Sex and the Soul: Jung and Hillman

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Sex and the Soul

C.G. Jung’s approach to sexual issues in therapy involved expanding ideas about the sexual impulse and its pathology into the spirit or archetypal realm to understand the meaning and purpose of the soul’s need for expression through a particular symptom. He wrote:

“I think that one should view with philosophic admiration the strange paths of the libido and should investigate the purposes of its circuitous ways” (1912).

Archetypal psychology, which has its roots in the works of Jung and his study of archetypes, was championed by post-Jungian psychologist James Hillman, who expanded Jung’s ideas on myth, symbol, and image into a focus on the imaginal realm and the soul. Hillman wrote extensively about the soul’s expression through sexuality.

He instructed, “Nothing is repressed; in fact, nothing can be repressed” (1975), inferring that the soul always finds a way for expression through unhappiness, violence, strife, discourse, or the dark shadows surrounding symptoms and pathologies. Hillman’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Re-Visioning Psychology reexamined the modern approach to psychology. He applied this approach to the soul at work in sexual pathology:

“There’s nowhere for love to go but to another person. So the magnetic pull that therapy calls ‘sex addiction’ or ‘loving too much’ is nothing other than the end-station of our isolated individualism.” (1992)

Why is this important? Sexual issues and responses to them are prevalent in Western culture today. There has been a rapid rise during the last decade in the number of sex therapists and sex addiction treatment centers. Though the term sex addiction is one that is not currently accepted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Hillman, however, pointed out that the real problem is even larger, “sex education, sex talk shows, sex help books, sex therapy, sex workshops—Aphrodite’s pink ribbons wrap our culture round. The billion-dollar porn industry is minor league compared with the haunting sexual obsessions endemic in the culture at large” (1995).

What many mainstream approaches lack is a means for addressing the soul at work beneath the symptoms. And as a profession, more research and focus are needed to explore the mysteries of sexual symptoms and their need for healing and expression.


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