Jungian Psychology In Theory And Practice

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 8, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Carl Gustav Jung was a well-known Swiss psychologist and associate of Sigmund Freud. He developed Jungian psychology, also referred to as analytical psychology, which built off of Freud's theories but has significant differences. Engaging in therapy that’s based on this type of psychology may help individuals find balance and address a variety of mental health conditions and challenges. Below, we’ll outline key elements of Jung C’s psychological theory along with insights into how it can be practically applied in therapy to address mental health concerns and promote personal growth.

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About Carl Gustav Jung

CG Jung was born in 1875 in Switzerland and pursued education and a career in scientific psychology and psychiatry. He wrote many books that outlined his theories on the human psyche and human behavior, and much more than one modern paper or study today still references Jung and his work. Many therapists continue to practice Jungian psychotherapy or elements of it today as well. 

He took inspiration from several sources when he developed his psychological theory. Jung initially had a close relationship with Freud—though Jung disagreed eventually with his views and the two had a falling out. Nevertheless, Freud's psychoanalytic method influenced Jung significantly. He also drew from his time spent working in a psychiatric hospital to develop his understanding of the human psyche. Jung was an avid reader, often studying texts from ancient scholars and civilizations, which influenced his philosophy and theories in psychology as well. 

A brief overview of Jungian theory 

The human psychology theory CG Jung developed has several central concepts, including the following. 

Individuation

Carl Jung proposed that individuation is a multi-phase process of psychological development that a person goes through to become a unique individual or complete self. According to Jung, individuation is about bringing the subconscious—including dreams—into conscious thought. He believed that combining elements of the conscious and unconscious mind would help an individual to understand themselves more profoundly.  

In Jung's view, failing to go through each phase of the individuation process could lead to mental health conditions, including phobias, depression, or psychosis. He aimed to help people complete each one in order to develop a more cohesive self, address unconscious aspects of the mind, and reach their highest experience level in everyday life.

Archetypes

While some psychological theorists have suggested that the human mind begins as a blank slate, Jung believed that people start with the collective knowledge gained through the evolutionary process. He saw this as being already present in each person's unconscious at birth as archetypes.

An archetype in Jungian psychology is a universal pattern or image that resides in the collective unconscious. Jung believed that each person builds themselves on top of the archetypes—such as the shadow archetype or the mother archetype. Many have been listed, but the four main archetypes Jung focused on were:

  • The persona you show the world

  • The anima/animus, or suppressed feminine qualities in masculine people and vice versa

  • The shadow, or the darker side of the psyche that you may try to suppress

  • The self, or the wholeness of the individual

The collective unconscious

The collective unconscious is theorized as the part of the mind that holds the experiences and memories common to humanity as a whole. Jung, C. believed the unconscious was related to the inherited structure of the brain, meaning that everyone may be born with the same information, universal symbols, and basic psychological preferences. The collective unconscious is considered different from the individual or personal unconscious, which may only contain impressions from a person's own history.

Synchronicity

Like many theorists, Jung coined several terms as he developed his theory. One was synchronicity. Jung explained synchronicity as when two seemingly unrelated things co-occur. Synchronicity is different from coincidence because synchronous events happen together meaningfully, per his theory, rather than randomly. 

Jung saw this when a client had a dream about a rare type of insect, and the following day, the same type of insect—unusual for that geographical location—flew into the window during her session with him. Jung did not write this off as a simple coincidence but rather helped the client find meaning to associate with the occurrence so she could move forward in her therapeutic work with renewal and revitalization.

Dream interpretation

In Jungian theory, dreams represent the psyche's work as it tries to communicate information from the unconscious to the conscious mind. This can involve the interpretation of the dream ego (in this case, the ego represents “ourselves” as we experience the dream) and how it is affected by other objects and people. Per Jung, dream analysis can reveal symbols of what lies unknown to the dreamer within the unconscious. For example, dreams might show up as compensations for areas lacking in waking life. 

Dream objects may be objectively related to things in the real world, or they can be taken on the subjective level in which every dream object is related to the person's psyche. Jung also related the psychology of dreams to the unconscious and its archetypes. 

Complexes within the human psyche

In Jung's theory, complexes are emotionally charged ideas clustered around an archetype. He saw complexes as neutral, although their effects could be harmful. Complexes may stop you from doing what you want most and may be based on trauma or adverse experiences in life.  

