Jung on Psychotherapy, Spirituality and Sources of Healing

A Commentary on Passages in Collected Works 11

             Most essays on this blog site start with a topic or theme found in Jung’s works and then develop an essay based on Jung’s ideas about the topic. This essay uses the opposite approach: I start with a section of one of Jung’s essays and provide commentary and elaboration. My choice of passage was not haphazard: I think the 32 paragraphs discussed below contain some of the most significant and substantial of all Jung’s ideas, as well as being very relevant to our contemporary world.

            Reflecting Jung’s prescient intuition, he wrote this passage in 1932—over 80 years ago!—in the form of a lecture he gave at the Alsatian Pastoral Conference in Strasbourg.[1] He titled the lecture “Psychotherapists or the Clergy.” Later that year it was published as a pamphlet and the next year W.S. Dell and Cary F. Baynes translated the essay into English, along with ten others, in the anthology Modern Man in Search of a Soul.[2]  Eight decades later the trends Jung spotted in 1932 have become features of our modern world, and his incisive understanding can help us grapple with many of the features of reality, both personal and collective.

            I will consider the 32 paragraphs in groups, based around what seemed to me to be a central idea. Jung’s words are in normal type, mine in italics.

Our Religious Crisis, ¶s507-516:

We have come to a serious pass. The exodus from the German Protestant Church is only one of many symptoms which should make it plain to the clergy that mere admonitions to believe, or to perform acts of charity, do not give modern man what he is looking for. The fact that many clergymen seek support or practical help from Freud’s theory of sexuality or Adler’s theory of power is astonishing, inasmuch as both these theories are, at bottom, hostile to spiritual values, being, as I have said, psychology without the psyche. They are rationalistic methods of treatment which actually hinder the realization of meaningful experience. By far the larger number of psychotherapists are disciples of Freud or of Adler. This means that the great majority of patients are necessarily alienated from a spiritual standpoint—a fact which cannot be a matter of indifference to one who has the fate of the psyche at heart. The wave of interest in psychology … is far from receding. It is coincident with the mass exodus from the Church…. [¶507 CW 11]

My commentary:

Jung was right in his assessment that “we have come to a serious pass,” but ours is much more serious than what the world faced in 1932. They had lived through the horror of the First World War (which Jung, of course, referred to later in this passage as the World War) but had yet to experience the Holocaust and the dropping of atomic bombs, the spread of nuclear weapons and the rise and spread of religious fanaticism. Ecological destruction and the dire effects of global climate change also were not much discussed 80 years ago. All this leads me to take Jung’s analyses even more to heart. We need to listen to him and his insights on how to heal ourselves and our world.

            As for the “exodus” from the churches, this trend has continued and intensified in Europe[3] and in parts of the United States (especially in Vermont, which is the most “unchurched” of all the 50 states.).[4] Other areas, e.g. the “Bible Belt” of the South, still manifest active church-going, often in evangelical, fundamentalist forms, at which Jung looked askance due to the literalism with which these forms handle the Bible.[5]

            Jung’s recognition of the spiritual paucity of Freud’s and Adler’s approach to psychology is important to note, since these schools of psychology (Freud especially) still have some influence, especially in academic psychology.[6] Jung understood how strange it is that professed students of psychology (i.e. “psychologists”) would dismiss the reality of the psyche!

            … I am convinced that the psychological needs of the educated today will be the interests of the people tomorrow…. [508]

            Jung believed that trends among people exposed to learning would eventually trickle down to the masses. Nearly all the people Jung treated were educated, wealthy, upper- or upper-middle class Europeans or Americans[7]—groups who were able, in terms of time, finances and work life, to address their psychological needs. Given the stigma that still seems to attach to “having one’s head examined” in our culture, I am not sure yet that we can claim that the masses have taken up this interest.

            … During the past thirty years, people from all the civilized countries of the earth have consulted me. Many hundreds of patients have passed through my hands…. Among all my patients in the second half of life—that is to say, over thirty-five—there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church. [509]

            By “the civilized countries of the earth” Jung was thinking of Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some folks from South America who came to him through personal contacts.[8] This broad base of his patients’ nationalities gave Jung the ability to generalize about the fundamental problem facing the educated person of his day. By “a religious outlook on life” Jung was referring to an attitude of mind/heart based on a sense of personal connection to something larger than oneself. As he notes in the final sentence, Jung did not mean membership in any organized religion, cult or sect. He is using “religious” in ways that we today might use the word “spiritual.”

            Here, then, the clergyman stands before a vast horizon. But it would seem as if no one had noticed it…. It is indeed high time for the clergyman and the psychotherapist to join forces to meet this great spiritual task. [510]

            Jung became increasingly concerned about the dogmatism and lack of creative response to changing realities among the clergy as he grew older. He was aware of this problem in 1932, as his remarks here note. He continued to deal with the religious crisis in numerous works[9], especially in “Answer to Job,” but far from getting more clergy on board, that work touched off a storm of incomprehension,[10] due in part to the lack of personal experience of the Divine on the part of most clergymen.

            Here is a concrete example which goes to show how closely this problem touches us all. A little more than a year ago the leaders to the Christian Students’ Conference at Aarau [Switzerland] laid before me the question whether people in spiritual distress prefer nowadays to consult the doctor rather than the clergyman, and what are the causes of their choice. This was a very direct and very practical question…. I was unable to give a definite reply. I therefore set on foot an inquiry,… I sent out a questionnaire which was answered by Swiss, German, and French… The results are very interesting,… [511]

            Jung’s survey (which he did not administer himself, i.e. he did not know the respondents personally)[11] indicated that more and more Europeans were falling away from active participation in organized religion.

