The Path of Individuation

Jung coined the term “individuation,” but what is it? And how do we, for all practical purposes, individuate?

Here is Jungian analyst Dr. Ken James on that very subject:

Virtually every other school of psychology, especially depth psychology, that has given rise to a form of treatment has done so from the perspective of pathology – that there has to be a pathological situation, or state, that the person who is coming for the psychological work wants to be relieved of. And a test as to whether or not the given method of treatment works is whether or not the person’s symptoms are relieved.

Jung completely erased that perspective. I won’t even say that he changed it, he just obliterated it. Because for Jung, doing psychological work had to do with becoming whole. It «didn’t» have to do with ameliorating symptoms.

In fact for Jungians, what is called in other schools of psychology a symptom is considered to be a message that needs to be decoded, much as a dream or a slip of the tongue or a projection needs to be decoded. This is very important because whereas other schools of psychotherapy and analysis seek to cure, Jungian psychology teaches us that we have to understand.

The goal is not cure, the goal is to become who we are UNDIVIDED. The term that Jung used to explain this is individuation. And in that term lies the secret of understanding Jungian psychology.…

Jung was very clear that what his psychology was attempting to do was to help people to become individuals, and that we actually «are» individuals and we have to work to bring all of the parts together. So, individuation is the process by which we come to the point where we recognize our divided state and then seek to ameliorate that situation.

Jung never taught – and there is no orthodox Jungian teaching – that when you finish a course of psychotherapy, or working on yourself for a finite amount of time, that you are then an individual and you’re done. Jung wasn’t even altogether clear that the process stopped with what we call death.

The fact is, individuation is a process. And what we can hope to do is engage in that process in a meaningful and deep way. … When people come to see me in analysis a fairly sensible question at the beginning is, ‘How long will this take?’ And I always get them because my answer is, ‘Well, if you’re lucky, all your life.’ And they kind of look like, oh god, he wants to put a wing on the house! And then I explain to them, ‘But you’re not always going to be seeing me, or necessarily anybody, all your life. But what we want to do is start a process by which you can engage in your life through the method of seeking meaning, and that process ought to continue all your life.’ That’s how we become individuals. That’s the path of individuation.

~Ken James, Ph.D., Jungian analyst, The Path is the Goal: Walking the Way of Individuation, C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago, 1997

Dr. James was our guest in Episode 45