Jungian therapy, or Jungian analysis,* is a type of psychodynamic psychotherapy which utilizes the instinctual motivation for psychological development in addition to those of love and power. The goal is to achieve psychological healing and wellness by aligning conscious and unconscious aspects of the personality.
What Is Jungian Therapy?
Forged by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in the first half of the 20th century, Jungian therapy cultivates the natural tendency toward personal growth in addition to exploring the historical causes of psychological problems, such as deficit parenting.
According to Jungian psychology, when the natural tendency to individuate, to become one’s authentic self, is blocked, mental health issues such as depression, compulsion, addiction, anxiety and destructive relationship patterns ensue. Healing requires an exploration into what the individual’s growth needs to entail, such as an increased capacity for authority, humility, independence, relationship, meaning, or practicality.
Jung preferred to call his approach Analytical Psychology, rather than Jungian therapy or Jungian analysis. He referred to it as the synthetic or prospective method because it is an additive process that looks forward as much as it looks backward. He believed that the unconscious has the potential to be an ally, a source of wisdom and guidance, in the process of human psychological development, not simply a storehouse for repressed memories.
Jungian therapy is considered holistic in that it cultivates wellness in the entire personality rather than targeting specific symptoms. It does not entail manualized treatment, which has predetermined steps and proceeds according to an outline, as some forms of treatment do. Rather, treatment is determined in accordance with the specific needs of the individual.
*The terms Jungian therapy and Jungian analysis are often used interchangeably. However, Jungian analysis can only be practiced by Jungian analysts, those who have completed an extensive training program approved by the International Association for Analytical Psychology.
The Core Concepts of Jungian Therapy
Jung believed that many of our psychological problems occur when we are unable to move forward with the ongoing tasks of psychological maturity, beyond those of childhood. In effect, psychological blocks may resemble a “strike” on the part of the individual’s psyche until he or she takes on the struggle that they have avoided.
Archetypes, Complexes, & Symbols
Jungian therapy emphasizes the idea that there are many parts of the psyche of which we are unaware. The ego, the conscious part of the personality of which we are aware, is only one aspect. The other unconscious aspects of the personality exert a significant influence on our feelings and behavior. Awareness of these other parts, and living in harmony with them, constitutes a large part of Jungian therapy.
Central to Jungian therapy is the concept of archetypes: Ancient and universal patterns of experience and behavior that are often represented in mythology and symbols. Common archetypes include:
- The shadow, the aspect of the personality that we prefer to hide
- The persona, the part of the personality that we prefer to show to the world
- The hero, the aspect which thrives on challenges
- The wise old man and wise old woman
While the concept of archetypes is the subject of theoretical debate among Jungian analysts, archetypes resonate for many on an experiential level which is helpful in their efforts to understand themselves and improve their mental health.
Jung developed the concept of “complexes,” psychic structures commonly seen in such forms as inferiority complex, victim complex, authority complex, and negative mother complex. The clinical benefit of the concept is that it serves as a recognized, central theme on which therapist and client can concentrate their attention.
Symbols, images that carry meaning, are central in Jungian therapy because of their ability to transform and redirect instinctive energy. Until the modern era, symbols had been used by religion and mythology to help individuals mature psychologically. Jung believed that as the role of traditional religions diminishes, we need to establish a direct connection with our own personal symbols to achieve well-being.
The Role of Dreams
Archetypes, complexes, and symbols may be represented in dreams. According to recent research, dreams can be utilized in therapy to promote new and beneficial perspectives.1 Dreams are understood to communicate feelings and experience that the dreamer is not fully aware of, and needs to process.2 While themes such as anxiety-provoking situations may seem familiar at first, dreams often contain elements that encourage a new approach to the problem.
For instance, a client who considers him or herself to be gentle and kind may be pictured in a dream as hiding a loaded gun that they are pointing at others. One interpretation would be that the client wields more aggression than they would like to admit, and that they need to own and integrate this aggression in a more conscious way, rather than control others with subtle threats or veiled criticism. The unconscious aggression they are trying to hide could be responsible for their anxiety.
Another client, depressed and discouraged in his or her efforts to improve their situation, might dream that they are close to reaching a summit.
Jungian therapy encourages patients to work with their dreams by engaging characters from their dreams in dialogue. The process can also work by personifying and dialoguing with characters from fantasies, moods such as depression, or an inner attitude, such as a critical voice. This method is called “active imagination.”3 Drawing, sculpting, composing, and dancing can also be used to connect with the unconscious. This method has also served as the foundation for the evolution of creative therapies, such as art therapy, dance therapy, and music therapy.