            The main reasons given for not consulting the clergyman were, firstly, his lack of psychological knowledge and insight, and this covered 52 per cent of the answers. Some 28 per cent were to the effect that he was prejudiced in his views and showed a dogmatic and traditional bias. Curiously enough, there was even one clergyman who decided for the doctor, while another made the irritated retort: “Theology has nothing to do with the treatment of human beings.” All the relatives of clergymen who answered my questionnaire pronounced themselves against the clergy. [512]

            Given his own personal history as the son of a pastor alienated from religion,[12] Jung must have resonated with the relatives of clergymen. As he noted in his memoirs, Jung often tried to reach out to his father for help with the deep issues of life and faith, never finding his father adequate to the task.[13] One can’t help but wonder about the faith life of the congregation of the cleric who saw no connection between theology and the healing of people.

            … I am inclined to accept these sample results as a more or less valid indication of the views of educated people, the more so as it is a well-known fact that their indifference in matters of the Church and religion is steadily growing. … [513]

            The survey confirmed Jung’s intuition about the increasing prevalence of alienation from religion on the part of many Europeans. The shocks of World War II, the Holocaust and the Cold War served to foster even more desertion from traditional belief systems.

            It seems to me that, side by side with the decline of religious life, the neuroses grow noticeably more frequent. There are as yet no statistics with actual figures to prove this increase. But of one thing I am sure, that everywhere the mental state of European man shows an alarming lack of balance. We are living undeniably in a period of the greatest restless, nervous tension, confusion, and disorientation of outlook. Among my patients from many countries, all of them educated persons, there is a considerable number who came to see me not because they were suffering from a neurosis but because they could find no meaning in their lives or were torturing themselves with questions which neither our philosophy nor our religion could answer. [514]

            Jung saw a close connection between loss of religion and a decline in mental health. In his interpretation, “religion” accords with the original term religio, meaning “a careful consideration and observation of certain dynamic factors that are conceived as ‘powers’: spirits, daemons, gods, laws, ideas, ideals, or whatever name man has given to such factors in his world as he has found powerful, dangerous or helpful enough to be taken into careful consideration, or grand, beautiful, and meaningful enough to be devoutly worshipped and loved.”[14] Implied here is a personal sense of connection to these “powers,” that which is larger than oneself. Absent such a sense a person is liable to fall into the precarious situation of meaninglessness or profound mental and spiritual confusion. We certainly see the signs of this malaise and “lack of balance” today, in the depravity of our culture and the greed of our economic system.[15]

            Let us take for example that most ordinary and frequent of questions: What is the meaning of my life, or of life in general? Today people believe that they know only too well what the clergyman will—or rather must—say to this. They smile at the very thought of the philosopher’s answer, and in general do not expect much of the physician. … It must be a relief to every serious-minded person to hear that the psychotherapist also does not know what to say. Such a confession is often the beginning of the patient’s confidence in him.  [515]

            When I ask my students what the meaning of life is I usually get blank looks and stammering responses, if I get any response at all. Our culture does not encourage us to ask this sort of question and provides no resources at all to those who seek answers to it. Jung provides us with the right approach: Be honest. Admit that one does not know. Why? Because the answer lies in the asking itself, and no one has the answer for another. Just by asking the question we begin the spiritual journey toward an answer, and for each individual the answer evolves in a unique form, at the appropriate time. Note that Jung is requiring the psychotherapist to be humble, rather than an authority figure to whom the analysand can turn for solutions to his/her problems.[16]

            I have found that modern man has an ineradicable aversion for traditional opinions and inherited truths. … all the spiritual standards and forms of the past have somehow lost their validity, … Confronted with this attitude, every ecclesiastical system finds itself in an awkward situation, be it Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, or Confucianist. … Those I am thinking of are by no means sickly eccentrics, but are very often exceptionally able, courageous, and upright persons who have repudiated traditional truths for honest and decent reasons, and not from wickedness of heart. Every one of them has the feeling that our religious truths have somehow become hollow. Either they cannot reconcile the scientific and the religious outlook, or the Christian tenets have lost their authority and their psychological justification. … Sin has become something quite relative: what is evil for one man is good for another. After all, why should not the Buddha be right too? [516]

            If Jung’s assessment of the spiritual situation of modern man was one of aversion to tradition and inherited truths in 1932, this is even more true in the 21st century. Ours is an age of relativism and pluralism, when all religions may be seen as having pieces of the Truth, and spirituality is supplanting organized religion as claimant on the psyche of individuals. As this process evolves, we are moving more and more deeply into what Jung and his followers term “the new dispensation,”[17] that form of spirituality characterized by “able, courageous, upright persons” finding the strength and commitment to look within and thereby discover the Divine amidst their shadow side.

