An Interview with June Singer

An Interview with June Singer
June Singer

Back in 1998 I interviewed one of my favorite Jungian authors, June Singer, for the old Jung Index web site. The interview is no longer available on the internet and it would be a shame to lose it. The format of the interview was collaborative – over email – so many people participated and were able to ask questions. So, here is the original interview from November 1998 – a tribute a great woman, who brought Jung’s psychology within my reach.

Dr. Singer: This is the first time I’ve addressed myself to people on the Internet, save for a few good friends. I must admit I find it awesome. Matthew Clapp of the Jung Index, asked me to answer a few interview questions that would be sent in from readers of the JungNet and I agreed to do this. Why did I? Well, I’ve just had my eightieth birthday, and I thought that if I don’t keep trying new things, I’m liable to get brain-dead. I thought, this will be a breeze! That’s what I thought. But you have sent me some profound and moving questions — If I answered them as I should it could be a book, but since time is of essence in cyberspace, I beg you to forgive my brevity and superficiality. Also, please remember that these replies are off the top of my head, and are mostly opinion, so don’t take them too much to heart. Here goes. – June Singer Sun, 29 Nov. 1998

Alice O. Howell: Would you share the so moving story of your encounter with C.G. Jung on his deathbed?

Dr. Singer: I was in Zurich. It was my first year in the Training Program. My analyst phoned me early in the morning and told me in a heartbroken voice that Jung had died last night. His body would be at home and if students at the Institute wanted to, they could go there on this day. I had never been in Jung’s home though I’d passed by it often. Now I approached the door and passed under the inscription “Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit.” I felt I was entering a holy place. As I entered I saw off to the side very few people, and one of them, I don’t recall who it was, asked, “Would you like to go upstairs?” I replied that I would, and no one offered to accompany me, so I walked up the long stairway alone.

Upstairs in the empty hall I saw that all the doors were closed except one, from which a soft glow fell across the floor. Hesitatingly I approached and stood in the doorway. I saw an old man lying on his bed, clothed in a white nightshirt. His waxen face was lit by two candles, one on each nightstand beside the bed. He seemed so frail, so slight. So deeply at peace. As I waited there, unable to move, I felt a strong wave of something coming toward me almost like a sound, saying, “this is what you are meant to carry on.” And strangely, that burden seemed to be very light. I waited, but there was nothing more. And since then that image of the very old man, Jung, returns to me from time to time.

James Hall, M.D.: How does analytical training today differ from analysis as practiced by Jung? by Jung’s circle [Adler, Frei, Fiertz, Riklin, von Franz, R. Kugler, et al.]?

Dr. Singer: All I know about analysis as practiced by Jung comes from what my analyst, who worked with Jung told me, and from what I have heard and read. I do know that there were no written rules of behavior, but there were certain protocols that were observed by the members of the little Jungian circle of adherents at the beginning. They, especially the women, were very secretive about their personal relationships with Jung, but they didn’t hesitate to discuss what they thought about the others in the group. There were no regulations pertaining to training — the only requirements were those Jung placed on the individuals. Some, who had no psychological training, were permitted to become analysts, while others were told to go to medical school before they could be trained. Jung was extremely careful to maintain confidentiality, but didn’t hesitate to engage in social activities with his analysands. He often had both parts of a couple in analysis, and sometimes a lover on one side or the other.

From something of what I’ve read, he was not adverse to manipulate tangled relationships. Today it’s very different. We are very conscious of transference issues, and refrain religiously from “dual relationships.” We avoid even letting anyone know that so and so is in analysis with us. If we don’t observe these strict rules and someone finds out about it, there’s hell to pay. Training is based on an external set of requirements, but once these are fulfilled, the analytical development of the candidate is followed by committee after committees, and all these committee people determine the progression of the candidate through the program. The only person who cannot say anything is the personal analyst. In Jung’s day, the personal analyst had an important role. In my own case, working with an analyst trained by Jung, my analyst was the person who proposed that I enter the training program.

Barbara Lipinski, Ph.D.: Within the context of the challenges posed by the new century coupled with your breadth of knowledge, experience, and intimate awareness of the aim of archetypal psychology and the practice of analysis, how do you envision or imagine the concept of archetypal activism?

Dr. Singer: Archetypal activism! That’s a term I’ve never heard, but I must say it intrigues me. This morning as I was walking on my treadmill, I was watching a TV program on what we are now able to see from the Hubble telescope. I found myself thinking, we Jungians are too much looking inward, we should be looking outward more. There are whole universes out there, and black holes the stars fall into, just as we personally and the cultures in which we live often fall into “black holes.” I think we need to recognize that archetypal psychology can be useful in healing the woes of society as well as those of the individual.

