Posts Tagged ‘psychotherapy’

ed Anthony Storr: The Essential Jung

June 14, 2022

     I’ve been delving into some of Jung’s writings lately, finding a number of his ideas and insights helpful in terms of understanding and interpreting my own life and where I am at currently. This is a selection from the vast corpus of his life’s work, presented by Anthony Storr, who also provides an excellent summative introduction to the salient parts of Jung’s life and thought.

There’s a vast range of extracts, presented thematically to show the stages and development of Jung’s work and his theories, along with very helpful commentary that links, enlightens, and above all for me shows process; in a single, selective volume like this, the presentation is vital.

The early years, work with mentally ill patients, the friendship and then the quarrel with Sigmund Freud is a bit amorphous; it’s when Jung turns his attention to developing an understanding of how healthy minds work, and what’s going on deep beneath the surface (I oversimplify appallingly here!) that it all becomes really interesting and eye-opening. I find myself led to reflect on my own life and experiences in different ways, from different perspectives. The gradual development of Jung’s own methods of psychoanalysis, and the humility, I think, of recognising any therapist’s own limitations is also very interesting; there is much that we can know or find out, and even try to change, but there is much more that we can never know, or know with certainty…

Jung lived adventurously, in terms of taking all sorts of risks at various points, with his own life and sanity in terms of advancing his understanding of workings of the human mind; I was certainly conscious of a man driven to want to know, to explore, to find out and to explain. He saw life as an ongoing process, a part of which necessitates our coming to terms with ageing, and the prospect and inevitability of death, things which we naturally prefer to avoid or hide from ourselves.

This led Jung on to wrestle with religion, and the psychology of religion; there’s an awful lot of very good sense in what he has to say which I do not think invalidates the idea of faith. There is some rather over-the-top stuff where he’s wrestling to make Christianity fit in with his theories, and then when he moves on to alchemy, he lost me completely. I could see why, though everything in this book of extracts is obviously part of Jung’s life and work, a good deal of it is no longer widely referenced. It seems as if he felt he had to explain everything and integrate everything into his theories, which led me to think that here was yet another scientist who was attempting to explain and rationalise religion, ie attempting the impossible.

The final very pessimistic section on the potential future of humanity chimes in all too well with our age, and a feeling that though we may be an intelligent species, we’re not that clever, and the problems we are faced with may be too many and too complex for us to surmount. He foresaw the world of Trump, Johnson, Le Pen and Orban and where such men may lead us, whether we will or not, because – and I have to agree with him here – people are too easily led, and not self-aware enough.

Anthony Stevens: Jung – A Very Short Introduction

April 4, 2022

     I’ve written earlier on this year about re-visiting some of Jung’s writing, prompted partly by earlier re-reading of Hermann Hesse’s fiction; while dependent on the library for reading-matter because of our recent house move, I came across this introduction to the great man’s life and work. The Oxford Very Short Introductions series is one I’ve found very helpful in the past.

What particularly appeals to me, at my stage of life, is Jung’s concept of individuation, the idea of making sense of one’s entire life or existence as on looks back on the whole of it – which is obviously something for those of us further on in years. One’s life is a journey of discovery and self-discovery; one has to go one’s own way, to make one’s particular journey: nobody else can do it for you! Which at one level is a statement of the bleeding obvious, and at another is profoundly empowering, it seems to me.

Anyway, there’s not a lot I can say about this slim volume other than that it’s a very well-written, clear and thoughtful introduction to and explanation of Jung’s life and particular contribution to psychology and psychoanalysis, which makes many useful connections both with what went before and what has developed since. Jung’s influence on the world of counselling, psychotherapy and self-discovery in general, is hard to overlook when you appreciate the breadth of his learning, knowledge and exploration.

Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections

November 7, 2021

     This was a fascinating and unusual approach to autobiography. Jung does not present his life in a linear fashion, but through the recalling of significant moments and epiphanies, especially of his childhood. He gives a very powerful and detailed picture of the centrality of religion to his early years, and I quickly recognised a polymath striving to find his way through so much curiosity and so many paths of knowledge. He shows how he arrived at his earliest glimpses of the workings and power of the unconscious, and the shadow, in his life. When he moves on to his development as an analyst, we can see clearly the evolution of his therapeutic methodology, and how it has influenced the ways many current practitioners work. There is an astonishing bravery and confidence during those days of psychoanalysis in its relative infancy, almost a ‘make it up as you go along’ approach. Jung’s split with Freud is explained quite clearly: Jung could not go along with his colleague’s attribution of sexual origins to all neuroses, and quite soon was ploughing his own furrow, Freud merely being an episode in the progress of Jung’s life and work.

I find the descriptions of various cases fascinating and often wonder if such arcane and weird-sounding issues present themselves nowadays, as presented themselves to the likes of Freud and Jung, or whether today’s mental health issues are very different.

Some chapters are very challenging, both to read and to understand; Jung’s confrontation with the unconscious felt almost like an episode of madness to me, and the revelations he enjoyed reminded me of the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. I was continually astonished by his phenomenally detailed memory for his dreams and visions.

Jung’s studies, reading, researches and thinking represent an enormous work of synthesis across many fields, psychology, history, mythology, alchemy, religion, literature, and reflect the complexity both of his past and development, and through him, our understanding of that of the human race as a whole. There seems to be a much broader scope in his approach to the human mind and consciousness than in Freud’s work, as far as I can recall it. And I was intrigued – and will reflect further on this – by a sense of his influence on Philip Pullman’s vision of the afterlife as pictured in the Northern Lights trilogy…

As his life progressed, there was increasing emphasis on the importance and significance of the spiritual element, in its broadest sense, to human life, and the consequences of our neglect or rejection of this aspect of ourselves. I was also struck by Jung’s humility, in spite of the scope of his life’s achievement, by his recognition of his own, and humans’ limitations generally, and by the way he reached acceptance and contentment in his terms, as his life drew to a close.

Not an easy read, but a very thought-provoking and satisfying one.

Frieda Fordham: An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology

November 1, 2021

     I’ve been re-visiting Jung recently, and went back to this introductory text, which is quite old now (Fordham actually knew Jung towards the end of his life). Briefly I wondered why I hadn’t chosen a more recent general text, but I’m finding – perhaps because of my age – that older texts are better organised, more carefully expressed and often much better referenced; this one has an excellent glossary. I’m sure the receptiveness of our brains changes, and has been shaped by our age, and our education, too.

One thing that is quite striking is how dated some of the attitudes and behaviours ascribed to men and women sound today; Jung and Fordham were both of a particular time, and this particular flaw does not invalidate their explanations. In fact, a reaction to what we now call sexist language and attitudes is a useful touchstone in a way, for evaluating the soundness of the underlying ideas: you slow down as you read in order to argue with the text and check how sound the arguments are.

The importance attributed to the unconscious is central to Jung’s exploration and understanding of how we humans ‘work’ mentally and emotionally, and it’s stressed that the unconscious isn’t just a sort of dustbin for the unacceptable parts of us, but something far broader and deeper. Accepting that there is much going on below the surface that is an integral part of us is part of a journey to wholeness; concepts such as the animus/anima and the shadow can be helpful in furthering our self-understanding.

I had not recalled – or perhaps not noticed previously – how much Jung focuses on the second half of life, and this is surely part of the reason that I have returned to his after a good many years. Neither had I taken on board his interest in alchemy, as part of his researches, and reflecting on more recent times I wondered if he would have explored the uses of various psychotropic drugs…

Again I have been struck by the modernity in his methods of analysis, particularly the idea that the work done by analyst/counsellor and client/worker but be open, shared: both are working towards a resolution of the issues and there is no cut-and-dried interpretation to be handed down like stone tablets from analyst to ‘patient’. Such an approach is intrinsic to so much contemporary counselling and psychotherapy.

Overall I have been impressed by the breadth of Jung’s research and knowledge and the way he has attempted to synthesise so much material. It’s not the complete answer for me, but a very useful tool to have on the journey, and Frieda Fordham’s book is mostly a very lucid introduction.

