By Gunner West
An Introduction to Jungian Psychology as a Means for Spiritual Healing: Part 1 – Foundational Concepts
My personal journey of introspection and self-discovery has been painful. It has also given me freedom from my past and direction for my future. On this journey, I have learned to stop over intellectualizing—to get into my body, be vulnerable, and develop more genuine relationships. One of the best tools in my ever-growing toolset of mental models and practical methods for spiritual healing, self-discovery, and operating in the world has been the work of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, which has facilitated much of my self-exploration and opened up an inner world of pain, suffering, richness and beauty previously unfamiliar to me. In this series, I hope to adequately provide a coherent understanding of Jungian psychology for the purpose of spiritual healing so that you may find use for it in your life.
Depth psychology is a loosely affiliated collection of psychological theories and therapies that are bounded together by their shared examination of the unconscious parts of the human psyche and their shared recognition of the unconscious mind’s effect on human behavior. In general, depth psychologies—the three most notable being: Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, Carl Jung’s analytic psychology, and Alfred Adler’s individual psychology—conceptualize the human psyche as consisting of processes that are conscious, unconscious, and semi-conscious. In other words, the human psyche is a relationship between the unconscious and conscious mind.
In regard to the practical purpose of psychotherapy, depth psychology operates under the working assumptions that introspective exploration can unearth the deeper, often unconscious, psychic content underlying one’s cognitive and behavioral processes and that this process of discovery is inherently healing, in and of itself. In the words of depth psychologist, Dr. Craig Chalquist, “Depth refers to what is below the surface of psychic manifestations like behaviors, conflicts, relationships, family dynamics, dreams, even social and political events. The what is some deep fantasy or image system inaccessible to purely literal-minded approaches.” The following is a list of a few approaches that are effective tools for introspective exploration based on the theories of depth psychology:
Shadow work and projection awareness,
Examination of emotional and behavioral symptoms,
Dream analysis, active imagination, and the interpretation of symbols,
Depth-oriented studies of culture and myth.
The above list will serve as a roadmap for this series’ exploration into Carl Jung’s psychology as a means for spiritual healing. Parts 1 and 2 will lay out a foundation of concepts and context surrounding Jungian psychology and the nature of the human psyche. This conceptual base will lead us into the rest of the series as we put theory into practice using the aforementioned list of psychotherapeutic approaches.
Why (or Why Not) Jungian Psychology?
The methods, rituals, and therapies of Jungian psychology facilitate the development of one’s self-awareness and an understanding of the way in which his psyche functions, which will allow him to avoid potential pitfalls in the future; however, for men who have already fallen to the bottom of the pit, Jung may better serve as the next step after a good recovery treatment, not a substitute for treatment. Healing is done by shifting perspective but forcing a new perspective on a psychologically unstable person can be dangerous. For a deeply fragmented and unbalanced man who is unrecognizable to himself, something more practical than dream analysis is necessary for recovery. For men who have received treatment, however, a voluntarily induced chaos using the Jungian model can be an effective means for psychological healing and spiritual growth.
Through this practice, Jungian psychology and its techniques would act as a catalyst for opening a floodgate of unconscious content to be integrated into consciousness. When one bravely and unflinchingly looks inside himself, he will discover repressed and unconscious thoughts, feelings, memories, fantasies, desires, and instincts that directly influence his behavior, mood, and actions. As mentioned, this can be dangerous for a fragmented person in a state of distress and instability, as unconscious content is often difficult and painful to integrate; however, it is this very state of chaos that calls forth the unconscious psychic material needed for spiritual healing. So, when one voluntarily confronts the chaos of his being rather than having it forcefully thrust upon him by the compensatory nature of his psyche, he is better equipped to transform that chaotic potential into habitable order. Voluntary or not, pain is a doorway into the unconscious and an inevitable part of psychological and spiritual development.
Man’s Spiritual Thirst for Wholeness
All human beings have a hunger for the divine. Through Jung’s empirical study of subjective human experience and creative outputs, both on the individual level by way of dreams and the collective level by way of myths, he identified that the psyche spontaneously generates mythopoetic-religious symbolism and patterns, showing an instinctive longing for spirituality, a relationship with the divine, and a desire for wholeness.
“As the eye to the sun, so the soul corresponds to God…the soul must contain in itself the faculty of relationship to God…This correspondence is, in psychological terms, the archetype of the God-image.” [Jung. “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12, par. 11.]
We have yet to discuss archetypes, but we will in Part 2 of this series. Briefly, an archetype can be described as a transpersonal, primordial pattern in the collective unconscious, which acts independently of consciousness as a kind of psychic organism with instinctual blueprints for its activity and expression—forming into archetypal images for the purpose of communication with the conscious mind through dreams and myth in a process of compensatory self-regulation. I will do my best to clarify and explain, in more detail, the nature of Jungian archetypes in Part 2.