A complex may create discord within your psyche, although that is not necessarily regarded as unfavorable. Jung suggested that without such discord of one’s psychic energy, the psyche would come to a complete standstill.

Jungian psychology in practice through therapy

Jungian psychology is often practiced through a form of analytical talk therapy. The goal of Jungian psychotherapy is typically healing and wholeness, which Jung stated happens when the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are integrated and balanced. To work toward this, the therapist may help you look past the persona you present to the world and get in touch with the deeper elements of your psyche, beyond your conscious self.

This type of therapy can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions that can affect human life and well-being. Some of the conditions or challenges that might be treated with Jungian methods include:

  • Anxiety

  • Grief

  • Depression

  • Stress

  • Relationship issues

  • Low self-esteem

  • Trauma

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Therapy techniques used in Jungian psychology

A Jungian therapist may use a broad range of Jungian therapy techniques to help clients understand themselves and their unconscious processes and transform their lives into a more integrated whole. Some of these techniques include the following.

Confession and catharsis

For many people, the process of “confession” in a therapeutic setting may help relieve emotional burdens. Per Jung’s model, confession often has a specific goal: As you talk about your problems, you may reveal the unconscious thoughts and images underlying your distress.

Once your inner world comes out into the open, you may feel a sense of catharsis, release, and relief. At the same time, your words and emotions could illuminate areas that may need more attention going forward. Confession and catharsis form an ongoing process that will often be continued in later therapy sessions. Since studies suggest that suppressing emotions and thoughts can be harmful to your overall health, opening up with a therapist via this technique could be helpful.

Assessing personality types

Another critical component of Jungian analysis is the assessment of an individual’s human personality. A therapist may use several different methods to complete this analysis. They may determine whether you're more extroverted or introverted, and in what situations. They may also suggest whether you seem to function best in thinking, feeling, sensing, or intuition. Once they've identified your psychological types, they might better understand how to help you find emotional healing.

Dream interpretation

Many Jungian analysts spend time with clients interpreting their dreams. Since Jung saw dreams as powerful tools for the unconscious mind, dream interpretation is often a cornerstone treatment of this form of therapy. 

As a client, you may describe a dream that has made a significant impression on you and explain all the details, including what you did, what happened to you, and how you felt during it. Your therapist may ask questions to clarify your description or help you recall the dream better. Finally, they may guide you as you look more closely at the meaning behind the dream. They can help you identify elements of your unconscious that may be out of balance and use their expertise and knowledge of archetypal psychology to help you discover the "real" you emerging through the counseling process.

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Dream journaling

A Jungian analyst or therapist may also ask you to keep a dream journal. To do so, you might keep your journal by your bedside and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up. This may help you remember your dreams more accurately than if you went about your day and only tried to recall the details later during your therapy session. Other techniques to help you remember could include telling yourself before you go to bed that you'll remember your dreams when you wake up. Or, if you read your accounts of past dreams before you go to bed, you may be in the right frame of mind to remember new ones when you wake up the next morning.

At first, your therapist may take you through your dream journal and work with you based on the images and feelings you've written down. As your therapy progresses, you might also learn to understand and interpret your dreams independently. Also note that research suggests that expressive writing, like journaling, can be beneficial for mental health, so journaling about your dreams may bring other rewards too.

Creative experiences

Jungian therapists often use creative experiences to help you express elements of your psyche so you can achieve a higher level of conscious awareness. These experiences can include making art, dancing, listening to or making music, or writing poetry. After the experience is over, you and your therapist may discuss how the unconscious elements in the creation relate to your journey of self-realization.

Options for seeking Jungian therapy

If you’re interested in meeting with a Jungian therapist, you might use an online locator tool or ask a current psychiatrist or therapist for a referral. That said, you may also be able to achieve self-realization, wholeness, and balance by working with therapists who practice many different types of modalities. 

For those who are having trouble finding a provider in their area or would prefer to speak with a therapist from the comfort of home, online therapy may be a preferable option. Through a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of home. A growing body of research suggests that online therapy can offer similar effectiveness to in-person therapy in many cases.

Takeaway

Jungian psychology is a method developed by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud. Key components of this approach include archetypes, the collective unconscious, synchronicity, and confession and catharsis. Meeting with a Jungian therapist may support you in learning more about your psyche by helping you with your dreams and unconscious thoughts.

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