The Can of Worms – The Collective Unconscious and Jung’s split with Freud

In the last blog entry, I referred to how Jung’s intuitions about a broader unconscious caused tension with Freud that, in the end, could not be reconciled.  Jung’s intuition had to do with a deeper layer of the unconscious that was not just material that was at one time conscious and then repressed.  Instead, Jung believed that there was a deeper layer to the unconscious – one that had never been conscious to individuals, only discoverable by consciousness. 

Jung called this stratum of the unconscious the collective unconscious or, sometimes, the objective psyche – objective because it existed without the subjective realm of personal unconscious, really, without us entirely.  The collective unconscious is universal, and exists across cultures and history.  Jung writes: “The collective unconscious comprises in itself the psychic life of our ancestors right back to the earliest beginnings.  It is the matrix of all conscious psychic occurrences…(CW 8, para. 230). The collective unconscious expresses itself in the form of myth; fairy tale; folk tales; the “big dreams” common in cultures where ritual connection with this realm is encouraged and respected; and often in the delusions of those suffering from severe mental illness.

This is the richness of Jung’s work, and is often the initial catalyst that intrigues us and brings us to workshops and lectures.  It is the connection to the numinous we so often seek, the connection to deeper and wider vistas from which to understand ourselves.

I look forward to seeing you all in a couple of weeks for the lecture and workshop on consciousness and change!

Hallie Durchslag, LISW

Freud’s Theory of the Unconscious

Sigmund Freud’s and Carl Jung’s relationship began while Jung was a young psychiatrist at a mental hospital in Switzerland.  (Freud’s medical practice was in Vienna.)  It is hard for us to imagine now, with our well-established culture of seeing therapists, or uttering the words, “you need to talk to a shrink!” (no one wants to hear that, right? J), but Freud was the first psychiatrist to engage in “talk therapy.”  This talk therapy mostly centered around dream analysis and a free-flow exploration of his patients’ fantasy life (free association) in order to access unconscious material.  

Freud believed the unconscious material expressed in dream and fantasy was rooted in the repression of instinctual drives (often pigeon-holed as sexual drives, which is not entirely the case).  The theory was that the desire for pleasure and self-gratification young children experience conflicted with the limitations imposed through family dynamics and societal norms.  Therefore, the unacceptable thoughts or behavior had to be repressed or converted into some other form.  Symptoms and mental illness arose when these repressed drives could no longer be adequately sublimated and would take hold of the patient in the form of compulsions and symptoms.  Dreams and free association allowed Freud’s patients to access the initial conflict between the biological drive and family and culture.  The conscious acknowledgment of such conflict allowed the symptoms involved in repressing it to diminish. 

 When Jung heard about this new talk therapy, he was inspired!  He sent Freud a letter hoping to meet him.  Jung looked at Freud as a psychological pioneer, and was eager to learn all he could.  The two would share intellectual and clinical commonalities for many years.  In fact, Freud used to say that Jung was the “heir apparent” in the field of psychoanalysis. 

 However, all that changed when Jung began to think, hmm, what if there is more at work in the unconscious than just this personal compromise between pleasure-seeking drives and its modification during childhood development?  Oh boy.  There’s a can of worms.  But for Jungians, it was the beginning of an era that continues to deepen our experience of what it means to be human.  More next week about that can of worms…

(P.S. No blog next week)

What is “DEPTH Psychology?”

Last week, we re-affirmed that the roots of psychology rest within an attention to soul and the “invisible” essence of life that breathes within and around us. 

This desire to somehow bridge connection between mind and the invisible is an ancient philosophical dilemma, beginning with Western philosophers from the time of Aristotle!  However, the scientific revolution of the Renaissance and Enlightenment ushered in a new era, and era that would split the invisible from the visible.  A culture of Cartesian dualism (mind vs. matter) took its strong-hold. From that point forward, if there were to be any attention to this invisible, soulful realm, it would be through the church, not through science.  Psychology followed suit with one exception: Dr. Sigmund Freud. 

A psychiatrist, trained in medicine, Freud noticed that his clients manifested physical symptoms that could not be explained through medicine and physiology, nor could clients control these various physical compulsions.  After careful evaluation of his cases, Freud posited that there must be some unseen force, not body and not conscious will, which drove these symptoms.  He termed this unseen force the unconscious, and with that, depth psychology was born.

At its simplest, depth psychology means “psychology of the unconscious.”  When we speak of depth psychology we are speaking of a family tree that began with Freud and grew outward once Jung’s convictions about the unconscious parted from Freud’s.  Today, depth psychology consists of both psychoanalysis (Freud’s legacy) and analytical psychology (Jung’s legacy).  Next week, we’ll take a brief look at what finally split Jung and Freud.  Much has been said about this split between the founders of depth psychology – books written, movies made – but next week we will look at the theory alone: different theories of what the unconscious is and how it manifests itself.  Have a wonderful week!

Hallie Beth Durchslag, LISW