Posts in Jungian Therapy
an excerpt from Jung and Sex...
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an excerpt from Jung and Sex...

"Jung’s main concern was to investigate sexuality primarily for its spiritual aspects and numinous meanings (1961/1989, p. 168), but he also believed in the importance of understanding its instinctual and physical aspects. Jung was trying to move psychology beyond the predominant reductionistic views of his time, attempting to expand the cultural and psychological meaning and value of sexual phenomena. This is an aspect of his legacy, however, that is rarely recognized.

"He believed many disorders affecting patients were mostly unconscious and 'unsuccessful attempt(s)' to cure themselves (1939/1966, p. 46) and he attacked moral establishments for placing blame squarely on individuals for their sexual problems. He also challenged early psychological theories and medical science that did similar injustices to sexual complexity. Jung’s views, particularly about Freud’s fixed theories of sexuality, more closely match many modern perceptions now, although Jung is seldom credited for challenging these ideas in such a progressive way at the time. Nearly a century later, there is still a need for treatments that recognize how symptoms can actually be valuable expressions of unconscious situations.

"Despite our understanding that many complex sexual issues generally have larger mysteries at their roots, large numbers of patients turn first toward medical providers or pursue various superficial solutions. This leaves many patients in the dark after various treatments, medications, and self-help methods fail. Cultural taboos and lack of social awareness remain harsh impediments to sexual expression. Many are unconsciously driven by splits between competing demands and they lack a path to awareness and integration. Many individuals require treatments that elucidate and address the complexities and conflicts unconsciously manifested in their symptoms. Jung detested the victimization of patients suffering from instinctual and unconscious problems, because it left them to struggle in the dark with no one in their environment helping them to understand or solve them (1939/1966, p. 46). He considered this a direct failing on the part of the medical community, science, and the culture.

"When working with patients with sexual concerns, I ask patients in the grip of an overwhelming attraction or compulsive erotic need, 'What makes these feelings so strong?' Their voices echo themes of connection, disconnection, uncertainty, emptiness, shame, anger, confusion, joy, liberation, and hunger. Culturally and clinically, how can we create space for Eros’ many ways of speaking? How can we unveil the mystery behind various symptoms and serve the real needs that live under the surface needs being expressed? How can we learn where Eros lives for the patient, how the symptoms serve, and discover what fuels these diverse expressions? Even in our modern age, much remains mysterious and concealed about our personal sexual struggles and expressions." Jung and Sex: Re-visioning the Treatment of Sexual Issues, p. 121.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Understanding Depth Psychology: An Invitation from the Soul
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Understanding Depth Psychology: An Invitation from the Soul

Understanding Depth Psychology: An Invitation from the Soul

I was brought to depth psychology through my love of typology. As a corporate consultant, each time I taught a workshop on the Myers-Briggs assessment I found that people were finding new ways of seeing themselves and others. Bridges of understanding were being formed and those I trained were accessing new insights about the paradigms they operated within.

As I ventured deeper into the work, I spent a year doing a program on transformational leadership at Georgetown University. It was rich, imaginal, and deep. It was my first direct experience with C.G. Jung, James Hillman, and Robert Johnson. Through archetypes my work deepened into finding new ways to see and understand the world. It wasn’t too long after that the study of archteypes led directly to the source—Classical Greek mythology and the works of Joseph Campbell.

From the earliest days of ancient Greece, myths were an expressive and symbolic way of understanding human nature and relationships, including love, conflict, and the challenges of personal and collective experiences. Throughout the Renaissance and later centuries, artists and writers kept Greek mythology alive with super psychological depictions of the vastly powerful and complex gods. Explaining mythology from a psychological perspective, Jung said “Myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings” (1951).

The field of psychology and the work of psychotherapy, from early beginnings with Freud and Jung and their forbearers, understood the importance of applying mythological themes to patient narratives and symptoms. Today, psychology has moved too far away from its traditional and deep-rooted connections to Greek mythology, and the result has been to lose sight of the range and depth of human experience, as well as to significantly increase the pathologizing of patients. Jung said, “We are still as much possessed by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms” (1954). The gods of ancient Greek mythology have taken center stage in our pathologies.

