C.G. Jung: His Role in Depth Psychology

In honor of what would have been Jung’s 138th birthday, July 26, I’m sharing an excerpt from my essay on Jung’s role in Depth Psychology, “Occupy Psyche: Deconstructing the Jungian Shadow in Depth Psychology,” published in Occupy Psyche: Jungian and Archetypal Perspectives on a Movement (2012, Eds. Jordan Shapiro and Roxanne Partridge).

The essay takes a look at how Jungian psychology relates to depth psychology and examines the influence of the larger-than-life persona of Jung on many of us who feel profoundly impacted by his work. 

It also cautions us, by the way, to regard the shadow cast by the legend Jung has truly become and to ground ourselves in remembering his humanity and not idealizing him. 

Read on…

The theories of Swiss-born Carl Gustav Jung (known as C.G. to his peers) developed during the infancy of the emerging field known as psychology, established him as a pioneer and one of the founding fathers of depth psychology. The broader field of psychology was essentially born in 1879 when German physician and philosopher, Wilhelm Wundt, set up the first laboratory that carried out psychological research. The next few years marked the award of the first doctorate in psychology, the first title “professor of psychology, and the establishment of the American Psychological Association in 1892 (Zimbardo, 2001). In 1890, American philosopher William James, published Principles of Psychology, which marked an important transition from a mental philosophy to a scientificpsychology. A few years later, in 1896, a Viennese medical doctor trained in neurology, Sigmund Freud, introduced the term “psychoanalysis” to define the practice of “talk therapy.”

In 1900, the same year that Jung graduated from the University of Basel with his M.D. degree, Freud published his groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams–strongly establishing this aspect of mental life as an area of study. Freud’s explication of psychoanalysis based on his theories of hysteria, dreams, and word association as a doorway to uncover repressed material was one of the turning points that led to the birth of what was ultimately called “depth psychology,” a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler around the same time. Depth psychology claimed to reveal critical understanding of the conscious mind through exploration of the depths of the unconscious one. Jung’s path to depth psychology solidified when he completed his doctoral dissertation for his Ph.D. in 1902 at the University of Zurich on a depth-related topic, On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena.

Jung met Freud who became Jung’s colleague and mentor in 1907, and they continued to establish the study of depth psychology both independently and together until 1913, at which time Jung’s capacity to support some of Freud’s theories reached a breaking point. While Freud continued to be entranced by the idea of a personal unconscious that harbored secrets, wishes, drives, and desires that could be mined and explained by childhood experiences, Jung moved more toward his theory of a collective unconscious which was a reservoir for archetypes, dreams, and stories that applied beyond the individual. The ensuing rupture between Jung and Freud was partially responsible for sending Jung into a downward spiral into the depths, instigating the fear that he was losing his mind, and ultimately resulting in an engagement with the objective unconscious that led to his writing the Red Book. When he emerged from his “descent,” Jung went on to make many vital contributions to depth psychology as we know it today.

By the time of his death in 1961, Jung had become something of a legend in his own time. As John Ryan Haule (2011) pointed out in volume one of his new scholarly work, Jung in the 21st Century, Jung “has become the most beloved of the original giants of psychoanalysis” (p. ix), even though Jung’s credibility in scientific circles and even the general field of psychology has been controversial due to some of his unusual theories which have branded him more as a mystic. Recent years have only emphasized the growing cultural interest in such esoteric topics and in Jung himself, evidenced in part by the warm reception of Jung’s Red Book (published in 2010), and also by the release of the recent film, “A Dangerous Method” (Cronenberg, 2011), which profiles Freud and Jung’s relationship and tells the story of how psychoanalysis developed. And, with growing numbers of Jungian analysts and organizations employing technology like video conferencing to educate or conduct sessions around the world, Jungian psychology is experiencing a golden era of rebirth. In fact, the headline of a January 2012 article in the Guardian boldly proclaimed, “This Could be Carl Jung’s Century” (Samuels, 2012).

On top of his professional persona, Jung’s life was a human life, marked by its own unique set of challenges, and further complicated—as with all of us—by human companions and colleagues. This, however, bears out the opportunity and the invitation to look at our attachment to Jung, the man, and his role as one of the founders of an institution many care deeply about. While it is easy to idealize both Jung and his ideas, it is critical to examine where we are accepting without questioning, buying into unauthenticated stories, worshiping while ignoring foibles, and establishing our convictions based on emotional attachment to an ideal image or outcome.

Jung’s work has personally profoundly affected me in many ways but he would likely be the first to minimize the tendency to put him on a pedestal. He purportedly said–more than once–“I’m glad I’m not a Jungian” and eschewed the establishment of a fixed initiative for studying “Jungian” psychology. 

Happy birthday, Dr. Jung. I so appreciate your contribution to our world.


Cronenberg, D. (Writer). (2011). A dangerous method. In R. P. Company (Producer). U.S.: Sony Pictures Classics.

Haule, J. R. (2011). Jung in the 21st century: Evolution and archetype (Vol. 1). London; New York: Routledge.

Mogenson, G. (2003). A Review of Sonu Shamdasani, Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science., 387. Retrieved from http://www.gregmogenson.com/Shamdasani.pdf

Samuels, A. (2012). This Could Be Carl Jung’s Century. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/jan/25/carl-jung-century?newsfeed=true

Shamdasani, S. (2003). Jung and the making of modern psychology: The dream of a science. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2001). History of Psychology. Discovering Psychology. Retrieved February 11, 2012, from http://www.learner.org/discoveringpsychology/history/history_nonflash.html