Religion, Spirituality, & Personal Meaning
Jungian therapy welcomes, but does not require, the practice of religion and spirituality. While Jung encouraged some of his patients to find meaning in the religions in which they were raised, he understood that mainstream religions were no longer a viable source of stability or inspiration for many. He believed that in such cases the individual may need to find their own individual source of meaning that would guide their long-term development and day-to-day experience. For many, that meaning is found in seeking their own psychological wholeness, incorporating and balancing as many parts of the personality as possible.
What’s the Goal of Jungian Therapy?
The goal of Jungian therapy is individuation, an ongoing process in which the different aspects of the personality are cultivated to function harmoniously and authentically. It leads individuals to both differentiate from other people and live in cooperation with them.
Individuation aims for a balance and collaboration between conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche. This attention to personal psychological growth has, for many, a healing effect that sustains them after the treatment with the therapist is complete. The goals of treatment are agreed upon by therapist and client, and those goals are subject to alteration as both therapist and client become more aware of other aspects of the client that may have been neglected in the past. In effect, the goal is determined not solely by therapist or client, but by the evolution of the work itself.
For instance, a client may begin therapy with the goal of becoming a more productive artist or writer, but realize, over time, that they had denied their need for human companionship, and that their unrealized need for intimacy had actually blocked their artistic progress. The treatment goal then includes understanding their denial of interpersonal needs, and how to fulfill those along with their passion for creation.
What Can Jungian Therapy Help With?
Jungian therapy may be used to treat a wide variety of issues such as depression, destructive relationship patterns, personality patterns such as obsessive-compulsive personality, and matters of aging and meaning. While very specific symptoms such as panic attacks or phobias may remit during the process of Jungian analysis, Jungian treatment does not focus exclusively on those symptoms, but rather on the development of the personality.5
An increasing number of Jungian analysts treat trauma, integrating practices from other therapies along with Jungian perspectives.
While some Jungian therapists have explored the use of Jungian therapy in work with individuals experiencing psychosis, most Jungian analysts restrict their practice to working with individuals who have well-functioning egos who do not experience hallucinations or delusions.
Jung himself seemed to be most interested in working with adults in the second half of life, and his method is often used to help clients who experience a midlife crisis.
Still, many Jungians work with children, often using a technique called “sand tray.” In this method, a tray of sand becomes a blank slate to play out imaginary dramas arising from dreams or fantasy. The therapist provides a large assortment of figurines that the client can use to play out these dramas in a safe and contained setting. This technique may also be used with adults.
Most Jungian therapists work with individuals, though some work with couples and groups. In some cases, psychotropic medications may be used in conjunction with Jungian therapy.
Jungian Therapy Examples
As an example of the Jungian approach, we can consider depression. In addition to exploring issues of recent or childhood loss which are often involved in depression, Jungian therapy also explores whether the depression is an indication that the client’s current approach to life is unsustainable. In this case, a period of stillness and reflection may be required to reorient themselves in a healthier way. The experience of sadness, loss of energy, hopelessness and irritability are seen in the greater context of the individual’s psychological development.
This is often the case when individuals reach midlife and their approach to life no longer sustains them. Some may need to invest more in creative, interpersonal, or community endeavors rather than professional ambitions in order to be more balanced and less depressed. Others, however, may need to develop a more practical, mature, and realistic approach after focusing on creative goals earlier in life.
The treatment of unhealthy relationship patterns serves as another example of how Jungian therapy works. These may be understood as attempts to rework harmful relationships from the past, or as attempts to integrate personality aspects that have not yet been incorporated.
For instance, a hard-driven individual may be attracted to romantic partners that offer more warmth and connection, while their partner may be seeking their own authority through connection with the hard-driven partner. Treatment would help either partner to find those qualities within themselves, rather than expecting their partner to live them out for them.
Who Is Qualified to Practice Jungian Therapy?
While some therapists familiarize themselves with Jung’s ideas and refer to themselves as Jungian therapists, the only assurance that they are truly proficient with the approach is for them to be certified by the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP) as Jungian analysts.
The practice of Jungian analysis requires extensive and demanding training, which includes traditional theories of human development and psychopathology, along with a thorough grounding in mythology and an understanding of Jungian theory. To qualify as a certified Jungian analyst, the therapist must complete a post-graduate training program at an institute approved by the IAAP. This training takes a minimum of four years (in addition to previous graduate work), but more often requires six or seven years.
Jungian training also requires that the student undergo a certain number of hours of personal analysis with a Jungian therapist.
