Jungian Psychotherapy

You want to explore your inner self? You find the Freudian emphasis on the murky nature of what lurks in your unconscious a bit oppressive? It may be that the Jungians have just the thing for you. The analytic approach is similar but a different view of the forces that motivate us and shape our minds lends it a more optimistic tone.

A pessimist bemoans the fact that his glass half empty while an optimist rejoices that it is half full. Similarly, where a Freudian searches for signs of the bitter fruits of unresolved conflicts in the neurotic subconscious the Jungian is looking for the seeds of psychic growth and development.

Jung was one of the inner circle of Psychoanalysts that worked with Freud in Vienna in the early years of this century. So it is not surprising that the basic technique of Analytical Psychology, as Jung called his approach, is similar to that of Psychoanalysis. The patient tells the therapist about their worries, hopes, dreams and fantasies. The therapist helps the patient to analyse them. One minor difference is that Jungian therapists are just as likely to sit face to face with their patient as to use a couch and many will switch between couch and chairs from session to session.

Both approaches share the goal of making us aware of our unconscious mental processes, but they differ radically in their conception of the unconscious mind. To Freudians it is the murky repository of thoughts and conflicts that are too disturbing to acknowledge and which are interpreted by the therapist when they leak into consciousness in coded forms. Jungians have a much more positive view.

“The unconscious is not just a repository of conflict” says Roderick Peters, a London-based Jungian therapist “it carries the seeds of (psychological) developments that are going to take place”. These ‘seeds’ are known as archetypes. They are the blueprints for different kinds of psychological potential – such as maternal behaviour, or the capacity to relate to your father.

The role of the unconscious in development means that you don’t just need to understand your unconscious, you need to have a good relationship with it, “almost like a marriage”, according to Peters “A person comes into analysis because the relationship between conscious and unconscious is uncomfortable”. The therapist mediates in that relationship.

Dreams are hugely important in this process. “Some dreams give you a snapshot of everything going on in your psyche” says Andrew Samuels, Professor of Analytical Psychology at Essex University. “Every bit of the dream represents a part of the dreamer” he says. For example if you dream about a priest and a football player the therapist may ask you about the football player – or the piest – in yourself.

{Dreams may also signal the need to rebalance your conscious attitudes. For example, if you are a successful businessman dreams of babies may signal a need to get in touch with the baby in yourself.}

The aim of therapy is to improve the communication between conscious and unconscious. It may be used to help resolve a particular problem or trauma. Many people use it in a more open-ended way, if they are simply not as happy as they would like to be and are looking for meaning in their life. This wide variety means that it is essential that a person looking for Jungian therapy checks what they are getting. An open-ended analysis can take years. Make sure that the therapist offers what you want before you enter into a long-term relationship with them.

The ‘meaning of life’ side of Jungian therapy can give it a somewhat mystical take that is alien to people like me who view the brain as a machine. However the real question is not whether it has neuroscientific plausibility but whether it works. The proof of this is that people are happy to pay for it and feel that it helps them. However, according to Mark Williams of the Institute for Medical and Social Care Research there’s no good evidence that it’s better than briefer, cheaper, more “scientific” therapies that we shall deal with in coming articles.

On the other hand, research sponsored by insurance companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland shows that people who have long-term psychotherapy – including Jungian therapy – have lower lifetime medical costs. They are healthier in mind and body. However it’s impossible to be sure that this is a consequence of psychotherapy.


The International Association for Analytical Psychology, PO Box 24, CH 8847 Egg Switzerland, tel +41 55 412 2472, Fax 3772, email IAAP@swissonline.ch is the official register of national and state registers of analytical psychologists set up by Jung. Their web site www.iaap.org includes names and web sites. For more general information try www.cgjung.com, or www.jungindex.net