Review of Thomas Kirsch's The Jungians

Thomas Kirsch's book, The Jungians: A Comparative and Historical Perspective, is unique in providing an historical overview of the development and spread of the Jungian movement from its beginnings early in the 20th-century. This highly readable narrative is equally accessible to the specialist and to the interested reader.

Untitled Document Review by Ann Casement

The following review was published in the The Journal of Analytical Psychology:

Thomas Kirsch's book, The Jungians: A Comparative and Historical Perspective, is unique in providing an historical overview of the development and spread of the Jungian movement from its beginnings early in the 20th-century. This highly readable narrative is equally accessible to the specialist and to the interested reader.

Peter Homans, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Chicago, in his Foreword to the book asks three vital questions: what are the forms of thought and action which compose any of the depth psychologies; where are their origins; and how do they affect the lives of the people living within that culture. Homans concludes that Kirsch sheds new light on all three. The book particularly addresses itself to the second question in tracing the evolution of the Jungian movement from its origins with Jung in Zurich around 1912 to its formalization over the ensuing years into groups and institutions. Jung's ideas were disseminated by first-generation German-Jewish males to many parts of the world e.g. London, Los Angeles, Rome, New York, Tel Aviv. They were deeply interested in spiritual matters and 'carried the spirit of the numinosum and the "God-image" within.' This missionary zeal found it difficult to adapt to more secular changes that began to encroach on the movement, for instance, clinical ideas about theory and practice from psychoanalysis. Michael Fordham, the British analytical psychologist, was the pioneer of this new movement and Kirsch acknowledges him to be one of the truly innovative minds in the Jungian movement.

Many other characters enliven the pages of the book, including a number of inspiring women such as Marie-Louise von Franz - the Anna Freud of the Jungian movement - Vera Bührmann, Aniela Jaffé, Jolande Jacobi, Esther Harding, Rix Weaver, Toni Wolff and Elizabeth Goodrich Whitney. The latter is described by Joseph Henderson as 'a wonderful listener and a wonderful analyst' and it is in part due to her tolerance and to that of Henderson's that the San Francisco Institute was saved from the affliction of splitting that has been the fate of so many other Jungian groups.

There are lingering shadows over the Jungian movement which the author has not evaded. For instance, there is the abiding one of Jung's association with National Socialism in the 1930s and the accompanying charges of anti-Semitism. Kirsch does not deny that Jung's attention was at one time captured by events in Nazi Germany. However, his original research has turned up the fact that Gustav Richard Heyer, who had Nazi affiliations and was the first significant individual in Germany to work with Jung's ideas, states in a document that there were different attitudes to political situations between himself and Jung. The latter would not have anything to do with Heyer after 1945.

Kirsch also cites personal conversations with a number of Jewish people who saw Jung during the 1930s who say they detected no trace of anti-Semitism in him. Hilde Kirsch, the author's mother, told him that it was through her analysis with Jung that she came to understand what it meant to be Jewish. As a result of his own research, Kirsch professes to a sense of personal relief that Jung pulled away from any association with the Nazis possibly as early as 1934. Other accounts of Jung's actions during the 1930s are more critical, including those by Geoffrey Cox, Andrew Samuels and Micha Neumann, Erich Neumann's son.

Recently, Kirsch has had an exchange of letters with Harold Blum, the director of the Freud Archive in New York, in the new journal Psychoanalysis and History, when Blum called Jung a Nazi (personal communication).

Another all pervading shadow is that of splits in Jungian groups which lend a dark core to many of the chapters in the book. For Kirsch, these splits resemble family dynamics with which this reviewer would agree having heard some analysts referring to training candidates as 'the children' and analysts as 'the parents'.

Another factor is the clinical/archetypal divide. Many Jungians are caught in a split idealizing/demonizing transference onto psychoanalysis. On one side of the split is an over-valuing of psychoanalysis - an example of this is a Jungian declaring about a group dominated by the British Psycho-Analytical Society: 'If there is an elite, I want to be part of it!' This fantasy is still part of some Jungians mindset in spite of the fact that psychoanalysts themselves admit - both publicly and in private - that psychoanalysis itself is in danger of survival at all let alone as an 'elite' practice.

The other side of the coin is a denigration of psychoanalysis by some analytical psychologists who eschew it altogether in spite of the fact that many Jungians have creatively integrated psychoanalytic clinical theory and technique into their work.

The splits that result from this and from personality clashes in different parts of the world are extremely destructive of all concerned and the fall-out seems to be endless in its aftermath. The Jungian community is overdue to address this shadow in its midst in every way it can. Apart from anything else, there are increasing demands related to greater professionalization bringing with it the need to adjust to the exigencies of data protection, human rights, state regulation and continuing professional development, to which analytical psychologists, along with all other professionals, will have to adapt. At the moment, some Jungians respond to these demands through hysteria, denial or an epimethean retreat into the unconscious. It is to be hoped that increasing professionalization may help shift the focus in some Jungian groups from family dynamics to an emphasis on developing professional organizations.

Kirsch is ideally placed to write an 'insider' account of analytical psychology as he is the son of two prominent Jungian analysts who left Germany to escape the Holocaust, has himself been a Jungian analyst for many years, and was a two-term President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP). In spite of this close personal involvement, he manages to maintain an admirable detachment from his subject. For Kirsch, being a Jungian means sharing a common lineage and a sense of the 'twilight areas of the psyche.' This book will deservedly be widely read.


Thomas B. Kirsch. The Jungians: A Comparative and Historical Perspective.
London: Routledge. Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis Inc. 2000. Pp. xxv and 276. Hbk. £30.

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Ann Casement.