Carl Gustav Jung

C. G. Jung (1875-1961)

Carl Gustav Jung was born in the small village of Kesswil near Lake Constance in the North of Switzerland.  His father was a Swiss Reformed pastor, and his mother came from a family of pastors in the region around Basel. Many of his experiences as a child would later inform the development of his theories about the psyche, including his own sense of having two distinct personalities—one a normal Swiss child, and the other a deeper, perhaps older, personality—and unusual experiences surrounding his mother and other members of the family.  Jung attended university in Basel and graduated with a degree in medicine in 1900.  His dissertation on somnambulistic (mediumistic) phenomena laid out his first thoughts on what would become a central element of his theories; the psyche, Jung argued, was seeking ways to move forward, toward new developmental objectives, rather than looking back towards earlier events in the individual’s life.

Following his university education, Jung took a position in the Burghölzli psychiatric hospital in Zurich, under the direction of Eugen Bleuler—at that time the foremost psychiatrist in Europe.  Under Bleuler’s direction Jung became deeply involved in experiments with the word association test, developing a variety of innovative mechanisms for testing physiological responses to individual stimulus words.  Out of this work, which by the age of 30 had already established him as a leading figure in psychiatry, Jung developed the first elements of his theory of the complex, which would be a central aspect of his later clinical thinking.  In 1906, having read Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, and several other works by Freud; Jung initiated a correspondence with the founder of psychoanalysis that would lead to an intense, and fateful, relationship between the two men.

Sigmund Freud was almost 20 years older than Jung, but the two almost immediately became intensely connected to one another.  Freud would subsequently refer to Jung as his heir apparent, the “ crown prince” of psychoanalysis.  Jung, in turn, assumed the role of advocate for Freud’s theories against the skeptical and even hostile reaction to psychoanalysis of the established medical community.  Nevertheless, differences between the two were evident from the beginning, particularly regarding the nature of the unconscious, significance of extraordinary phenomena, and the conduct of research in psychoanalysis.  By 1911, a scant five years after they met, the relationship began to deteriorate, as Jung proposed various revisions to psychoanalytic theory that Freud could not accommodate.  In 1913 the relationship between Jung and Freud that had begun with such intensity broke apart with equal intensity, each man going his own way.

Following the break with Freud, Jung began a period of self-examination and investigation of the unconscious that has been variously characterized as an encounter with the unconscious, and by some as a period of near psychosis.  Contemporary scholarship has rejected the most extreme versions of this period—there is really no evidence that Jung was experiencing a psychotic episode—but the significance of the work Jung did at this time cannot be underestimated.  From 1913 to approximately 1916 Jung was deeply involved in what can best be described as deep meditative practices that elicited material from the unconscious in the form of imagery and complex narratives associated with those images.  This material, recorded on an almost daily basis, formed the foundation for the composition of the Red Book, an account of Jung’s experiences that he continued to work on and illustrate until the early 1930s.  It was out of these experiences that Jung formulated the principles of his later clinical point of view, the use of what he termed active imagination as the central process of the psyche.

During roughly this same period Jung was developing a theory of personality that he had first addressed toward the end of his relationship with Freud as he tried to understand why their differences had become so intense and irreconcilable.  In 1920 this program of research resulted in the publication of his book, Psychological Types, which still stands as one of the first systematic attempts ad a theory of personality, and the inspiration for one of the most widely used personality tests, the Meyer/Briggs type index.  In addition to the development of the typology and the method of active imagination, this period saw the development of the central elements of Jung’s understanding of the unconscious, the theory of the collective unconscious, and its contents, the archetypes (for a fuller discussion of these aspects of Jung’s system of psychology see the essay What is Analytical Psychology?)

Through the 1920s Jung devoted himself to a deeper investigation of the collective unconscious, both by way of his clinical practice in Zurich, and through extensive travels in North America, Africa and Asia.  His publications during this period reflect his interest in the spiritual dimensions of human experience, which he had maintained from his early association with Freud, formed a central aspect of psychological heath.  A religious orientation was, in Jung’s view, intrinsic to the human psyche, regardless of the precise form that it took, and attending to that aspect of one’s life was essential not only to well being, but to growth towards the wholeness of life, which Jung referred to as individuation.

With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Jung fell briefly into an aspect of his own theory—the Shadow—that has clouded his reputation ever since.  Critics of Jung often misrepresent this period, but there can be no doubt that between 1933 and roughly 1936 Jung made a number of statements and public presentations in Germany that had a distinctly anti-Semitic thrust to them.  At the same time, however, Jung was working to preserve an institutional base for psychologists, particularly Jewish psychologists, who were being expelled from the German psychological associations.  This period is paradoxical and problematic in Jung’s life, but by the mid-1930s he had turned against any association with the Nazis and once World War II broke out he was recruited by Allen Dulles to provide psychological assessments of the Nazi leadership.  Following the war, Jung apologized for his earlier actions, and wrote several essays attempting to understand the cultural forces that had allowed not only Germany, but also Europe more generally, to fail so catastrophically.

Jung’s later life was in many ways dominated by the development of an unusual relationship with the physicist and leading figure in the development of quantum mechanics, Wolfgang Pauli.  Twenty-five years Jung’s junior, Pauli had come to Jung in the 1930s for therapy, brought on by erratic and often self-destructive behavior.  Jung had referred Pauli to one of his students with instructions to collect materials that Jung could study independently.  This study resulted in one of Jung’s most important works, Psychology and Alchemy, where he brought his interest in the late medieval and early modern proto-science of alchemy into dialogue with psychology, viewing the earlier material as often an attempt to engage psychological phenomena by way of the material world.  Pauli’s dream material from this period had distinctly alchemical resonances, and helped shape Jung’s arguments about the structure of the unconscious.

While their relationship was interrupted by the war, they began a more direct relationship after Pauli’s return from the United States, leading to a collaborative investigation of the relationship between the psyche and the material world in the form of Jung’s theory of synchronicity.  Pauli’s contribution to this late period of Jung’s work cannot be over emphasized, as he was one of the few people with whom Jung could work in full collaboration on such deep issues as the ultimate unity of psyche and matter.  Regrettably, the collaboration was cut short by Pauli’s death from cancer in 1958, but together they had defined an area of research that continues to engage both Jungian psychoanalysts and quantum physicists.

Jung died on June 6, 1961, in his home in Küsnacht, just outside Zurich.  His wife, Emma, had died in 1955; their five children and a large extended family survived them.  Jung’s legacy is complex, and in many ways remains to be fully defined.  His impact on the development of psychotherapy, and even on Freud’s psychoanalysis, is far more extensive than is often realized.  His cultural impact has been profound, not least as his theorizing about personality has come to shape not only the practice of psychotherapy but also through an array of psychometric studies of leadership and the management of organizations.  The vocabulary of the collective unconscious and archetypal images is a constant sub-text—when it is not actually explicit—of the analysis of literature, film and the arts more generally.  His emphasis on the spiritual dimension of the human psyche and its role in psychological development helped shape the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous and is increasingly recognized by therapists with no background in Jung’s thought as essential to mental health.  His influence also continues through the International Association for Analytical psychology, and the work of the community of analysts recognized by the Association.