Carl Jung: Modern Man in Search of a Soul

September 21, 2021

     The main overall impression I gained from this book, published almost a century ago, is how much psychoanalysis has moved on in that time, in terms of its methods, procedures and outcomes, and also how far ahead of his time Jung was, even though he wrote using language which is rather impenetrable nowadays.

He warns against ‘suggestions’ from the ‘analyst’, advising that progress comes from what the client brings to a session; here we see the current way, where the ‘client/worker’ does the work through speaking and making connections, and cannot not remain passive during a therapy session, cannot, having talked for their hour, then have the ‘solution’ to their ‘problems’ presented by the expert analyst.

We see Jung’s clear awareness that people like Freud, Adler and himself were at the very earliest stages in the development of what we now call psychotherapy. Freud and Jung had initially focused on dreams, whereas today the emphasis has shifted to feelings, with dreams perhaps a significant part of what a client brings along. And Jung’s big discovery is the unconscious, and its contribution to us as individuals, and the collective unconscious and its effect on us as a species. There is a humility on Jung’s part in the way he describes so much as a work in progress, and is often quite tentative in what he is suggesting. He does place a lot of emphasis on dreams, which he saw as a useful ‘way in’ to what was going on. There is also a very interesting chapter on art and artists and the potential of art as therapy, which is now something used quite widely and commonly in various schools of psychotherapy.

He also seems to have been ahead of his time in considering the need to be working with healthy as well as unhealthy minds, in terms of developing a greater understanding of how we human beings ‘work’. And I was aware, all the time I was reading, of the huge shadow cast over Europe and its peoples by the horrors of the First World War, which had only ended relatively recently…

The other area where I feel Jung makes a significant contribution is in his recognition of the importance of a spiritual element in the human psyche, no matter what actual language or terminology we use to explore and describe it. For Jung, acknowledging this is necessary to a balanced life. He wrestles with a number of complexities here, but his ideas fit in with his key notion of the collective unconscious.

There is a great deal of thoughtful and measured wisdom and goodness in what he writes, and in the way he writes, even if it is now rather dated and unfamiliar language; it’s certainly worth the effort. Jung is much more spiritual or religious than I remember him from previous reading many years ago, and yet also far more modern in terms of his vision of how the counsellor-therapist and her/his client must work together to succeed.

Jung: Man and his Symbols

April 15, 2020

51APmw-dAwL._AC_UY218_ML3_     I came back to this, one of the oldest books in my library, which I bought and read as a student. At various points I’ve read some psychology texts, done a very useful and interesting training course in counselling, and read quite a bit about astrology, too – I think the overlap between some ideas between astrology and Jungian psychoanalysis was probably where this book came into my life originally.

At the very end of his life Jung, aided by a few followers, attempted to convey the outlines of his ideas to the intelligent lay reader, hence this book. Jung’s particular focus is on the unconscious, and particularly the way it intrudes into our lives and reminds us of its existence though dreams, which may often be messages about our life which it behoves us to ponder and perhaps act upon. For Jung, civilisation has separated us from a very important part of ourselves, and the unconscious is an integral part of our being, not just a ragbag of assorted leftovers from some primordial past.

Jung intended to lead people to understand and explore for themselves (rather than have an analyst do this for them and tell them everything). He puts together a very powerful case for what we have lost through our overly scientific and rational approach; we haven’t eradicated the unconscious part of ourselves but pushed it away, hidden it or ignored it, and so it affects us in different and initially less comprehensible ways.

Subsequent chapters deepen and broaden Jung’s ideas and flesh them out with examples and more detail. The section on symbolism in the visual arts was the most interesting one for me, and I must admit that overall I found the emphasis on dreams and their (over-)interpretation rather too mechanistic in the end. I ended up thinking that psychoanalysis and psychotherapy has moved on enormously since Jung’s time, not in the sense that it invalidates or negates his discoveries, but in that it has changed how it works with people and the issues they have. There’s an imbalance in too much focus on the dreamworld, and too much room for ‘expert’ input and leading interpretation, rather than allowing a person to discover for themselves. It was interesting to come back to the book, but if you want to explore your own inner life, there are others which will serve you a lot better.

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