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Dreams, Symbols, Humanity: Jungian Analysis & Therapy

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

This essay explores a Jungian approach to psychotherapy including its core theories and terms, strengths and limitations, model of the human mind, and history. It was submitted in December 2020 as a final reflection paper in a course toward my masters degree in counseling psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy, professional clinical counseling, and depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.


Dreams, Symbols, Humanity: Jungian Analysis and Therapy

Shawna McGrath

December 9, 2020

A Jungian Perspective

Jungian analysis and therapy is a system of psychotherapy developed in the first half of the 20th century by Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, from his elaborations on Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theories, his experiments with schizophrenic patients, and study of anthropology, philosophy, parapsychology as well as his own religious and mystical experiences. As discussed by professor Matthew Bennett (2020, lecture) and psychologist Richard Sharf (2016), the Jungian model of mind has a teleological foundation that assumes the human psyche naturally moves toward wholeness (p. 88). Jungian analyst Marion Woodman (1985) said analysis can “speed up that process” of psychic unity (p. 20). Sharf (2016) also said the most unique aspect of Jungian analysis, and a central focus of the method, is the concept that universal patterns in humanity are unconsciously present in individuals (p. 119). Based on these core principles, Jungian therapists work with people from a holistic perspective because “soul, mind, and spirit exist at all levels of consciousness and include cognitions, emotions, and behaviors” (p. 89). In practice, Jungian analysis is a talk therapy that emphasizes the client’s connection with their unconscious through dream interpretation, imagination, and consideration of personal as well as universal symbols to resolve mental health concerns to help create a greater sense of fulfillment in the client.

Origin Story

Jungian therapy’s emphasis on spirituality is a direct reflection of Jung’s religious upbringing and early experiences. As Sharf (2016) detailed, in his youth Jung was regularly exposed to religious practices because his father and many uncles served as pastors. Jung also had frequent encounters with the unseen world through visions and paranormal experiences that informed his psychological theories. For example, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung (1963/1989) told a story from his childhood when he created a tiny doll with a stone and conducted “rituals,” where he delivered a handwritten scroll to the doll. Many years later as a young adult, Jung was stunned to stumble upon images of the Australian churingas stones as well as the Greek Telesphoros statues that resembled his creations with striking resemblance (pp. 22-23). Experiences such as this fostered a conviction in Jung (1963/1989) that “archaic psychic components . . . entered the individual psyche without any direct . . . tradition” (p. 23).

Sharf (2016) explained that Jung’s early psychiatric training initiated many of the core theories used in Jungian analysis and therapy today. Jung trained at a psychiatric hospital in Zurich where he utilized the scientific method to conduct word association tests that eventually led to his understanding of how to access psychological material not conscious to a patient (p. 86). In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung (1963/1989) said he was influenced by French psychologist and hypnotist Pierre Janet, psychiatrist Josef Breuer, and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (p. 146). Jung studied hypnosis with Janet and used the technique with uncanny success when establishing his private practice as a psychiatrist. However, he quickly retired the technique because he felt uncertain about the results (pp. 118-120). According to Sharf (2016), Jung was highly influenced and impressed by Freud’s work but had objections about Freud’s belief that nearly all mental health issues were caused by sexual urges. Freud’s disregard for parapsychology or spiritual matters was also a strain in their working relationship; after 6 years of a strong professional bond, the two parted ways bitterly (p. 87). Jung (1963/1989) reported that after the separation with Freud, he went into a period of deep psychological exploration for 6 years, where he had intense and constant dreams, fantasies, and waking visions that informed the remainder of his work and theories as a psychotherapist. As he said of that 6-year period, “it was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work” (p. 199).

Jung was also highly influenced by writers, philosophers, and researchers outside the field of psychiatry. Sharf (2016) said Jung’s theories about human consciousness and personality were directly influenced by his study of philosophers such as Carl Gustav Carus, Immanuel Kant, Eduard von Hartmann, Gottfried Leibniz, and Arthur Schopenhauer (p. 86). In addition, Jung’s concepts about individuals being connected to universal symbols present throughout humanity and the importance of symbolism in general was directly informed by the work of anthropologists such as Johann Bachofen, Adolf Bastian, and George Creuzer (p. 86). From a spiritual perspective, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung (1963/1989) explained his fascination with Gnosticism and medieval alchemy because “analytical psychology coincided in a most curious way [symbolically] with alchemy” (pp. 200-205). Over the course of his lifetime, Jung created a psychological model that blended his psychiatric training, studies of philosophy and cultural as well as his mystical experiences.

Model of Mind

Sharf (2016) said the Jungian model of mind has three levels of consciousness: conscious awareness, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious. Conscious awareness is an individual’s self-perception, along with the behaviors, feelings, and tendencies they are aware of within themselves or believe themselves to have. In contrast, the personal unconscious includes thoughts, feelings, memories, and experiences that are not readily apparent to a person but can be brought into consciousness. In contrast, in “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” Jung (1954/1968) said that within the personal unconscious are “chiefly the feeling-toned complexes . . . they constitute the personal and private side of psychic life” (p. 4). Further elaborating in, Man and His Symbols, Jung (1964) described complexes as a collection of “repressed emotional themes” that tend to be highly reactive and disruptive in a person’s life (p. 11). The final level of consciousness, as described by Sharf (2016), is the collective unconscious that contains universal thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and patterns present within humanity, which all individuals are connected to. Jung (1954/1968) said, “The contents of the collective unconscious . . . are known as archetypes” (p. 4). Jung (1954/1968) defined archetypes as “patterns of instinctual behavior” (p. 44). Sharf (2016) gave examples of archetypes such as: “birth, death, power, the hero, the child, the wise old man, the earth mother, the demon, the god, the snake, and unity” (p. 91). Archetypes themselves do not have a finite form. They emerge into in an individual’s consciousness as images in “dreams, fantasies, visions, myths, fairy tales, art” (p. 92).