Understanding the archetypal nature of anger, violence, and deceit as well as that of nurturing, collaborating, openness and kindness (to name just a few archetypal qualities) is perhaps a first step. But unless it is applied to governments and politics and education — that is– unless archetypal psychology is taken beyond the consulting room and into the world, it will not survive. We begin where we are, but we should quickly move out to apply what we are learning through activism. Hard for introverts, which most Jungians are, but perhaps if we were more activist we would attract more extraverts. I think institutions like Pacifica and a growing number of others, are doing a good job in taking the archetypal concept into the communities in which we live.

Roger Brooke, Ph.D.: What do you think / feel is the most significant limitation of Jung’s work when accounting for human experience and behavior?

Dr. Singer: He didn’t trust groups. There’s probably good reason for that — when he was trained the idea of group therapy was yet to be developed. He feared groups. Consequently, analysis was carried on to a large extent as a dialogue — Jung’s image was the alchemical vas, a well-sealed vessel. The shadow side of that was his personal and social involvement with analysands that today we would not consider appropriate. True, he did claim that he started the Analytical Psychology Club in Zurich as an “experiment in group psychology,” but soon the members took over and he became the one who lectured from time to time. And only the elite, the ones who had been analyzed, were welcomed into the Club.

Many years ago, when I proposed a seminar on Dreams in Groups at the Zurich Institute, I was opposed by one of the closest adherents to Jung. The message I got was that we Jungians don’t do groups. I know that none of us exists independently, and unless we understand more about group dynamics and utilize our knowledge to heal the world we live in, much of Jung’s work will become obsolete.

James Hall, M.D.: Do you see a need for a national Jungian group, as Tom Kirsch proposed, free of training responsibilities?

Dr. Singer: Yes, I have always felt that we need a national Jungian group, free of training responsibilities. It should be representative of all societies, and address itself to issues particular to the United States and possibly Canada as well. I wouldn’t want to exclude the Canadians. They may have different problems, but just for that reason we can learn from each other. I think that many problems arise between the Jungian societies that should be dealt with conjointly. This national group should operate as democratically as possibly, but it should have some authority to vote on issues that would be binding. The buck has to stop somewhere. And IAAP would not be hurt by this. They might even learn something!

Renos Papadopoulos, Ph.D.: You have associated yourself strongly (and in public) with the Gnostic perspective and you are one of those Jungian analysts who consider Jung’s connection with gnosticism most positively. However, historically, the Gnostic movement was far from being a positive phenomenon.

There were many Gnostics who were charlatans and their elitist attitude and calculated exploitation of the vulnerable are well documented. Moreover, today there is an idealised picture of gnosticism which ignores all its shadow dimensions; more specifically, modern admirers of gnosticism tend to reject authority in general, not distinguishing between positive authority from negative authoritarianism. Don’t you think that it is time that at least some adjustment is made to this unquestioning and blind attitude?

Dr. Singer: You are absolutely right. But couldn’t the same be said for Christianity? I don’t offer myself as an expert, or even an apologist for Gnosticism. Yes, it has its shadow side, but how much do we know of that, and from what sources? Until the discovery of the gnostic books at Nag Hammadi in 1945, we had little knowledge of what they actually said or wrote. Most of what we knew came from the early Church fathers, who were violently opposed to Gnosticism.

Gnostic groups in the first and second centuries of the Common Era were fiercely independent and secretive, and their non-conforming style threatened the establishment of the early Church at a time when its creeds and its hierarchical structures were taking shape. For this reason, the gnostic books were excluded when the New Testament was canonized and most of them became lost. Only now can we appreciate some of their ideas — if we are so inclined. As to distinguishing positive authority from negative authority, it is my impression that Gnosticism doesn’t submit to external authority positive or negative, but rather believes that the voice of the divine speaks within the individual. “Whoever has ears, let him hear,” is the keyword here.

David Rosen, M.D.: Please explain how creativity has been central to your individuation process.

Dr. Singer: I wish I knew. I have always felt the urge to create something. What got me into analysis in the first place was the feeling that my creativity was being thwarted from outside and repressed from within. So much of my own inner work has been to free that creative impulse, and then to manage it so that it can flow into something constructive.

Connie Zweig, Ph.D.: What is an appropriate stance toward our yearning for the invisible world, an attitude that does not devalue this world but honors other realms without splitting or projection?

