Welcome to The Free Ranger, a podcast about telling the stories that matter. On this podcast, we’ll be learning about storytelling from the people who turn important issues into stories: the writers, filmmakers, marketers, academics, and other professionals who weave together the facts to create compelling narratives that make a difference.
This season, we’ll be speaking with experts on Carl Jung—the Swiss psychiatrist who developed the concept of “archetypes.” Archetypes are patterns that pop up again and again in the stories of a given culture. In recent years, books like Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson’s The Hero and the Outlaw have popularized the idea that brands can use archetypes in their own marketing materials.
At the same time, Jung and his work have come under scrutiny, as critics have wrestled with the racism and sexism evident in his writings. Now more than ever, it’s important for us to know the man behind the concept—both his accomplishments and his shortcomings.
We’re happy to welcome Jungian analyst, psychoanalyst, and writer Dr. Andrew Samuels. Dr. Samuels is the author of Jung and the Post-Jungians, a collection of essays exploring how today’s psychoanalysts are grappling with Jung’s legacy.
Together, we talked about Jungian analysis, the dangers of essentialism, and the importance of difference, in and out of therapy…
Myles McDonough: We are here on the Free Ranger podcast with Doctor Andrew Samuels. Doctor Samuels, thank you so much for joining us here today.
Andrew Samuels: I appreciate the invitation.
MM: Glad to have you. To get us started, question for you: what is a Jungian analyst and why did you decide to become one?
AS: I became a Jungian analyst mostly via a chapter of accidents. In truth, they were the only school of psychotherapy in London at that time who would look at such a young man. I was 21 years old.
And this is funny because Jungian psychology is often associated with issues of old age, as if old age implies wisdom. And let me assure you, as a man who is now in his mid 70s, it definitely does not imply wisdom.
MM: Gotcha. Uh, you wrote a book called Jung and the Post Jungians. Who are the post Jungians?
AS: Well, they are everyone except for Jung and perhaps two or three very close associates of Jung. One of the problems for Jung actually in the world is that everybody behaves as if nothing happened after him. It's frozen in time.
So when people for example, want to use psychological types or ideas about archetypes, they go to what they rightly consider to be the source, but things have moved on.
I sometimes envy the field of psychoanalysis where it's absolutely clear that Freud did not have the last word that people have come generation after generation.
Before I did my work, it was as if all of us who were post Jungian were all over the place. No coherence, no organization, no recognition. And so I wrote a book which I now consider absolutely my most boring book ever which, which put all these post Jungians into schools.
And I think that was both a service to the field, but also highly controversial and provocative thing to do because one of the many myths in the sense of untruths about Jungian psychology is it’s just individuals doing their own thing. It's not. It's possible to understand the different approaches and that's what my book was about. It was a young man's book again and as I say, for me, it's pretty boring stuff.
MM: You mentioned this difference between Jung, a handful of the people originally around him, and so many of the people who have come after. Why do some analysts feel the need to distance themselves from Jung in the decades after his his life and his passing?
AS: I would actually say that a better question from you to me would be why do some analysts fail to distance themselves from Jung? I mean, it's absolutely clear. It's obvious that people who do not identify as Jungian analysts who are very aware of Jung’s racial attitudes, his anti-Semitism, his elitism and so forth. It's absolutely clear that the Western Academy, the woke world, if you like, won't have much to do with Jung.
But what I don't understand still is why so many people follow him slavishly, as if he were a Messiah or some kind of absolutely reliable indicator of what's important in life. I don't think that's sensible, but the world is full of Jungians.
MM: What are some of the controversies that have come up in relation to Jung and to his work?
AS: Well, I'm going to list the obvious ones in a moment, but what I want to put at the top of the list today is people don't realize that he was a very good therapist. And he taught therapy a few things, for example, about the way that the therapist and the client might relate, about how to link things that are on the surface with things that are in the depths of the psyche. How to respect the oddities and idiosyncrasies of the client. Jung, I don't think, tried to make people conform, and in this sense I think he’s very special. So the first thing that I think is highly controversial to say is he is one hell of a good therapist.
