The podcast reviewed here is the 22nd in John Betts series on Jungian Analytic Psychology and freely available here. Betts continues to look at active imagination continuing the theme from the previous episode. Betts returns to Jung’s work and along the way notes that Jung refers to the ego as the ‘centre of consciousness’. Betts describes the practical application of the active imagination in therapy. What I found quite interesting was that he says that the active imagination must be used with great care because there is the possibility of detrimental consequences. Betts does mention the possibility of psychosis but I am not clear about the evidence base which presumably arises from cases. A quick search of medline using the keywords ‘active imagination’ and ‘psychosis’ produced 6 results and I wasn’t convinced by these (on the other hand a combination of the terms ‘meditation’ and ‘psychosis’ did produce some more convincing results). However the evidence may be contained in other databases, books or from the experience of therapists. Betts goes on to tell us that the active imagination must be used in a structured way and that it is the unrestricted overuse of this approach that may result in difficulties. I couldn’t help but think about Jung’s own life in this regards. It has been suggested that in his childhood he would have dialogue with imaginary figures and that after he fell out with Freud that he developed what some have considered to be a psychosis. This is quite a controversial area because in one sense what Jung tells us about is the abundant healing power of the psyche, the ability to get things right on the longer path to individuation. It is both difficult and dangerous for us to conjecture about someone’s biography without having met them but at least there is some evidence of what may be termed psychotic experiences or else a focus on the imaginary world. Some have described Jung as having a genius for introspection and this must also be considered. It is all too easy to pathologise Jung’s early experiences by suggesting a tendency for schizotypal traits. However it is also possible to look at great authors such as Tolkien who have produced immense fantastical works which have resonated with others and yet to do this they themselves must have inhabited such a rich fantasy world quite intensely, over a protracted period and to have formed relationships with these imaginary characters. Jung’s rich fantasy world was channeled into his work on analytic psychology and it all too easy to consider the thought experiments of Einstein and Kekule’s vision of the Benzene ring during his dreaming to note how such mechanisms can bring something very useful into science. Instead it is possible to consider that Jung had a gift, an innate ability possibly relating to such abilities in other members of his family that had been noted, to introspect, explore and utilise his mind’s abilities – to listen to his mind – to a much greater extent than his contemporaries. He was then able to frame these experiences into a form that could be understood (with some difficulty at times) by others who had not developed their own abilities to this extent. It is partly through Jung’s surrounding environment that his approach could contribute so usefully to society. However Jung also had the ability to attend to the surrounding world and communicate with others. His skills with other people and innate charm were commented on by Freud himself and Jung also had to successfully pass many years of hard study. Thus in many ways he was able to engage with the external as well as the internal worlds.
Returning to Betts, he tells us that is thought that Nietzsche engaged very intensely with the unconscious during the writing of ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ and some say that he didn’t recover from this. It would interesting to look more closely at the relevant material in this regards as if this suggestion were correct there would be many important lessons to be drawn in many different areas. Betts goes on to say that those with fragile egos should first focus on dream work until at a later stage their ego’s are able to withstand the more difficult material that is presented by the active imagination. He also distinguishes between guided imagery and the active imagination and then takes the listener through an exercise in which he encourages them to work on part of their dream using active imagination being careful to explain how they should engage with any symbols that emerge. The presentation of the material is to a high standard as in previous podcasts and the material Betts presents us with is very interesting and thought provoking.
You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast).
If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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.