Dr. Singer: Once we have recognized our yearning for the invisible world, we need to discover how we can integrate that into our everyday lives, our work, our relationships. I would never devalue this world, but so many of us are so preoccupied with its materialistic aspects that I feel we need some balance. The process of analysis, whether it be of the psyche, or an automobile, or a chemical compound, is to take it apart to see what is there, and then to put it back together again in a way that enables it to function better. In the long run, there really are not two worlds, just two ways of viewing the whole world entire.

Art Funkhouser, Ph.D.: I would be interested in any thoughts and / or observations that you would care to share concerning the role of catharsis in Jungian analysis.

Dr. Singer: “Catharsis” doesn’t appear in the Index to Jung’s Collected Works, nor in the excellent Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis, compiled by Andrew Samuels, Bani Shorter and Fred Plaut, all Jungian analysts. Since that concept was current when Jung was writing, it’s unlikely that it was simply an oversight. Catharsis implies to me that something is introduced from the outside to force the unconscious to release its contents to consciousness, where it can be expressed and thus relieve the condition. I don’t think Jung worked just that way, and I certainly have not done it.

I believe that the unconscious is all too ready to emerge into consciousness, once a favorable atmosphere including a non-threatening relationship with the analyst is created. The analyst can then facilitate rather than press for unconscious material. I also feel that strongly expressed emotions, like beating the pillow, offer at best temporary relief. The real healing comes through an understanding of what is coming up and why, and then using this information repair or to heal the damaged place in the psyche.

Joan Garner: Androgyny: the Opposites Within is a seminal piece of work that stands on its own. It was my first taste at understanding the possibilities of the “Masculine principle and the Feminine principle working together harmoniously within an individual.” I was wondering about how this appreciation and integration of both the masculine and feminine principles, how this interaction of the opposites, is applied in couples and marriage counseling.

Dr. Singer: I have found that in couples and marriage counseling, both individuals come in with their ideas of how the partner should behave, based on each person’s image of the proper roles of the Masculine and the Feminine. What I seek to do as counselor is to help them to realize that, for whatever reason, these roles have been adopted, but they are only roles. Conversely the Masculine Principle and the Feminine Principle are both essential elements of everyone’s psyche. They symbolize the opposites, like light and dark, soft and hard, yin and yang, work and rest, night and day. One cannot exist without the other, each gives the other meaning. If there were no night there could be no day.

In order for people to be their full selves each one must exercise both sides of this opposition. And each one must allow the other to do the same. Unless this can be done, a relationship in which both partners can grow and develop is unlikely. Each must learn to appreciate the other’s gifts and let go of the expectation that the other will change. The surprise is, frequently, that despite their willingness to let go of their expectations for change in the other, change does occur!

Thomas Kirsch, M.D.: June, I have been very interested in the role of self-disclosure in analysis, and I think that the early Jungians were generally quite self disclosing in their work. My question is what role today do you think self-disclosure has in the practice of Jungian analysis?

Dr. Singer: Self disclosure is very tricky. I guess it worked in the old days, but you’ll know more about that than I, having had two analysts of the first generation as parents. Today I believe that people are wary of it. In my own experience I feel that it is extremely important for analysts to know in every instance why they are doing the self-disclosure. There could be a tendency of doing it to establish a kind of closeness which adversely affects the transference. It could get the analysand off track when the analyst inserts his own experience into the discussion. They don’t come to the analyst to learn about the analyst, but about themselves.

On the other hand, when there is something in the analyst’s experience that is pertinent to the matter under discussion, and when it will really help the analysand in gaining insight into himself or herself, then perhaps it can be justified. But it should be used only in small amounts, like salt in the stew.

John Granrose, Ph.D.: As a senior analyst, you have seen the training programs at a variety of Jung institutes and over several decades. What changes have you seen that you approve of? Which changes bother you? What would you suggest for analytic training programs in the future?

Dr. Singer: One of the changes that seem to me to be extremely fruitful has been the emergence of analysts groups, especially groups of women analysts. They come together at a member’s home for a potluck lunch and talk, without agenda. They speak what is on their minds, whether of a personal nature (mostly) or of a professional nature (less often, except where one impinges on the other). This open interchange brings about a sense of trust, shared wisdom, mutual nurturing and support. An analyst’s life is lonely, one can’t unburden to the analysand, and few people outside of the analytic community would understand the special concerns of the analyst. The changes that bother me are the politics and power struggles among analysts in some training institutes. I believe an atmosphere of openness and trust can and must be fostered among the leadership, by the leadership. “Physician, heal thyself.”

Dale M. Kushner: Given the breadth and depth of your exploration of Psyche and your inquiries into matters of Soul and Spirit, what question(s) remain unanswered for you?

