Being Jungian In Today's World

When Editor Carol Atkinson suggested I write something about Jungian psychology for the Bulletin, she opined that Jungian thought had become popular in various segments of our community, but notably not among psychologists.

Jung's Popularity Outside Mainstream Psychology

When Editor Carol Atkinson suggested I write something about Jungian psychology for the Bulletin, she opined that Jungian thought had become popular in various segments of our community, but notably not among psychologists. I had to agree with her. Best-selling books Care of the Soul and Women Who Run with the Wolves are both based on Jung's work, and Jungian analysts Robert Moore and James Hillman have been key figures in the men's movement. I encounter Jungian terms in popular songs, movies, literature, and comic strips all the time. Even Madison Avenue has incorporated Jung. In one commercial, a beer-drinker joked that appreciation of Budweiser's finer qualities is stored in the collective unconscious. Nevertheless, I continue to hear the same story from university students: Jung is barely mentioned in most psychology departments.

A colleague of mine has done an informal experiment asking college psychology students to associate to the stimulus word "Jung." He found their most common responses to be "Freud" and something along the lines of "anti-Semitic," "Nazi's," "Germany," and "Hitler." These were followed in frequency by the responses "archetypes" and "mysticism," the latter meant in the pejorative sense. These college professors and psychologists of the future had no knowledge of Jung's contributions to psychology, but rather stereotyped, mostly negative connections to the man. Given this kind of apathy, ignorance, and outright rejection of Jung's work in traditional psychological circles, I was surprised to read an affirming and factual half-page article in the July 1994 issue of the APA Monitor, "Jung's theories keep pace and remain popular." This small article in our professional newspaper was published two years after a six-page article in US News and World Report entitled "Spiritual Questing: Embarked on a search for meaning, more and more Americans are turning to the mythic psychology of the late Carl Jung." This seems consistent with Dr. Atkinson's and my impression that there is greater interest in Jung outside mainstream professional psychology.

A Jungian View of Psychological Treatment

Central to Jungian psychology is the concept of individuation, referring to the psychological evolution of an individual over time. Jung used the term to describe a lifelong expansion of consciousness, as well as the development of an increasingly differentiated personality. Individuation involves the growth of a whole and unique human being and a concomitant deepening and widening of awareness. Jung felt that this was accomplished through the integration of unconscious contents and the reconciliation of opposites within the psyche.

Individuation is considered to be a process that occurs naturally over the course of life, though it can be enormously facilitated through analytic work. Such analytically-assisted individuation is not simply a luxury for individuals wishing to grow, however. From a Jungian perspective, psychological maladies often result from inhibited individuation. To the extent that we are unconscious and undeveloped, we are limited in our ability to respond productively, creatively, and adaptively to life. In fact, it was Jung's feeling that the greater the split between the conscious and unconscious mind, the greater the likelihood of a neurotic, or in some cases, psychotic disorder. For Jung, then, psychological symptoms frequently signal the fact that our psyche is fragmented, unbalanced, and ill-adapted to reality. Jungian treatment requires us waking up to the unconscious dynamics creating our suffering.

A unique aspect of Jungian analysis is the provocative notion that direction for what we need to deal with and who we must become to function fully comes from within ourselves. Jungian psychology proposes that there is a source of symbolic wisdom within each person's psyche—a regulating center that Jung calls the Self—that contains knowledge beyond what we know consciously. Jung felt that the unconscious Self is constantly communicating information to consciousness, but due to its symbolic nature, we usually fail to understand its meaning. Jung and his followers developed approaches to dream interpretation, creative expression, and the use of imagination to assist in the integration of unconscious contents, and thereby to restore harmony and wholeness to the psyche. From a Jungian perspective, symptom relief is most meaningful when it is part of this larger process of transformation, wherein we discover who we really are, as opposed to what we seem to be or others expect us to be.

With those general reflections as background, I would like to turn again to the issue of Jung's popularity. I will share my thoughts on this by listing three reasons I feel it is difficult to be Jungian today and three reasons I feel it is easy.