Sharf (2016) explained that Jungian psychology views human development in “four basic stages: childhood, youth and young adulthood, middle age, and old age” that are less defined than most other psychological models (p. 97). Jungian psychology tends to focus primarily on the middle age phase of life because most of Jung’s writings were regarding that stage (p. 119). Jung saw middle age as a pivotal time in life when individuals tend to become aware that external challenges in life have a psychological underpinning and begin seeking greater meaning in life. In Man and His Symbols, Jungian analyst Jolande Jacobi (1964) said, “many men and women reach middle age without achieving psychological maturity”; and Jungian analysis can assist in addressing “the neglected phases of their [psychological] development” (p. 325).

In Practice

Sharf (2016) described dream interpretation as the “core of [Jungian] analysis” because Jung felt that dreams are symbolic of the client’s mental state as well as their personal and collective unconscious connections (p. 102). Through working with personal and collective symbols, the Jungian analyst and client work together to interpret dreams as a symbolic representation of the client’s experiences, challenges, or current situations in conscious life (p. 103). Based on the teleological perspective of Jungian therapy, the client’s psyche will present dreams to assist in steps toward equanimity of Self. In the absence of dreams, this process of psychic symbology may be facilitated through creative activities such as drawing, painting, poetry, and dancing (p. 106). Jungian analysis and therapy also incorporate the phenomenon of projection when “characteristics of one person are reacted to as if they belong to another object or person” (p. 107). This is called transference when the client projects onto the analyst or countertransference when the analyst projects into the client. Projection is utilized less in Jungian therapy than in psychoanalysis and tends to be used within the context of an archetype (p. 107).

Sharf (2016) defined four nonsequential themes in Jungian therapy: the client revealing themselves to the therapist, interpretation of the issues, relating issues to the client’s environment or culture, and transformation (pp. 101-102). The process of Jungian therapy may move through these states many times, depending on the content and the client. These states define a thematic process but are not the objective. The goal of Jungian analysis is not necessarily to correct psychological distress, although that is a part of the process, but to bring a greater sense of fulfillment and inner autonomy. As Jungian analyst Barbara Sullivan (1989) said, “Therapy is successful not when it ends in cure but when it leaves the patient able to continue growing on his own . . . to work with his inner pain in vital and satisfying ways” (p. 87).

Personal Considerations

I have a natural affinity for Jungian analysis and therapy because of its firm orientation toward the inner world of the client. In my personal experience over the past 4 years, I found great insight and healing in working with my dreams as symbols to my psyche through reflection and discussion with a depth psychotherapist. I also have a strong interest in anthropology, mythology, and spiritual practices—a natural fit with the Jungian mindset. Sharf (2016) explained that training to be a Jungian analyst at a Jungian Institute involves curriculum not only in the psychological components of Jungian analysis but also in anthropology, mythology, and folklore (p. 119). I am delighted by this inclusion of these fields and feel that it adds depth to my understanding of people and mental health in general.

My challenge with Jungian analysis and therapy is that the formal Jungian analyst training may actually lack cultural diversity. The California Jungian Institute curriculum includes immersion in Jung’s writings as well as other Eurocentric Jungian authors, Christian mysticism, and possibly Hinduism or Buddhism (The C. G. Jung Study Center of Southern California, 2020). From an anthropological view, this is a small section of humanity. Some may argue that, as Sharf (2016) noted, many Jungian analysts have studied other cultures and applied Jungian concepts to a culture as a whole (p. 117). Despite well-meaning intentions, I am concerned this type of work is a pathologizing of an entire group of people from an outsider’s perspective rather than an anthropological understanding leading to cultural competence. As I reflect on Jungian psychology, I feel a strong connection to the concepts, while also wondering if training at a Jung Institute would leave me wanting more exposure to humanity. Sharf (2016) noted that Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels (1989) said analysts in training are often told, “when you treat the patient, you treat the culture” because each individual participates in their culture (p. 18). I adore this sentiment and endeavor to take it further: When you understand the culture, you treat the client. A progressively deeper understanding of the intersection between cultural (collective) and personal (individual) psychology is a key theme to my future practice as a psychotherapist.


Bennett, M. (2020, Fall). Unpublished lecture presented in the course, Counseling Theories & Techniques, Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Jacobi, J. (1964). Symbols in an individual analysis. In C. G. Jung & M.-L. von Franz (Eds.), Man and his symbols (pp. 323-374). Dell Publishing.

Jung, C. G. (1964). Approaching the unconscious. In C. G. Jung & M.-L. von Franz (Eds.), Man and his symbols (pp. 1-94). Dell Publishing.

Jung, C. G. (1968). Archetypes of the collective unconscious (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung: Vol. 9 pt. 1. Archetypes and the collective unconscious (2nd ed.). Princeton University Press.

/9781400850969.3 (Original work published 1954)

Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections (A. Jaffe, Ed.) (R. Winston & C. Winston, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1963)

Samuels, A. (1989). Psychopathology: Contemporary Jungian perspectives. The Society of Analytical Psychology.

Sharf, R.S. (2016). Theories of psychotherapy and counseling concepts and cases (6th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Sullivan, B. S. (1989). Psychotherapy grounded in the feminine principle. Chiron Publications.

The C. G. Jung Study Center of Southern California. (2020). Admissions.

Woodman, M. (1985). The pregnant virgin: A process of psychological transformation. Inner City Books.

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