Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous

The following information on the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous has been provided by Roger Heydt of Pennsylvania.

Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous
information provided by Roger Heydt

Jung is credited with having set the course for what today is known as Alcoholics Anonymous. No, not the founder of A.A. -- that was a joint effort from Bill Wilson, a stock broker (alcoholic) and "Dr. Bob" an Akron, Ohio, M.D. (also a confessed alcoholic).

It was Bill Wilson who told a story of one of Jung's patients, "Roland," who was helped by Jung. Roland then associated with the Oxford group of the day (in the 1920s I think). It was Wilson who likewise in his attempt to get sober visited the Oxford groups, meeting Roland, who informed Wilson of Jungian psychology and the need for change at depth. Wilson later had one of these "conversions" -- not to be confused with emotional stage healings as seen on T.V. Wilson's "spiritual experience" led him to form A.A. with Dr. Bob. in the 1930s.

I have found much of "Jung" in A.A. philosophy -- not the "pop-rehab-behavioral-Skinner-type" A.A. as preached by what seems to be nearly every "social agency" that deals with alcoholism and drug addiction, but rather A.A. at its deeper levels as suggested by Wilson and others in the early AA's in their understanding of the "spiritual" necessity -- a complete renewal of the mind in order for recovery to come about.

There is a one or two line mention of Jung in A.A.'s text book (the Big Book), "Alcoholics Anonymous?" (pp. 26, 27.).

When Roland reportedly asked Jung if there was any sure way for an alcoholic to recover -- truly recover, Jung is quoted as saying, "Yes, there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods which I employed are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description."

It seems that Jung's pronouncement that the only hope for Roland was a "spiritual experiecne" was the final straw in Roland's treatment. He was deflated to the point of "giving up." As a result he had the "rearrangement" and later explained it to "Ebby" who in turn explained it to Bill Wilson who explained it to Dr. Bob, who formed what became A.A.

Jung played a vital role in the eventual formation of what people now recognize as A.A. At last count, I counted over 140 Twelve Step programs patterned after A.A.: e.g. Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and many more. Jung's ideas have obviously travelled far more than possibly even some mainstream analysts may know.

Credit for this information should probably go to those before me who led me in the right direction to discover it, particularly Ernest Kurtz with whom I spoke briefly a number of years ago about his book, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (1979: Hazelden Books, Center City, Mn. 55012). Kurtz's notes on Jung's role in A.A. are found on pages 8 and 9 and in a couple of wonderful footnotes on the subject on pages 252 & 253, notes 5 - 8. Kurtz quotes from a 1961 letter written by Bill Wilson to Jung and from Jung's reply, which was published in an A.A. monthy magazine, "Grapevine" (Jan. 1963 and Nov. 1968(?)) All--or I would suspect most--of the official documentaion on this may be found by contactng A.A.'s main office in New York and the Hazelden folks in Center City, Minnesota.

Jung, no doubt, did wonders in moving along the world of psychotherapy, but he did even more than that in my opinion. He helped make it possible through a set of circumstances (unconsciously on purpose, so to speak) to have an organization, and many more like it, that has helped millions upon millions to recovery. Many, even in A.A., especially the "newer" A.A. members, do not know Jung's part in the whole picture.

P.S. Kurtz found the obituary of Rowland H. in the New York Times, Dec. 22, 1945. This may lead to more information on where Jung fits into this picture. By the way, the correct spelling is, "Rowland," although Bill Wilson continued to spell it Roland.

Thanks so much,
Roger Heydt
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Ashley, Pennsylvania