But the Greeks made room for a much broader range of psychological variation within their culture. Charles Boer, translator of ancient Greek texts, wrote decades ago about the value of a mythological perspective (1970): “These days, as our own country increasingly narrows its own single-minded focus on things, one realizes again why what the Greeks have given us is “classic” and for all time. How helpful it must have been in their day to have had this network of Gods and Hymns, to know that one was not crazy or alone or odd in one’s fantasies and dreams, as one always must feel in a monotheistic system when the God of that system does not authorize the way one wants to see things.”

Today, these broader perspectives are being re-introduced and championed by archetypal and depth psychologists across the globe. The late psychologist James Hillman put it quite literally, Archetypal psychology can put its idea of psychopathology into a series of nutshells, one inside the other: within the affliction is a complex, within the complex an archetype, which in turn refers to a God. Afflictions point to Gods; Gods reach us through afflictions (1975).” In our afflictions we access the shadows of our being, but also experience the numinous forces driving us toward wholeness.

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Healing Through Numinous Encounters: A Jungian Approach
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Healing Through Numinous Encounters: A Jungian Approach

C.G. Jung described synchronicity as having an incomprehensible numinous quality, such that the experience has an element of a “third” or “other” being present. For Jung, there were three key elements to these kinds of experiences: acausal connection, meaningful coincidence, and numinosity. Jungian Analyst, Lionel Corbett, explained numinous experiences as having a significant physical component as well:

“The feelings of awe, dread, and amazement that accompany a numinous experience are important not simply because they help us to identify the experience as sacred. These emotions tell us that the experience has been embodied. Emotions are felt in the body as a result of the action of the autonomic nervous system. They make the heart beat faster, make us pale, and produce muscle tension and sweating. Our hair may stand on end, and a variety of hormones may be secreted. A powerful emotional reaction provokes the response of the whole organism.”

The numinous has an incredible healing capacity too, since it has the potential to reconnect us to a greater whole. Numinous experiences, such as prophetic dreams or stunning synchronicity, are an invitation and can signal a transition or important new phase beginning to unearth itself. Within these experiences there is a union of matter and spirit, a connection between something real and something more than real. It is this alchemical marriage of two realities that want to equally create something new from the experience.

According to Jung, any work with unconscious material affects the psyche in a way that can be disorienting, such are the effect these encounters can have on one. Jung, from his own experience, learned that working with unconscious elements re-shapes our entire orientation toward the world:

“Once we give serious consideration to the hypothesis of the unconscious, it follows that our view of the world can be but a provisional one; for if we effect so radical an alteration in the subject of perception and cognition as this dual focus implies, the result must be a world view very different from any known before.” 

On a personal level, these kinds of experiences seem to bolster my regard for the unconscious and the cosmological forces at work. Embracing these encounters creates a larger reality, expands psychic space. Suddenly, “the other” wants to be known, and through its visibility to the individual or group, something of the cosmos has been touched—something of our connectedness to each other and everything else has been realized. These are the riches of a kind of double-sight, to allow us to be addressed by the incomprehensible. When one is truly open, these experiences resonate because there is already something deep within us that recognizes them, whether it be a connection that was once lost or because it offers a sense of harmony, balance, and togetherness. In these precious moments of numinous experience, one is suddenly not alone in the universe.

These raw experiences are true gifts for the psyche and hold the power to re-orient the individual. Though these moments can be quite painful or frightening or mysterious, they often hold treasures beyond our wildest imaginings.

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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A Primer on C. G. Jung’s Writings and Perspectives on Sexual Concerns and their Treatment
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A Primer on C. G. Jung’s Writings and Perspectives on Sexual Concerns and their Treatment

(These statements are paraphrased directly from Jung's writings on analysis, sex, and sexuality.)

