Book Review: Jung: A Very Short Introduction

The featured Audiobook is ‘Jung: A Very Short Introduction’ written by Anthony Stevens and narrated by the noted actor Tim Pigott-Smith. Like the previously reviewed book Introducing Freud, I quite liked this audiobook which is well narrated. Jung’s subject matter as well as Jung himself are enduring in their universal appeal. Like Freud, Jung’s writings are susceptible to the standard Popper line of attack on their scientific validity but such is the depth and all-encompassing nature of both men’s work that the charting of where their work crosses into science or the humanities would itself constitute a mammoth task.

Stevens takes us through Jung’s extraordinary childhood filled with his family’s theology, his father’s ambiguous faith and a rich fantasy life filled with dreams and imaginative play. We are told that he was somewhat isolated at school and that he preoccupied himself with introspection. Indeed Stevens tells us that he had a genius for introspection, something I hadn’t even considered but on further reflection seems to be just as viable a talent or skill as any physical or other mental endeavour. Jung was able to access elements of the unconsciousness which are not available consciously to most of us.

We learn about his talents being identified when he graduated as a doctor and for a while he was an assistant to Bleuler, a giant in the field of psychiatry. Indeed it is interesting that Jung should have worked with Bleuler who emphasised the lack of contact with reality in schizophrenia considering that Jung’s fantasy life played such an important role in his development and it’s exploration lead to such rich insights. Jung had experience with patients from many backgrounds and with many psychiatric conditions which differentiated him somewhat from Freud.

Jung’s meeting with and subsequent relationship with Freud are then discussed – one of history’s great meetings of the minds. Freud was greatly encouraged by Jung’s abilities and predicted that he would be his successor. The ill-fated interpretation of one of Freud’s dreams was cut short when Freud declined to disclose any more details to Jung, explaining that he did not want to lose his authority and causing Jung to believe that Freud had placed his personal authority in front of his search for the truth. Jung then turned against Freud and left his ‘movement’ like many noted figures before him and it is suggested that at this time he may have had a period of illness which Stevens refers to as a period of ‘creative illness’ which Freud himself was said to have undergone at a similar age. Whilst it is ill-defined and most likely not to be found in the tomes of ICD-10 or DSM-IV, it is referred to as a period of markedly increased intellectual activity followed by withdrawal – losing connectedness to others and then followed finally by new insights.

Many of Jung’s ideas are then discussed. On listening to this book I had found that I had misinterpreted Jung’s concept of the archetype thinking that it represented psychological types that people share but of which they are not consciously aware of and I had presumed that it was developed through the influence of culture. Jung’s idea was much deeper and helped to explain an observation that I had made a note of. The observation was of a Sumatran baby Rhino being born and shortly afterwards managing to stand and then interact with its mother. Such behaviour was much to soon, I thought, to be attributed to learning and must surely represent a developmentally programmed behaviour that was most likely encoded in the genes. How does this relate to archetypes? Jung conceived of archetypes as universal, biologically programmed themes which are contained within our unconsciousness. Just as Chomsky argued that language was innate, just as the Sumatran Rhino is able to head to its mother immediately after birth so to does Jung’s concept suggest a special direct relationship between a complex behaviour or inner psychological experience and our genetic lineage. Jung was not merely using the inductive process from his own introspections but was linking in with the powerful biological theory of evolution.

What was also interesting was Jung’s own development of the psychotherapeutic interaction. He felt it was important to treat the patient as an equal within the relationship, where the outcome was dependent upon a dialogue between the patient and therapist in opposition to the caricature of the Freudian analysis with the couch and impartial analyst onto whom the analysand would project their feelings. Stevens notes that Jung’s humanity in these sessions was frequently remarked upon including his use of humour and humility and his need to not to have all of the answers so as to encourage the patient to arrive at their own answers. Stevens suggests that Jungs concepts of the dialect between the patient and therapist was to have a profound impact on psychotherapy.

Jung’s suggestion that civilisation came at the expense of happiness was an interesting one similar in vein to Freud’s work ‘Civilisation and its discontents’. However another powerful insight of Jung’s was the process of individuation whereby an organism reaches its biological potential. Thus Jung himself through his life attempted to reach his potential. Perhaps the process of individuation has some relationship to and is a precursor to the search for meaning in some forms of therapy. There is the possibility that Jung was influenced himself by Nietzsche. Along the way Jung looked at the role of the midlife crisis in the development of the individual’s potential.

Many other of Jung’s rich concepts are discussed and this is an entertaining way to learn about Jung and his works.


Anthony Stevens. Jung: A Very Short Introduction. Narrated by Tim Pigott-Smith. Naxos Audio Books. 2003.


The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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