Modern psychology is often criticized for having overly narrow perspectives of mental illness, such as assuming chronically depressive or highly anxious states of mind are primarily the results of chemical imbalances in the brain. Though the actual shortcomings of modern psychology and psychotherapy are more complex, stemming from metaphysical misconceptions, moral misconceptions, and equating mental health with general happiness rather than consistency of functionality, the most harmful loss in the discipline has been the lack of a philosophic basis of understand or orientation.
The fault in most modern psychotherapeutic practices grievously lacking awareness of the spiritual and personal problems afflicting people in our society comes from its perspective of the human person and the mind. I don’t know exactly why the unconscious theories of mind have been rejected from standard psychological practice and education, or why there is so little focus on personality formation and identity construction in a social context within clinical psychological education, but this neglect can only misinform people on psychological or psychotherapeutic practices, and lead them into many of the same misconceptions that the discipline and overarching society holds. For instance, I remember when I was a psychology major in undergrad, the psychology department had a oddly narrow focus on preparing students for clinical psychology, assuming that everyone’s goals were either to conduct clinical research or to become a therapist. They were seriously neglecting what psychology literally means, the study of the mind, and they failed to properly explain what it is or how it works because no scientific perspective could fully explain it. In Carl Jung’s The Role of the Unconscious, he states:
“… psychotherapy is concerned not only with family quarrels, unhappy love-affairs, and the like, but with the question of psychological adaptation in general, and the attitude we are to take towards people and things, and also towards ourselves. A doctor who treats the body must know the body, and a doctor who treats the psyche must know the psyche. If he knows the psyche only under the aspect of sexuality or of the personal lust for power, he knows it only in part.”Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 10. pg. 17
The more I followed along with what my professors taught about the mind, the more I realized they didn’t have any philosophy of mind and simply deferred to what they knew about the brain. It’s counter-intuitive to have a series of courses about mental processes and disorders, theories, and scientific research without asking what the nature of the mind is apart from the brain. Eventually I realized that any information about the unconscious mind, dreams, and what the metaphysical properties of mind and consciousness could be were not going to be available in an uncontemplative view of psychology. I don’t mean to discredit the discipline’s knowledge or the importance of scientific study into mental phenomena, but I had to learn about the theoretical questions and philosophic understandings that the discipline is founded in. In order to learn more about the mind and how it works, I decided to turn to sources who’ve studied metaphysics and the mind in more theoretical and openly contemplative ways, and I sought insight from the original theorists, such as Carl Jung, and ancient philosophers who studied the psyche as the mind and soul, to see where modern psychology went wrong.
What stood out most is that there was clearly no real understanding of the unconscious mind or of its relationship to the conscious mind. The typical explanation for this lack of understanding is that the unconscious cannot be directly observed in another, and self observation is unscientific, so the unconscious mind is almost completely absent from any scientific psychological inquiry. I found myself wondering what both the conscious and unconscious mind were for, and why there seemed to be inherent conflict between them. I found from comparing various YouTube videos, mostly interviews and talks/lectures, with Jung’s unconscious theory of mind that the unconscious-conscious relationship consists of the relationship between a more fundamental foundation of intuitive knowing in the mind, and this abstract and constructed process that forms the persona that executes actions and handles experiential information.
Just from this I saw that the mind is meant to function with two fundamental parts, balancing each other out by compensating for the problems caused by the opposite part in order to work more efficiently together. However, this is much easier said than done, especially in most Western societies in which the social conditioning is very unnatural and there is no standard education or guidance in personal and social development. Considering how the nature of our existence is predicated on the idea that we, like the rest of the world, are constantly in a state of change, learning and evolving to become something better than we were before, it seems as if what Jung called neurotic disturbances in The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man are lapses in mental health that can give way to disorders and neuroses if left unregulated, defined by the lack of integration and wholeness in the mind. In this way, conflict between individual minds in social reality can be easily paralleled and compared to conflict between a mind’s parts. Jung attributed the rising prevalence of neurotic behaviors and attitudes to a lack of a sound spiritual context for people living in Western society, and conformity to suppressive mindsets created through rejection or ignorance of the moral complexity and ambiguity of our experiences.
Similar parallels can be drawn from many spiritually focused philosophies such as that of Nietzsche written in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the philosophy of the Zen tradition in Mahayana Buddhism, both of which emphasize individuation and enlightenment, allowing transcendence from herd mentality and ignorance, and the fulfillment of individual, existential freedom. Jung’s integration of conscious and unconscious functionalities which lead to wholeness in the mind is effectively, if not entirely, the same process by which we reach enlightenment and transform from one state to a greater state, incorporating the lessons learned from the previous.
Nietzsche emphasized free self expression, overcoming the selfish moralizing attitudes we develop when we cannot recover from or let go of past experiences in which we feel we have been unjustly treated. Jung emphasized a transformation of self that serves to free us from the shortcomings and illnesses of a lesser way of being, transitioning ourselves into improved and re-integrated states of mind in which we accept conflict and morally define our own standards of value. The Zen tradition emphasizes a lack of resistance to the reality of suffering, allowing what exists to be and change as it is and does, while remembering that we have no control of even our own qualities except for the willingness to allow ourselves to be one with reality and change and evolve as it changes and evolves.
Psychotherapy is necessarily spiritual in nature, and it is accomplished through enlightenment and self-realization, which ironically is also self-transcendence. When we can allow ourselves to be ill and have problems so that we can become well and solve those problems, we are no longer shackled to the faults of a stubborn way of being, and we can truly be free to express ourselves as individual facets of the universe in harmonic ways rather than in constantly turbulent ways, decreasing the overall amount of suffering we all have to deal with anyway. To this end, it is imperative that future psychotherapists and clinical psychologists understand the more philosophic and spiritual contexts for psychology, not just the scientific findings and perspectives. With a more rounded, holistic practice, psychotherapy will be greatly improved and mental and social health can begin to heal the suffering that many people living in Western society have been stuck in for generations.