to work.
4 Some of her strengths
• Honourable and easy going
• Likes to work for the common good
• Supportive, steadfast and encouraging of others
• Learns from experience – won’t get into the same situation twice
• Painstaking, conscientious, industrious and dependable
5 Some possible weaknesses
• May become stubborn if pressured
• Usually takes rejection personally
• Avoids conflict
• May unwillingly and/or unwittingly sacrifice her own needs for others
• Has difficulty in quick or unprepared articulation
6 Her blind spots
She may reflect longer than is necessary before undertaking or beginning a project. She is vulnerable to the criticism of others because she tends to take feedback personally, which leads her to take offence and become discouraged. Her interest in others tends to make her rather optimistic towards maintaining positive relationships. She needs to be more aware of her tendency to live much of her life for others. More self-focus may bring surprising results. She prefers not to confront issues. This may prevent matters from moving to a satisfactory conclusion. Because of her strong desire for harmony, she can overlook her own needs and ignore her real personal problems. Her personal feelings in relationships and decision making are trusted by her and used to the exclusion of objective data. She may need to develop more assertiveness and would benefit from learning how to offer honest criticism of others when necessary.
7 Her difficult person – the ‘Director’ type
The ‘Director’ is located on the Insights wheel directly opposite the ‘Supporter’ type. Jung’s ‘extroverted thinking’ type, the ‘Director’, has very different gifts to those of our typical counsellor:
Directors tend to be forceful, demanding, decisive people, who are often strong individualists. They are forward-looking and compete to attain goals. In solving problems they are logical and incisive. The Director tends to be a focussed, if somewhat disorganised, manager with a tenacious drive towards the future. They want freedom from control, supervision and details.
Directors tend to be seen as self-centred and lacking in empathy, and can be highly critical and fault finding when their standards are not met. When pushed the Director may become loud, rigid and domineering. They sometimes rely on forcefulness and intimidation to achieve their aims.
8. Her ideal working environment
• Her feelings are considered and valued
• Long-term security is available
• There is time for reflection
• There is time for social bonding
• Displays of anger are few and far between
• The culture promotes a democratic management style
• There is harmony.
The sayings ‘Know thyself’ and ‘All in moderation’, said to be inscribed in Apollo’s temple at sacred Delphi, find a particular relevance both in a knowledge of our personal type and in an awareness that the effective interplay of types within a group is best served by a tempered approach to life. The personality of the typical counsellor, reflected in the description of the ‘Supporter’, may irritate as much as it inspires. Yet the gentleness, the sensitivity and the deep respect for personal values that characterize the ‘Supporter’ suggest that our typical female counsellor is well suited to the task in hand.
My thanks to Relate for permission to quote from their report, to Insights Learning & Development Ltd for its continued support and to the many colleagues who have assisted me.
1. © 1992-2002 Andrew Lothian. Enquiries re training and accreditation should be addressed to Insights Learning and Development Ltd, Jack Martin Way, Claverhouse Business Park, Dundee DD4 9BZ. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Myers IB, MacCaulley MH. Manual for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press; 1985.
3. Myers IB, Myers PB. Gifts differing – understanding personality type. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press. 1993.
4. Jung CG. Psychological types. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press; 1971. (Originally published in German as Psychologische Typen. Zurich: Rascher Verlag; 1921.)
5. Bair D. Jung – a biography. New York: Little, Brown and Company; 2003.
6. Giannini JL. Compass of the soul – archetypal guides to a fuller life. Florida: Center for Applications of Psychological Type, Inc; 2004.
7. Jacobi J. The psychology of CG Jung. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1973.
8. Halpin NR. Analytical typology and counselling. AUCC Journal. Autumn 2004; 12-16.