Some Jungian Reflections on LSD by Malcolm Davy-Barnes
This article, by Malcolm Davy-Barnes, was originally published in the Psychedelic Press UK print journal (2013 Vol.2)
Once, for half an hour or more, I was a lion. The kind of lion you might see in a Sixteenth Century alchemical woodcut. A lion infused with a golden strength, and I felt good. This was a change, one that Carl Jung might have suggested was a compensation for an adolescent with many depressed thoughts. Although I have no wish to psychologize away psychedelic experiences, it was experiences such as these that later attracted me to Jung’s ideas of archetypes and archetypal images.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and a prolific thinker and writer. He posited the existence of a layer of the unconscious, the Collective Unconscious, which was deeper than the personal unconscious his one-time mentor Sigmund Freud was exploring. A layer that is common to humankind and that includes what he called the archetypes. James Hillman writes:
“Let us imagine archetypes as the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, the roots of soul governing the perspectives we have of ourselves and our world . . . All ways of speaking about archetypes are translations from one metaphor to another . . . like immaterial potentials for structure, like invisible crystals in solution or form in plants that suddenly show forth under certain conditions; patterns of instinctual behaviour like those in animals . . . the genres and topoi in literature, the recurring typicalities of history . . . the paradigmatic thought models in science, the worldwide figures, rituals, and relationships in anthropology. But one thing is essential to the notion of archetypes: their emotional possessive effect, their bedazzlement of consciousness so that it becomes blind to its own stance.”
Jung was careful to distinguish between the archetype in itself, which is unknowable and remains unconscious and the archetypal image that may arise in dreams, mythology, visions, and a therapeutic technique he called ‘active imagination’; where one is encouraged to enter into a dialogue with the image. Jung, later in life, was starting to think of a yet deeper layer of the unconscious which he called ‘the psychoid.’ This layer is not accessible in any way to consciousness but Jung felt it may play a part in, for example, synchronistic events. In this rather inadequate introduction to the vastness of Jung’s enquiries, I will also mention his ideas of the self-regulating and self-healing psyche. He was keen in therapeutic work to follow nature and the nature of the psyche as she revealed herself. Unlike Freud’s methodology that looked back to the origins of difficulties, Jung had a more teleological approach. Dream images as well as psychiatric symptoms, were agents of healing, heavy with symbolism. Not an already known symbolism but one which needed exploring and ‘befriending.’
Some of the early psychiatric pioneers of LSD-assisted psychotherapy found in Jung’s ideas a theoretical explanation for their patients’ experiences. Ronald Sandison, working at the Powick Hospital in Worcester, wrote a paper to the World Health Organisation in 1959 regarding the value of LSD as an abreactive agent. The memories patients recalled were vividly seen and felt and the original emotion attached to a trauma could be released. Unlike other methods of abreaction used at the time, this was able to be done within the sphere of the patient’s consciousness and was thus able to be discussed then and also in later therapy, where it could be re-assessed by the patient and integrated.
In Sandison’s experience, situations could be uncovered that would have never come out in the course of ordinary psychoanalysis, and this seemed particularly helpful in those with obsessional neurosis and with psychopaths. Sandison also felt there was a healing value in the direct experience of the unconscious and that LSD fantasies and emotional phenomena were able to be thought and dreamt about by the patient in-between sessions. In addition to the re-living of childhood memories, Sandison wrote that much of the material arising in a session is of a non-personal nature and the content corresponded to what Jung wrote about with the Collective Unconscious. Some people reporting a sense of timelessness and a sense of being in an ancient land, for example.
Jung, however, was characteristically not in favour of LSD assisted psychotherapy and Sandison who went unsuccessfully to visit Jung on a couple of occasions was warned off discussing this work with Jung by Carl Meir, then director of the Jung Institute. In a letter to Father Victor White in 1954, Jung wrote:
“Is the LSD drug mescaline? I don’t know [what] either its psychotherapeutic value with [a] neurotic or a psychotic patient is. I only know there is no point in wishing more of the collective unconscious than one gets through dreams and intuition . . . I should hate the thought that I had touched on the sphere where the paint is made that colours the world, where the light is created that makes shine the splendour of the dawn, the lines and shapes of all form, the sound that fills the orbit, the thought that illuminates the darkness of the void . . . I am profoundly mistrustful of the “pure gifts of the Gods”. You pay very dearly for them.
“. . . It is quite awful that the alienists [psychiatrists] have caught hold of a new poison to play with, without the faintest knowledge or feeling of responsibility . . . When one gets to know unconscious contents one should know how to deal with them. I can only hope that the doctors will feed themselves thoroughly with mescaline, the alkaloid of divine grace, so that they learn for themselves its marvellous effect . . . For 35 years I have known enough of the collective unconscious and my whole effort is concentrated upon preparing the ways and means to deal with it.”