I can go on into the more obvious, problematic areas. Was he anti-Semitic? Yes. Was he racist? Yes. As you yourself have written, he operated a hierarchy of racial categories, and many of the things that he said about African people are, well, they're offensive, but they're also stupid. And I think it's a great pity that it's taken such a long time for the post Jungians to catch up with the anti-Semitism and with the racism.
But you know, in my work, I'm not really that fussed at Jung. He said and did stupid things, worse than stupid. Some of them, they're quite reprehensible. But what are the succeeding generations of Jungian analysts and thinkers doing? Well for a long time, they did nothing about this. They just accepted it. They believed what they were told by members of that original very small coterie. Of course, he's not a racist. Of course he's not, and he's just a man of his times.
So I spent a great deal of energy disputing the notion that Jung was just a man of his times. There were alternative pathways of thinking and behaving open to him and to deny this is actually a problem for the post Jungians.
So really, are you going to find this throughout our talk? I want to keep pushing it away from Jung. Because at the core of where I stand is that if you're going to stay only within the body of Jung is that psychotherapy? Is that psychology? Or is it to use a most regrettable word that has been attached to Jung, is it a kind of cult following behaviour? So I'm not saying ditch Jung. What I'm saying is get critical about Jung and move on. And see that the problems are with us.
The problem of whiteness is with us. The problem of an overreaction to the charge of anti-Semitism is very prominent in the world today because people in the Jungian world are frightened of, for example, being critical of Israel because they fear they're going to be accused of anti-Semitism. Same old, same old. So there are really serious consequences of not fully addressing this idea that he was just a man of his time.
MM: That actually leads nicely into one of the questions here. In Chapter 12 of your book, The Political Psyche, you wrote: “I suggest that renewal will not occur until Jungians resolve their work of mourning for Jung. Only when Jung the man, the flawed and hence overanalyzed leader, has been mourned, can anything be learned from Jung the social and cultural phenomenon.”
I found that choice of word very interesting. Why do Jungians need to mourn for Jung? And what do you think lies on the other side of that morning?
AS: OK, like so much of my work, I steal from Freudian psychoanalysis. And somebody and I actually can't remember who wrote a paper about Freud as a lost object of psychoanalysis that has never been properly mourned. Hasn't been let go. I think actually, as time has passed, they have let Freud go. Mourning, and it is Freud's theory here, means letting go.
You see, when people start to talk about just to take one example, anti-Semitism, and they want to connect it to Jung, they immediately start looking in Jung’s psychology. In his upbringing in his inner world of dreams and fantasies, and so on. This is a cul-de-sac, a road that goes absolutely nowhere. You have to move on.
Of course, as a Jew, I understand very well. I'm not going to talk about anti-Semitism now, by the way, I'm going to talk about one's relation to the departed. They do live in the mind, but they don't live in the mind as if they are alive. You have to move on, and so that I think that makes me both of interest in the Jungian world, and a bit of a problem. Because most of the Jungians I know sadly still don't want to move on.
MM: Speaking of that book, The Political Psyche, you worked on that from 1987 to 1993, part of this book is an analysis of the complicated question of Jung and anti-Semitism. What was that process like for you? The process of researching this book and putting it together.
AS: The biggest problem I had was not being appropriated by people who have long track records in dissing Jung and Jungian analysis. I wasn't prepared to let people with knee jerk hostility to Jung take me over. That was quite difficult.
But I also had the opposite problem because I wanted to stay a Jungian analyst. I like Jungian people. I like post Jungian people. It suits me very well. But was I becoming the evil son? You know, the one who says, why are we doing all this? It's all a load of shit, you know, this, this, this kind of thing. So steering a path between becoming just a critic. And also not getting myself kicked out was has been emotionally very difficult.
