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Jungian Therapy

Carl Jung (pronounced YEWNG) was a practicing therapist early in his career. During this time he initially defended Freud and then broke with Freud over Jung's refusal to accept Freud's sexual theory.

Jung developed an approach to therapy that is in some ways similar and in some ways completely distinct from Freud's. Like Freud, Jung tried to uncover unconscious problems or complexes.

To Jung, a complex is a grouping of parts around some central emotional theme. For example, if you had a leg amputated as a child, you might develop a complex about it.

Your complex might involve all the thoughts and emotions built up over a lifetime, concerning this issue. Under the surface, seldom discussed with others, there might be wistful or resentful thoughts about the absent leg, such as wondering what impact it had on people's reactions to you, or how it affected opportunities in life.

Unlike Freud, Jung did not assume complexes were ultimately sexual in nature. A complex was simply an emotionally-charged issue, due to some twist or turn that had an impact on a person's life.

What was Jung's approach to therapy? What was a "complex" to Jung?

Jung believed that everybody who sought therapy had a story. To help you, a therapist had to learn your story. Jung wrote:

The patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which as a rule no one knows of. To my mind, therapy only really begins after the investigation of that wholly personal story.

It is the patient's secret, the rock against which he is shattered. If I know his secret story, I have a key to treatment. (1965, p.117)

Like many other therapists, Jung was influenced by his earliest patients. In one case, described in Jung's biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, a woman was admitted to the hospital suffering from depression. Some of the doctors diagnosed her as a schizo­phrenic, which would mean the outlook for improvement was very poor.

What was the woman's "story"?

Jung suspected the woman was not schizophrenic but was suffering from "ordinary depression." He decided to try his own therapy method. As he later described it:

I undertook an association experi­ment with the patient. In addition, I discussed her dreams with her. In this way I succeeded in uncovering her past...and this information revealed a dark and tragic story.

Before the woman had married she had known a man, the son of a wealthy industrialist, in whom all the girls of the neighborhood were interested. Since she was very pretty, she thought her chances of catching him were fairly good. But apparently he did not care for her, and so she married another man.

Five years later an old friend visited her. They were talking over old times, and he said to her, "When you got married it was quite a shock to someone–your Mr. X" (the wealthy indus­trialist's son). That was the moment! Her depression dated from this period, and several weeks later led to a catastrophe.

The catastrophe was that, during a visit to a local river used for washing clothes but known to be unsafe for drinking, she observed her children drinking the river water. She did nothing to stop them.

Shortly thereafter her two-year-old son got very sick and her four-year-old girl, her favorite, died of typhoid fever (which comes from dangerous bacteria in water). Jung wrote:

From the association test I had seen that she was a murderess, and I had learned many of the details of her secret...

In essence, Jung concluded that the woman unconsciously "murdered" the children because they were produced by a marriage to the wrong man. This story was the rock against which she was shattered, as Jung put it.

Now Jung had to decide how to treat the woman. Should he tell her what he had discovered? Jung thought his colleagues would have recommended against it, but he decided to confront her with the truth.

I decided to take a chance on a therapy whose outcome was uncertain. I told her everything I had discovered through the association test. It can easily be imagined how difficult it was for me to do this. To accuse a person point-blank of murder is no small matter.

And it was tragic for the patient to have to listen to it and accept it. But the result was that in two weeks it proved possible to discharge her, and she was never again institution­alized. (Jaffe and Jung, 1965, p.117)

This case history contains many ele­ments of typical Jungian therapy. First, it was tailored to the individual. Jung recognized the variability of the individual and did not start out with assumptions about a problem.

What elements of Jungian therapy were shown in the case history?

Second, Jung undertook to bring the patient's hidden story to the surface. Third, Jung used the technique of word association, which he pioneered. He had the patient respond to words with the first associated word that came to mind, and this gave him important clues.

Fourth, the woman proved to be suffering from a complex: a network of related, emotionally powerful thoughts and memories. Fifth, by allowing previously unconscious contents into conscious­ness, increasing the woman's knowledge of her own unconscious feelings, Jung achieved a therapeutic result.