On Human Instincts:

  • One encounters sexuality everywhere; thus in anything one is involved, their sexuality will appear too
  • No instinct rivals the spirit as strongly as the sexual instinct
  • Essential to give instincts their rightful place
  • Pressures to conform or deny natural instincts creates psychological splits between inner needs versus outer demands
  • Natural sexual instincts are reduced to widespread denial and repression
  • Psyche is formidable, hostile, and can even thwart one’s will; sexual instinct is often beyond human ability to expressly control or direct
  • Some psychic contents have an autonomous nature

On the Nature of Complexes:

  • Fear of complexes is a deeply-rooted prejudice; complexes are normal and basic parts of the psyche
  • Complexes are signposts to the unconscious
  • The erotic complex is omnipresent in the psyche, acausal, and paradoxical in nature
  • An erotic complex can dominate at the expense of other psychic material, then everything becomes sexualized and geared toward the sexual purpose
  • Every important affective event becomes a complex
  • The strongest feelings and symptoms are connected with the most powerful complexes
  • Denial of instincts and complexes increases power of the unconscious
  • Complexes and struggles manifest in places where one is most weak or less developed 
  • The presence of an erotic complex is certain even if denied by the patient
  • Must expect powerful emotions and difficulties to congregate around sex because it is where adaptation is least complete and where one faces the most challenges to natural expression

On Individuation:

  • Individuation and a new level of consciousness are possible through integration of the erotic complexes
  • Goal of wholeness is achieved through the union of conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche
  • Struggle in reaching wholeness is rooted in the conflict between instinctual nature and civilization
  • Must work out the problems of our moral aspects or risk repression

On Cultural Issues:

  • Cultural pressures are to blame for making struggles with sex difficult and universal 
  • Best opportunity for society is for each person to be in possession of one’s own personality
  • Culture must unburden itself from the erotic shame and guilt carried from previous centuries
  • Jung’s own contradictory statements demonstrate the challenges of overcoming cultural and moral biases, which are mostly unconscious

On Sexual Phenomena:

  • Essential to penetrate the deeper layers of the psyche common to all humans
  • Sexual struggles are deep driving forces that seek expression
  • How things are expressed by the psyche are not as important as what needs to be expressed
  • Repellent things belong to the psyche and are natural
  • Must place greater value on the roots of psychological problems than on surface expressions of symptoms
  • Psyche is purposive and directed
  • Should always search for the meaning of psychological phenomena
  • Disregarding psychological phenomena creates consequences, such as a split personality or loss of consciousness
  • Psyche communicates through powerful experiences, images, and symptoms
  • Sexual phenomena have multiple layers and meanings beyond universal or simple explanations
  • Psyche cannot be defined by categories or labels
  • The conscious psyche is always the smaller circle within the greater circle of the unconscious

On Spiritual Dimensions:

  • Spirituality and sexuality cannot be excluded from each other 
  • Sexuality is a creative power equal to the spirit
  • Grave consequences for ignoring the spiritual side of sex; one becomes unconsciously driven by instinct and it hinders individuation and development
  • Sexuality has numinous aspects
  • Numinous experiences simultaneously elevate and humiliate
  • Concerned with engaging the numinous not with the treatment of neuroses; the numinous ultimately helps release one from the curse of pathology
  • Sexuality is both divine and hellish; it compels one to experience forces beyond ordinary domains

On Treatment of:

  • Illnesses affecting patients are mostly unconscious attempts to cure themselves
  • Analytic approach is symbolistic
  • All-simplifying theories serve an injustice to the patient and the soul
  • No single theory to explain the human psyche; no general criterion of judgment
  • There is no single method of treatment; it is not mechanical or procedural work
  • Profound experiences and conflicts, like sexual ones, evoke deep parts of the psyche, which explains the cautionary approach to engaging sexual issues in therapy
  • One can thrive and feel harmony only when instinct and spirit are balanced, otherwise imbalance creates one-sidedness and veers one toward neuroses or pathology
  • The main concern in treatment is being non-reductive toward the psyche; viewing the psyche as complex
  • There is a breaking point for the suppression of instincts that creates a split or neurotic individual, which is not usually conscious and requires support for realization and integration
  • Shadow aspects might produce violent responses from conscious positions of patients
  • The treatment goal is integration and rebalancing of inner conflicts through conscious awareness
  • Every situation requires the context of the individual
  • Expect high patient resistance, difficulty of treatment, and prevalence of sexual material; the unconscious erects significant barriers to treatment
  • Most patients are highly resistant to disclosure and create insurmountable obstacles to exploration
  • The patient senses something repellent in their own psyche; the shadow is a difficult moral challenge to ego consciousness
  • This work places extreme difficulties on the patient and the therapist; therapy is painful and challenging to both
  • Analyst or therapist must be appropriately trained and prepared by examining their own psychic contents
  • First duty is to keep close to the patient’s psychic material and not allow prejudice and subjectivity to distort emerging psychological phenomena
  • Important for therapists to open themselves to deeper and unknown experiences
  • A patient’s deviation into sex is sometimes used to escape one’s true problems
  • Therapists must first know how symptoms help and serve patients
  • Can never know beforehand what is what
  • Sexual issues may not have direct sexual aspect or direct means of treatment
  • Avoid attitude of a missionary out to cure patients and eradicate symptoms
  • Requires emerging crystallization of goals and a direction originating from the patient
  • Requires conscious attitude of cooperation and dialogue or the unconscious can be driven into opposition
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Implications of a Depth Psychological Approach for Patients

Potential Benefits:

  • Reduce the labeling of sexual dysfunctions and the pathology of categorically defined symptoms 
  • Help patients view their symptoms as potentially deeper aspects of the psyche or soul; remove stigmatizing perspectives regarding the surface expressions of psychopathology
  • Open up possibilities for viewing symptoms as important aspects of psychic expression calling for healing or attention from the unconscious 
  • Provide a view of the numinous or spiritual aspects in the psyche expressed through sexual symptoms
  • Assist development and growth through the process of integration and individuation by becoming conscious of inner struggles and conflicts raging within 
  • Develop understanding of deeper cultural and universal layers of the psychic situation 
  • Provide an approach to understanding the root causes of sexual issues that are beyond symptomatic appearances 
  • Develop greater awareness and consciousness of self and spiritual dimensions
  • Engage in mysteries of sexual expressions and desires by viewing them through wider perspectives
  • Recognize how diverse aspects belong on a spectrum of human complexity 
  • Work toward integration with the shadow and unwanted aspects to foster a greater sense of wholeness
  • Understand how disunity of the self creates psychic suffering and split personalities or dissociation
  • Potentially reduce reliance on pharmaceutical solutions or medical interventions
  • Provide individualized treatment approaches tailored to patients’ unique psychological positions
  • Offer archetypal, imaginal, and mythological perspectives to help patients understand layers of the psyche and to add collective context to the repellant or unknown elements of the psyche
  • Allow more room to explore a range of potential affective causes and how the unconscious is purposive and directed in its expressions of suffering

Potential Challenges:

  • Some might not be ready for or welcome the challenges of the depth approach 
  • Some patients might wrestle with a lack of answers or the uncertainty of a direction or method, which can increase frustration and impatience with the process
  • Difficulty coping with their own challenging psychic material, which creates feelings of confusion and more entanglement with the unknown
  • Experiencing greater vulnerability and feeling exposed on a level for which one’s conscious mind or ego is unprepared
  • Making the problem feel worse and more complex than originally thought 
  • Havingresistances and avoidance of sexual issues brought into awareness
  • Facing the possibility of intensifying a patient’s resistance, which drives the unconscious into greater opposition and fuels increased symptoms
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Get the PDF version here: Primer on C. G. Jung’s Writings on Sexual Concerns and their Treatment

 

Jung and Sex: Re-visioning the Treatment of Sexual Issues, Edward Santana, Ph.D.

Available at Amazon:  https://amzn.com/1138919152