Soulwork: Why Dreams Are So Important in Jungian Analysis

The Strange World of Your Dreams comic book cover for Jungian Dreams blog post

A Conversation with Jungian Analyst Kenneth James (Part Two)

This post continues my conversation with esteemed Jungian analyst Kenneth James. In Part One, we focused on how Jungian analysis is different from conventional therapies and other analytic traditions.

The COVID pandemic is reshaping life as we have known it on the planet. For many, the absolutes we have counted on to sustain us during times of crisis have already disappeared. That we have lost all sources of income, that our hospitals are understaffed and inadequately supplied, that we may die alone without a beloved near are the unthinkable realities we must now face. During the long weeks ahead, fear, loneliness, and despair will be uninvited visitors. As our sense of catastrophe deepens, so will our feelings of isolation. How can we cope? One way is to turn inward and pursue a relationship to our inner world. In this second conversation, Dr. Kenneth James will discuss the importance of dreams and how making the unconscious conscious is a giant step toward becoming self-enlightened.

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. 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.

Most contemporary models of psychological counseling do not value the examination of dreams. Why do Jungians place so much value on dreamwork?

The dream is considered the purest expression of unconscious dynamics, both personal and collective. Jungian work is not strictly speaking ego-based. We rely on disclosures from the unconscious to guide us in analysis and more importantly, in life outside of analysis. There are many ways that the unconscious seeks to communicate with the ego. These ways include daydreams and reverie, projection, displacement, somatization (the production of medical symptoms with no apparent organic cause), parapraxis (the so-called “Freudian” slip) and synchronicity. Dreams we have while we are asleep are highly esteemed because the ego is not involved in the generation of dreams (while we are asleep, the ego is absent). By examining dreams, the analyst and the analysand are guided to explore critical areas of the analysand’s life that may lead to unsuspected breakthroughs in self-understanding and growth of consciousness.

In your experience, how does working consciously with dreams benefit an individual?

Dreams point both the dreamer and the analyst toward issues and concerns that are in need of exploration and understanding. These may not be considered important by the ego, but when considered calmly and openly, dreams can awaken awareness of connections that can help the dreamer resolve problems, alleviate suffering, and calm conflicts. I often refer to dreams as the “MRIs” of the psyche. They show what the ego can’t see. A skilled analyst can use the dream to help the analysand explore areas that may not be brought up in any other way. Dreams circumvent the dominance that the ego wishes to claim for itself, and help facilitate both individuation (see Part One for our discussion of individuation) and its close companion, the relativization of the ego to the unconscious.

Is there a positive side to nightmares or so-called bad dreams?

Mysterious Dream by William Blake for Jungian Dreams blog postAlthough uncomfortable for the dreamer, nightmares can serve as “stat” directives for the analysand and analyst, calling us to deal with something right away, now. Nightmares can be thought of as dreams that will no longer be ignored. Nightmares often motivate people to question what is going on at deeper levels of human personhood, and as such can be valuable in bringing the ego to the place it needs to be for psychological health. No matter how hard we try, we cannot take into account all of the exigencies of human life. The ego is always thwarted when faced with phenomena that can be referred to as luck, fate, and hazard. Each of these is an event that happens without regard for causality, intention, planning, or personal volition. We go along in life, making our way and formulating decisions, and if all goes smoothly, things seem like they are under our control. This is a pernicious egoic illusion, or perhaps delusion. Experiences of luck (who knew that would happen?), fate (I had no choice, I was destined to undergo that event) or hazard (an event that seems to come out of nowhere, usually suddenly, with significant consequences for the individual) show the ego that, despite its good-faith efforts to plan and provide for all contingencies, life has more to offer than any ego could dream possible. The nightmare supports this, bringing the ego to the place where it can experience fear, and possibly terror. This capacity for utter terror, which would be avoided at all costs by the ego, serves to shake up the complacency of even the most resistant person, if the nightmare can be respected for its gifts, and not explained away as “nothing but a dream.”

 Can you give some examples of how dreams contribute to the development of the individual?

 Dreams can help individuals approach events in their lives more slowly and reflectively than one might do habitually. Because dreams can shine new light on situations and relationships that the ego thinks it already understands, an individual who can become more open to dream symbolism will find new and different perspectives by which to consider aspects of their experience. Dreams are viewed as works of art produced by the unconscious, and as such, can be explored again and again throughout one’s life. Jungians rarely simply “interpret” a dream and then abandon it as having been understood. Dreams never cease to be sources for deeper and deeper insight. A dream image, whether a person, place, or event, can serve as a seed for what Jung referred to as “active imagination.” Active imagination is sometimes referred to as “dreaming the dream forward.” In active imagination, the individual gets into a relaxed state and focuses on a particular element in the dream.

