Soulwork: What Makes Jungian Analysis Different

Part I: A conversation with Jungian analyst Kenneth James.

Posted Mar 29, 2020

Solongo Monkhooroi/Used with permission
Collective Unconscious by Solongo Monkhooroi
Source: Solongo Monkhooroi/Used with permission

One of Carl Jung’s great gifts to depth psychology was his recognition that mind and body are one and that our symptoms, psychological and physical, can be viewed as manifestations of some part of us that “wants to be known.” Jung came to this conclusion after years of working with his own inner world, undertaking the task of self-examination through a descent into his dreams, fantasies, and images. He came to see that even terrifying figures in dreams could be messengers and beneficial guides to psychological growth.

In honor of Jung’s courage and pioneering path, and his astonishing legacy of work, I have invited esteemed Jungian analyst Kenneth James to talk about why someone might seek Jungian analysis, and why he considers this "soul work.”

Kenneth James/Used with permission
Kenneth James
Source: Kenneth James/Used with permission

Kenneth James is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Chicago. He holds a Ph.D. in Communicative Sciences and Disorders from Northwestern University and a Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago. Along with a background in mathematics, he trained as a music therapist and completed four years of post-doctoral study in theology and scripture at the Catholic Theological Union. He has also taken lay ordination as a Zen Buddhist under Roshi Richard Langlois and studied the Kabbalah with the Lubavitcher Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun. Dr. James holds the rank of professor emeritus after a 33-year career as a university professor and now devotes his time as founder and director of The Soulwork Center in downtown Chicago, where he practices as a Jungian analyst.

Dale Kushner: Please describe the process of Jungian analysis.

Kenneth James: This is a difficult question to answer because every Jungian analysis is different. This is not some sort of generic “we are all unique” sentiment. Rather, Jungian analysis is predicated on the activity of the unconscious, both personal and collective. Because of this, even when people come into analysis with specific goals, such as increasing relationship satisfaction, improving mood, or generating more energy for life, both the analyst and the analysand must maintain an openness to material coming from the unconscious that may indicate a different focus for the work, at least for a time.

Personal goals for analysis are not ignored, but like all of the activity stemming from the ego complex, these personal ego-based goals must be relativized to the material coming from the unconscious. This unconscious material presents itself in a variety of ways, including dreams, daydreams, projection, somatization (the physical expression of symptoms with no discernible organic cause), parapraxis (the “Freudian slip”), and of course synchronicity. Because no one, neither analyst nor analysand, can say precisely what will emerge through these various forms of unconscious communication, it is most accurate to say that every Jungian analysis has its own unique characteristics.

DK: How does Jungian analysis differ from Freudian analysis?

KJ: Both Jungian and Freudian analyses view the unconscious as the most important resource for the work. The differences between Jungian analysis and Freudian analysis can be attributed to the different ways that Jungians and Freudians understand the unconscious.

For Freudians, the unconscious is composed strictly of material that derives from the analysand’s personal experiences during his or her life. The contents of the unconscious, from a Freudian perspective, are a derivative of the analysand’s personal history, and the analysand’s presenting issues, referred to as “neuroses,” are viewed as the result of an inability or unwillingness to integrate these unconscious elements into one’s personal narrative. The key, from a Freudian perspective, is to find the “blocked” or unintegrated material, examine it in order to understand both what it means and why it was so threatening to the ego that the individual had to repress, suppress, or otherwise convert the material into a neurotic symptom. Once the troublesome material from the past is understood, this material can be assimilated into one’s personal understanding of selfhood. Then ego gains strength, and the neurosis subsides.

Analysis, then, is a personal investigation, from the Freudian perspective. The methods used in Freudian work are called “reductive” in that they seek to reduce the manifold expressions of the unconscious to particular tropes or themes, among which are the Oedipal situation, and either of two fundamental drives: Eros or the pleasure drive, and Thanatos or the drive toward death. The ultimate goal of Freudian analytic work is the strengthening of the ego according to the dictum “where id was, there ego shall be.” This means that consciousness, a function of the ego, replaces undifferentiated primal energy (id) and works to channel this energy into socially acceptable patterns and expressions.

