Confrontation with the Unconscious: Jungian Depth Psychology and Psychedelic Experience

By Martin, Stephen A. | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Confrontation with the Unconscious: Jungian Depth Psychology and Psychedelic Experience


Martin, Stephen A., Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


Hill, Scott J (2013). Confrontation with the unconscious: Jungian depth psychology and psychedelic experience. London, UK: Muswell Hill Press. xiii + 252 pp. ISBN 978-1908995070. Paperback, $24.95. Reviewed by Stephen A. Martin.

While at training at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, I was on the staff at the Klinik am Zürichberg, an in-patient Jungian psychiatric hospital housed in an elegant Beaux Arts villa on the Dolderberg, the patrician quarter of Zurich. At a staff meeting one morning in 1978, Dr. Heinrich Fierz, medical director and student of Jung, was presented with a request from a colleague to have access to some of the remaining LSD in the clinic's pharmacy and to use the comfortable clinic facilities for a controlled psychedelic experience. Rather than take the request seriously, Fierz and his senior staff dismissed the idea by making light of it and declaring that they "didn't need artificial means to explore their unconscious!'' Nothing of any value would come of it, they opined. I was and am still dismayed at their reaction.

It was that dismay that prompted me to agree to review Dr. Scott J. Hill's comprehensive volume, the first significant reconsideration of psychedelics in light of Jungian psychology since the 1950s. In fact, what Dr. Hill has created is a sourcebook for those interested in such a natural interface for the compelling reason that Jung's work is a psychology of inner exploration and, understood properly, psychedelics or entheogens can be an ideal tool in this endeavor. Moreover, its publication coincides with a renewed interest in psychedelics in terms of research and their clinical utility and the revaluation of something culturally long forbidden.

Influenced by a traumatic psychedelic experience as a young adult and by his doctoral work into the nature of Jungian psychology , a significant portion of this book focuses on those two areas with such chapters as Basic Jungian Concepts and Principles, Psychedelic Experience and Trauma, Psychedelic Experience and the Shadow, Psychedelic Experience and Psychosis, Psychosis in Jung's Psychology and the like. While informative, the text can read at times like a dissertation or primer in Jungian psychology. For an introductory reader such information is invaluable; but for anyone moderately familiar with Jung and his work it can be slow going. Therefore, I would like to highlight what I believe to be the valuable core of Dr. Hill's effort ; namely , his distillation of what links both Jungian depth work with psychedelic experience and the dilemma of their integration.

The core of the Jungian endeavor that is undertaken intentionally is to experience the unconscious with its vital imagery, affective power, and numinous or larger than life felt sense while maintaining a reflective or conscious standpoint in relation to it. In so doing, Jung teaches us, consciousness comes into a dynamic working relationship with the unknown parts of the psyche called the unconscious. This dynamic relationship is the engine that drives individuation, or becoming who we are intended to be. In order to engage this process, the threshold of consciousness, or how strongly the ego maintains its sense of order and control, must be explicitly forsaken to some extent, or "lowered," in order to allow the contents of the unknown parts of the psyche to "rise to the surface of 1consciousness'' and be known. This lowering can be accomplished by way of entering the symbolic space of dream analysis, visual imagery that Jung called "active imagination,'' and also by way of certain types of automatic writing, art making and various yoga or relaxation techniques. …

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