Dr. Singer: I’ve thought about this and I’m sorry to inform you that ALL questions on matters of Soul and Spirit remain unanswered for me. The more I learn the less I know. Like the little boy who comes home from his first day at school and says to his mother, “Today I learned so much. How long will it be before I know everything”? I have found that every answered question pushes me deeper into the unknown, and possibly even into the unknowable. I like it that way. Life is an adventure.

Aryeh Maidenbaum, Ph.D.: I wonder whether you feel the current (and perhaps future) generation of Jungian analysts and authors is up to the same level of that generation which we have lost the past few years- i.e. such as C.A. Meier; Von Franz; Whitmont; Edinger; Aniela Jaffe; etc…. In short, what is your prognosis for the future state and development of analytical psychology? Are you optimistic? Are you concerned for its future? Where are the new leaders and what do you think/feel/intuit/sense about them?

Dr. Singer: The Jungian analysts and authors you mention were pioneers, exuberant with the prospect of creating a new approach to the psyche aimed toward development of the individual’s potential rather than making them “better.” I remember one of those telling me, to my shocked naivete, “You’re not supposed to want the patient to get well.”

But, I see that the leading analysts of those days were authentic human beings, strong in their viewpoints, and related to the times and places in which they lived. They set a high standard, but they are not here any more. No one could have predicted thirty or forty years ago what would develop in analytical psychology. Today we can’t predict what is ahead of us. I can’t even predict whether analytical psychology will be more than history. But I do believe that among those of us who have done their inner work and continue to do so, and are also cognizant of the needs of the society in which we live right now, will generate new ideas and will lead us into the future in ways that we have not yet dreamed of.

What do I think/feel/sense/intuit about the new leaders? They will not simply go along with the old shibboleths, the old practices, the old theories. They will continue to explore and make their own discoveries. They will lead the younger generations in new paths. They will take analytical psychology into wider worlds, and they will bring others with them. They will not limit their teachings to a select few who have the privilege of analysis. It may be that the current form of analytical psychology will cease to exist because it has dissolved into the main stream of psychological thought and has ceased to be unique and distinguishable. This would not be a bad outcome.

Dan Craig-Morse: Where do you see the current state of Christianity, particularly in this country? And, more importantly, in what forms are the ancient Gnostic wisdom traditions available to us presently? The idea behind this question is where (through what form?) can we access these underground Gnostic/alchemical wisdom traditions (the esoteric side of Christian exoteria) as a resource for spiritual sustenance?

Dr. Singer: I cannot speak of the current state of Christianity in this country — it is so diverse and fragmented. As to Gnosticism, a lot has been written about it in the past few years since the Nag Hammadi Library came to light. A few years ago Professor Harold Bloom of Princeton wrote a book he called The American Religion, in which he suggests that the ideas of Gnosticism have permeated much of religion in America, but where this element stemmed from people don’t seem to know. It’s a very challenging book. But there are many more.

I see that you attend Pacifica. If you want to access that wisdom as it is currently expressed, you might go up the coast to Palo Alto and attend a service at the Gnostic Sanctuary on Alma Street. Check it first to see if Bishop Rosamonde Miller will be leading the service, you won’t want to miss her. You can reach Bishop Rosamonde with e-mail for information. And check for books on Gnosticism.

Robert Moretti, Ph.D.: How do you relate the idea of individuation with that of a transpersonal Self that may have goals that transcend the individual?

Dr. Singer: It seems to me that individuation means the process by which a person becomes an in-dividual, that is, a whole person, indivisible and distinct from other people, yet in relation to these. Until and unless a person knows her own boundaries, gifts and limitations, she cannot see herself in context of the far greater whole, the Self. Until we understand that we are earthlings, we cannot see the purpose of the sun. Yes, we have our individual goals, but we cannot always know whether they are reachable, or should be. So that our goals, it seems to me, must always be provisional, for what the (transpersonal) Self has in store for us will only be apparent in its own good time.

Bob Hinshaw: What do you see as the role of Jung’s contribution(s) in the world of today and tomorrow?

Dr. Singer: Jung’s great contribution to psychotherapy was his affirmation of the genius (daemon, guiding spirit) in every individual. He had the greatest respect for the individual, a trust in the authenticity of each person’s inner self-knowledge. Consequently he did not often assert his own views as an analyst, but rather worked to evoke the analysand’s own unconscious material and allow it to speak for itself. Trust in the unconscious, not a blind trust but the way you trust any teacher–you must find out for yourself what the wise person can teach you.

Thanks to all of you who wrote in. You’ve stimulated me to put a lot of stuff into words, so that I can know better what I think. You can reach me at June Singer, author of Modern Woman in Search of Soul, York, Maine: Nicholas Hays, 1998.