The Psychotherapeutic Response, ¶s517-521:

            There is no one who is not familiar with these questions and doubts. Yet Freudian analysis would brush them all aside as irrelevant, for in its view, it is basically a question of repressed sexuality, which the philosophical or religious doubts only serve to mask. … He [Freud] completely overlooks the fact that, in certain cases, the supposed causes of the neurosis were always present, but had no pathological effect until a disturbance of the conscious attitude set in and led to a neurotic upset. … When conscious life has lost its meaning and promise, it is as though a panic had broken loose: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” It is this mood, born of the meaninglessness of life, that causes the disturbance in the unconscious and provokes the painfully curbed instincts to break out anew…. [517]

            Jung offers up yet another valid criticism of the Freudian approach to psychotherapy. Not every psychological problem has its roots in sexuality, and Jung recognized this early in his career;[18] it was one of the major reasons he broke with Freud. Also in this paragraph Jung recognizes that mental health requires a certain sense that life has meaning and promise. When circumstances—a health crisis, a job loss, the death of a significant person, any sort of major change—cause the loss of sense of meaning we are primed for neurosis. One of the most widespread collective circumstances in modern history that induced such a situation was World War II, when so many millions of people all over the world were faced with the possibility of imminent death: “Tomorrow we die” was all too real a possibility, and one legacy of the war has been a pervasive spiritual crisis in our collective life in the last 50 years.

            … I regard the religious problems which the patient puts before me as authentic and as possible causes of the neurosis. But if I take them seriously, I must be able to confess to the patient: “Yes, I agree, the Buddha may be just as right as Jesus. Sin is only relative,…” As a doctor I can easily admit these doubts, while it is hard for the clergyman to do so. The patient feels my attitude to be one of understanding, while the parson’s hesitation strikes him as traditional prejudice, and this estranges them from one another…. [518]

            Jung here is offering an explanation for why more people seek out psychotherapists to deal with their problems than clergy. The key to any successful soul healing is the feeling of being understood and appreciated (rather than estranged) from the therapist. Jung understood that his role (and that of any therapist) is not to judge, but to recognize that the Self (our Divine core) operates with a morality that transcends any collective definition of “moral.”[19] If the Self is the true healer, the therapist can only submit to its wisdom, as the healing process unfolds in the analysis.

            It is easy for the doctor to show understanding in this respect, you will say. But people forget that even doctors have moral scruples, and that certain patients’ confessions are hard even for a doctor to swallow. Yet the patient does not feel himself accepted unless the very worst in him is accepted too. No one can bring this about by mere words; it comes only through reflection and through the doctor’s attitude towards himself and his own dark side. If the doctor wants to guide another, or even accompany him a step of the way, he must feel with that person’s psyche. He never feels it when he passes judgment…. Feeling comes only through unprejudiced objectivity. This sounds almost like a scientific precept, and it could be confused with a purely intellectual, abstract attitude of mind. But what I mean is something quite different. It is a human quality—a kind of deep respect for the facts, for the man who suffers from them, and for the riddle of such a man’s life. The truly religious person has this attitude. He knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will. This is what I mean by “unprejudiced objectivity.” It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor, who ought not to let himself be repelled by sickness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. … if the doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is. [519]

            This paragraph presents Jung’s prescription for the good therapist: tolerant, humble, well aware of his/her shadow side, self-accepting even of all those shadowy parts of him/herself,[20] and able to “sense in everything the unseen presence of the divine will.” Such traits only come with personal analysis, which is why Jung required hundreds of hours of analysis in anyone wishing to become a Jungian analyst. In my own experience, I think the key quality in a good therapist is this familiarity with the curious forms that Divine activity can take. My analyst sometimes refers to this as “being more open to the unconscious,” suggesting that my ego mind is addressing my problem or issue in too limited a way, or my ego is stuck in willfulness and must surrender to the Higher Will that wants its way with me. As Jung notes, such familiarity is a “moral achievement,” as is accepting others even in their “sickness and corruption.” You will know you’ve got a good analyst if you can feel his/her acceptance and spiritual depth.

            … acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. … what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then? Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is then no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world, we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves,… [520]

            Here Jung is describing the task we all face: to become conscious of our shadow side—the beggar, thief, convict, Satan—all the parts of ourselves that we think we are not. As Jung says, we tend to repress this part of ourselves, to “condemn and rage against ourselves,” and as long as we do this, we cannot find it in ourselves to love and accept the shadow side in others. This task of integrating the shadow is indeed a moral challenge that colors the “whole outlook on life.”

            Anyone who uses modern psychology to look behind the scene not only of his patients’ lives but more especially of his own life—and the modern psychotherapist must do this if he is not to be merely an unconscious fraud—will admit that, to accept himself in all his wretchedness is the hardest of tasks, and one which it is almost impossible to fulfill…. Only he who has fully accepted himself has “unprejudiced objectivity.” But no one is justified in boasting that he has fully accepted himself. … [521]

            Jung is explicit here that any therapist worth his/her salt has to have done extensive work on the shadow, so as to accept him/herself. And, as Jung notes, this is a lifelong endeavor, for no one can ever complete this work.

Healing Neurosis: ¶s522-528

            … it is my duty as a physician to show my patients how they can live their lives without becoming neurotic. Neurosis is an inner cleavage—the state of being at war with oneself. Everything that accentuates this cleavage makes the patient worse, and everything that mitigates it tends to heal him. What drives people to war with themselves is the suspicion or the knowledge that they consist of two persons in opposition to one another. The conflict may be between the sensual and the spiritual man, or between the ego and the shadow. … A neurosis is a splitting of personality. [522]

            By defining a neurosis as “a splitting of personality” Jung did not mean to imply that every neurotic is schizophrenic. Rather the “inner cleavage” more usually takes the form of a vague sense that something is not right, that life is not working, that there is some inner force that seems to trip one up or cause problems in outer life. In my own life, this showed up initially as a general feeling of aridity or sterility—that my creative “well” was dry and the tasks of creating courses and doing scholarly research became more and more difficult. For other people, the initial signs can vary and be very different from what I experienced. As I got more deeply into analysis, I discovered all sorts of inner characters living in my “inner city”[21] that stood in opposition to my ego reality. I needed to become acquainted with these inner energies and come to terms with them. Some of these were shadow figures (in my case many were “white” shadow, as I had such a poor sense of myself), some were animus or anima figures. All of them were important in my personal evolution, and all of them I had to integrate. This is a task still ongoing, now more than 30 years on.

