Jung: Gifted and Wack?
November 2, 2007 6:35 AM   Subscribe

To what extent has Carl G. Jung's work has been replaced, rejected, or made obsolete, and how ought this affect how one reads his books?

I've read Jung off and on over the years. Lately I've been reading "Man and His Symbols" and am interested in getting deeper into his work. I don't know enough about modern psychology to know how discriminatingly I should proceed. I came across this thread about Freud, and while the judgments there didn't surprise me, it made me realize what little context I have for what I'm reading except for what I myself have experienced.
posted by hermitosis to Science & Nature (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think Jung is obsolete at all. How to Read Jung was published in January and CBC Radio's Ideas ran an interview with the author earlier this week. It was a really interesting interview and discussion of Jung and his work. So people are still discussing his ideas at any rate.
posted by GuyZero at 6:49 AM on November 2, 2007

Philip Rieff had a bit to say about Jung and others of his generation; but Rieff is fairly idiosyncratic so ymmv; maybe look in The Triumph of the Therapeutic or even in Sacred Order/Social Order.
posted by londongeezer at 7:29 AM on November 2, 2007

I am six weeks away from my bachelors in Psychology. Recently I took the psychology subject GRE. I studied for it using several workbooks, and while almost everything was review, 95% of the stuff about Jung was new to me. At no time during my education were his ideas discussed, besides in historic context. It was the same with Freud; while I might have learned a little bit more about him, I probably discussed him more in some of my humanities classes than in any psychology class. So, at least for me, in 2007, at a major university, Jung was absent from discussion. Or maybe I just missed those lectures
posted by lizjohn at 8:13 AM on November 2, 2007

I have an MA is Psychology. We discussed Jung in a historical context but not in a therapeutic one. I'm not sure about psychiatry though -- they tend to lean more towards the psychoanalytic tradition and thus might still use Jung.

I suspect you'd be able to find some "new-agey" type therapists who also employ Jungian therapeutic methods.
posted by proj at 8:27 AM on November 2, 2007

This is just going to be another anecdotal piece of information. When I was seeing a shrink a couple years ago, she was trained as a Jungian. She brought up his symbolism numerous times, particularly when I discussed anxieties that appeared in my dreams. It also came up when I tried to tackle my issues with motivation and procrastination. Jung and his symbols did not come up every session.

Now, this was a woman who received her professional education in the 1970s. How much Jung's theories have fallen out of vogue is unclear to me as a layman.
posted by piratebowling at 8:39 AM on November 2, 2007

Oh, also, Tracey, the author of the book I mentioed is actually a literature professor. Apparently the literary types still like the Jung but Tracey himself said that psychologists have abandoned him.
posted by GuyZero at 8:52 AM on November 2, 2007

I suspect you'd be able to find some "new-agey" type therapists who also employ Jungian therapeutic methods.

I'm in a grad program for counseling psychology, and I have a friend who's doing a similar program at an "integral institute," meaning they're studying both Eastern and Western psych/wellness models. She said the other day that I must be sick of Jung, too, because that's all they study. I replied that his name hadn't even come up in most of my coursework.

I don't think he's been discredited, at all, in mainstream counseling work or psychology, but more that the pendulum has swung away from intrapsychic interpretations and interventions and toward more cognitive-behavioral approaches. I'm getting the impression we're moving more firmly into strength-based approaches or positive psychology, however, and I suspect people will start to draw on Jung's work again as we focus a bit on universal, cross-cultural ideas of wellness rather than just on individual psychopathology.
posted by occhiblu at 8:55 AM on November 2, 2007 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: If his work seems to be considered useful and is generally well-regarded, then why is it that psychology has abandoned him? Can anyone offer thoughts on this?

Are there others whose work follows importantly in his footsteps?
posted by hermitosis at 8:57 AM on November 2, 2007

Response by poster: Wish I'd previewed, occhiblu, and seen your comment before I posted mine. Thanks.
posted by hermitosis at 8:59 AM on November 2, 2007

On an unrelated note, the title of this question is AWESOME.
posted by proj at 9:00 AM on November 2, 2007

Wish I'd previewed, occhiblu, and seen your comment before I posted mine. Thanks.

I'm not only a psych student, I'm also a psychic!
posted by occhiblu at 9:01 AM on November 2, 2007

why is it that psychology has abandoned him

To paraphrase Tracey from the CBC interview, psychology has moved towards the social science model focused on statistics and trying to reverse-engineer the brain. Tracey quoted a student (and again I paraphrase) "If I wanted to understand the mind of a rat, I'd study psychology. I wanted to understand the human unconscious, so I studied literature (and Jung)."

I am not a psychologist nor a student of literature, so this is just my memories of the interview I heard on Wednesday.
posted by GuyZero at 9:03 AM on November 2, 2007

To add here -- one reason that social science has moved away from Freud (especially) and Jung (to a lesser extent) is that many of their theories of human behavior and unconscious are based largely on personal speculation without any kind of basis in empirical reality. See Freud's writings on religion for particularly egregious examples of this.
posted by proj at 9:07 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

psychology has moved towards the social science model focused on statistics and trying to reverse-engineer the brain

I agree, and what's interesting about this is that these "scientific" explorations are actually leading us back to a lot of the same ideas that Freud and Jung (and Eastern philosophers/spiritualists) came up with hundreds (or thousands) of years ago.

