Carl Jung: The Mystical Empiricist of Psychology


In this paper I will describe the life and theory of Carl Jung, a prominent psychoanalyst that has made a significant impact on psychotherapy and psychology as we know it today; so much so, in fact, that his name, like that of Shakespeare and Marx, has become commonplace. This paper will begin with Jung’s early life and education to discuss any issues that may have impacted his theory. I will then detail the major aspects of Jungian Theory and its impact on the field of psychology. Any cultural or systemic biases and ethical issues the theory will be discussed. This paper will end with a personal application of Jungian Theory and how it impacts my practice in mental health.

Jung’s Early Years

Jung was born in Switzerland in 1875 as the second child—though the first surviving child—of a minister and his wife. He eventually became a big brother, nine years later, to a sister (Lachman, 2010). Jung spent much of his childhood playing alone and pushing away his peers (Lachman, 2010). It seems that Carl was not close to his father (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019), but was close to his paternal grandfather–also a clergyman–after whom he was named (Lachman, 2010). 

Jung’s relationship with his mother is complex and shifting. When Jung was three, his mother suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized for several months, creating a feeling of being unable to rely on his mother (Lachman, 2010). In many ways Jung’s mother was a conventional Victorian woman, but she had huge interest and dealings with the occult and spirits, which may have led Jung to spiritualism and his obsession with the occult (Lachman, 2010).  


Jung’s education was excellent, though at a great price to his parents. In his early years, he was keenly aware of his differences from his peers both in class and in worldview. Due to relentless bullying by others, Jung began to isolate himself. He played games by himself and even refused to acknowledge other children (Lachman, 2010).  

Jung found secondary school in Basel, Switzerland, boring and was unhappy in the classroom. He found a clever way of avoiding school; one day he was knocked over by a classmate and hit his head. While he recovered, every time he was asked to return to school or do homework, he fainted (Lachman, 2010). This went on for 6 months before Jung decided it was time to return and his return to school brought about a feeling of autonomy and superiority (Lachman, 2010). 

Jung’s decision on what to study in university was a difficult one. He was drawn to science, but he also had a deep love of philosophy and religion. It was assumed that he would become, like many of his male relatives, a clergyman, but Jung had become disaffected with the church’s ideas about god (Halfond, 2019; Lachman, 2010). He eventually became a medical student at the University of Basel on a grant. During his time at the University of Basel, Jung led a group of students who performed various occult experiments but was not taken seriously by professors or peers (Lachman, 2010). He also became involved in seances and had a keen interest in the scientific study of the paranormal (Lachman, 2010).  

Jung received his M.D. from the University of Zurich and decided there to be a psychiatrist (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). It was at Zurich that Jung found psychiatry, under the tutelage of Eugen Bleuler, and began his psychological studies that allowed him to bridge his love of science and the spiritual (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019; Lachman, 2010). Jung’s first successful studies were in word association tests at the Burghölzli Psychiatric Hospital (Britannica, 2019). The Burgholzi was a very prestigious asylum, but was strict and the work was rigorous, but his work on word association gave him the foundation he needed for his work on the unconscious, which came about independently of his work with Freud (Lachman, 2010).

Jungian Theory

After Jung’s collaboration with Freud—roughly from 1907 to 1912—Jung began to solidify many of his theoretical ideas (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). Jung disagreed with Freud about many of his theories. Jung, for example, believed that psychological development was lifelong, not just a childhood phenomenon (Halfond, 2019). He also disagreed with Freud that sexual drives and experiences are the most important, if not the only, root of neurosis (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019).

While Jung agreed with Freud that each person has their own unconscious, he also posited that there is a collective unconscious that all of us have access to (Halfond, 2019). This collective unconscious is filled with all of the human experiences contained in the individual unconscious pooled together throughout the centuries, from prehuman evolution to the present day (Carter, 2011). Jung believed that by bringing both the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious into conscious awareness, one can achieve the holistic healing of individuation (Carter, 2011).

Another key aspect of analytic psychology, the name Jung gave his theory (Halfond, 2019), is that of archetypes. These are universal symbols derived from the collective unconscious (Carter, 2011). Jung’s work with myths and dreams solidified this idea and he believed that these archetypes are like the sub-headings of personality (Halfond, 2019). The Shadow, the Anima/Animus, and the Self are cardinal archetypes in analytical psychology (Carter, 2011). 

From his work on archetypes, Jung was able to create a theory of personality wherein a person falls on a spectrum between two extremes: introversion and extroversion (Halfond, 2019). Later, Jung added two sets of functions—thinking versus feeling & sensing versus intuitive—and the irrational/rational spectrum to identify sixteen distinct personality types (Halfond, 2019).