            … modern man has heard enough about guilt and sin. He is sorely enough beset by his own bad conscience, and wants rather to know how he is to reconcile himself with his own nature—how he is to love the enemy in his own heart and call the wolf his brother. [523]

            Jung is right: The quickest way to turn off a person of modern sensibility is to talk of guilt and sin. These concepts have no purchase nowadays. Better to focus on individuality, one’s personal responsibility to live one’s talents and fulfill one’s unique potential. Hence the popularity of self-help and “human potential” movements. My concern with such movements is that they often lack depth, i.e. they fail to work at the deeper levels that Jung understood we need to reach, to connect with the riches in the collective unconscious. So much of the “New Age” movement refuses to appreciate depth work and recoils from any confrontation with the dark side, our shadow side.[22]

            The modern man does not want to know in what way he can imitate Christ, but in what way he can live his own individual life, however meager and uninteresting it may be. It is because every form of imitation seems to him deadening and sterile that he rebels against the force of tradition that would hold him in well-trodden ways. All such roads, for him, lead in the wrong direction. He may not know it, but he behaves as if his own individual life were God’s special will which must be fulfilled at all costs. This is the source of his egoism, which is one of the most tangible evils of the neurotic state. But the person who tells him he is too egoistic has already lost his confidence, and rightly so, for that person has driven him still further into his neurosis.  [524]

            Jung was adamant that our task is not to imitate Christ, in the sense of trying to live as he did, but rather to “imitate” him in being true to our uniqueness and our special vocation or calling in life. It is good to discard outworn traditions so as to forge one’s own path, and this requires “egoism,” i.e. a focus on oneself, independent of the desires, assumptions and attitudes of others (especially one’s family of origin).[23] It should be noted that thinking of one’s “own individual life [as] God’s special will which must be fulfilled at all costs” is both true and untrue, as Jung notes in the following paragraph.

            If I wish to effect a cure for my patients I am forced to acknowledge the deep significance of their egoism. I should be blind, indeed, if I did not recognize it as a true will of God. I must even help the patient to prevail in his egoism; if he succeeds in this, he estranges himself from other people. He drives them away, and they come to themselves—as they should, for they were seeking to rob him of his “sacred” egoism. This must be left to him, for it is his strongest and healthiest power; it is, as I have said, a true will of God, which sometimes drives him into complete isolation. However wretched this state may be, it also stands him in good stead, for in this way alone can he get to know himself and learn what an invaluable treasure is the love of his fellow beings. It is, moreover, only in the state of complete abandonment and loneliness that we experience the helpful powers of our own natures.  [525]

            Egoism, as a focus on oneself and one’s life path, is, as Jung says, deeply significant. When it leads to selfishness, the arrogation of power, the destruction of others’ lives, and other such abuses, it is clearly wrong. But egoism in the sense of setting boundaries, and clarifying one’s true nature and identity, distinct from the expectations, demands and persona concerns of others (especially one’s family of origin) is essential to the process of soul growth and following the “will of God.” This is why Jung recognized that, as a therapist, he had to “help the patient to prevail in his egoism,” and why it would result in estrangement from others (especially one’s family). Jesus understood this too, which is why he cautioned his followers that they would find their greatest enemies within their own households.[24] As to why this estrangement is so important, Jung is right on: Only when we are thrown back on our own resources, feeling isolated and abandoned, are we likely to discover the wealth of resources that lie within. For Extraverts, whose orientation is to the outer world and other people, this process of estrangement is much harder than it is for Introverts. This is one reason far fewer Extraverts find Jungian work appealing.

            When one has several times seen this development at work one can no longer deny that what was evil has turned to good, and that what seemed good has kept alive the forces of evil. The archdemon of egoism leads us along the royal road to that ingathering which religious experience demands. What we observe here is a fundamental law of life—enantiodromia or conversion into the opposite; and it is this that makes possible the reunion of the warring halves of the personality and thereby brings the civil war to an end.  [526]

            The enantiodromia was a concept Jung borrowed from Heraclitus[25] and it occurs repeatedly throughout his writings. As this paragraph implies, it leads to the understanding that what, to our ego mind, might seem “good,” could in fact be evil, i.e. serving to keep us in our “split” or disintegrated condition, neurotic. The ego mind is not a good judge of the elements of the spiritual journey, and we need to be careful about judging or assigning value labels to what we experience. Elsewhere I have written on the mysterious process of “conversion into the opposite” as mediated by the transcendent function.[26] This is not something we “figure out” with the ego mind, but something that the vix mediatrix naturae—our inner natural healing force—brings about. As one might imagine, Thinking types tend to have more trouble with this than Feelers, who have less need to “figure things out” and understand what’s going on intellectually. The intellect is out of its depths in this work.