Jung’s attitude may in part be explained by his own experiences of being flooded by unconscious material. His Red Book, for instance, is a powerful illustration of the task he set himself to engage with in order to understand the archetypal imagery that arose within himself, and that threatened to break his sanity. How much his attitude discouraged further Jungian work in psychedelics is unsure.
However, a Jungian Analyst, Margot Cutner worked closely with Ronald Sandison at the specially built “LSD block’ at Powick Hospital. Although she noted the unpredictability of the psychological effects on any particular individual, she wrote in 1959: “During three years of work with LSD-25 at a mental hospital with both in-patients and out-patients, the writer noticed, more often than would be due to pure chance, that the material emerging under LSD, far from being chaotic, reveals, on the contrary, a definite relationship to the psychological needs of the patient at the moment of his taking the drug. “ Cutner went on to write that an autonomous selective process in the psyche was at work and that the sequence of the emerging material appeared to have purpose. She identified a number of clusters of LSD experience:
a) Emergence of repressed material from the personal unconscious, childhood memories and traumata and birth traumata (as written about by Grof), with corresponding physical sensations.
b) Alterations of body image and increased awareness of bodily regions, including sensations of shrinking with childhood memories etc.
c) Activation of healing archetypal symbolism particularly in connection with archetypal aspects of the transference (the relationship between the patient and therapist).
d) Experiences which resemble those of a mystical or cosmic character.
She also identified a cluster of experience where changes occurred in aspects of her patients’ personalities. What in Jungian terms is known as typology.
Around 1920 Jung was interested in what made his theories different from Freud and Adler, deciding that the theorist’s own personality was the decisive factor. Jung was later to say that (psychological) theory is a ‘subjective confession,’ and developed these ideas further in his work Psychological Types. This was a way of thinking about how different people experience the world and in which direction psychic energy flowed. He coined the terms ‘extravert’ and ‘introvert.’ Extraverts were orientated towards the outer world, whilst introverts related more to their inner world. In addition to these attitudes towards realities, he identified four functions; thinking, sensation, intuition and feeling (by which he meant how one values things.) Of these four functions people generally have one maybe two functions that they use the most, almost habitually. The least used function he called the inferior function. These functions are not fixed, but are dynamic and have a relationship to each other. He felt much psychological benefit and wholeness could be gained by the development of the inferior function(s).
Cutner’s fifth cluster of LSD experience she describes as:
e) Drastic experiences through the sudden activation of one or more of the inferior functions, e.g. Vivid experiences of sound, colour, other sensations, synaesthesia in intuitive or thinking types. Also noted was the reversal of attitudes (introversion-extroversion).
Cutner further explores these areas in her paper, showing through her case material, the teleological healing process, particularly through the patient experiencing aspects of their inferior functions. She also makes a particularly interesting comment, but unfortunately doesn’t expand on it, that those experiences of a mystical quality which contain a sudden new awareness of meaning may be brought about by a momentary working together of all four functions (thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition.) This brings forth an experience of wholeness; a momentary experience of the Self.
A motivation for writing this piece is that I think there is potential for Jungian and post-Jungian ideas to be valuable to future psychedelic research, as it appeared to be during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and in particular for the understanding and care of souls entering what Sandison termed psycholytic (mind loosening) psychotherapy.
Davy-Barnes, Malcolm. Some Jungian Reflections on LSD
Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Row 1975
Sandison, Ronald. The Role of Psychotropic Drugs in Individual Therapy. Bulletin of World Health Organisation. 21: 495-503 1959
Sandison, Ronald. A Century of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Group Analysis: A Search for Integration. London: Jessica Kingsley / Int. Library of Group Analysis. 2001
Jung, Carl Gustav. Letter to Father Victor White 10th April 1954. http://www.jungcircle.com/muse/white.htm.
Jung, Carl Gustav. The Red Book : Liber Novus. New York: Norton 2009
Cutner, Margot. Analytic Work with LSD 25. Psychiatric Quarterly, Vol. 33, No.4, 715-757. 1959
Jung C.G. Psychological Types. Collected Works Vol. 6. London : Routledge 1921/1971
Malcolm Davy-Barnes is a retired NHS psychotherapist. He gained an MA with distinction in Jungian and Post-Jungian Studies at the University of Essex UK. He has published papers on Jung’s interest in European and Chinese alchemy. You may find him these days listening to old Traffic albums and on Facebook.