For now, at the risk of being reductive, the “archetype of the God-image” mentioned above (also known as the “archetype of the Self” or the “archetype of wholeness”) is one’s connection to God. In other words, it is God within us, or from a contemporary religious perspective, it is the “image of God” in us—our spark of divinity. It is important to note, however, the famed Jungian analyst, Edward Edinger, argued that Carl Jung’s psychology only concerned itself with the psychological nature of God as expressed in the archetype of the God-image, as well as our relationship with that God-image. Jung’s psychology was not, according to Edinger, concerned with the question of the metaphysical existence of a supreme being. But as psychologist Dr. Jordan B. Peterson asserts, “Whether the gods are inside or outside makes very little difference to whether there are gods.” While this assertion may or may not hold up on the cosmic scale, it does ring true from the perspective of one’s individual psychology and spiritual healing.
As understood by Jung and as evidenced through the mythopoetic-religious symbolism and patterns of dreams and myths, we are necessarily spiritual beings—we cannot choose to be otherwise. Our psyche has chosen for us. We do, however, have a choice of where we seek to quench that spiritual thirst for wholeness. For many of us, whether consciously or unconsciously, we choose to worship alcohol, sex, drugs, wealth, power, perfectionism, emotion, knowledge, etc. These spirits are faux imitations of the divine; they possess us and influence our behavior, often in a negative manner. Our god becomes whatever we value the most, and when that god is not the divine, there remains a hole in our soul too cavernous for anything to fill but the infinite. Jung argued that by recognizing, surrendering, and being in relationship with a higher authority than oneself, one can separate from the lesser gods that possess him.
Carl Jung’s Influence on Alcoholics Anonymous
The principles above may sound familiar to some readers since similar themes run through the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W., founder of A.A., credits a conversation between Carl Jung and Rowland H., who was a patient of Jung’s back in the 1930’s, as playing “a critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.” Jung told Rowland H.—after several months of daily therapy sessions with Jung and an eventual relapse—that his case was hopeless short of a religious conversion experience, which Jung believed to be rare. As Bill W. recounts in a letter to Jung, “[Y]ou frankly told him of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned. This candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built.” Jung further elaborated that this thirst for spirits could be “counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community.” The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection. Spiritus contra spiritum; high spirit against low spirit.
Again, it must be stressed that Jung was speaking here about the psychological nature of the God-image, not the metaphysical existence, or non-existence, of God. Even in this private letter to Bill W., he marks his concern about being misunderstood for his use of religious language. On the other hand, I do not want to be so reductive as to claim all sacred reality comes, solely, from within. As above, so below; as within, so without. That is my understanding of reality, and in my opinion, so too was it Jung’s; however, this is arguable. Who am I to claim understanding of another’s mind, especially one as monumental as Jung’s?
Modern Man in Search of a Soul
The 20th century saw the decline of traditional religion’s influence on society and the individual. As people turned away from clergymen and toward psychotherapists for existential and spiritual guidance, therapists became the de facto clergy. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many therapists are not well equipped to take on this role and do not have the spiritual or theological background to provide proper spiritual guidance. However, depth psychologist—or any therapist that reverentially treats the unconscious and its effects on human behavior—are better equipped than most to take on the role of the clergy in one’s quest for spiritual healing.
Jung recognized this spiritual void in man, so he developed his psychology as an alternative for those spiritually lost souls for whom traditional—predominantly Christian—ceremonies, rituals, and symbols were no longer numinous or religiously awe-inspiring. In my individual case, I am attempting to use Jung’s psychology as a complementary framework to the religious artifacts of my culture and psyche, which still hold some numinous quality for me—so as not to replace them, but rather, to revivify these oft misunderstood artifacts and traditions.
Jung saw personal conflicts, impediments, and behavioral symptoms as, in the words of Chalquist, containing “a mythic or transpersonal/archetypal core that when interpreted can reintroduce the client to the meaning of his struggles.” For example, “the pain of leaving home can be reimagined as the ageless adventure of the wanderer setting out into the unknown.” He, however, warns against the dangers of focusing only on this transpersonal core, which would result in an inflation of the ego—an inflated sense of self-importance. On the other hand, there is the danger of focusing only on personal experience, which is a rejection of the individual’s connection to the transpersonal and a narcissistic devaluation of spiritual experience.
In a sense, this balance, or rather relationship, between the personal and transpersonal is the aim of Jung’s psychology, which is the spiritual quest for wholeness. Jung understood that man is on a quest to discover his soul and to find meaning and purpose for his life. Most, if not all, psychological distress can be understood as the suffering of a man who has yet to discover what life means for him. Life needs meaning, and man needs faith, hope, love, insight, and a proper understanding of the difference between good and evil. Although these can be adequately learned through our cultural and religious traditions, I would contend that they are best gained through experience, and experience cannot be manufactured. Life is the ultimate teacher, and for Jung, this spiritual quest for wholeness was the meaning of life.
In Part 2, we will discuss how Jung conceptualized the structure of the human psyche—consisting of three major parts: the conscious mind, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. We will also examine Jung’s concept of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, which will set the stage for a discussion on the archetype of wholeness and the process of individuation.