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20 Essential Perspectives from C. G. Jung on Sex and Psychotherapy

Posted on: September 20, 2017

Edward Santana, author of Jung and Sex, reflects on the founders of psychotherapy and their critical focus on the mysteries of sexuality more than 100 years ago, as well as its vital role in mental health, both then and now…

History reflects the harsh reality that many complex sexual symptoms throughout the ages have proven difficult to understand and treat. Humankind also has a terrible legacy of repression and ignorance about sex, the most perplexing and challenging of our basic instincts. Within the psychotherapy profession, this cultural symptom is reflected in the lack of sexual training and education in most of our academic institutions, despite the hunger of many clinical students for these critical topics. These impoverishments are further impacted by the limited amount of focus and offerings on sexual health from many of the profession’s largest associations. Despite the widespread prevalence of sexual concerns and their tremendous cultural significance, human sexuality remains largely imbedded in the unconscious dimensions of society—and unfortunately in the shadow of the profession.

More than a hundred years after the birth of psychotherapy, which had its roots firmly planted in rich explorations of sex and sexuality by Freud and others, there has been limited progress as a profession in integrating wider perspectives on sexuality from a diverse range of psychotherapeutic contributors. Despite some advancements, many respected leaders in the field of sex therapy and sex research agree that the current models of treatment require an important re-visioning and more extensive collaboration. My book, Jung and Sex, explores this essential bridging of perspectives and brings forward many of C. G. Jung’s essential contributions.

Though not widely understood, Jung developed an extremely diverse and comprehensive body of work on sex and sexuality—ideas that offer important perspectives for contemporary psychotherapists. As an early defender of the numinous aspects of sexuality, Jung risked his entire professional career combating limited and reductive ideas about the nature of sexuality and libido. As a victim of childhood sexual abuse and its lingering trauma, he understood the powerful forces and painful extremes of sexuality. The erotic sphere was also at the root of Jung’s early discovery of the complex, which he tracked in psychiatric patients when erotic material suddenly triggered bizarre or defensive reactions.

Here are some of Jung’s perspectives on working with sexual concerns (from Jung and Sex, which includes a more extensive and specific primer of depth-oriented approaches to treatment):

  1. One encounters sexuality everywhere; thus in anything one is involved, their sexuality will appear too.
  2. Pressures to conform or deny natural instincts create neuroses and psychological splits between inner needs and outer demands.
  3. Fear of complexes is a deeply-rooted prejudice; complexes are normal and basic parts of the psyche.
  4. Sexual symptoms also reflect universal issues of the culture; many symptoms do not belong exclusively to the patient.
  5. Every important affective event becomes a complex; complexes are signposts to the unconscious.
  6. Denial of instincts and complexes increases power of the unconscious.
  7. Complexes and struggles manifest in places where one is most weak or less adapted.
  8. Individuation and a new level of consciousness are possible through integration of the erotic complexes.
  9. Must expect powerful emotions and difficulties to congregate around sex because it is where adaptation is least complete and where one faces the most challenges to natural expression.
  10. Sexuality can express deep levels of the psyche’s symbolic, archetypal, and mythic elements.
  11. Repellent things belong to the psyche and are natural.
  12. Patient senses something repellent in their own psyche; the shadow is a difficult moral challenge to ego consciousness.
  13. Psyche is purposive and directed; symptoms have meaning.
  14. Psyche cannot be defined by categories or labels.
  15. Illnesses affecting patients are mostly unconscious attempts to cure themselves.
  16. All-simplifying theories serve an injustice to the patient and the soul.
  17. No single method of treatment; not mechanical or procedural work.
  18. Therapists must first know how symptoms help or serve their patients in some unconscious or paradoxical way.
  19. Main concern is being non-reductive toward the psyche; viewing the psyche as complex and teleological.
  20. Treatment goal is integration and rebalancing of inner conflicts through conscious awareness.

As the world grows vastly in population and diversity, issues of sex and sexuality will only increase in severity and complexity for future clinicians. This is an important time for expanding collaboration among the therapeutic fields and for increasing focus within academic training programs. As Jung indicated, the erotic or sexual sphere is always problematic because it is where adaptation is least complete. To address these challenges, therapists can help lead conscious efforts to look beyond mere surface expressions of sexual difficulties and simple approaches to symptom reduction—to help forge deeper understandings of the great mysteries of sex and sexuality for our patients.