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Forever Jung, part 2: dream decoder
June 21, 2011 | By:

In 1914, Carl Jung fell out with his mentor and friend Sigmund Freud, going on to develop his ‘individuation’ theory of psychological wellbeing. But he would only consider those of a certain age to be capable of fulfilling their unconscious dreams. Jungian analytical psychologist John Stewart explains

Health_Carl Jung_dream decoderSigmund Freud called Jung his “crowned prince”, but the two fell out as Jung began to question some of the cornerstones of Freud’s theory of neurosis and the unconscious. Jung went on to earn his own reputation as a therapist and developed the idea of ‘individuation’, or personal satisfaction and fulfilment.

When patients came to see Jung from all over the world, he insisted they be middle-aged – at the time, over 35 – to receive the full benefits of his analytical psychology. This was because at the halfway mark in life, the collective unconscious mind – the symbols that Jung identified as constant across cultures and generations [see Forever Jung part 1] –  can start to reveal to us fear, terror, loss and especially a sense of unfulfilled potential.

The inner world, full of what Jung called complexes, will tell us all is unwell through anxiety and depression, anger, sadness and – more than anything today –  through addictions and eating disorders.

The unconscious is telling people that they probably only have half their lives left, so they can either carry on in danger and on automatic pilot or live life to the full, while feeling the fears and rages burning within. Jung said that a life of creative and spiritual purposefulness and meaningfulness will alleviate suffering to a greater degree, whether through meditation, painting landscapes, believing in theoretical physics or religious worship. Whatever it was, Jung thought it had to be activated and worked on it for the rest of our days to achieve full actualisation of the ego – the real self. This is what Jung meant by ‘individuation’.

In his therapy, Jung started by telling his patients to sit opposite him, as two human beings on an equal footing. Next, he insisted they brought in accounts of their dreams. When they were experiencing anxiety and even unbearable pain, he would encourage them to write, paint and draw their fears and worries, allowing themselves to be human and to experience terror as much as joy. (Opposites were crucial to him.) To Jung, analysis or therapy was a lifelong journey, where one must attend both to one’s conscious defects and to the unconscious messages sent in dreams. Drawing, intense journal keeping and other creative acts were all suggested by Jung and his followers.

In 1960s London, my own analyst was told by his Jungian psychiatrist, Dr EA Bennet (one of Jung’s best friends) to leave town, stop partying for a month and draw serpents – which his dreams were full of. His life was never the same again. He grew to become a great potter and highly respected analytical psychologist himself. (Freudians are called psychoanalysts and Jungians analytical psychologists).

There are many more such stories. To unravel a problem, we are often told to “sleep on it”, but it is the dream that matters, not the sleep. Since most people don’t try to recall their dreams, unfortunately they can’t.

It is staggering in a world where therapy has become the very enemy it is trying to address – the soundbite, the quick fix – that there are so few people who recognise that the majority of today’s therapeutic ideas were first Jung’s. Personal growth, dream interpretation, writing journals, visualisation, facing your therapist and not being looked down at on a couch, being humane, accessing your potential and more have all been taken without credit by many Freudians, as well as members of the humanistic school and the cognitive and behavioural schools.

How ironic. Jung wanted people to be themselves. Yet since Jung’s two best friends (Dr EA Bennet and Dr Marie-Louise von Frantz) trained my own analyst and teacher, he is obviously the base of my own practice. Still, I insist on maintaining my own independence, steering clear of the ludicrous red tape, endless bureaucracy, and authoritarian and bickering behaviours between the different schools of therapy in my professions. I deeply understand why Jung said, because of the nasty politics in our profession: “Thank God I am Jung, and not a Jungian!”

If one had to paraphrase his message it would be this: we can live our lives asleep with the herd, or look inside; not to navel gaze, obsess about ourselves or blame our parents for our mishaps, however terrible they may have been, but to access our dreams, to be not to have, to touch and hold and experience with our fellow humans the tremendous richness of this precious life –  what it is to be a being.

See also Forever Jung part 1: individuation