Carl Jung made many contributions to the field of psychology — but many don’t realize that his thoughts on psychosis came from his own experiences.
Pioneering psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung — and founder of analytical psychology — is well-known for his insights on human behavior, personality, and unconscious thought.
Jung’s own symptoms of psychosis inspired him to delve deeper into the unconscious mind, though his experience was not schizophrenia as we know it today.
Carl Jung’s impact on the field of psychology isn’t fully defined — but it’s certainly far reaching.
This Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist lived from 1875 to 1961. His legacy involves the interplay of spirituality with the human psyche.
He founded analytical psychology — also known as Jungian psychology — which focuses on symbolism in the human experience. His theories rest on the concepts of archetypes, the collective unconscious, and extraverted and introverted personalities.
Jung viewed consciousness as intertwined among all of humanity in a collective sense. He defined archetypes as shared patterns and themes that are central to the context of the human experience, like universal narratives, myths, and religious phenomena.
According to the International Association for Analytical Psychology, the four major archetypes, known as Jungian archetypes, are:
- the Self
- the Persona
- the Shadow
- the Anima/Animus
Jung used the terms “psychosis” and “schizophrenia” to describe some of his own experiences. However, he would not fit the criteria for a diagnosis today.
At 38 years old, Jung began hearing voices and having visions. He saw this as a gateway to the unconscious mind, so he actively pursued these visions and hallucinations to explore them further.
One important criterion for a modern diagnosis of schizophrenia is that it interrupts your daily life. However, Jung reported the ability to enter this state of mind as he pleased. That makes his experience of psychosis unlike that of people who receive a schizophrenia diagnosis today.
In his book, “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections,” Jung explains that he used active imagination to induce his hallucinations at will. According to Jung, in active imagination you latch onto a dream or fantasy image in your mind, which eventually leads to psychic processes taking over to animate it.
Between appointments, he would enter this state to better understand the unconscious mind. He explains, “In order to grasp the fantasies… in me ‘underground,’ I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.”
Jung believed he had to “gain power” over his hallucinations so he could better understand his patients.
The diagnostic process for schizophrenia today is different from what Jung thought in his day.
There are several causes for schizophrenia, including:
- social determinants of health
- brain chemistry
- substance use
If you have schizophrenia, you may find it difficult to think clearly, regulate your emotions, and relate to others. The best way to receive a diagnosis for any condition is for a mental health professional to evaluate you.
To receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia, you must have had some of these symptoms affect your functioning for at least 6 months:
- Hallucinations. Hearing voices, seeing things, or smelling things that others can’t perceive. This may make you feel uneasy because the experience can sometimes feel threatening.
- Delusions. False beliefs that don’t change when new facts are presented.
- Negative symptoms. This refers to an absence of certain behaviors and may not be as easy to recognize as other symptoms. For example, others may notice you seem disconnected or have difficulty following through on tasks.
- Disorganized thinking. If you find it difficult to remember things or organize your thoughts.
Jung saw schizophrenia as an “abaissement du niveau mental” — a relaxed state of mind where the contents of your subconscious are more likely to rise to the surface. From the French, the term translates to “lowering of the mental level,” but some describe it as “lowering of the level of consciousness.”
He compared it to the experience that occurs in dreams. He used a word association test to dig deeper into the psyche of his patients because he believed “every association belongs to some complex.”
Mental health experts of that time referred to schizophrenia by the term dementia praecox. Jung’s work focused on the similarities between dementia praecox, dreams, and the now outdated concept of “hysteria.”
Although Sigmund Freud and Jung worked together, their theories of the unconscious differ. Freud thought the origin of schizophrenia was a psychosexual disturbance, a phenomenon he outlined in his libido theory.
Meanwhile, Jung focused on what meaning could be derived from the symptoms his patients experienced.
Jung had theories about schizophrenia that were partly based on his own experiences — he claimed he had learned to induce hallucinations at will.
However, the current definition, diagnosis, and treatments for schizophrenia have changed since then and do not match this experience or Jung’s theories.
What set Jung apart from other psychiatrists is how he centered his work on schizophrenia around discovering the meanings behind the hallucinations that he and his patients experienced.
Jung brought an analytic approach to the hallucinations and delusions of his patients and sought to demonstrate that what they experienced was rich with meaning rooted in shared human experiences.