Jungian Analysis | Core Spirit

C.G. Jung

Jungian analysis is a method of psychotherapy developed by C.G. Jung, the eminent Swiss psychiatrist (1875-1961).

As Robert S. Wallerstein, a Freudian analyst and former president of the International Psychoanalytic Association, says, Jungian analysis "has endured worldwide as an alternative therapeutic system." Today, there are approximately 2,500 Jungian analysts around the world.

Jung was an early colleague of Sigmund Freud. After Jung and Freud parted ways, Jung founded a distinctive school of psychotherapy. Jung is famous for such terms as "archetype," "complex," "introvert" and "extravert," "shadow," "anima" and "animus," "collective unconscious," "synchronicity," and "individuation."

Dreams, the Ego, and the Unconscious

Jungian analysis is a "depth psychology," or psychology of the unconscious. "The interpretation of dreams," Freud says, "is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious." Perhaps even more than in contemporary Freudian analysis, dream interpretation is integral to any Jungian analysis.

In contrast to Freud, who asserts that all dreams are wish-fulfillments (usually sexual ones), Jung contends that most dreams are attitude-compensations. The attitudes that dreams compensate are those of the ego. Jung says that compensatory dreams "add to the conscious psychological situation of the moment all those aspects which are essential for a totally different point of view."

According to Jung, the attitudes of the ego are invariably partial and prejudicial, even at the extreme utterly defective. In dreams, the unconscious presents to the ego alternative perspectives that compensate these maladaptive or dysfunctional attitudes. The unconscious challenges the ego seriously to consider these alternative perspectives.

Dreams offer the ego information, advice, constructive criticism, even wisdom. If the ego is receptive rather than defensive, it can evaluate these alternative perspectives and decide whether to accept or reject them.

In addition to this compensatory function, Jung says that some dreams have a prospective function. According to Jung, prospective dreams are "an anticipation in the unconscious" of some probable future result. They occur when the attitudes of the ego deviate radically from the norm. In such instances, Jung says, the compensatory function of the unconscious becomes a prospective function that guides "the conscious attitude in a quite different direction which is much better than the previous one."

The purpose of Jungian analysis is to establish an effective relation between the ego and the unconscious in order ultimately to facilitate a transformation of the psyche. Dream interpretation is vitally important to that process.

The Three Jungian Methods

Jungian analysts employ three methods to engage the images that emerge from the unconscious. These are:



active imagination

Explication and amplification are techniques for interpreting the unconscious. Active imagination is a technique for experiencing the unconscious.


Freud assumes that images mean something else than they apparently mean. He translates them into other terms (usually sexual ones). In contrast, Jung assumes that images mean nothing else than they apparently mean. He explicates them in terms of what they essentially imply.

"A man," Jung says, "may dream of inserting a key in a lock, of wielding a heavy stick, or of breaking down a door with a battering ram." Freud would reduce these different images to a sexual common denominator. They would all be euphemisms for the penis. "All elongated objects, such as sticks," Freud says, "may stand for the male organ." He also says: "There is no need to name explicitly the key that unlocks the room." (It evidently goes without saying that keys, too, may stand for the male organ.) When Freud sexualizes images, he employs what Alfred Adler calls "organ jargon."

In contrast to Freud, Jung emphasizes that a key, stick, and battering ram are three quite specific images, each one of them with uniquely different qualities. According to Jung, the unconscious has the capacity to select an especially apt image from all those available to it in order to serve a particular purpose. The task is to discover exactly what that purpose is. Jung says that the fact that the unconscious "for its own purposes has chosen one of these specific images — it may be the key, the stick, or the battering ram" is of decisive importance. "The real task is to understand why the key has been preferred to the stick, or the stick to the ram," Jung says. "And sometimes this might even lead one to discover that it is not the sexual act at all that is represented, but some quite different psychological point."

In short, sometimes a key is just a key, a stick just a stick, and a battering ram just a battering ram. Implicit in each image is an essence ("keyness," "stickness," and "ramness") that requires explication.

For Freud, a lock (or the keyhole in a lock) is a vagina, and a key is a penis. On this analogy, the insertion of a key in a lock is an allusion to sexual intercourse. In contrast, for Jung, a lock is essentially a device to prevent entrance, and a key is essentially a device to gain entrance. (In addition, a "key" is, metaphorically, the solution to a problem — for example, a riddle.) In analytic terms, "locked" essentially implies that some content (which might or might not be a sexual content) has been "repressed" or "dissociated" in the unconscious.


Jung also amplifies images. That is, he compares them to the same or similar images in other sources. Jung would amplify a key, stick, or battering ram in a dream by comparison to keys, sticks, or battering rams in myths, fairy tales, folktales, art, literature, and culture. Amplification is a comparative method that attempts to identify parallels.

Whereas explication establishes what is essential in an image, amplification establishes what is typical (or "archetypal") about an image. The images in myths, fairy tales, folktales, art, literature, and culture are manifestations of what Jung calls the "archetypes" of the "collective unconscious."

