The Question of Psychological Types

The Question of Psychological Types – book review

Beebe, J. & Falzeder (Eds.) The Question of Psychological Types London & Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2013. Pp. 184. Hb

This book is a record of the the correspondence between Jung and Hans Schmid-Guisan written between June 1915 and December 1916, some five years before the publications of Jung’s Psychological Types. Schmid-Guisan had met Jung at a psychiatric conference in Lausanne while the former was an assistant physician at the Manhaim Clinic in Cery. Schmid-Guisan went to study analytical psychology with Jung in Zurich and was also his analysand. Gradually their relationship broadened into a friendship and the problems that both men encountered in their practises would often bring them together for discussion. As Jung wrote of Schmid-Guisan in his obituary,


At the time we were especially interested in the question of the relativity of psychological judgements, or, in other words, the influence of temperament on the formation of psychological concepts. As it turned out, he developed instinctively an attitude type which was the direct opposite of my own. This difference led to a long and lively correspondence , thanks to which I was able to clear up a number of fundamental questions. The results are set forth in my book on types. (p.169)


This ‘lively correspondence’, then, it what is set out for the reader in this new publication and translation. The problem is set out in the first letter by Jung, a problem which he encountered both in the difficulties of his daily analytical work and in his experience with other people in his personal relationships. In their previous discussions Jung and Schmid-Guisan had identified the problem as the existence of two diametrically opposed types. In speaking of their earlier face-to-face discussions Jung says,


“For one thing we saw very clearly: the problem is not so much the intellectual difficulty of formulating the differences between the types in a logical way, but rather the acceptance of a viewpoint that is diametrically opposed to our own and which essentially forces the problem of the existence of two kinds of truth upon us. Thus we arrived at a critical point of the greatest order, because we had to ask ourselves, in all seriousness, whether the existence of two kinds of truth is conceivable at all.” (p.39-40)


The two kinds of truth Jung refers to are introversion and extraversion and the correspondence between the two men cast them in their natural positions as introvert (Jung) and extravert (Schmid-Guisan) to which the two men adhere throughout the entire correspondence. At this early stage of Jung’s working out of psychological types extraversion is equated with feeling (‘feeling-into’ the object) and introversion with thinking and these terms as they are used here are rather experimental, having not acquired the fully worked out technical meanings that were assigned to them in Psychological Types. Nevertheless, Jung’s psychic model at this time did include for the opposite type and function being present in the unconscious in an inferior and less developed form, and this is evident and consciously recognised in both men’s exchanges leading to exasperating and quite emotionally charged disagreements in counterpoint to their more attentive and patient agreed roles in their conscious standpoints.


By the ninth letter exchange Jung has had enough, although Schmid-Guisan continues with a further three more letters. This last letter from Jung’s pen, entitled the ‘The Last One’ sums up the experience for Jung in no uncertain terms.


Your last letter strengthens my conviction that reaching an agreement on the fundamental principles is impossible, because the point seems precisely that we do not agree. To this end the (unconscious) uses every means, and be it ever so hair-raisingly stupid. (p.131)


It was perhaps because of this ‘hair-raising stupidity’ that Michael Fordham, one of the editors of Jung’s Collected Works, found the letters ‘”unreadable” and “very dull and not particularly illuminating” and, noting that Jung thought the letters were essentially preparation, was “against their inclusion anywhere” (p. 5) , either in Volume Six of the Collected Works as an appendix, or as a projected stand alone volume.


I am inclined to agree with Fordham here, although I would not go as far as to say that the letters are unreadable, although they are indeed quite dull, and exceedingly repetitive as each man goes over and over their own misunderstandings and how the other man has misunderstood them. They are nevertheless very confusing for someone used to mature Jung since the theoretical premises of two fixed functions, thinking and feeling which are in turn are seen as inseparably paired to introversion and extraversion respectively, leave a lot of ground uncovered. Similarly there is no mention of intuition and sensation as independent functions as we know them today, although Jung does allude fleetingly to these missing functions in his ninth and final letter.


The extensive and scholarly introduction by John Beebe and Ernst Falzeder goes a long to way fill in the blanks in this historical evolution of Jung’s thought, caught as it is in the space of six months. They include both a pre-history of Jung’s thinking on types pre these letters and an ‘aftermath’ charting the way content from the letters found their way into various publications before the publication of Jung’s fully worked out theory in 1921. Beebe’s commentary on the letters helps clarify some of the points the reader may miss, not least the somewhat murky references to Schmid-Guisan’s analysis with Jung. The book is well referenced with many helpful notes and includes Jung’s own summary of the first three letters as an appendix, and also his obituary of Schmid-Guisan.


The overall impression one receives from these letters is of a failed experiment which ends somewhat acrimoniously, with a lot of mutual frustration along the way, although the two men continued their friendship until Schmid-Guisan’s untimely death. This publication would be of interest to those readers seriously interested in the history and formation of Jung’s ideas, but for those of us who are still struggling with his mature ideas, the standard texts will suffice.



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