What is Jungian Psychotherapy?

Steven Nouriani, PhD, MFT © 2015

Defining Jungian psychotherapy or Jungian analysis is a challenging and complex task. If we go back to the meaning of the word psychotherapy itself, we find that it comes from two words psyche, which means soul and therapy, which comes from the Greek word “therapeuein”, which means to render service to. So psychotherapy means to render service to the soul (Edinger, 2002).

In vol.16of the collected works, “The practice of psychotherapy”, Jung (1954) indicated that psychotherapy is “the treatment of the soul” (p.94). In order to work with the soul, the Jungian psychotherapist or the Jungian analyst work directly with the unconscious to help the patient reconnect to the source of life embedded in the unconscious and discover the symbolic meaning in their individual suffering and existence.

In studying various schools of psychotherapy, I continue to find the Jungian approach to be the best attempt at meeting the challenge of rendering service to the soul. The Jungian approach does this by not avoiding the complexity of the soul, and instead deeply engaging the reality of the psyche by including the spiritual aspects of the psyche and the challenging problems of existence, which rise out of working with the unconscious in treatment.

As Jung (1954) indicated, the psyche is infinite. Therefore, it is very challenging to describe a treatment approach, which engages the soul and attempts to understand the individual’s relationship with the infinite. Furthermore, as you work with the unconscious and try to understand its complexity, and help the patient understand the deeper meaning in their suffering and in their relationship with life and the infinite, you can not have one single approach or a rigid set of methodologies which fit every individual. The reason being that such an approach would then assume that everyone is alike. One of the basic assumptions in the Jungian approach is that each individual is unique and different, as each star in the night sky is unique and different. So, when working with the soul or the infinite, you will have to hold its complexity and hold its mystery. You will have to be flexible, and you may have to be open to researching fields other than psychology, such as philosophy, theology, astrology, alchemy, history, or mythology. Furthermore, you will have to also be humble enough to admit and accept that there is a great deal that you don’t know and you don’t understand and you might never know. This ethical attitude is the legacy of Jung, which has remained in the Jungian approach.

As Edinger (2002) indicated, Jungian psychotherapy is both a science and an art. It is a science in the sense that it attempts to objectively and empirically study the psyche of the individual by applying the theoretical concepts and the knowledge that so far has been gathered about working with the unconscious. It is an art in the sense that it depends on the depth of the inner development of the psychotherapist or the analyst to empathize, relate and deeply understand the complexities involved in each unique individual.

There are certain theoretical concepts and psychological assumptions that are part of the Jungian perspective and form the foundations of clinical work with patients. One of these assumptions is the theory of the unconscious. In the Jungian view, the unconscious is not merely a repository of repressed and unwanted desires and wishes but it also contains aspects of the psyche that have never been conscious. It contains a deeper archetypal layer, called the collective unconscious, and carries within it the light, and the potential or the source for the development of consciousness itself.

One of Jung’s major contributions was the concept of the Self and the idea that the psyche is autonomous and that there is a purpose and a direction in the unconscious itself for psychic development towards wholeness or the Self. This potential for the development of consciousness is carried in the unconscious as the principle of individuation (Laszlo, 1952). Many years ago I was drawn to Jungian work as I found Jung’s theory on the Self to be the most positive and hopeful attitude towards human development.

Jungian psychotherapy or analysis involves an in-depth dialogue with the unconscious to understand its purpose, to be open to its direction and discover the deeper meaning that it tries to communicate to the patient and to the psychotherapist or the analyst through symbols, dreams, fantasies, feelings, thoughts, symptoms, complexes and the body itself. In general, the Jungian approach involves working through projections, negative complexes, integrating the shadow and becoming more conscious of aspects of the psyche that are unconscious in the process of development towards wholeness and individuation. However, the goal in Jungian work is not to have a goal, and not to yield to the ego’s agenda, instead to facilitate the patient’s individuation by understanding the deeper purpose or meaning in their suffering, to bring consciousness to the unconscious and to discover the direction in which the deeper self is moving towards.

This attitude of openness to the direction of the psyche and the Self in Jungian work allows for flexibility in the approach, so that various treatment techniques can be used in order to remain deeply attuned to the psychological needs of the patient at different stages of inner work. As a result, Jungian work can be relational, it can be archetypal, it can be developmental, it can be deeply spiritual, it can include active imagination, dream work, sand play, authentic movement, and other forms of creative art therapy. It can be any or a combination of above methods and include approaches from other schools of psychotherapy, such as Self-psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and so on. Since the ultimate goal is to render service to the soul, Jungian work is not limited to only Jungian techniques and it blends well with other approaches to facilitate transformation. Of course, the more skilled and psychologically developed the psychotherapist or the analyst is, the wider are the possibilities and the richer is the work. This is why the Jungian psychotherapist or analyst is required to have completed a substantial period of analysis and continue to do his/her inner work on the path of individuation and consciousness.

One of the factors that drew me to the Jungian approach, was the non-judgmental attitude of embracing symptoms and the inferior, the ugly, the despised, the dark or the intolerable aspects of the personality or forces in the psyche which may be superficially managed, avoided, denied or rejected in other approaches. The rejected, dark or despised parts of the personality or the psyche are embraced with acceptance and curiosity in Jungian work so that they can be understood and then integrated into the whole personality on the path of individuation.


Edinger, E. (2002). Science of the Soul: A Jungian Perspective. Toronto: Iner City Books.

Jung, C. G. (1954). The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 16: The Practice of Psychotherapy. R.F.C. Hull trans. Bollingen Series XX. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Laszlo, de, V. (1952). The Goal in Jungian Psychotherapy. Spring. New York: The Analytical Psychology Club, Inc.

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