Personifying Aspects of the Unconscious

Jung encouraged his patients to give free reign to fantasy, as Jung himself did in his self-analysis. He encouraged patients to paint and use other forms of artistic expression to express themselves.

A person could generate fantasy figures representing important psychological themes or people from the person's past. This was considered a worthy endeavor. In fact, Jung regarded it as one of the few ways to "communicate" with psycholog­ical processes that might otherwise remain buried.

To personify something from the uncon­scious is to treat it like a person and even lend it a voice. This was similar to what Jung did with fantasy figures during his troubled period after parting with Freud. Jung himself found it therapeutic, so he encouraged his patients to imagine different people inside themselves as a therapy technique.

What does it mean to personify something? Why do it?

Following is part of a letter from a student who had a Jungian therapist. The therapist encouraged the student to generate some figures using imagin­ation, then converse with them in order to get wisdom about herself.

I wanted to share an exciting experience I had. I finally talked to some of my "selves" by myself–something I've been reluctant to do before (fear of losing control?). It took a dilemma to get me to do it [being offered a promotion into a clerical working environment].

My solution: I put on my tape of the ocean surf and seagulls, got comfortable and contacted my "Wise Old Man" who always visits in my dreams in the form of my late Grandfather. I visualized the two of us sitting on Rocky Seal Beach in N. California, me on the sand and Granddad in his rocking chair.

I always loved his hands, so I visual­ized his hand hanging over the arm rest next to my face. I thanked him for being there with me and told him how much I appreciated him... I then asked him questions: What about my conflict?

He told me that I had always sup­pressed my differentness–intellec­tual pursuits/curiosity–in order to fit in with my family. I brought myself down to their level.

That way of being was practiced for so long it became natural and famil­iar (though not necessarily comfort­able or enjoyable). When I am in a "clerical" environment, it is neces­sary for me to suppress my different­ness and bring myself down to that level...

In a sense, I've substituted my work setting for my family setting. I'm in a familiar state of being and a familiar environment, though not a comfort­able or enjoyable one.

...I asked why I was having trouble maintaining my momentum–getting information on areas of interest and exercising to lose weight. He invited another "self" to answer. She dub­bed herself "My Different Self."

She described herself as the thin one who exercised and felt good about herself and her body. She's the strong one who takes care of me and who I started suppressing years ago. She's the fun-loving one who wants to move forward...

But the more she talked the weaker she got. And yet another Self showed up. (At this point Granddad and I were in the same place; My Different Self was in front of me, cavorting on the beach).

My Fat Adult Self walked up from behind, in the shadows. She is angry and full of self-pity (feelings that still come out). Her story is that she wants to be taken care of and when she's not she gets angry and feels sorry for herself.

...A negotiation was made between the two selves: My Different Self will take care of me, bring me enjoyment by being friendly and in contact with people if the Fat Adult Self will loosen her grip and encourage exercise for the physical body and mental health.

My little girl will be taken care of by Karen, my "therapist-mother." All four selves agreed to stay with me and offer help and advice when I needed it. I thanked them and felt 100% better. [Author's files]

Jung was a pioneer in what is now called art therapy. He encouraged his patients to paint mandelas, circular symbols of self and conscious­ness.

Art could portray deep symbolic themes of the personal or collective unconscious. Jung encouraged his patients to paint, even if they claimed no natural talent. The paint­ings were like dreams; they could be analyzed for expressions of unconscious feelings and emotions.

Altogether, taking into account his interest in memories, dreams, visions, art, and imaginary enactments, Jung embraced creativity. He thought humans had a motivation or need or striving for wholeness in human spirt.

Jung's concept of wholeness had several aspects. First, all experience should be allowed into consciousness (including puzzling or repulsive aspects of the unconscious). This resembles Freud's early dictum: "Where id is, let ego be."

Second, cultivate all aspects of person­ality. This came up in discussing Jung's personality types, in Chapter 11 (Person­ality Theories). Jung defined eight different types, but in the end, he said it was ideal to integrate them all.

Finally, Jung emphasized wholeness in the sense of gaining self-knowledge as a life-long goal. He said you could (and should) continue to learn new things about yourself into old age.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.


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