Of course as time passed I became more and more celebrated for having raised these matters, that's why I'm here right today. It's a joke, isn't it? At first it was a very difficult path to follow, and now it may be suspiciously easy to be the political Jungian, to be the dissident Jungian, to be the Jungian who made his reputation, not just being post Jung but sometimes anti Jung. I mean, I'm old enough to laugh at what happens in the course of a lifetime.
MM: In both Jung and the post Jungians and The Political Psyche, you caution against what you call “essentialism,” roughly making claims about what a given thing is rather than what it is like. Why is this important in the context of Jungian analysis?
AS: Well, it's important in general as well. Everybody knows the battle feminist thinkers have had to establish that there are no precise definitions of males and females. And indeed, these days when we talk about a multiplicity of genders this becomes ever more important.
What I'm really against with regard to essentialism, is the method used to comprise and compose definitions. Imagine 2 columns on a piece of paper. The left hand column, because that's where we start reading in our language structure, is the master column, and that's a very apt choice of words. That's where you will list, for example, all the conventional attributes of the man of maleness. And in the right hand column. You will list all the conventional attributes and cliches about the alleged opposite femaleness. Naturally, the word opposite becomes absolutely fundamental to this.
If a man is a rational being, what is a female bound to be? Irrational, right? It just fits. It's a kind of columnar way of thinking, thinking in columns and that's at the heart of essentialism.
Jung is full of this. Whether he's talking about the differences between man and woman. Or German and Jew. Or Europe and none. European culture is always dividing it into these columns and that is so truncating of the infinite possibilities of spectrums of behavior, spectrums of possibilities. So that's what I'm trying to do when I critique essentialism.
And by the way, I'm not–for goodness sake I didn't invent the word essentialism. I mean it's been around in feminist thinking since the 1940s.
MM: On a related note, you write in several places about the need for a psychology of difference. How do you define difference and why is it particularly important?
AS: Well of course we’re talking about material that I wrote 20 years ago and more and forgive me for saying this, but I was a little bit ahead. I mean, nowadays everyone’s talking about difference. Everyone’s talking about the other. Everyone’s talking about inclusivity and so forth.
So when I began, I didn’t have the benefit of the sophisticated thinking that we now have. What I meant to say was that although Jung made colossal errors, not errors, not only errors of thinking, but also errors of judgment, he was trying to probe how groups of people differ from one another psychologically.
Now this may seem very strange because everyone knows him as the author of archetypes, which means people have everything in common. Lots of things in common. But actually he was also, and I think more interestingly, expressing an attempt to see how different groups of people with their different histories and experiences, what we now call different subject positions, but I didn't know about that in 1987 these different subject positions produce a different kind of psychology.
Now, of course, the brain merchants don’t like this point because what they say about the universality of brain structures and dynamics is obviously true. But I’m not coming at this from a scientific point of view. I’m not a neuropsychoanalyst. I’m coming from this from a human and experiential point of view.
The problem for psychotherapists is acute because we have to work with people, even if they look like ourselves–and increasingly they don’t–who are in fact different. But there isn't much psychological thinking about how you how you approach difference.
A silly example. I had someone in supervision: an English woman who was consulted by a Turkish client. And so she started to read everything she could find, usually on the Internet, which is a big problem here. Turkey, Turkish history, Turkish culture, Turkish morays the role of women in Turkish society, as if this was how you approach a different person. She didn't ask the client much. She knew she had researched the client and I think expected the client to be grateful.
I mean, it's a bit like an anthropologist or an explorer arriving in a remote and exotic place, at least exotic to the explorer and just knowing ahead of time what there is going to be and not really listening. It's a battle within anthropology to actually listen to people. So a psychology of difference would respect these aspects of human experience that lead to a different kind of collective emotional functioning.
