“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become”.
– C.G. Jung –
Jack Reardon Integrative Psychotherapy and Counselling
As I lend to much of Jung’s work throughout my own approach to psychotherapy, here is some information about his work and how this informs my practice.
Jung’s approach to psychotherapy is not a psychotherapy in which the therapist offers advice to the patient. Jung says, “I do not know what to say to the patient when he asks me, ‘What do you advise? What shall I do?’ – I don’t know either.” In Jungian psychotherapy, the therapist deliberately adopts a “not-knowing” attitude. Why does the therapist not know? The therapist cannot know, immediately, what is unknown – that is, what is unconscious. Jung defines the unconscious as “the unknown at any given moment.” He emphasizes that “the unconscious is something that is really unconscious.” Jung says that the therapist must “give up all pretensions to superior knowledge, all authority and desire to influence” the patient. It is not the therapist who knows anything (for example, what is “best” for the patient). Rather, it is the unconscious that “knows” something.
In Jungian psychotherapy, it is not the therapist who offers advice to the patient. Jung says that “we get nowhere by employing well-intentioned advice.” It is the unconscious that offers advice to the patient. Jungian psychotherapy, Jung says, is “a dialogue or discussion between two persons.” It is a mutual process, a collaborative conversation, between the therapist and the patient. Together, as equals, the therapist and patient analyse what the unconscious of the patient advises. The advice that the unconscious offers to the patient is what Jung calls a “compensation.” The problem, Jung says, is that the attitude of the conscious mind is too one-sided and too narrow. The solution, he says, is “to compensate the one-sidedness and narrowness of the conscious mind by deepening its knowledge of the unconscious.” Jungian psychotherapy is a “depth psychotherapy,” or a “psychotherapy of the unconscious.” The purpose of Jungian psychotherapy is to deepen what the conscious mind knows about the unconscious. Jung says that “the real and authentic psyche is the unconscious.”
Dreams are especially important in Jungian psychotherapy, for, as Jung says, they are “beyond the control of the conscious mind.” Jung regards dreams as “indispensable” to psychotherapy, for they have an importance “equal to the conscious mind itself.” Why dreams are so important is that they are the purest, most spontaneous expression of the unconscious. What the unconscious expresses in dreams are compensations for the one-sided, narrow attitude of the conscious mind. “When we set out to interpret a dream,” Jung says, “it is always helpful to ask: ‘What conscious attitude does it compensate?'” When a patient has a problem, Jung does not pretend to know the solution. It is dreams that propose a solution to the problem, so Jung says to the patient: “let us see what they say.” Dream interpretation is an essential activity in Jungian psychotherapy.
Jung considers “it the prime task of psychotherapy today to pursue with singleness of purpose the goal of individual development.” The development of the individual is what Jung calls “individuation.” Jung defines individuation as a process through which “the patient becomes what he really is.” The purpose of Jungian psychotherapy is not for the patient to become merely “normal.” Rather, it is for the patient to become truly unique. Jung says that individuation is a process through which “a man becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is.” Jung says that “the fundamental rule for the psychotherapist should be to consider each case new and unique.” Jungian psychotherapy provides an opportunity for us to develop as individuals so that, ultimately, through an encounter with the unconscious, we may consciously become who we uniquely are.
A Brief Biography of Jung
The elder Jung started Carl on Latin when he was six years old, beginning a long interest in language and literature – especially ancient literature. Besides most modern western European languages, Jung could read several ancient ones, including Sanskrit, the language of the original Hindu holy books.
Carl was a rather solitary adolescent, who didn’t care much for school, and especially couldn’t take competition. He went to boarding school in Basel, Switzerland, where he found himself the object of a lot of jealous harassment. He began to use sickness as an excuse, developing an embarrassing tendency to faint under pressure.
Although his first career choice was archaeology, he went on to study medicine at the University of Basel. While working under the famous neurologist Krafft- Ebing, he settled on psychiatry as his career.
After graduating, he took a position at the Burghoeltzli Mental Hospital in Zurich under Eugene Bleuler, an expert on (and the namer of) schizophrenia. In 1903, he married Emma Rauschenbach. He also taught classes at the University of Zurich, had a private practice, and invented word association at this time!
Long an admirer of Freud, he met him in Vienna in 1907. The story goes that after they met, Freud cancelled all his appointments for the day, and they talked for 13 hours straight, such was the impact of the meeting of these two great minds! Freud eventually came to see Jung as the crown prince of psychoanalysis and his heir apparent.
But Jung had never been entirely sold on Freud’s theory. Their relationship began to cool in 1909, during a trip to America. They were entertaining themselves by analysing each other’s’ dreams (more fun, apparently, than shuffleboard), when Freud seemed to show an excess of resistance to Jung’s efforts at analysis. Freud finally said that they’d have to stop because he was afraid he would lose his authority! Jung felt rather insulted.
World War I was a painful period of self-examination for Jung. It was, however, also the beginning of one of the most interesting theories of personality the world has ever seen.
After the war, Jung travelled widely, visiting, for example, tribal people in Africa, America, and India. He retired in 1946, and began to retreat from public attention after his wife died in 1955. He died on June 6, 1961, in Zurich.