Why it is Difficult to be Jungian in Today's World

As far as I know, it was never that fashionable to be interested in something as esoteric as Jungian psychology. As a clinical psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona, I told my graduate advisor about being interested in taking some classes in religious studies. Aghast, my behaviorist advisor cautioned me that I was already studying the softest, least scientific area of psychology and that I needed to balance it with more positivistic, down-to-earth courses. And he was referring to mainstream clinical psychology—like most universities, nothing remotely Jungian was offered in my program (I was trained as a Jungian analyst through postdoctoral studies at a Jungian institute).

In the age of health care reform, managed care, and brief solution-focused treatment, it has become increasingly difficult to practice in a Jungian fashion. The Jungian approach is not always lengthy or costly, but it can be. Therefore it has never appealed to people looking for a quick-fix or easy prescription for their problems. Jungian analysis involves the difficult, usually painful process of knowing ourselves and taking personal responsibility for the way we are. It is no wonder many people prefer the pain of their symptoms to the suffering inherent in living consciously. Living an authentic life is much harder than it sounds—even if in the end it will make our lives fulfilled and meaningful. Therefore, the health care establishment reflects most people's preference for brief techniques aimed at symptom relief, often at the expense of uncovering and grappling with the deeper issues of life.

In a society that values practicality, rationality, and scientific proof, Jungian psychology is understandably questioned. Jung prided himself on being an empirical scientist. However, many of his theories and concepts are not provable in the way science can prove the laws of physics. While Jungian concepts are often experienced as intuitively correct, most of them have not been able to be scientifically tested and confirmed. Consequently, the efficacy of Jung's ideas must still be weighed, checked and verified through individual experience. With the APA endeavoring to identify "proven" methods of treatment (referred to as EVT's—empirically validated treatment protocols), Jungian methods are not likely to attain this status any time soon.

Finally, as exemplified by my colleague's survey of psychology students, Jung is known more for his problematic relationship with Freud, his questionable connection to Nazi propaganda, and his interests in the occult. These, as well as his publicized sexual indiscretions, cast a dark shadow over Jung's integrity, and by association, over those who practice in the manner he pioneered.

To summarize, three reasons I find it difficult to be Jungian are (1) there is currently widespread desire for brief therapy aimed at symptom relief, (2) most of Jung's approach has not been verified experimentally, and (3) Jungian psychology is still tainted by Jung's shadowy reputation.

Why it is Easy to be Jungian in Today's World

These days, a great number of Americans seem to be searching for deeper meaning in their lives. It appears from the widespread popularity of Jungian concepts and books that the unique blend of psychology and spirituality in Jungian thought feeds this hunger in many of them. Not wholly content with empirical psychology nor with the answers of religion, individuals seem to find hope and solace in Jung's work. People from all walks of life are looking for more out of existence than simply adapting to society and living functionally. They want more inner fulfillment via authentically contributing to the world. It seems to me, the past few decades have given birth to an increased quest for both personal and spiritual well-being, and there is more interest than ever in the kinds of things Jungian psychology has to offer.

In addition, I find people are especially drawn to Jung's notion that the seeds of who we are and the potential solutions to our problems are latent in the unconscious. It is inviting and exciting to embark on a journey in which we look into the deeper realms of our inner self for wisdom and guidance. Many of my clients are relieved to discover that their psyche is self-regulating, and that they needn't buy into others' models of who they should be. Even if they do not like all that they see in themselves, clients in Jungian treatment seem to derive an overall benefit from self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, and freedom from externally imposed models of wellness.

Finally, Jungian psychology offers people an appealing blend of practical wisdom and far-reaching vision. Combining pragmatic techniques, loose-knit theory, and a deep respect for the unknown, Jungian psychology offers an earthy appreciation for the destructive power of unconscious complexes wed to a circumspect belief in the psyche's innate power to transform and renew itself.

To summarize, I find it easy to be Jungian because (1) the Jungian approach provides spiritual and psychological nourishment in the process of treating symptoms and problems, (2) rather than impose an external model of wellness, I can ally myself with my clients' search for their own truth, and (3) Jungian psychology offers assistance through practical methods that value the inherent possibilities of human growth and transformation.

Dr. Toub is a licensed psychologist and diplomate Jungian analyst in private practice in Denver, Colorado. He is also Director of Training at the C. G. Jung Institute of Colorado. For more information, see Dr. Toub's website at This article was originally published in 1997 in the Colorado Psychological Association Bulletin.


© Gary S. Toub 1997.