Cost of Jungian Therapy
Typically, Jungian analysts work in private practice, though they may occasionally be found in clinics or hospitals. Depending on the region in which they practice, their fees can range from $100 to $300 per session. Most Jungian analysts will set some of their fees based on a sliding scale, but you should check to make sure that they currently have reduced fee openings in their practice, and whether they will be able to lower their fee enough to make it feasible for you to attend on a regular basis.
While clients often gain some symptomatic relief within a few months, the deeper project of Jungian analysis tends to last for years. Ideally, this is considered when choosing a therapist so that the process does not have to be terminated due to financial reasons before it is complete.
Jungian analysts usually have licenses to practice in their respective states. Therefore, you may be able to file for out-of-network reimbursement for sessions you have with them. Many Jungian analysts do not accept in-network reimbursement.
Jungian training institutes have low-fee clinics wherein individuals with limited income may enter therapy with a student in training. Generally, these cases are supervised very closely. Costs in these circumstances may range from $35-$100 per session.
Here are links to some of these institutes:
- The C.G. Jung Institute of New York
- The C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles
- The C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco
- Inter-regional Society of Jungian Analysts
How to Find a Jungian Therapist
Many regions have Jungian professional associations which offer a referral service or a website with a listing of certified analysts who are members of their associations. You can find a list of these associations at The International Association for Analytical Psychology, where they maintain a list of regional groups and contacts
What to Expect at Your First Appointment
Jungian therapy is framed within a specified amount of time (usually 45-50 minutes), and within a private, confidential environment, but is otherwise unstructured and spontaneous. While the therapist may want to clarify certain issues such as suicidality, addictions, and stability of the potential client in the first appointment, they are more likely to explore these in the context of the interview as they arise.
An initial consultation provides the opportunity for both patient and therapist to decide whether the therapist can be of help, and whether there is a good fit of personalities. Clients may choose to interview two or three analysts before committing to one.
The therapist may be curious about any dreams you have had recently, since they may shed light on your issues. However, remembering dreams is not necessary to begin the process.
The therapist will also explain their policies for payment, attendance, and cancellation.
Is Jungian Therapy Effective?
Jungian therapy is a form of psychodynamic therapy, which, according to a review in the American Journal of Psychiatry, has been found to be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy and medication for treating target symptoms.4
More specifically, a review of research into the effectiveness of Jungian therapy published in the journal Behavioral Sciences, found that:5
- All studies showed significant improvements not only on the level of symptoms, behavior, and interpersonal problems, but also on the level of personality structure
- These improvements are sustained after completion of therapy for a period of up to six years
- Several studies indicate that patients continue to improve after the end of therapy
- Medical insurance statistics indicate that after Jungian therapy, patients use medical care less than most people
- Several studies indicated that Jungian treatment not only improved severe symptoms, but also increased overall psychological wellbeing
- Typically these changes occur within 90 sessions, demonstrating that Jungian psychotherapy is effective and cost-effective
Risks of Jungian Therapy
Any form of long-term therapy can be used to avoid moving into the world and facing one’s fears. Ideally, the therapist will challenge and explore any avoidant tendencies on the part of the client, but answering the challenge requires a willingness on the part of the client to experience feelings, memories, or prospects that they have not wanted to explore previously.
Similarly, a client could possibly become so intellectually engaged in Jungian concepts such as archetypes that they might fail to engage emotionally. Avoiding feelings robs the client of the material they need to dissolve psychological blocks, and limits how productive the work can be.
Criticisms of Jungian Therapy
Jung’s interest in mysticism has led some to assume that belief in mysticism was a requirement for treatment.6 While Jung did have an interest in the phenomenon of spiritual experiences, he developed his approach through empiricism, and a mystical perspective is not an inherent part of the treatment. These critiques have been addressed by a number of writers, including historian Sonu Shamdasani.7
The concept of the archetype has been criticized as inconsistent and lacking empirical or biological support. Some Jungian theorists, such as Anthony Stevens, have argued that archetypes had an adaptive function in evolution and are therefore transmitted genetically.8 Others, such as Jean Knox, argue that archetypes emerge through cultural and environmental exposure.9 While the concept remains controversial, many find the images of archetypes to resonate deeply, and therefore to be experientially helpful.
How Is Jungian Therapy Different Than Other Types of Therapy?
While there is a wide range in how Jungian therapy and other methods are practiced, the fundamental aspects that differentiate it are its forward-looking perspective, its positive focus on the ongoing process of psychological growth, and its utilization of the unconscious as a source of creativity and guidance. Psychological problems are understood to be caused by blocks to life cycle stages. As an additive process, it seeks to integrate what has been left out in addition to understanding childhood stressors.
