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Jungian/Archetypal Psychology

Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche.

-C.G. Jung


Carl Jung pioneered the study of the human psyche through dreams, mythology, the arts, and religion/spirituality.  He believed that in addition to the personal unconscious (studied in psychoanalysis and relational theory), the human psyche is rooted at a deeper level, in what he called the collective unconscious.  This collective unconscious is composed of archetypes.  Archetypes are symbolic themes--most easily seen in stories, myths, and art--that inevitably weave their way into the very fabric of human life.  To use another anology, in the same way that the human body follows the patterns laid down by the DNA, the human psyche follows the patterns of the archetypes.


Later in his life, Jung went on to expand this idea.  He came to believe that the archetypes shaped not only the human, but the whole world.  In a similar way that the laws of physics govern the physical universe, archetypal patterns guide the unfolding of the soul of the universe, the anima mundi.  Just as the scientist seeks to understand the laws of physics, the archetypal psychologist seeks to understand the symbolic patterns of the archetypes.  Whereas the scientist looks to equations and experiments, Jung looked to literature, the arts, dreams and mythology--the storehouses of archetypal wisdom.

The archetypal psychologist sees pathology from a radically different perspective than the medical model of illness.  Jungians see suffering, neurosis, and psychopathology as communications from the wisdom of our unconscious selves.  Thus, in sharp contrast to the medical model's tendency to alleviate symptoms, the depth psychologist seeks to make sense of the symptoms.

Usually, pathology is an indicator that there is an imbalance in the individual's psyche, body, lifestyle, or sprituality/worldview (or in the culture in which the individual lives).  Treatment, from this perspective, entails working to understand the nature of the imbalance.  In this work, dreams, artistic/symbolic expressions, and spiritual/religious/existential questions are central.  If the individual can listen to her unconscious, and follow its guidance, the imbalance can be corrected.  With a healthy connection to one's unconscious, the experience of suffering is gradually replaced by a feeling of balance, completeness, serenity and connection to a deeper source of meaning.  A common theme in Jungian theory is the idea that humans need to be connected to a source of meaning beyond themselves.  In Jung's words:


The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not?  That is the telling question of his life.  Only if we know that the thing which truly matter is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance.  Thus we demand that the world grant us recognition for qualities which we regard as personal possessions: our talent or our beauty.  The more a man lays stress on false possessions, and the less sensitivity he has for what is essential, the less satisfying is his life.  He feels limited because he has limited aims, and the result is envy and jealousy.  If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change.  


It is here, at this crucial idea, where our studies of psychology and therapy begin to merge with worldview and comparative spirituality studies.

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