            I have taken the neurotic’s egoism as an example because it is one of his most common symptoms. I might equally well have taken any other characteristic symptom to show what attitude the physician must adopt towards the shortcomings of his patients, in other words, how he must deal with the problem of evil. [527]

            Jung here is noting that there are many ways neurosis can show up in life. However it does, the therapist must be open, accepting and tolerant, with a higher perspective about what is going on with the analysand.

            No doubt this also sounds very simple. In reality, however, the acceptance of the shadow-side of human nature verges on the impossible. Consider for a moment what it means to grant the right of existence to what is unreasonable, senseless, and evil! Yet it is just this that the modern man insists upon. He wants to live with every side of himself—to know what he is. That is why he casts history aside. He wants to break with tradition so that he can experiment with his life and determine what value and meaning things have in themselves, apart from traditional presuppositions. … [528]

            In his Red Book Jung recorded some of his own struggles with his shadow side and inner figures,[27] so he knew what it meant to “accept the shadow-side of human nature.” It is an impossible task, not something the ego can do. It is something only the Self can handle, but the ego can assist by adopting an attitude of humility, gratitude and surrender.[28] In describing the situation of modern man Jung drew upon what he witnessed with his patients: their breaking with tradition, giving up the expectation of parents and persona demands, experimenting with new ways of being, living and thinking, creating new values and meanings for the important aspects of life. In doing so, these people were moving into the “new dispensation”—Jung’s term for the new form that religion is taking as we move into the Aquarian age.

Our Current Dilemma: ¶s 529-532

            … We are now reaping the fruit of nineteenth-century education. Throughout that period the Church preached to young people the merit of blind faith, while the universities inculcated an intellectual rationalism, with the result that today we plead in vain whether for faith or reason. Tired of this warfare of opinions, the modern man wishes to find out for himself how things are. And though this desire opens the door to the most dangerous possibilities, we cannot help seeing it as a courageous enterprise and giving it some measure of sympathy. It is no reckless adventure, but an effort inspired by deep spiritual distress to bring meaning once more into life on the basis of fresh and unprejudiced experience. Caution has its place, no doubt, but we cannot refuse our support to a serious venture which challenges the whole of the personality. If we oppose it, we are trying to suppress what is best in man—his daring and his aspirations. And should we succeed, we should only have stood in the way of that invaluable experience which might have given a meaning to life…. [529]

            Jung understood the legacy of 19th century materialism, with its increasing divorce of faith and reason, the growing alienation of the academy from spirituality, and the consequent sterility of the “intellectual rationalism” that is a marked feature of “scientism,” the current degenerate form of science in our modern world.[29] In the face of such empty dead-ends courageous spiritual seekers wish “to find out for themselves how things are.” Jung took this path himself, so he knew how dangerous it is, but also how invaluable it is. He supported this journey in his patients and students, and he encouraged those he trained in analytical psychology to be equally supportive with their own patients, for he understood that striking out on one’s own path is a way to find meaning in life.

            The psychotherapist who takes his work seriously… must decide in every single case whether or not he is willing to stand by a human being with counsel and help upon what may be a daring misadventure. He must have no fixed ideas as to what is right, nor must he pretend to know what is right and what is not—otherwise he takes something from the richness of the experience. He must keep in view what actually happens—for only that which acts is actual. He must keep in view only what is real (for the patient). But a thing is “real” if it “works.” If something which seems to me an error shows itself to be more effective than a truth, then I must first follow up the error, for in it lie power and life which I lose if I hold to what seems to me true. Light has need of darkness—otherwise how could it appear as light?  [530]

            This passage is classic Jung in its call to withhold judgment, to focus on the actual, to go with what is real for the patient, and in its pragmatism: We go with what works,[30] what provides power and life. Also classic Jung is the appreciation of the dark, as an inextricable partner of Light.

            It is well known that Freudian psychoanalysis limits itself to the task of making conscious the shadow-side and the evil within us. It simply brings into action the civil war that was latent, and lets it go at that. The patient must deal with it as best he can. Freud has unfortunately overlooked the fact that man has never yet been able single-handed to hold his own against the powers of darkness—that is, of the unconscious. Man has always stood in need of the spiritual help which his particular religion held out to him. The opening of the unconscious always means the outbreak of intense spiritual suffering; … The World War… showed, as nothing else could, how thin are the walls which separate a well-ordered world from lurking chaos. But it is the same with the individual and his rationally ordered world. Seeking revenge for the violence his reason has done to her, outraged Nature only awaits the moment when the partition falls so as to overwhelm the conscious life with destruction. Man has been aware of this danger to the psyche since the earliest times, even in the most primitive stages of culture. It was to arm himself against this threat and to heal the damage done that he developed religious and magical practices. This is why the medicine-man is also the priest; he is the savior of the soul as well as of the body, and religions are systems of healing for psychic illness. … Man is never helped in his suffering by what he thinks of for himself; only suprahuman, revealed truth lifts him out of his distress. [531]

            Jung identifies one of the key reasons why Freudian therapy so often fails to heal: It lops off the invaluable support of the Higher Power, the “suprahuman revealed truth” that can lift the individual “out of his distress.” From his personal experience Jung knew how “the opening of the unconscious” would come with “intense spiritual suffering,” and he drew upon the experience of his European contemporaries in his reference to the World War, i.e. World War I, which then was only 13 years in the past. In his reference to Nature seeking her “revenge” Jung was thinking of the individual, but we might also take this more collectively, mindful of the terrible ecological devastations we are witnessing as our assaults on our ecosystem produce more and more natural disasters. Jung also understood why the “religious instinct” is innate in all human beings,[31] and why from the earliest times there has been a close connection between physical and spiritual healing. It is a sign of the profound pathology of our modern world that we have divorced body and soul, leaving so many people to try to heal themselves via the ego and its delusions. As Jung says, there must be the supportive involvement of something beyond our human abilities. The recognition of the value of some Higher Power is one reason Jung thought highly of the program of Alcoholic Anonymous.[32]