Tate Gallery/Creative Commons 3.0
The Shepherd’s Dream, from “Paradise Lost” (1793) by Henry Fuseli (1741–1825)
Source: Tate Gallery/Creative Commons 3.0

In Jungian analysis, the unconscious is also the focus of the work, but with distinctive differences. First, although Jungians acknowledge that some unconscious material derives from the analysand’s personal experiences in life, we also understand that the unconscious contains material that was never experienced during the life of the analysand, material that is not strictly personal in origin or nature. Jungians conceive of the unconscious as having two aspects, the personal and the collective. We call these aspects the “personal unconscious,” which is exactly like the “unconscious” that Freudians consider, and the “collective unconscious,” which does not appear in a Freudian conceptualization of the psyche. The collective unconscious contains primordial elements that may be considered organizing principles for the unconscious taken as a whole.

In Jungian analysis, the resolution of neuroses is approached both from the personal and collective dimensions. Material from the unconscious, such as dreams, daydreams, projections, and so forth, are examined both in terms of the analysand’s life and from the transpersonal perspective of symbols, such as those found in myth, fairytale, and religion. Jungian work is considered both reductive (in the Freudian sense) and amplificative, in that the analyst and the analysand work to understand personal issues and concerns within a more collective frame of reference in order to raise the ego’s awareness that is not only personal history a factor in neurotic suffering, but also collective motifs that have been part of human experience for millennia.

DK: What are the most common reasons people seek Jungian analysis?

KJ: There are two main factors that lead a person to seek Jungian analysis. The first is a general familiarity with Jungian thought. Individuals who have read some Jung, or Jungian-themed writings, seek to experience these ideas in practice through analytic work. These individuals are often surprised when, amidst the headiness of their theoretical understanding, they come to the point where seemingly abstract and philosophical Jungian concepts are shown to have very practical value in easing suffering and improving their quality of life.

The second factor involves the experience of life difficulties that individuals may have tried to resolve on their own, or through other forms of psychological work, such as psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral intervention, or Freudian analysis. Not being satisfied with the results of those other treatments, these individuals come to Jungian work simply to seek relief. They often become the most ardent supporters of the Jungian perspective, because they see that it offers them something no other form of treatment has been able to supply.

DK: How does “analysis” differ from “therapy”?

KJ: Therapy is based on the assumption that the client experiences a problem or difficulty and goes to seek help from someone who will help them resolve their problem. This traditional therapeutic model, based on the medical paradigm of doctor-patient-pathology, is inherently hierarchical: The therapist is the one who has the tools to help the client alleviate their suffering. There is a sense that what the client brings is maladaptive, or more strictly speaking “pathological,” and the doctor/therapist offers an opportunity to heal the pathology.

Kyoto National Museum/Public Domain
A scene from the Hungry Ghost Scroll (late 12th century). Here Amida Buddha feeds hungry ghosts.
Source: Kyoto National Museum/Public Domain

In Jungian analysis, the situation is vastly different. First, Jungians tend not to emphasize psychopathology, but rather maintain the attitude that in the suffering (the so-called “pathology”) is the impetus and guidance for healing. Sitting with the suffering, and attending to all of the many ways that the unconscious provides expressions of that suffering and its potential resolution, is foundational to Jung’s approach to analysis.

The goal is not simply the relief of suffering, although that is certainly valued, sought for, and attained. However, the deeper goal of Jungian analysis, beyond the easing of suffering, is what Jung called “individuation.” Jung reminds us that we are “dividuals,” divided within ourselves, not “in-dividuals.” We are profoundly out of touch with the wholeness that we embody but often forget.

Individuation is the process by which our divided nature becomes more coherent and aligned. The ego, from the Jungian perspective, must learn its proper role in the structure and dynamics of the psyche. The ego becomes relativized to the dynamics of the unconscious and learns to operate in harmony with unconscious forces that must be taken into account in order to heal.

This is the first of a three-part conversation with Kenneth James about Jungian analysis, which will be continued in future blog posts. Part two, which is about the importance of dreams in Jungian analysis, is now online.