Synchronicity, another of Jung’s main theories in analytical psychology, is the idea that connected events happening in a short period of time cannot be causally linked (Mensky, 2012). For an example, if you are talking about birds and a bird lands close to you during lunch. For dinner you have chicken and on TV the first channel you flip to is a documentary about birds. The next morning, your partner describes a dream about birds and your toddler brings you a wooden bird at breakfast. There is no logical explanation for the amount of bird-related happenings in your life for these 12-24 hours, but Jung would attribute it to an archetype (Mensky, 2012). Jung hoped to utilize the new science of quantum physics to help him prove his theory of synchronicity, but was unable to do so before his death (Mensky, 2012).


            While Jung was never able to prove his ideas around synchronicity, we now know that these ideas are indeed compatible with the idea of quantum entanglement where two particles that once interacted can influence each other—or mimic each other—from infinite distances (Mensky, 2012). Jung’s idea that synchronicities are possible only through the collective unconscious and that humans can influence each other in invisible ways seems to have been, at least partially, proven true with advances in neuroscience and quantum mechanics. Take the idea of mirror neurons, for example, that allow us to mimic and empathize with each other without direct communication (Siegel, 2012). Jung’s ideas paved the way for much of this work.

            Another helpful push, Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious is eerily similar to the new science of epigenetics. Multigenerational epigenetics is the theory that trauma from an ancestor is stored in one’s genes, meaning that we can inherit trauma (Yehuda & Lehrner, 2018). If this is the case, then our ancestor’s experiences affect us today in tangible ways, just like Jung theorized with the collective unconscious (Carter, 2011).

Jung also had far-reaching impacts on education. Jung believed that we should listen to children and try to understand their motives and inner lives rather than simply disciplining (Gitz-Johansen, 2016). Jung believed that education should be guided by natural development and not force scripted curricula or skills on children (Gitz-Johansen, 2016). In this way, Jung can be seen as the father of the holistic view of education. “I can only draw one conclusion from the material here recorded, which is, that we should try to see children as they really are, and not as we would wish them” (Jung, 1954, p. 39).

Probably the most known impact from analytic psychology is the personality types that Jung described. These personality types led to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which is still widely used today (Halfond, 2019). This theory of personality is so popular that there are websites dedicated to typing yourself. Many people, especially those interested in psychology, know their four-letter personality type, even if they don’t know Jung.

Cultural Worldview

The late Victorian period, when Jung was born and grew up, was a period stratified by gender and class (Enclyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). Men and women were meant for different things—strong vs weak, public vs. private—and women were thought to be asexual and moral (Enclyclopaedia Britannica, 2019). Science, while challenging religion, was popular and psychology was just becoming its own discipline (Anger, 2018). Many of the theories about the mind and the psyche, such as hysteria, and eugenics, were steeped in the ideas of class, race, and gender (Anger, 2018). In fact, being female was considered a valid legal defense because insanity had been inextricably linked to female biology (Pegg, 2009).


            Jung, being a product of the Victorian period, succumbed to many of these problematic ideas. Jung’s theories are more than likely to be colored by his own ideas of race, class, and gender. One criticism of the theory of the collective unconscious claims that it is based on ethnically narrow evidence drawn from a cross-section of Indo-European cultures and pulls from mainly male experiences (Halfond, 2019).

            Another criticism is Jung’s perpetuation of the gender stereotypes of the day: that women were the weaker sex and therefore more prone to neurosis and hysteria than men (Pegg, 2009). He even went so far as to outright tell an interviewer that men are the work and business of women, meaning that women should only be interested in being a housewife (Lachman, 2010). Jung’s obvious gender bias also surfaces in the ethical issues around his theory. 

Ethical Issues

Historically, Jung was seen as too involved with his patients, a practice he picked up from Bleuler (Lachman, 2010). Jung had many sexual relationships with his patients, but two were particularly notable affairs: Toni Wolff and Sabina Spielrein (Lachman, 2010). Sabina at first was Jung’s patient and assistant, but eventually the relationship became sexual. Whether this was considered and ethical issue or a moral one is up for debate, but Jung did receive criticism for it from his peers (Lachman, 2010). While there was criticism, one of Jung’s peers, Bruno Bettelheim, begrudgingly admitted that Sabina’s close relationship with Jung was a reason she got better (Lachman, 2010).


            Were we to hold Jung to current ethical standards, I am unsure that he would be able to legally practice psychotherapy. His multiple sexual relationships with clients are expressly forbidden in most current mental health ethics guidelines, and the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) Code of Ethics—that which I am beholden to—is no different. The ACA’s A.5.a forbids any sexual relationship with current clients or their family members (American Counseling Association, 2014). A.5.b explains that former romantic or sexual partners are never to be clients, and A.5.c mandates a 5 year period before clients can become sexual partners (American Counseling Association, 2014). It is pretty clear that Jung violated many, if not all, of these ethical mandates.