            Today the tide of destruction has already reached us and the psyche has suffered damage. That is why patients force the psychotherapist into the role of the priest and expect and demand of him that he shall free them from their suffering. That is why we psychotherapists must occupy ourselves with problems which, strictly speaking, belong to the theologian…. Since, as a rule, every concept and every point of view handed down from the past proves futile, we must first tread with the patient the path of his illness—that path of his mistake that sharpens his conflicts and increases his loneliness till it becomes unbearable—hoping that from the psychic depths which cast up the powers of destruction the rescuing forces will also come.  [532]

            Notice here that Jung is not suggesting that therapists wave some magic wand and make all the suffering go away. This is often a surprise to people starting out in analysis: they assume that, soon into the process they are going to feel better. Not necessarily. In fact, as Jung implies here, the work often leads to feeling worse! The therapist is more like a witness, a fellow sojourner, along for the ride (or trudging through the muck of unconsciousness, to be more accurate),[33] offering at times a wider view or higher perspective, but nothing like the longed-for magic wand. If the process moves along as it should, suffering often increases and the analysand’s challenge is to stick with it, to hold the tension, so as to allow something to arise into consciousness that offers insight, growth, and healing. The analyst is not in charge, cannot make the unconscious produce the elixir, cannot make the pain go away. But from his/her own experience of the work the analyst can hold out hope and trust in the wisdom of the soul.

Sources of Help: ¶s533-536

            When I first took this path I did not know where it would lead. I did not know what lay hidden in the depths of the psyche—that region which I have since called the “collective unconscious” and whose contents I designate as “archetypes.” … helpful images which are ineradicably imprinted on the human psyche. Science can only establish the existence of these psychic factors and attempt a rationalistic explanation by offering an hypothesis as to their source. This, however, only thrusts the problem a stage further back without solving the riddle. We thus come to those ultimate questions: Where does consciousness come from? What is the psyche? At this point all science ends. [533]

            Thanks to the publication of Jung’s Red Book in 2009,[34] we can see Jung’s intrepid venturing on to a path which he “did not know where it would lead.” It took him deep into his unconscious, where he encountered all sorts of images and figures that he drew in his journals.[35] His subsequent researches into myths, legends, fairy tales and primitive cultures and religions led him to develop his concept of the “collective unconscious” as the repository of human wisdom that is our heritage as human beings.[36] Ever the empiricist,[37] Jung would not claim any sort of proof of the existence of “these psychic factors:” they remained for him an “hypothesis” that proved useful in his work with his patients. In this paragraph he admits that this hypothesis, and the concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious do not help us to answer the ultimate questions of life.

            It is as though, at the climax of the illness, the destructive powers were converted into healing forces. This is brought about by the archetypes awaking to independent life and taking over the guidance of the psychic personality, thus supplanting the ego with its futile willing and striving. As a religious-minded person would say: guidance has come from God. With most of my patients I have to avoid this formulation, apt though it is, for it reminds them too much of what they had to reject in the first place. I must express myself in more modest terms and say that the psyche has awakened to spontaneous activity. And indeed this formulation is better suited to the observable facts, as the transformation takes place at that moment when, in dreams or fantasies, motifs appear whose source in consciousness cannot be demonstrated. To the patient it is nothing less than a revelation when something altogether strange rises up to confront him from the hidden depths of the psyche—something that is not his ego and is therefore beyond the reach of his personal will. He has regained access to the sources of psychic life, and this marks the beginning of the cure. [534]

            Jung discovered years before what therapists working with people suffering from multiple personality disorders have more recently discovered: That there lies within the person some form of “Inner Self Helper” who knows what is needed for healing to occur.[38] Like Jung I have had to be circumspect in using religious terms with people whose experience of organized religion has resulted in wounding and disillusionment. My own experience of analysis resonates with Jung’s reference to particular moments when a dream or life event sparks a transformation. Revelations, synchronicities, events that shock my ego mind and remind me of some much more powerful inner force—these have been features of the healing journey, and signs of my connection to the “sources of the psychic life,” and such a connection is a key to the cure. 

            In order to illustrate this process, I ought really to discuss it with the help of examples. But it is almost impossible to give a convincing example offhand, for as a rule it is an extremely subtle and complicated matter…. in most cases it is contents of an archetypal nature, or the connections between them, that exert a strong influence of their own whether or not they are understood by the conscious mind. This spontaneous activity of the psyche often becomes so intense that visionary pictures are seen or inner voices heard—a true, primordial experience of the spirit. [535]

            I know very well what Jung means by “inner voices,” as my spiritual path for over 30 years has been characterized by what I have come to call my “voice-over dreams.” In these dreams there is no action, only words, telling me what is to happen and/or what I am to do. They are indeed spontaneous, often most unwelcome—not at all what the ego wants to hear! But they always work to my benefit (although in the early years, I had deep struggles, as my ego mind did not want to listen or to submit to the guidance of the Self). Jung is also right in saying that providing examples is difficult, since each person is unique and his/her path is therefore unique. But, as Jung says, the process of healing almost always involves archetypes arising into consciousness from the collective unconscious, and the impact of these energies is strong. Since archetypes by their very nature are numinous,[39] they come along with high affect, or vivid images, or other memorable features in what Jung has termed “big dreams.”[40]

