The basic philosophy behind archetypal psychology was inspired by Carl Jung’s concept of the archetypes: Primordial symbols, appearing predominantly within our dreams, which are the common heritage of all mankind. The concept of archetypes implies that there are sources of health, healing, strength and wisdom within the psyche that are accessible to all of us. Archetypal psychology seeks to open up connections to this deeper source, believing that the true cures for a wide array of mental and emotional problems can be found there.
In the modern day, archetypal psychology has evolved into a particular therapeutic approach that focuses on patients’ dreams. It weds elements of broader spiritual belief with more conventional psychological approaches. The term was first coined by psychologist James Hillman, who expanded upon the dream explorations of others who had come before him – particularly Jung.
Carl Jung was one of the first psychiatrists to shift the focus of therapy to a patient’s inner life. Up until that point, the field of psychology had largely been dependent upon the established social order as its basis of measuring mental health. Basically, a person was viewed as normally functional to the extent to which he or she had been able to adapt to the status quo. Jung put forth the idea that the inner life in itself – particularly, as it expresses itself through our nightly dreams – is the true measure of psychological health.
R.D. Laing took Jung’s skepticism of the “wisdom of the status quo” a step further by posing this question: What if neuroticism is actually built in to the social structure, and supported by it? In that case, the therapeutic process must lead a person away from accepted social norms and towards the wisdom and knowledge of his or her own inner life.
This became one of the central principles of archetypal psychology. The outside world is not used as a reference point to measure a patient’s state of well-being. It is the dream that is looked upon as the true authority with regards to a person’s inner condition. The core of practice, therefore, revolves around trying to ascertain what a dream is communicating and then relaying this to a patient in terms that he or she can understand.
Around this core practice, numerous schools have evolved. Each one of them approaches the mystery and wisdom of the dream in a different way. Some stress the intellectual understanding of dream symbols and their meaning. Others focus on a patient’s emotional reality, and pay particular attention to the feeling responses that dreams evoke. In all cases, however, dreams are relied upon as the most trustworthy reflection of a person’s inner challenges and strengths. The world within is seen as not only the source of all of our difficulties but also the solution to them.
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