From David Bowie and The Beatles to the Myers-Briggs test and Alcoholics Anonymous, Jung’s influence ranges from pop culture to popular psychology. What sometimes slips our notice is his enduring relevance for today’s psychotherapists. To mark the publication today of her new book, C.G. Jung: The Basics, Ruth Williams tells us why it is high time young therapists were reintroduced to Jung – and why asking candid questions about his personal views has to be a key part of that process.
Carl Gustav Jung (1873-1961) was ahead of his time in many ways. The Swiss Psychiatrist and founding father of Analytical Psychology was a believer in interdisciplinary projects. This led him to working collaboratively across a range of disciplines such as Greek mythology, quantum physics on the interface between physics and depth psychology, and Chinese alchemy and the I Ching.
There is a thriving population of Jungians in the 21st century, including clinicians, academic researchers and interested members of the wider public. Indeed it could be said that, where Freudian thinking dominated the 20th century, Jung’s time has come in the 21st.
Jung may presently be less of a force in the Western Academy than Freud. But he is in the culture: he appeared on the album cover of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), analysed German novelist Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), and influenced David Bowie, who makes various references to Jung on his Aladdin Sane album (1973) (a play on ‘a lad insane’). He was also an early influence on the ideas behind Alcoholics Anonymous. Jung’s ideas permeate the theories of many modern thinkers.
It has to be acknowledged that Jung is not an easy read. Almost all the Jungian literature is pitched at Masters and Doctoral level, or offered as part of clinical training. Routledge wanted a book that would open out the field to a younger audience, who may be finding Jung for the first time. I had in my mind an undergraduate student of something like 17-20 years old as I wrote. I felt as if I was having a conversation with them as I was writing.
Although the terms introversion and extraversion are in common parlance, in fact it was Jung who introduced them when setting out his theory of Psychological Types. He called introversion and extraversion attitudes. He saw our make up as further comprising four functions: thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. These are seen as two pairs: thinking and feeling being one, intuition and sensation the other. If you think about it, you will find yourself somewhere along the spectrum between these functions. You may have come across these ideas if you have ever done a Myers-Briggs type indicator test, which is based on Jung’s ideas.
As well as covering Jung’s key concepts – including the structure of the psyche, archetypes, individuation, alchemy and dreams – I felt it was important that the book should address areas where Jung’s work has needed to be critiqued, and thought about from the perspective of the 21st century.
The main problem areas in his theories are around gender, race and anti-Semitism. His approach to gender jars in many contemporary ears, and he conceptualises women in a rather stereotypical way. His writings on race and on Jewish people are also quite reprehensible in places, and it is left to modern analysts to revise his thinking in light of modern sensibilities. To this end, an international group of Jungian practitioners and academics have recently published an Open Letter in the British Journal of Psychotherapy on this topic, which signals our continuing commitment to candidly explore and revise the implicit racial biases in Jung’s writings.
It is vital that this candid exploration takes place so that all that is valuable in Jung’s ideas can be retrieved and embraced for future generations of therapists. Jung’s ideas are increasingly being seen as crucial to the arts and literary studies, as well as in allied fields such as sandplay therapy, music therapy and dramatherapy. He was deeply engrossed in his own imagination and – crucially, I think, for younger therapists – he invites us to develop our own.
C.G. Jung: The Basics, by Ruth Williams, is published today by Routledge.