            Such experiences reward the sufferer for the pains of the labyrinthine way. From now on a light shines through the confusion; more, he can accept the conflict within him and so come to resolve the morbid split in his nature on a higher level. [536]

            Light, acceptance, resolution—these are some of the features of the healing of a neurosis. We still might feel confused, but no longer do we stumble along a seemingly endless dark path. We still might feel conflicted, but no longer do we try to push it away out of fear. We still might sense there is more work to be done, but we have had enough experience of the process that we can witness the work from a higher perspective. Jung’s “labyrinthine way” he illustrated in his Red Book, and in releasing this most intimate of Jung’s writings to public circulation, his heirs provided us with vivid insight into how Jung developed his ideas: from his lived experience.

Jung on Psychotherapy and Spirit: ¶s537-538

            … my main purpose… was to set forth the attitude of the psychotherapist to his work. … The attitude of the psychotherapist is infinitely more important than the theories and methods of psychotherapy, and that is why I was particularly concerned to make this attitude known. … I believe… that the picture I have drawn of the spiritual outlook of modern man corresponds to the true state of affairs, although I make no claim to infallibility. In any case, what I have had to say about the cure of neurosis, and the problems involved, is the unvarnished truth. … I believe, too, that there must be protestants against the Catholic Church, and also protestants against Protestantism—for the manifestations of the spirit are truly wondrous, and as varied as Creation itself. [537]

            Here Jung states clearly his reason for his presentation at the conference. He wanted both clergymen and therapists to see the multiple ways their work intersected and could support the other, and he was concerned that his followers develop the proper attitude toward the work of soul healing (which is literally what psycho-therapy is). Jung notes that attitude matters much more than theories and methods. Jung had little use for theories,[41] and he understood that mastery of a host of methods would do little to help a patient if the therapist’s attitude was wrong. While Jung took a humble approach to his depiction of the “spiritual outlook of modern man,” I think he was right on target, and that our spiritual malaise has only grown worse since Jung’s day. I also believe that Jung was correct in his belief that the cure of neuroses lies within, in eliciting the support of our inner healing force, the powers that lie in the unconscious, and that this is essentially a spiritual process. I also agree that there must be protests against the organized forms of religion, and manifold events in recent years have given people more and more solid reasons to question these forms.[42] As we move more deeply into the “new dispensation,” I predict we will, as a collective, come to recognize more reasons to move away from organized religions toward internalized forms of spirituality.

            The living spirit grows and even outgrows its earlier forms of expression; it freely chooses the men who proclaim it and in whom it lives. This living spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of mankind. Measured against it, the names and forms which men have given it mean very little; they are only the changing leaves and blossoms on the stem of the eternal tree. [538]

            Jung understood that the different cosmic ages have different forms of religious expression: The Age of Taurus saw the rise of religions based on the Earth and worship of the Mother. Following the precession of the equinox,[43] next came the Age of Aries, with its panoply of gods and goddesses, with the supreme god being male (e.g. Zeus, Jove). That age was succeeded by the Age of Pisces, the age of fishes, with an early symbol of Christianity being a sign of the fish.[44] Each age lasts about 2100 years,[45] so Jung hypothesized that we are entering into the next age, the Age of Aquarius, whose glyph is the water-bearer. Each person in this era is meant to be the bearer or source of the “living water” that Jesus mentioned in his discussion with the Samaritan woman.[46] In this way the “living spirit… outgrows its earlier forms of expression,” and, as Jung says, it is forever being renewed. “Making all things new” is one of its key features.[47] We cannot stop novelty, change, evolution. Nor can we hope to contain this living spirit, or measure it, or hope to control it. As Jung concludes, in this final paragraph of his talk, we are but “changing leaves and blossoms” on this living growth that is much larger than any individual person.


Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.

Damgaard, Jacqueline (1987), “The Inner Self-Helper: Transcendent Life Within Life?,” Consciousness and Survival, ed. John Spong. Sausalito CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences.

Dourley, John (1981), The Psyche as Sacrament. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Greenspan, Miriam (2004), Healing through the Dark Emotions. Boston: Shambhala.

Haught, Nancy (2009), “Sorry, Oregon, You’re No Longer the Most ‘Unchurched’,” The Oregonian (March 30, 2009).

Hergenhahn, B.R. (1994), An Introduction to Theories of Personality. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hollis, James (1995), Tracking the Gods. Toronto: Inner City Books.

________ (1996), Swamplands of the Soul. Toronto: Inner City Books.

________ (1998), The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Jung, C.G. (1956) “Symbols of Transformation,” Collected Works, 5, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), ”The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1954), “The Development of Personality,” CW 17. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1975), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1933), Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

________ (2009), The Red Book Liber Novus, ed. Sonu Shamdasani. New York: W.W. Norton.

Knox, Noelle (2005), “Religion takes a backseat in Western Europe,” USA Today (August 10, 2005).

McGuire, William & R.F.C. Hull eds. (1977), Jung Speaking. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Mehrtens, Susan ed. (1996), Revisioning Science. Waterbury VT: Potlatch Press.

Mipham, Sakyong (2003), Turning the Mind into an Ally. New York: Riverhead Books.