For example, Jung might amplify a key and a lock in a dream by reference to the fairy tale "Bluebeard." In that tale, it is arranged for a beautiful young woman to be married to a man who is considered ugly because he has a blue beard (the man has already been married several times, but no one knows what has become of his previous wives). After the wedding, Bluebeard tells his wife that he must go on a journey. He gives her several keys to rooms that contain rich furniture and silver and gold plate, to strongboxes that contain gold and silver money, and to a casket that contains jewels, as well as a master key to all the apartments in the house. He permits her to use all of these keys. He also, however, gives her a key to a closet. He forbids her to use that one key. After he departs, she inserts the key in the door of the closet and enters the room. Inside, she discovers that the floor is covered with blood and that the bodies of several dead women are ranged against the walls. In fear, she drops the key. Then she picks up the key, leaves the room, and locks the door. Outside, she notices blood on the key. She wipes, washes, and rubs the key, but no sooner does she remove the blood from one side of the key than it reappears on the other side. When Bluebeard returns, he asks her for the keys. She gives him all of the keys except for the key to the closet. When he demands that key, she reluctantly gives it to him. Then he asks her how the blood came to be on the key. When she says that she does not know, he says that he knows that she used it to enter the closet. "Very well, Madam," he says, "you shall go in, and take your place amongst the ladies you saw there." He will murder her and use the key to lock her body in the closet with the bodies of all his previous wives whom he has murdered, apparently because they, too, used the key to unlock the closet. She is ultimately saved only because Bluebeard is killed by her brothers.

In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim proposes a Freudian interpretation of "Bluebeard" that, from a Jungian perspective, arbitrarily sexualizes the fairy tale. "The key that opens the door to a secret room suggests associations to the male organ, particularly in first intercourse when the hymen is broken and blood gets on it," Bettelheim says. "If this is one of the hidden meanings, then it makes sense that the blood cannot be washed away: defloration is an irreversible event." In addition, Bettelheim infers "from the indelible blood on the key and from other details that Bluebeard's wife has committed a sexual indiscretion." He concludes that this sexual indiscretion is marital infidelity, which is "symbolically expressed by the blood."

Like Freud, Bettelheim does not explicate the lock and the key in terms of what they essentially imply but translates them into sexual terms, or organ jargon. From a Freudian perspective, lock and key are the "manifest content" of the fairy tale, and vagina and penis are the "latent content." Bettelheim derives the manifest content from the latent content, reduces the former to the latter, and sexualizes the fairy tale.

This is "free association" indeed. In the fairy tale, it is not a man but a woman who inserts the key in the lock, and the blood is not the result of defloration or marital infidelity — it is quite explicitly the result of murder.

"Bluebeard" is not about sexual intercourse, defloration, or marital infidelity. It is a cautionary tale about curiosity — and about murder. The "moral" of the tale is that the consequences of excessive curiosity about what is locked, "repressed," or "dissociated" in the unconscious may be very serious indeed — extremely dangerous, even deadly. A Jungian amplification of a lock and a key in a dream by reference to "Bluebeard" would emphasize the archetypal consequences of impulsive or compulsive curiosity.

"Bluebeard" is also a cautionary tale for all analysts, whether Freudian or Jungian, for it demonstrates that analysis can be what William James calls "a most dangerous method." In the fairy tale, Bluebeard is an archetypal image of homicidally psychotic contents that are "repressed" or "dissociated." The implication is that analysts should exercise extreme caution when interpreting (or "unlocking") the unconscious. Certain contents may have been kept under lock-and-key for a very good reason.

"Bluebeard" is not the only source that a Jungian analyst might cite for comparative purposes. Locks and keys in other fairy tales - and in myths, folktales, art, literature, and culture - might provide even more relevant parallels to a lock and a key in a dream. Curiosity might not be the decisive issue at all in the dream. Amplification requires of the Jungian analyst an extensive, even an "encyclopedic" knowledge of myths, fairy tales, folktales, art, literature, and culture in order to specify precisely which parallels are archetypally pertinent.

Active Imagination

Active imagination is a technique by which an individual evokes images from the unconscious and then engages them in conversation. The method requires active participation with the images rather than mere passive observation of them.

The technique assumes that the imagination is a reality just as real as any other reality (for example, external reality). In active imagination, the images emerge from the unconscious as figures (or "personifications"), and the individual must interact with those figures in internal reality as if they were real persons.

It is imperative, Jung says, that "you say what you have to say to that figure and listen to what he or she has to say." He says that you must pose a question to the figures and "compel the figures to give you an answer." According to Jung, active imagination is "a dialogue between yourself and the unconscious figures."

Jung attempted active imagination for the first time on December 12, 1913. He deliberately descended into the unconscious. "I let myself drop," he says. "Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet, and I plunged down into dark depths."

Among the figures that Jung encountered in active imagination were Elijah, a wise old man with a white beard, Salome, a beautiful but blind young girl, a large black snake, and Philemon, an old man with the horns of a bull, four keys, and the wings of a kingfisher.

In active imagination, Jung discovered that "there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life," that "there is something in me which can say things that I do not know and do not intend." This discovery was what he eventually called the autonomy of the unconscious.

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