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Carl Jung (1875-1961)

by Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.(more info)

listed in psychology, originally published in issue 58 - November 2000

It is now nearly 40 years since the death of one of the pioneers of psychotherapy, Carl Jung, Swiss founder of his own school of analytic psychology.

Attacks on Freudian psychoanalysis the past decade have started to erode support for the old Viennese master, but Jung has been relatively immune from this new scepticism in the field of psychology and psychotherapy. In fact, as Freud becomes more suspect, Jungians have appeared to extend their prestige and fame. And the 'New Age' movement has also helped spread Jung's popularity today among youth and others searching for answers to the questions of life.

Historically, many people have always been more attracted to Jung than to Freud, mainly because of the more spiritual nature of Jungian analysis. After breaking with Freud in 1913, Carl Jung could offer an alternative to those who wanted a 'depth psychology' (the analysis of the unconscious) without the sexual emphasis of the orthodox Vienna school.

As Jung himself put it: "Before Freud, nothing was allowed to be sexual; now everything is nothing but sexual." An apt description, and one that many found to their taste. Jung's concept of the unconscious also had a more acceptable atmosphere than Freud's. For Freud, the unconscious was a rather nasty place, full of evil desires, sexual lusts, etc., while for Jungian analytical psychology, there was always a positive side to this hidden part of the self. In the Jungian school, the unconscious is also the seat of positive psychic energy such as creativity, etc.

But now the halcyon days for Jung seem to be numbered. A new scholarly book by Richard Noll (The Jung Cult: The Origins of a Charismatic Movement, Princeton, 1995) is one of the first to criticize Jung seriously; so, unlike the usual popular hagiographies, such as the famous study by Laurens van der Post: Jung and the Story of Our Time (Random House, New York, 1976).

Dr Noll is a clinical psychologist with a background in the sociology of religion. He criticizes the 19th century mysticism at the heart of Jung's theories; he claims that the Jung circle in Zurich had all the trappings of a typical charismatic cult. By the 1930s, according to Noll, it was Jung's personality, not his ideas or books that became the focus of intense interest and idealization. Unlike Freud, who trained other analysts, in the Zurich circle, Jung himself was the method, a living example of 'individuation' – as though he had become a 'god' similar to the many Eastern sects that became common in the 1960s.

Jung came from a family of clergymen, and wrote his first book on occult phenomena. As a young man, he impressed Freud by his use of a word association test that linked up experimental psychology with psychoanalysis. Jung had a fertile mind and contributed many new terms to the field. His 1906 book on schizophrenia coined the term 'complex' – a repressed idea linked to strong emotion, Unlike most of Freud's early circle, Jung was already a respected psychiatrist when he began to correspond with Freud in 1906. The two colleagues first met in 1907, and spent 13 hours locked in conversation the first day! After that, Freud called Jung his 'crown prince' – the man who would one day take over the mantle. But that was not to be. Freud had ambivalent feelings about Jung, and Jung wavered between espousal of Freud's theories and cautious reservation. There were many quarrels, and by 1914 the split was complete. Jung had apparently questioned the master's theory once too often. However, Jung continued to expand his horizons after the break with Freud, and, for the next 48 years, he wrote over one hundred books and articles and set up his own school, travelling and teaching all over the world.

The terms 'introversion' and 'extroversion' have been widely used to describe personality types. In addition, other Jungian concepts are well known, if somewhat obscure and difficult to understand. According to Jung, the unconscious mind is divided into a personal and a 'collective unconscious'.

This collective unconscious contains primordial images (called 'archetypes' in the Jungian system), and may be considered the accumulations of ancestral experiences. Thus, for example, one might say that a Swede has notions from the Vikings as part of his mental equipment. And, therefore, a Swedish artist should focus on this background and not look for inspiration in other places. Of course, the argument against Jung's concept of the collective unconscious is that just because people of different centuries use similar symbols does not prove that a specific symbol has been inherited from their ancestors. This is a controversial notion that non-Jungians find difficult to accept.

Jung, however, had some interesting ideas about creativity, which may be his major contribution to modern psychology. For example, instead of interpreting dreams in the Freudian manner, people are encouraged to express dreams artistically – e.g. paint your dreams! Also Jung's conception of 'active imagination' has been useful for working with artists who have temporary creativity blocks. The idea here is to focus on what you see with your eyes closed – the images, light flickerings, fantasies, etc. – all is grist for the mill. Focus on these pictures and then use them in a constructive artwork.

Despite the fact that many modern psychologists dismiss Jung's work as vague and incomprehensible, some of his ideas on creativity are certainly worthy of further study and development.


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About Sheldon Litt, Ph.D.

Dr Sheldon Litt is an American psychologist who trains professionals in modern methods of psychotherapy. He has taught at many universities in northern Europe. He was trained by Fritz Perls at the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy.S. Litt, Inedalsgatan 25, S-11233 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +468 651 2489 Email:

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