Can the MBTI Work With Brain Injured Clients?

brain-injury-high-definition-fiber-tracking-mapImagine contracting encephalitis (brain swelling) from a mosquito bite.  The brain swells resulting in significant  brain damage.  In my former profession as a speech pathologist, I encountered such a client.  She was in her 30’s and her memory was deeply affected by this virulent infection.  She could say hello to her daughter, turn around, then forget her daughter was even in the room.   She also forgot many other things like when to take her medication or complete some other important task.

One day, we decided to address the problem with some sort of a strategy.  I came in with the idea of using many bright post-it notes that she could place all over her house to remind her to do what she needed to do.  I reasoned that the colorful post-it notes would get her attention and she would follow through on the task.   She replied, “No, that will clutter up my house and I hate disorder.  I want a nice leather-bound book to write things down in.”   Secretly, I thought to myself, “HA!  You will lose that in an instant!”  Guess what?  She was right.  The strategy of a neat, organized book was better for her than a bunch of colorful post-it notes.  What’s more, she kept this book in a logical place so she didn’t misplace it.

In my current profession as a personal development coach and MBTI Master Practitioner,  people will inquire whether the MBTI is valid for people with mental illness, developmental syndromes like Aspergers, or brain injury.   For example, in the case above, could I have given the MBTI to this client to see what her type is.   Would that have been valid?  My answer would be probably not, however you would have to consider the big picture, the degree of recovery and other variables.  Still, the MBTI Assessment was designed for normal personalities, normal being defined as individuals who have no significant history of brain injury, developmental syndromes,  or mental illness.  That can’t fact can’t be ignored.

However, could I use the principles of psychological preferences to understand the client better?  Absolutely.

The client I mentioned above looks like she had an “SJ” temperament.   Clearly she liked order and my “brilliant” idea of using colorful post-it notes might have appealed more to someone like an ENFP, like myself.  Observing that difference,  I could then make some plausible guesses about how she might like the rest of her treatment to unfold: routine, predictable, and purposeful rather than colorful and playful which is my preference.

The bottom line here is that just because the full-blown MBTI probably isn’t appropriate for those individuals who don’t fall into the category of “normal”, some of the principles can be successfully applied to connect better and meet the needs of those individuals.  The key is to remain open-minded, always listening for more clues to help you determine what they may need.

Ann C. Holm

(Ann is a former speech pathologist who worked with brain injured clients for 25 years prior to starting a coaching practice in 2009.)

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