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What is Analytical Psychology?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Analytical psychology is an evolving school of analysis that began with the teachings, writing and observation of Carl Gustav Jung. There are newer methods of analytical psychology practiced today, including post-Jungian developmental and archetypal psychologies. No matter which form is practiced, some basic assumptions about the human psyche are typically shared.

Jung worked with Sigmund Freud, but began to have disagreements about how Freud viewed the individual, the unconscious, and the motivations of humans. Freud possessed a strong bias that individuals were motivated by deep-seated repression of sexual material, and Jung instead believed that humans were innately motivated to grow as people, and to reconcile neuroticisms that arose from repressed, not necessarily sexual, unconscious material. Freud also wanted to divorce people from their dependence on religion, where Jung viewed religions and mythos as a vital part of the collective unconscious: something to which all people were connected and all could relate.

In Jung’s view of the unconscious, people have both a personal unconscious and an underlying collective unconscious, which all humans share. Principally, therapy to achieve individuation is work that reconciles the personal unconscious with the self and strives toward wholeness of the self. The personal unconscious is seen as dynamic and potentially disturbing; it is constantly revealing itself through the person if he or she observes it, and what is ignored in it can lead to difficulties or neuroses.

Specifically, the personal unconscious contains several archetypes with which people in therapy (analysands) will discover and make peace with in many ways. These include the anima or animus, which are the feminine or masculine sides of the person. A man has an anima and a woman has an animus. The shadow is another important aspect of the unconscious, containing all the deeply repressed material in the psyche. When analysands haven’t made their peace with these archetypes, neuroses are common.

In the practice of classic analytical psychology, analysands might lie on a couch or sit facing a therapist, and principally talk with the therapist. Hypnosis might be used and dream analysis can play an important role. As this field has developed, other methods are used to evoke the unconscious such as sandtray work, various art treatment modalities, and creative writing. No matter what type of analytical psychology is practiced, the engagement between analyst and analysand is similar. Analysands talk, analysts listen, question, and may interpret. The relationship is characterized by the analyst’s friendly interest and desire to support the analysand.

Many people are familiar with analytical psychology because in the late 20th century, scholars like Joseph Campbell popularized it. Campbell wrote and spoke particularly about the hero’s journey and how this theme repeats in most known myths. He argued that all people are on the hero’s journey, mentally, and they will meet certain figures/archetypes within themselves repeatedly. Analytical psychology can loosely be described as a treatment that helps people recognize the journey within the self to meet and know all aspects of the self.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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