Sharf, Richard (1996), Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling. Pacific Grove CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

Tart, Charles (2009), The End of Materialism. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Pub.

van der Post, Laurens (1975), Jung and the Story of Our Time. New York: Vintage Books.


[1] Editor’s note in Collected Works 11, p. 327, note 1. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] Jung (1933), 221-244.

[3] Ireland’s church attendance (the highest among European populations) fell from 85% in 1975 to 60% in 2004. In July 2005 Pope Benedict lamented the decline in religious attendance in Europe. Knox (2005).

[4] The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey revealed that Vermont surpassed Oregon as the state with the highest percentage of respondents (34%) saying “none” for religious identification. Haught (2009).

[5] Cf. Dourley (1981), 31; Hollis (1995), 10, 140; Hollis (1998), 128-129; and Bair (2003), 765.

[6] Cf. the far more extensive material on Freud compared to Jung in, e.g. Sharf (1996) and Hergenhahn (1994).

[7] E.g. Americans like Edith Rockefeller McCormick, daughter of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and Mary Mellon, of the family of wealthy bankers. Both women provided Jung and his work with significant subventions.

[8] E.g. Victoria Ocampo (Argentina), Charles Baudouin (France), Howard Philip (Britain), Alberto Moravia (Italy), Ximena de Angulo (Spain), Miguel Serrano (Chile), Laurens van der Post (South Africa); McGuire & Hull (1977), v-ix; and van der Post (1975).

[9] Cf. CW 10, ¶s 260,168,193; CW 16, ¶392; CW 11, ¶85; CW 9i, ¶s23-24.

[10] Jung replied to some 60 letters from people all over the world in response to his “Answer to Job;” cf. Letters, II, pp. 17-18,33,35,39,40,51,59,61,66-68,79,80,85,97,99,100,104,110,112,115,116,118,153,155, 157,163,192,193,196,197,199,201,213,231,232,240-242,251,261-264,275-277,281,282,297,305,323,330, 383,384,434,462,520,526,527,548,554, and 556-558.

[11] CW 11, ¶511.

[12] Bair (2003), 35,127 and 846.

[13] van der Post (1975), 80.

[14] CW 11, ¶8.

[15] Mipham (2003), 21.

[16] CW 16, ¶2.

[17] For a detailed discussion of the “new dispensation,” see the blog essay “Jung and the New Dispensation” archived on this blog site.

[18] CW 5, ¶s190-195, 199-200.

[19] CW 16, ¶474; CW 17, ¶80.

[20] For more on the qualities of a good therapist, see the blog essay “What Makes a Good Analyst” archived on this blog site.

[21] Jung spoke of our “inner world” (CW 7, ¶317, 325-327). Jungian analyst and publisher Daryl Sharp uses the term “inner city.” For more on this concept, see the blog essay “Our Inner City” archived on this blog site.

[22] In his “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13, ¶335, Jung commented on New Agers’ failure to work with the shadow: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable, and therefore not popular.”

[23] CW 5, ¶461,463,470,644.

[24] Matt. 10: 34-36.

[25] CW 7, ¶111.

[26] See the blog essay “Jung on the Transcendent Function,” archived on this blog site.

[27] Red Book (2009), 461-467 (in the reader’s edition).

[28] Greenspan (2004), 290-291.

[29] Tart (2009), 24-25. For more on scientism, see Mehrtens (1996).

[30] This is a key principle of pragmatism. For more on Jung as a pragmatic empiricist, see the blog essay “The Psyche is Real: Materialism, Scientism and Jung’s Empiricism,” archived on this blog site.

[31] CW 10, ¶s 653,659.

[32] “Letter of William G. Wilson,” 30 January 1961; Letters, II, 623-624.

[33] Jungian analyst James Hollis refers to the slog through the unconscious as the “swamplands of the soul;” Hollis (1996).

[34] Edited by Sonu Shamdasani, as part of the Philemon Series of publications of Jung’s works not published earlier in the Collected Works.

[35] The folio version of the Red Book contains all of Jung’s paintings and drawings of these figures.

[36] CW 7, ¶220,513,518,520; CW 6, ¶840,842.

[37] “Letter to Pastor Ernst Jahn,” 7 September 1935; Letters, I, 195.

[38] Damgaard (1987), 117-133.

[39] CW 10, ¶s 530,646,652.

[40] CW 7, ¶277.

[41] Jung called theory “the very devil;” CW 17, p. 7.

[42] E.g. the sex abuse scandal by Roman Catholic priests; the scandal in the Vatican bank; the divisiveness in the Episcopal/Anglican communion over the ordination of women and openly gay men; the Sunni-Shia war within Islam; the persecution of Muslims by Buddhists in Myanmar— just some of the recent news items related to global religious activities.

[43] In this the astrological signs precess in reverse order to the order found in the natal chart, hence Taurus to Aries to Pisces to Aquarius.

[44] The image of a fish was used as a sign of a Christian group in the early years of the church, to avoid persecution by the Roman authorities. A fish was used because the Greek ichthys was an acronym for iesus christos theou hios (Jesus Christ, son of God).

[45] In CW 9ii, ¶149, note 84, Jung tried to work out the date when the Age of Aquarious began. If a Platonic month is 2,143 years in length, the start date could be as early as 1997 and as late as 2154, depending on which star one chooses to use. For more on this subject see the blog essay “Jung’s Platonic Month and the Age of Aquarius,” archived on this blog site.

[46] John 4:10-11.

[47] In Rev. 21:5 God tells John that He is making all things new.

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