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Symbolic Life

It is more than thirty years ago—on the occasion of a short stay in England—that I became acquainted with Dr. Hugh Crichton-Miller.

Being a stranger and, on account of my unorthodox views, a psychiatric outsider, I was deeply impressed by the friendly, open, and unprejudiced manner of his welcome.

Not only did he introduce me to the staff of his clinic, he also invited me to give them a short address—much to my embarrassment, since I never felt particularly certain of myself when called upon to talk to an entirely unknown audience.

But I soon felt the presence of an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence between chief and staff, so that I could talk to them in a more or less natural way—at least I hope so. Talking to Crichton-Miller was easy.

I felt we were speaking the same language, though our views were not always the same.

But they were reasonably different, so that a satisfactory discussion was possible.

Whenever I had a chance in the course of many years, I very much enjoyed discussing controversial points with him.

He was for I don’t know how many years the only man of my age with whom I could talk as man to man, without constantly fearing that my partner would suddenly throw a fit or become otherwise impolite.

We took each other at our face value and in the course of years we grew slowly into the conviction that we had a good relationship.

Such a silent conviction can be, in spite of everything, an illusion as long as it has not come to an actual showdown.

The proof of this came in the last years before the second World War.

We then had an international Society for Psychotherapy on the continent consisting of a Dutch, Danish, Swiss, and a very large German group.

The president of the Society had been Professor Kretschmer up to 1933, when he resigned in the fatal year of Hitler’s usurpation of power.

I had been up to then in the inactive role of an honorary vice-president.

The German group, afraid of getting amalgamated with, i.e., overshadowed by, the far more influential “Society for Psychiatry” with its well-known anti-psychological prejudice, asked me to take over the function of president, just because I was non-German and would therefore emphasize

the international character of the organization.

They hoped in that way to escape complete annihilation, even if they had to survive in a society of herb addicts and believers in “natural healing.”

I knew it would be a very difficult task if I were to accept this proposition.

But having been vice-president for a number of years, I did not consider it particularly honorable conduct to get cold feet, and so I stepped in.

The first task confronting me was to increase the non-German membership in order to form an adequate counterweight.

We added a Swedish group, and I opened negotiations with French representatives, but I looked most toward England and America.

The first person I approached was Crichton-Miller, and I did not find him wanting. He understood the situation and my motives.

The Germans became more and more difficult and tried to overwhelm us with a large Italian and even a Japanese membership.

Since nothing was known of modern medical psychology in either of those countries, the long lists of new members were composed by order and consisted of people who were absolutely innocent of the slightest professional knowledge of modern psychotherapy.

Shortly before the outbreak of the war, it came to a decisive showdown with the Germans in Zurich.

Being the British representative, Crichton-Miller lent me personally his invaluable help to ward off the German intrigue.

I am forever grateful to him for his sturdy co-operation and his truly loyal friendship. That was the man I shall never forget.

During the war we naturally saw nothing of each other, and it was only afterwards that I received the shocking news of his fatal disease.

I wanted very much to see him again but was overburdened with urgent work and hampered by the consequences of an injury to my heart.

I found no occasion to go to England.

Fortunately enough, in 1949 he could manage to come out to Switzerland, to the Bernese Oberland, where I went to meet him and his wife.

I found him in an advanced stage of his illness.

As he had expressed the urgent wish to talk to me, I was eager to hear from him what it was.

After lunch we withdrew. He took out a sheet of paper with a closely written text.

As our talks hitherto had never been intimate or personal, I was surprised when he plunged straight in medias res and asked me to answer a number of questions on religion.

It was a complete survey of the religio medici, of all the religious conclusions an old doctor might draw from his innumerable experiences of suffering and death and from the inexorable reality of life’s reverses.

I knew we were talking in conspectu mortis of ultimate things, at the end of days.

Then we took leave of each other, shook hands amiably and politely, as if after a delightful lunch with a distant yet friendly acquaintance.

Vale amice! ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 639-641