Jung and analytical psychology

Jung (1875-1961) remains one of the most influential figures in terms of therapeutic practice with mental images and symbols. Similarly to Freud, he believed that mental imagery operates as a means of communication from the unconscious to the conscious mind. However, he departed radically from Freud in the way that he viewed the structure and nature of the unconscious and this resulted in a different approach to the use of mental images in therapeutic practice. Although Jung’s theory of the unconscious will be familiar to many readers, it is worth highlighting the main points relevant to mental imagery. His radical views were formulated out of his own investigations into himself. From 1912 to 1917, Jung (1961) opened himself up to direct experiences of exploring the arising contents of his unconscious mind. He discovered through this process that the unconscious is not solely repressive as Freud believed it to be; noting instead that it appeared to be performing a range of tasks such as compensating for undeveloped parts of his conscious personality and anticipating the future. These investigations informed his view of the unconscious as creative and purposive, with both a transcendent and balancing function; summed up by Price-Williams (1992) as, ‘____the process whereby imaginative productions are used as revelations of unknown parts of the self, which need to be confronted or worked through in the normal waking life’ (1992: 248).

Not only was Jung’s understanding of the nature of the unconscious different from Freud’s, he also developed a new structural model that comprises two strata, i.e. an individual personal unconscious that emerges out of a deeper collective unconscious structured by archetypal patterns. Jung believed the collective unconscious constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature that is present in everyone. He defined the archetype as essentially an ‘. . . unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its colour from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear’ (Jung, 1991: 5). Furthermore, he asserted that these innate a priori psychic structures have the capacity to direct psychological life. It is not surprising, therefore, given this fundamentally different perspective of the unconscious, that Jung’s analytical psychology would take a very different approach to therapeutic work with mental images.

Similarly to Freud, Jung had discovered that the unconscious appeared to operate independently to the person we consider ourselves to be and psychological integration required becoming conscious of these hidden dimensions of the self. He also believed that the unknown parts of the self communicated with the conscious personality through nonverbal means, in particular, imagery, symbols, dreams and creative impulses. However, in practice, Jung’s different model of the unconscious meant that he was interested in the manifest content of dreams and imagery produced by the patient. Although he, like Freud, sought meaning in imagery he believed the correct interpretation lay in the direction of amplification, i.e. creating the right conditions for the image to unfold its meaning for the patient. Although he believed that the patient is the best person to understand the meaning of the image, he thought that it was important for the therapist to hold onto an interpretative framework grounded in universal symbols. It would not be necessary to share this interpretation with the patient but it would helpfully inform the therapist’s thinking.

In practice Jung asked the patient to make meaning of their fantasies and dreams by gently asking them nonleading questions. Over time he became unsatisfied by relying on dreams, believing that they did not provide a direct enough dialogue between the conscious and unconscious. This dissatisfaction prompted the development of his influential method of active imagination which he described as follows:

In cases of this sort, the patient is simply given the task of contemplating any one fragment of fantasy that seems significant to him - a chance idea, perhaps, or something he has become conscious of in a dream - until its context becomes visible, that is to say, the relevant associative material in which it is embedded.

(Jung, 1991: 49)

It is interesting to note that, although active imagination is commonly cited as one of the most important original therapeutic methods using mental imagery, Jung never intended it to be employed in this way. Although he originally developed it in a therapeutic setting, he came to view it as an introspective method that patients could use on their own for the purposes of individuation work. Furthermore, Hollis warns us that we have also lost sight of its original aim:

This technique so common to Jungian parlance is still often misunderstood. Jung did not mean free association, meditation or guided imagery. Active imagination needs to be understood literally as the activation of the image, a technique which invites Auseinandersetzung or a dialogue with the unconscious. Active imagination affords the unconscious its own freedom, its own integrity. It seeks an expanded consciousness that arises out of an encounter with the intrapsychic other. (italics in original)

(2000: 67)

Theorists and clinical innovators have continued to build on Jung’s insights into the way that mental images can be used to facilitate therapeutic and individuation processes. Hillman (1926-2011) is particularly relevant due to his radical views concerning the nature of the unconscious (which he termed ‘the imaginal’). In Hillman’s (1975) archetypal psychology, similar to Jung’s method of active imagination, the perspective of the imaginal is privileged over the rational perspective in therapeutic work. However, he goes much further than Jung in this regard because he considers that any attempt to impose a curative agenda on the imaginal perspective, in other words to subject mental images to interpretation or procedures, is fundamentally misguided. The imaginal perspective needs to be accepted on its own terms and these terms do not include any goals for personality integration. In this regard, Hillman aligns himself with the premodern Ascle- pian healing tradition, particularly in the way that he rejects the idea that mental images are purely mental properties. And in terms of the range of therapeutic practices with mental imagery in counselling and psychotherapy, his archetypal psychology represents the extreme end of a continuum, the other end being CBT procedures that use directive imagery for reparative purposes.

In the following sections I will consider how Jung’s insights and methods went on to influence both the humanistic school and the individual clinical innovators in their approaches to working with mental imagery.

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