And I'm glad some way into our talk that I've used the word emotional because emotions are another one of those areas where everybody thinks you can list the seven universal emotions. Now that’s a load of fucking rubbish. There isn’t anything universal–the one thing about emotions is that they differ, but there isn’t much theorizing about it in the clinical world, and I would like to, I’d like to see that change.
MM: Uh, so you've mentioned, uh, just a moment ago, one thing that you would like to see in the future of clinical psychology, analysis, et cetera. What research are you working on at the moment that makes you most excited? Something that’s happening in the coming months and years?
AS: My reply will seem odd. I’m particularly interested in how people defend themselves against hostility and accusation. The raw material for this has been my analysis of the various defenses of Jung’s racist ideas and his use of the racial hierarchy.
So I star ted to look, I'm not going to try to list them, but this is something that's very interesting. I'm looking at the way in which members of my community have defended themselves against attacks. OK, I'm not interested in defending against attacks. I'm interested in understanding how people defend against attack.
Now that's a microcosm of a problem in the larger geopolitical world, which is the paucity of thinking about what threatens people.
Now, if you think about the Ukraine situation and what I'm going to say may well be unpopular in allegedly liberal circles, but I don’t care. It’s been very difficult to get what a few academics and journalists have noted about how Russia saw itself defending against attack into a proper, sensible discussion.
This doesn’t justify what Russia did. I am not an anti-humanitarian person. The opposite, actually. I weep to see so much bloodshed and I am desperate for some kind of coherent plan to end the war in Ukraine to emerge. But at the same time, what I’m talking about in relation to Jungians defending themselves against attacks of Jung’s racism is also relevant to how Russians, Russia, elements in Russia, not all of Russia, felt they needed to defend themselves.
Where does this come from? Actually, this come from psychoanalysis. It’s really very interesting to see what people push back against. To see what they consider undermines their position and their interests rather than generating attacks on other people or criticisms of other people. I think it’s a kind of clinically derived form of political commentary.
MM: So I asked earlier why you decided to become a Jungian analyst in the first place. Follow-up question to that: what has led you to stay a Jungian analyst throughout the decades, even in the face of controversies, even in the face of disagreements with the field with the wider world? What keeps you here?
AS: First of all: clinical excellence. You have the rigor of psychoanalysis. And you have enough of hippie dippie occult weirdo out of left field stuff because I think therapy needs the out of left field stuff. It needs synchronicity. The psychoid unconscious. It needs people who are interested in yoga, astrology, tarot, or whatever. It needs that. But it also needs analysis of infancy. It also needs attention to the dynamics of the therapist client relationship, and so on.
So I see the Jungian clinical project as sitting in the middle, and that’s one reason I stay.
The cauldron for this is Jung and anti-Semitism. There are many ways to look at what he said and did. On the positive side of it–it’s not positive, but there is a positive side of it–he was trying to produce a culturally attuned psychology. And in this sense, he was both way ahead of his time and an inspiration to me and others.
Which means that you can fashion a post-Jungian approach to politics out of certain aspects of Jung’s work, and that’s what I’ve spent a great deal of my time doing. I mean, the last four books have all been about politics. There won’t be any more. But I think it’s there, in the failed attempt to delineate what cultural difference does to and in the psyche.
So those are the two reasons I stay. One is political, and one is clinical, and I’m 74 years old and I have no intention of retiring from clinical work. I like it and I think I self-identify most as a therapist actually. And I think the word therapist, just the ordinary without Jungian, without psycho, without use of the word analysis in any form, this is a good word. It’s a good simple down to earth thing.
Another thing to say, by the way, about the spectrum of therapies and where the Jungian works is is people come to therapy with problems usually. I think a lot of Jungians have a contemptuous attitude to people who come wanting to be fixed. I think it’s completely understandable that people come to be fixed. Whether you can fix them remains to be seen. Whether you need to challenge the notion that there is a fix possible also remains to be seen.
