“Psychogenic disturbances, quite unlike organic diseases, are atypical and individual. With growing experience one even finds oneself at a loss in making a diagnosis. The neuroses, for example, vary so much from individual to individual that it hardly means anything when we diagnose…” Jung — The Practice of Psychotherapy.
Jung’s inner experiences enabled him to recognize the need for broad concepts which could include ideas about what we don’t know of the psyche. His concept of the unconscious was open-ended enough to leave room for the mysteries and not shut them out with preconceptions.
Though his approach was intuitive, his method was empirical. The breadth of his concepts allowed him the flexibility to see connections between assumptions and facts, certainties and mysteries. The medical field knows that symptoms are natural attempts at healing, yet many professionals still treat psychic symptoms as if they were organic:
“It is generally assumed in medical circles that the examination of the patient should lead to the diagnosis of his illness, so far as this is possible at all, and that with the establishment of the diagnosis an important decision has been arrived at in regards to prognosis and therapy. Psychotherapy forms a startling exception to this rule: the diagnosis is a highly irrelevant affair since, apart from affixing a more or less lucky label to a neurotic condition, nothing is gained by it, least of all as regards prognosis and therapy.”
The psyche speaks a symbolic language which tends forward, and its hidden aims and purposes are often misinterpreted, if they’re even considered. Causal, statistically-oriented medical psychologies dismiss them as too fantastic and subjective to be of value; and that’s a problem: its language generally appears in intimate personal images which naturally reflect individual circumstances. The personal aspects, however, are only the surface of a deeper level which forms the historical background of an impersonal psychic context.
Regardless of accidental or unique circumstances, we will respond to them in distinctly human ways. Instinctual functions give shape and form to the personal images, and the disparity between the forms and the direction and content given them by the conscious attitude decides the conflict: if consciousness is tending in a direction which deviates from its natural functioning, then the unconscious creates negative consequences. Jung demonstrated this process empirically.
It’s an illusion that psychological diagnosis can be objective in the medical sense, as it presupposes a knowledge of the individual it can’t possibly have at the outset. Psychiatry in particular still operates under the tangled assumption that psychic problems can be successfully treated through drug therapies which alter brain chemistry:
“Nor should we gloss over the fact that the classifications of the neuroses is very unsatisfactory, and that for this reason alone a specific diagnosis seldom means anything real. In general, it is enough to diagnose a “psychoneurosis” as distinct from some organic disturbance — the word means no more than that… The Greco-Latin compounds needed for this still seem to have a not inconsiderable market value and are occasionally indispensable for that reason.”
If they were only occasionally indispensable in 1945, today this exclusive dialect of disease is the oil in the engine of a profession so closely bound to it that conscious norms (and “market value”) are their most basic criteria; though, as Jung stated, because of the relativity of individual values, Normal is more a social concept than a psychological one.
The collective orientation not only smuggles ethical value judgments into “sick” and “diseased” vs. “normal”, it believes this unconscious “morality” to be objective. But, it’s the knowledge of symbols and the work of reflection that circumscribe the natural values the psyche attempts to reveal through its symbolic language. The focus on scientific objectivity, if it sees it at all, sees the subjective factor as irrelevant, though it not only conditions our thinking as absolutely as any so-called objective factor, it is itself an “objective” factor in the psychological sense.
Jung has also suggested that a “neurosis” contains the seeds of a profound urge to individual consciousness beneath collective values. The conflict becomes an unconscious attempt to drive one inward to reflect on an inner nature which has been neglected or misunderstood. The ethical implication is that “neurotic” behavior is unacceptable to a prescribed norm and perceived as “bad” in keeping with our unconscious interpretations of life (and nature, too!) in terms of right and wrong.
Jung showed “neuroses” to be objective responses to psychic conditions beyond the moralistic valuations of consciousness: subject to an unconscious reality. Who is more or less driven to seek this greater reality consciously is one of nature’s great mysteries. The profound mystery of our current “neurotic” conflicts are signals that nature is calling us to pay attention to her.
Accordingly, they represent functions which have been deprived of their natural expressions and seek their aims “in a wrong form” — misinterpreted because the symbolic language of the unconscious is not understood. To understand a “neurosis” is to break its form apart by reflecting on the symbolic ideas it contains and relate them to the associations the unconscious further provides to elaborate its aims — an intensely personal task.
Though the conflict is acted out concretely, symbolic behaviors describe natural functions that have a far different meaning than appears on the surface. At the deeper levels, it’s usually a religious or philosophical one, because that’s the historical form in which the unconscious expresses its urge to consciousness. How many psychologies would themselves qualify as neurotic if viewed from this natural perspective? How does a culture measure it’s own sanity by its own artificial criteria?
Continue reading for an example of the symbolic process of re-connecting to the psychic depth below the collective values which describe our current cultural neurosis.