History of Jungian Therapy
Jung began to develop his approach to therapy in the early 20th century. After completing his studies as a physician, he began clinical work at the Burghölzli clinic in Switzerland, which gave him the opportunity to observe a wide range of psychological struggles, and to develop his own theories.
Jung collaborated with Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in the development of psychoanalytic theory and practice during the early years of the 20th century. However, by 1912, Jung felt too at odds with Freud’s emphasis on the role of sexuality to continue their collaboration, and ceased working with him.
Freud postulated three different parts of the personality, including ego (roughly equivalent to the adult), super-ego (parent) and id (child). Jung expanded the idea of different personality parts to include persona, shadow, hero, wise old man/woman, warrior, orphan, and many other archetypal parts that appear universally. He incorporated psychological growth, in addition to Freud’s emphasis on sexuality and death, as a primary motivation and source of energy in the therapeutic process.
Jung expected that other clinicians and theorists would continue to develop and revise his ideas, and this has certainly been the case. Psychiatrist Michael Fordham integrated concepts from child development and object relations.10 Physician Anthony Stevens applied concepts of evolutionary psychology to Jungian theory.11 Psychologist James Hillman developed “Archetypal Psychology,” an approach critical of scientific reductionism and materialism, focusing instead on the recognition of “soul” and the meaning of suffering.12 Psychologist Donald Kalsched utilized Jungian concepts for the treatment of trauma.13
While originally grounded primarily in Europe and North America, the practice of Jungian analysis is now rapidly increasing in Asia and South America, where new Jungian professional societies and training institutes are flourishing.
Two of Jung’s most popular books are his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections,14 and Man and His Symbols,15 both accessible to laymen. Another work which describes the actual process of being in Jungian therapy is June Singer’s book, Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung’s Psychology.16
Other resources include:
- Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts by Daryl Sharp, which lists and defines most of Jung’s ideas, using quotes and explanations.
- The Jung Page is an online resource for information about Jungian ideas and organizations.
- Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism is an online, and brick-and-mortar, source for images cataloged by archetype, useful in understanding the images in dreams.
Many Jungian communities and organizations welcome not only clinicians but also laymen who are interested in exploring Jung’s concepts. Classes and discussion groups offer a place to discuss Jung’s ideas and how they apply to one’s personal life, as well as to the larger, cultural world.
The following are representative of the many organizations that offer programs or information for the public:
Roesler, C. (2020) Jungian theory of dreaming and contemporary dream research – findings from the research project ‘Structural Dream Analysis’. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 65: 44– 62. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-5922.12566.
van der Linden, Sander. The Science Behind Dreaming. Scientific American. July 26, 2011. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-behind-dreaming/
Johnson, Robert A. (1986) Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth. New York: Harper & Row
Steinart, C., Thomas Munder, Sven Rabung, Jürgen Hoyer, Falk Leichsenring. (2017). Psychodynamic Therapy: As Efficacious as Other Empirically Supported Treatments? A Meta-Analysis Testing Equivalence of Outcomes. American Journal of Psychiatry, 174(10), 943-953. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.17010057) Retrieved from:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28541091/
Roesler, C. (2013). Evidence for the Effectiveness of Jungian Psychotherapy: A Review of Empirical Studies. Behavioral Sciences, 3(4), 562-575. doi:10.3390/bs3040562
Noll, R. (1997). The Jung cult: origins of a charismatic movement (1st Free Press Paperbacks ed.). New York: Free Press Paperbacks.
Shamdasani, S. (1998). Cult fictions: C.G. Jung and the founding of analytical psychology. London & New York: Routledge.
Steven, A., & Price, J. (2000). Evolutionary psychiatry: a new beginning (2nd ed.). London & Philadelphia: Routledge.
Knox, Jean. (2003). Archetype, Attachment, Analysis: Jungian psychology and the emergent mind. Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Fordham, M. (1994). Children as individuals. London: Free Association Books.
Stevens, A. (2015). Archetype revisited: an updated natural history of the self (Classic edition. ed.). London; New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Hillman, J. (1975). Re-visioning psychology (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row
Kalsched, D. (1996). The inner world of trauma: archetypal defenses of the personal spirit. London & New York: Routledge.
Jung, C. G. 1. (1963). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Pantheon Books
Jung, C.G., M.L. von Franz (1964), eds. Man and his Symbols. New York: Dell.
Singer, June. 1994. Boundaries of the soul: the practice of Jung’s psychology: revised and updated. New York: Anchor Books.