What is Jungian Psychotherapy?
Many people have heard of Jungian psychotherapy. Maybe it was mentioned in a book, magazine, or movie. Maybe it was recommended to you by a friend. Your curiosity may have been piqued. So what is it?
Jungian psychotherapy refers to an approach to therapy based on the ideas and practices of noted Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, and built upon further by several generations of psychological practitioners all over the world. The study of psychology underlying this approach is called analytical psychology. The word 'analysis' here refers to psychoanalysis, an even broader umbrella of approaches to depth-oriented psychotherapy, building originally upon the ideas and methods of Sigmund Freud. Freud and Jung were in fact close associates for a time in the early days of psychoanalysis. Just as psychoanalysis originated with Freud but has developed in many ways he could not have conceived of, 'Jungian' psychotherapy refers to an approach that originated with Jung, but no longer is only tied to him or his works. As awkward as it may be to continue to use his name in this way, the phrase 'Jungian psychotherapy' is widely understood to refer to a specific type of therapy.
The fundamental insight of psychoanalysis is that we are at times motivated by some part of us of which we are not aware. We have made unconscious (in the sense of being outside of our awareness) choices; we have unconscious desires; and we act for unconscious reasons. A great deal of mental distress originates when these unconscious elements are in conflict with our conscious wishes. Coping strategies to quell the conflict eventually no longer suffice and the conflict surfaces, often as psychological, emotional, or even physical distress. The process of psychoanalysis raises the conflict into awareness (often with 'aha!' moments of insight or breakthrough) so that different choices can be made about it and so that the feelings about it can be transformed.
Jungian psychotherapy is definitely a form of psychoanalytic therapy. Identifying unconscious elements and raising them into consciousness is often a big part of the work. There are a few distinguishing characteristics of the Jungian approach, however.
Jungian therapists pay attention not only to an individual's personal experiences and conflicts but also to patterns of experience that happen for all people. Archetypal elements pervade human psychology. We are not all so different from each other, after all. It can be very comforting to come to understand on a deep level that the difficulty one is experiencing is one that many other people throughout the world and throughout history have also experienced. (You might feel this as an 'awe' experience, in addition to the 'aha' experiences.)
In addition to archetypal aspects of human psychology, another distinguishing characteristic of Jungian therapy is the significance accorded to teleology. Now, 'teleology' (from the Greek telos, meaning end, purpose, or goal) is a fancy philosophical word encompassing such everyday but important life concepts as: purpose, meaning, or direction. The attitude of Jungian psychotherapy is that one's psychological life is going somewhere, and that the therapist and the patient together can seek that and partner with that. Life experiences matter, and when we prioritize them, pay attention to them, and treat them as mattering, we find that life can become more rich and we can live more fully into ourselves. We can together make meaning out of life experiences, weaving a narrative (sometimes a new narrative), discarding or rewriting old, fixed ideas about life and diminishing despair, hopelessness, or meaninglessness. Becoming even more of who one really is - that is an enlivening process of individuation, and Jungian psychotherapy is an approach that holds such a process as its goal.
So what does Jungian therapy look like? That is a particularly difficult question because, unlike most approaches to psychotherapy, Jungian psychotherapy is not defined by the use of any specific techniques. Jung himself said that he invented a new form of therapy for each patient. It is more important for the therapist and patient to make use of techniques well-suited for the current situation than for any particular technique to be used. Many Jungian psychotherapists use psychoanalytic techniques and other 'talk therapy' techniques from the humanistic traditions. Many Jungian psychotherapists use the content of dreams as material to explore in the therapy. Sand play and other active imagination techniques are used by some, as well.
I do Jungian psychotherapy work with interested clients in my office in San Francisco. If you would like to engage in this exciting and helpful form of psychotherapy, I encourage you to contact me for an appointment.