            Jung also violated the ACA’s section A.6.e that states that counselors should not enter into other relationships with clients that are non-sexual in nature, such as an assistant (American Counseling Association, 2014). While the directive here is to not enter into relationships that could be potentially harmful to the client, it could be argued that the nature of the dual relationships Jung had with his clients—even if they were not sexual—had huge potential for harm (American Counseling Association, 2014). Breaking off the affair with Sabina, even if the therapeutic relationship was first terminated, could constitute harm (Lachman, 2010).

            There may be other ethical issues within Jung’s theory, including ideas of cultural sensitivity and the avoidance of imposing personal values on a client, but the most egregious were obviously his dual relationships (American Counseling Association, 2014). Were Jung alive today, he would have been stripped of his licensure. Not matter how helpful his relationship with Sabina may have been, now it would be seen as malpractice and exploitation.

Personal Application of Jungian Theory

As a counselor with a primary theoretical framework of Interpersonal Neurobiology, I find many of Jung’s theories applicable in my own practice. Not only do I utilize Jung’s types on an almost daily basis, I also routinely discuss the ideas of the collective unconscious and individuation, though I do not use those terms. In trauma counseling, which is the majority of my work, generational trauma—or the collective unconscious—and the individual unconscious both need to be brought into the conscious awareness in order to be resolved.

My work involves somatic and mindfulness therapy for symptoms of trauma. Using Interpersonal Neurobiology tenants, I help my clients understand their brain, but also how their mind—an emergent, embodied, and relational flow of energy and information (Siegel, 2012)—their bodies, and their relationships all affect their mental and physical health. In this way, we are beginning to uncover what could be call their unconscious and how it may be affecting their daily lives.

We then discuss their relationships. In Interpersonal Neurobiology, relationships are one of the most important factors in mental and physical wellbeing (Siegel, 2012). In doing so, many times we discuss intergenerational trauma and events that may be impacting them, even though they did not experience the events themselves. While I talk about this in terms of epigenetics, it could be said that Jung’s collective unconscious is a reasonable stand in for this term (Carter, 2011).

Where Jung and I begin to split is in how we begin to bring together the individual unconscious and the collective unconscious. While Jung may have used psychoanalysis, I use somatic techniques as the catalyst for individuation. Again, while my lens is neuroscience and the mind-body connection, the general concept is the same: bringing two parts of a person together to create healing (Halfond, 2019).  

Also, like Jung, I am very interested in the metaphysical aspects of the human experience. Many of my clients discuss synchronicities and their dreams and find solace in spirituality of one kind or another. Here I agree with Jung: the spiritual can be just as important to the healing of wounds as any physical intervention (Lachman, 2010).


Carl Jung, a prominent psychoanalyst that has made a significant impact on psychotherapy and psychology as we know it. Though he was raised in a culture of great racial, class, and gender bias, Jung’s theories are still practiced today. The ideas of individuation, sixteen personality types, and the collective unconscious still abound, even if the ethical framework around the practice of psychology has become much less forgiving. Even in modern trauma counseling, the ideas that began with Jung—like epigenetics—are being practiced all around the world. His theory, as mired in mysticism as it is, has stood the test of time; enough that I can trace my own practices to his founding ideas.


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Anger, S. (2018). The Victorian Mental Sciences. Victorian Literature and Culture, 46, 275–287.

Carter, D. (2011). Carl Jung in the twenty-first century. Contemporary Review, 293(1703), 441-451.

Enclyclopaedia Britannica. (2019, October 8). Victorian Era. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.:

Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019, July 22). Carl Jung. Retrieved MAy 16, 2020, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.:

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Halfond, I. (2019). Jungian psychology. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health.

Jung, C. G. (1954). Psychic Conflicts in a Child. In G. Adler, & R. C. Hull (Eds.), Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 17: Development of Personality (Vol. 17, pp. 1-36). Princeton University Press. doi:doi:10.2307/j.ctt5hhqzg.5

Lachman, G. (2010). Jung the Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings. New York: Penguin Group USA.

Mensky, M. B. (2012). Synchronicities of Carl Jung Interpreted in Quantum Concept of Consciousness. NeuroQuantology, 10(3), 468-481.

Pegg, S. (2009). ‘Madness is a Woman’: Constance Kent and Victorian Constructions of Female Insanity. Liverpool Law Review, 30, 207–223.

Whitney, L. (2018). Jung, Yoga and Affective Neuroscience: Towards a Contemporary Science of the Sacred. Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, 14(1), 306-320.

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