Glory of Commerce (1914), a sculptural group by Jules-Félix Coutan (1848–1939) featuring Mercury as the central figure atop Grand Central Terminal, New York City for Jungian Dreams blog postFor example, one analysand had a puzzling dream about being in Grand Central Station, a place familiar to him because he was born and raised in New York City. He wondered why he should dream of what was to him a very mundane setting. I suggested he do an active imagination on Grand Central Station, relaxing his body and then focusing his mind on the place, letting himself move through it as though exploring it in waking life. His visions began in an ordinary way, and he went through areas of the station he remembered from waking life. But then he turned a corner in the imagined station and found a doorway down to the sub-sub-basement, where he witnessed rats carrying on their lives unbeknownst to the people bustling to meet their trains or greet their loved ones. He then was taken, in the active imagination, to the top of the station, where he saw a large statue. He didn’t know what it was. When we discussed his active imagination, I suggested that he investigate what statue might be on the top of Grand Central Station. He did, and discovered it was a statue of Mercury, or Hermes in the Greek mythological form. I explained that Hermes/Mercury was the messenger of the gods, entrusted with carrying messages from humanity to the Olympian realm, and returning with divine message for mortals. He then said, “so Mercury is what helps us do this analytic thing!” I agreed. I believe that one of the functions of this dream of Grand Central Station for this analysand was to help him accept the reality and the autonomy of the psyche. He also was able to see that the rats might represent things going on “really deep inside me” that he either ignored or judged to be disgusting. Because of his valuing of the dream, he came to see that even the disgusting parts need to be witnessed, understood, and respected.

Please watch for Part Three of my conversation with Dr. Kenneth James. This series is an invitation to turn toward your deepest internal resources. How we respond as individuals to the overwhelming emotions generated by this global crisis will affect not only our own lives and those in our circle, but the entire planet. When we know ourselves, when we can name and face our fears, we are in a stronger position to act with clarity and brave hearts. We also recognize we are joined to others in our suffering. As Buddhist teacher Tara Brach says, “What if compassion could go viral? What if love could?”

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”

 



Soulwork: What Makes Jungian Analysis Different

"Collective Unconcsious" by Solongo Monkhooroi for Freudian therapy Jungian analysis post

 

Recently, I heard a wonderful definition of resilience: resilience is the ability to respond to danger with wisdom. As the coronavirus continues to spread and endanger millions of lives, fear has colonized our hearts, limiting our capacity for imagining possibilities for a positive future.

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. Over and over, with diligent attention to material that came from his unconscious, Jung became convinced that more wisdom than our egos recognize abides within.

This is a moment in history and in our lives when we seek wisdom and guidance. We may look to authority figures to alleviate our fear and anxiety, but inspiration flows naturally from our own inner resources. We cheer the Italians on their balconies, serenading one another. We marvel as Yo-Yo Ma plays songs of comfort on Twitter. Even in the darkest moments, our joy and creativity assert themselves.

Please be encouraged to embrace your own creativity and wise self. A simple way to start is to sit quietly and focus your attention on your heart. When you feel you have made a connection with that loving space within, ask your heart for a word, image or idea that will help you find resilience during this crisis. Write down whatever comes, or if you prefer, draw, dance, compose or paint it.

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

Kenneth James for Jungian analysis Freudian therapy postKenneth 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.

Please describe the process of Jungian analysis.

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 (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.

How does Jungian analysis differ from Freudian analysis?

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.

The Shepherd's Dream by Fuseli for Jungian analysis Freudian therapy postIn 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, 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 symbol, such as those found in myth, fairy tale, 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 not only is personal history a factor in neurotic suffering, but also collective motifs that have been part of human experience for millennia.

What are the most common reasons people seek Jungian analysis?

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.

How does “analysis” differ from “therapy”?

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.

Hungry Ghost Scroll for Jungian analysis Freudian therapy postIn 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 a future blog post.

This post appeared in a slightly different form on Dale’s blog on Psychology Today. You can find all of Dale’s blog posts for Psychology Today at “Transcending the Past.”