What is analytical psychology?

Analytical Psychology (Jungian psychology) is the term that Jung gave to his particular form of psychotherapy. Jung’s views evolved over many years so it is difficult to give a succinct summary of them; furthermore, Jungian analysts’ practice today builds on a century of thought and development in the field of psychotherapy and analysis. However, this brief sketch provides an outline to the roots and trunk of analytical psychology as it is practiced. Other pages on this website elaborate certain elements of his work further (follow the links in the text).

Early work

Jung started his medical career working in the Burghölzli hospital in Zurich, where he worked with disturbed and psychotic individuals. He used word association tests to try to understand what it was that was problematic for the individual. In these tests the person is read a list of up to 100 words and the time they take to respond with an associated word is noted down e.g. “water” … “ocean” (6 seconds); the longer the time it takes for the person to respond the more the word was thought to be associated with a particular, problematic complex, that is a collection of images, ideas and feelings.

Complexes and archetypes

These complexes can be associated with particularly difficult experiences in the past or with archetypal qualities, such as masculinity or aggression, that the individual has not been able to harness or deal with. In parallel, Jung discovered from working with psychotic individuals that their experiences fell into certain patterns and that, furthermore, each of our psyches are structured by these patterns. He called these patterns archetypes.

He understood one or more archetypes to be at the core of each complex. For example, someone might be said to have a ‘mother complex’ who had particular difficulties with their early experience with their mother and who was not therefore able to humanise the powerful forces related to the archetype of the mother.

Collaboration with Freud

Jung came to collaborate with Sigmund Freud, the originator of psychoanalysis, in developing and popularising psychoanalysis in its early days. For a time their work complemented each other, however, after some years, the fundamental differences between their beliefs (and their own personalities) became manifest and, in 1913, they each went their separate ways.

The purposive, self-regulating psyche

Fundamental to Jung’s view of the psyche was that the mind and the ‘unconscious’ could largely be trusted, and that it was all the time attempting to assist the individual; in this way he saw the psyche as self-regulating. He contrasted this view with that of Freud who, he felt, pathologised the psyche, always looking for problems or difficulties, and analysing and reducing the individual’s difficulties to traumatic experiences in childhood or to sexual conflicts.

Jung thought that even problematic symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, could be potentially helpful in drawing the individual’s attention to an imbalance in the psyche. For example, if someone becomes depressed, perhaps the way they are living their life means that they are not following a path that is natural and true to their particular personality. He understood this as being due to the purposive nature of the psyche. Read more about Jung’s model of the psyche.

The self

Jung also thought that the way that we see ourselves (our ego) is limited and that ‘modern man’ has become cut off from his true, instinctual nature. He thought that we need to listen to ourselves and to come to discover who we really are and what we really feel. He came to believe that we need to be guided by what he called the self, which is an unconscious sense of the personality as a whole, an archetypal image of the individual’s full potential. Read more about the Self.


He thought that the self acts as a guiding principle within the personality and that following its lead brings about a development of the personality. He described this natural process of development as individuation. This process involves moving toward the manifestation of all the natural elements of the personality. As Jung put it: “Only what is really oneself has the power to heal” [CW 7, para. 258]. This process is never complete as the individual is always reacting to the new, changing situation and must accommodate new parts and configurations of themselves in order to do so. Read more about individuation.

The shadow

Those elements of the self which have not been integrated into the conscious personality Jung called the shadow. These elements are sometimes in the shadow because the qualities and functions are denied or disowned because the person feels they are unacceptable. These might typically be ‘negative’, apparently destructive parts of the personality, like aggression or envy (although Jung would say that all aspects of the personality – light and dark – are necessary for the personality if it is to become whole and well-grounded). For other people it might be the vulnerable, sensitive or loving qualities that are denied – a person’s particular family or culture will have a strong influence on this. Read more about the Shadow.

Type theory

Another reason for particular qualities to remain in the shadow are that they are simply undeveloped. Jung thought that each of us developed certain functions of the personality as primary, which he saw as dominant or superior functions, whilst others were less well developed, which he called auxiliary functions, and those that were very little developed he called inferior functions. Read more about Typology.

The four functions

He identified four different functions – thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition (corresponding to the ancient division of functions into air, water, earth and fire) – which he saw as an individual’s different ways of engaging with the world. Much misunderstanding occurs between people who have different functions as primary and who will, consequently, see the world in very different ways. Jung understood that in the process of individuation a person will need to develop their inferior functions – whatever that was for the particular individual – so that they do not simply project those functions onto other people; for example, the intellectual, thinking type who looks down on the sensual, sports-loving, sensation type. As Jung writes, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves”.

Introversion and extroversion

He also identified two different attitudes to the world – those individuals who reacted more overtly to the world, and who were more excited by and engaged with it, he called extroverts; whilst those who did not outwardly show their reactions but kept them inside and developed more of an interest in their inner world, he called introverts. Jung acknowledged that he developed his type theory partly in order to better understand the differences between himself and Freud, although he found it very useful in understanding people and, in particular, the way they relate to others.


One way of understanding what is going on in the psyche, that Jung came to value almost above all others, are dreams. He thought that “they show us the unvarnished, natural truth”. He believed that dreams do not disguise their content, unlike Freud, who thought dreams expressed forbidden wishes that are concealed in the dream. Jung thought that dreams express themselves through the use of symbols, and that it was the difficulty understanding these symbols that could make the dream hard to comprehend. He had a number of characteristic ways of approaching dreams.

Spirituality and religion

Jung found that the experience of listening to and being guided by the self corresponds with what has been understood, over the millennia, as spiritual experience. He wrote: Among all my patients in the second half of life – that is to say, over thirty-five – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life … this of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church” [CW 11, para. 509].

The basis for this understanding was that the individual needs to pass beyond their immediate everyday experience, embodied in the ego, and to come into relationship with the self, which is sometimes experienced in a ‘numinous’ and awe-inspiring way. This is a transformative experience for the individual and one that moves their centre of gravity away from petty, personal self-centredness towards a broader view of themself, more in touch with and related to other people.

The analytic relationship

Jung wrote of the relationship between analyst and analysand (the person in analysis) that, The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed”.

He saw this as a very real relationship in which both people are involved and he was very much aware of the role of the analyst’s own personality in an analysis. He knew how deeply the analyst could be affected by the analysand and he understood that the analyst must struggle first-hand with these effects and that this struggle was an essential part of the work of the analysis. Jung was the first person to insist that the analyst should have analysis themselves as part of their training. The analyst could only assist the analysand as far as they had committed themselves to/in their own development.

Other areas of Jungian psychology

As well as focusing on clinical, therapeutic studies, Jung was also interested in a wide range of further interests, from theoretical physics, to philosophy and, in particular, the study of religion.

To find out more, come on the SAP’s Foundation Course

Suggested further general reading

Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C.G. Jung. Fontana Press.
Selected Writings by C.G. Jung; Introduction Anthony Storr. Fontana Press.
Jung, (Modern Masters) by Anthony Storr.
Jung – A very short introduction by Anthony Stevens. Oxford University Press

Psychotherapy and Analysis

Analysis, Repair and Individuation by Kenneth Lambert. Karnac Books.
My Self, My Many Selves by J.W.T. Redfearn. Karnac Books.
Analyst-Patient Interaction: Collected Papers on Technique by Michael Fordham; Edited by Sonu Shamdasani. Routledge.

For Historical Background

Jung and the Post-Jungians by Andrew Samuels. Routledge.
Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science
by Sonu Shamdasani. Cambridge University Press.
Philosophical Issues in the Psychology of C.G. Jung by Marilyn Nagy. State University of New York Press.