Freud's emphasis on early childhood experiences was dismissed in favor of more "here and now" ideas, but recent studies on childhood attachment styles are finding that those early experiences significantly affect how we relate to other people throughout our lives. Brain studies are starting to show how important feelings of interrelatedness are for mental health, that we're simply not wired to be isolated individuals but that our brains are quite literally "wired" for empathy, storytelling, and collective meaning-making -- which, for me, gets into ideas of the collective unconscious and of Buddhist ideas of oneness and connection.

Even CBT research is starting to pull back and focus on how earlier individual experiences and cultural expectations have shaped our current reactions; they call them "maladaptive schema" but there's certainly a parallel with Freud, Jung, and even feminist, narrative, or other postmodern counseling models.

Really, I think a lot of psych research (and, really, research in general) tries to differentiate itself strongly from what's come before, but when you start really comparing different theories or schools you'll find more overlap than true difference. (Which, really, is kind of awesome, especially in this field -- it means we've really understood how the mind works in many ways for a long long long time, and that we can trust our instincts about what we've been doing, rather than feeling we have to discard "old" ideas every time a new idea comes along.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:19 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Jung comes up from time to time with my therapist. I don't think she's trained strictly as a Jungian (we're actually doing tons of CBT), but she does reference him in terms of ways to identity, name, and discuss things I'm feeling, where they come from, and how they effect me. We're both creative, storytelling type people, and I tend to talk about myself and my experience in a narrative way anyway, so he sometimes provides a helpful framework and/or vocabulary.
posted by mostlymartha at 9:43 AM on November 2, 2007

Brilliant title, hermitosis.

And as your title may indicate you are already well aware, I think Jung's reputation has suffered because the Nazis and other racists-- and racialists-- were able to make themselves all too comfortable in the edifice he bequeathed us. I can't decide whether I think Watson's recent infamous remarks were mere idiosyncratic exhalations of an old man's mind in decay, or represent a more general ferment, and that racialist ideas could be slouching around toward us once again for their hour of serious, widespread consideration. If the latter, Jung's value is sure to rise in some estimations.

As I'm sure you are also well aware, Jung has for long been a darling (a tutelary deity, really) among those who take psychic phenomena seriously or are interested in the occult. Rupert Sheldrake's morphic resonance could be seen in part as an attempt to jack up Jung's appealing (or appalling, by taste) idea of a collective unconscious and slide a more scientific foundation under it. All this may also be laboring toward a renaissance in this age of declining expectations.

Anthony Storr's pamphlet-sized volume in the Modern Masters series is a good, sympathetic yet bracingly critical introduction to Jung's thought, but I think the most perspicuous view of Jung by far (and Freud, too!) is to be found in the Freud-Jung Letters, which has the added benefit of being a great literary and historical work in its own right. I found it quite painful to see how deeply Freud loved Jung, and what hope he had that the younger man would carry on the great work, and how Freud blinded himself to the coldness and disaffection that crept into the letters as Jung gradually gathered himself to make a decisive break with psychoanalysis and Freud personally, but it makes for a truly thrilling, tragic drama, and along the way each man makes the most concise, accessible and persuasive statement of his ideas I have seen anywhere.
posted by jamjam at 10:01 AM on November 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

"Apparently the literary types still like the Jung but Tracey himself said that psychologists have abandoned him."

Not so much, in my experience. Or at least, the only literary types still going on about Jung are nearing retirement and a little out of touch.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 10:15 AM on November 2, 2007

Yeah, I'm in the humanities (film, not literature, but similar), and I have come across zero Jung, but lots and lots of Freud and Lacan.
posted by SoftRain at 10:39 AM on November 2, 2007

Both of these fellows put forward world views that are extremely hard to test, if not completely unfalsifiable. Most philosophers of science think falsifiability is a very important thing. Karl Popper, an important if not controversial philosopher in this field, specifcially addressed Freudian's and Marxists.

Falsifiability is important because without it I could propose all sorts of things that could never been decided one way or another through observation. I could say that the physical theory of fields is wrong - in fact all forces acting at a distance are the result of invisible pink unicorns that permeate all space. I could come up with all sorts of mathematics to describe the behavior of these unicorns that explain how they give rise to the behavior we're used to. The results my unicorn theory would give would be identical to the standard field theory - they would just add a bunch of other assumptions that could never be decided one way or another through empirical experiments. So you can never prove my unicorn view wrong - it's unfalsifiable. Is it then true? Is it science? I don't think so. A classic example, though usually mentioned in the context of supernatural beings, is Russell's teapot.

So when you read Freud or Jung, ask yourself what experiments could be done to prove them wrong. If they're aren't any - what's the point of putting the idea forward?

You may also be interested in the Skepdic entry on synchronicity.

So, in short, I think he's quite wack.
posted by phrontist at 11:25 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Does anyone know of reputable studies one way or the other on any element of Jungian/Freudian thought? I can't seem to find any...
posted by phrontist at 11:29 AM on November 2, 2007

Also, Skepdic on Freud.
posted by phrontist at 11:32 AM on November 2, 2007

Nice overview of studies on attachment theory and its influence on adult relationships.

Information on the discovery of mirror neurons and some ideas on how they may relate to the idea of the collective unconscious.

(Freudians, especially, are rather averse to studies. As I mentioned earlier, I think we're at a point where we can start seeing how scientific discoveries are paralleling the ideas that Freud, Jung, and others formulated, but it takes some philosophical work to connect them up at this point. I suspect they'll continue to converge like that as we learn more.)
posted by occhiblu at 12:08 PM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

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