Except for Dr Freud, no one has influenced modern dream studies more than Carl Jung.
A psychoanalyst based in Geneva, Switzerland, Jung (1875 -1961) was a friend and follower of Freud but soon developed his own ideas about how dreams are formed. While depth psychology has fallen out of favor in neuroscience, Jung’s ideas are still thriving in contemporary psychoanalytic circles. Popular applications directly based on Jung’s research include the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, the polygraph (lie detector) test, and 12-step addiction recovery programs.
The basic idea behind Jungian dream theory is that dreams reveal more than they conceal. They are a natural expression of our imagination and use the most straightforward language at our disposal: mythic narratives. Because Jung rejected Freud’s theory of dream interpretation that dreams are designed to be secretive, he also did not believe dream formation is a product of discharging our tabooed sexual impulses.
Original Art by Carl Jung from The Red Book
And surprisingly enough, Jung did not believe that dreams need to be interpreted for them to perform their function. Instead, he suggested that dreams are doing the work of integrating our conscious and unconscious lives; he called this the process of individuation. It’s easiest to think of individuation as the mind’s quest for wholeness, or that quality of applied wisdom that separates elders from grumpy old men. While not required, working with dreams and amplifying the mythic components can hasten along the process.
Archetypal Images Bring Balance
This mythic world of Jung’s is the realm of the archetypes, which are the universal energies of every human who is not only in conflict with society but also with him or her self. Jung suggested that the archetypal images that come through dreams may be derived from different organs and thought centers in the body, and as such represent evolutionary drives.
Despite all the conflict, order is where it’s all headed from Jung’s perspective. The quicker we can balance all these ancient needs, the more productively we can live. The psychotherapist’s role is to provide hope for this order by helping the client make sense of their night visions and how they relate to waking life.
In Jung’s reckoning, the psychotherapist is like a modern shaman or priest who helps the individual create a personal mythology that works by throwing out maladaptive patterns and establishing healthy ones in their place.
The Collective Unconscious is not a Psychic Soup
The components of our mythic lives all have a similar structure throughout the lifespan. This is Jung’s collective unconscious, an idea that is usually misrepresented in popular culture today as some kind of psychic reservoir of knowledge. Jung was pointing more towards the psychological constants in all societies, such as rites-of-passage into womanhood, or the growing fascination with death after middle age.
The confusion over the collective unconscious might have to do with the fact that Jung believed in telepathy. Ever the empirical scientist, Jung wrote “I would not assert the law behind them [telepathy] is “supernatural”, but merely something which we cannot get at yet with our present knowledge” (1974, p. 48).
If you are interested in how dreams can reflect the Big Moments in our lives, as well as our natural aptitude for mysticism, then start with Jung’s Dreams, Myths and Reflections, his autobiography. It is rich and provocative.
Jung’s dream journal has also just been published for the first time, in limited numbers. Known as the Red Book, this is the journal that Jung kept during his “encounter with the unconscious” during WWI, in which he holed up in his studio and purposefully went crazy for a while. He claimed later that all the seeds for his major ideas are represented in the Red Book, which is full of ornate drawings and calligraphy. This book may prove to rewrite everything we thought we knew about Carl Jung.
Next, we’ll look at the work of Calvin Hall, creator of the first cognitive theory of dreams.
Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Carl Jung
Dreams by Carl Jung