But hey, let’s be down to Earth. Otherwise what happens is everyone goes off to a cognitive behavioral therapist who is only too happy to solve your problems. But also sadly unlikely to probe the depths of yourself and of your possibilities and potentials.
So I see the therapeutic task as being to address somebody's problems with them. And, by the way, also to address the problems you the therapists encounter as you work with them. Well, having therapy with someone like me is quite demanding.
Though if I did have images, well I do have an image on my website which is of essentially of slave miners bringing stuff out of the ground in a famous gold mine in Brazil. And they're going to deposit this stuff from the earth at the top where other people are going to to see if there's any any gold in there. And I thought that for me was the perfect image to describe what I do. So there's no lakes, no Swans, no shells, no stones, no beautiful images from India or what have you.
MM: That’s excellent. So Jung’s work has influenced many fields beyond psychology, even including marketing. That’s part of the reason for this podcast, and for this season of the podcast, is us at Free Range thinking about the ways in which Jung has come to influence us and how we relate to that. How can those of us influenced by Jung and his work make the most of his contributions without making some of the mistakes that he himself made? How do we use this work for the benefit of people moving ahead?
AS: For me it is in the social world. It is as part of Tikkun Olam–the repair and restoration of the world–that I see the deepest and most sincere and kindest possibilities for Jungian psychology and analysis. And the fact that Jung’s politics were sometimes so shit awful you can barely read…rubbish.
It's fascinating, and maybe it's as a response that my generation, the subsequent generations of post Jungians , have become almost obsessed with politics. To go back to Ukraine, I would say there’s more work being done by Jungians in relation to the travails of suffering in the Ukraine situation than any other school of psychotherapy. Of course there were training bodies in Ukraine, by the way. There were training bodies in Russia too, which has made it difficult if you have an international perspective because it’s most likely that the Russian analysts are not in fact followers of Putin at all.
Anyway. Be that as it may, we have become very political. How could this happen? I’m now going to become very academic. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher. Enantiodromia. Enantiodromia, people can go and look it up, but it means a swing to the opposite. If you go a long way in One Direction somehow by some kind of organic process that's difficult to understand, matters will move to the other end of the spectrum of possibilities.
So an introverted, , spiritualized, soulful approach to psychology went too far in that direction, perhaps into alchemy and other esoteric areas. There has been an enantiodromia, a swing to a more activist and engaged posture. It’s beautiful.
MM: That's a very good transition then into what I think is our final question here, yeah. The original wording of this question is what would you like the future of Jungian analysis to look like? Based on one of the comments you made earlier, instead, I’ll say: what would you like the future of therapy to look like?
AS: I would like the future of therapy to be promiscuous. By which I mean that even in the privacy and closeted cell of therapy, you need a lot of partners.
We need partners within the field of psychotherapy with all the warring schools and factions which many of your listeners may know about. But for example, the role of therapy thinking in relation to the climate crisis means that therapists have to find climate activists to talk with. We cannot stay alone. We cannot stay in the therapy ghetto. We have to go out there.
My own interest is economic inequality, and the way in which the 1% run the world and so on, I don’t need to go on about that, there isn’t time, but basically you can’t expect therapists to sort this out. They may have contributions to make, but they’ve got to find people to work with.
Which you can do, because quite a lot of people working in a field like economics know a little bit about psychology. They’re often, they’re very smart people and they are interested in learning more, so we need to work with them, need to find them.
I mentioned earlier the problem of esotericism. I am all for exotericism, so therapy on its own, forget about it. Therapy in multiple unions with other disciplines and levels of knowledge, yes.
MM: That’s dynamite. Any parting words? Any final thoughts you’d like to share with people?
AS: Negativity isn’t always negative.
MM: Beautiful. All right. Andrew Samuels, thank you so much for coming on to the Free Ranger podcast here today. It’s been a treat and a delight. We’re happy to have had you.
AS: We’ve had fun, haven’t we?
MM: I think so.
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