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Carl Jung on the Individual and Group Therapy


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Letters Volume II

To Hans A. Illing

Dear Dr. Illing, 26 January 1955

As a doctor, I consider any psychic disturbance, whether neurosis or psychosis, to be an individual illness, so the patient has to be treated accordingly.

The individual can be treated in the group only to the extent that he is a member of it.

This is a great relief to begin with, since, being submerged in the group, he can escape from himself up to a point.

The sense of security is increased and the sense of responsibility decreased when one is part of a group.

Once I ran into a thick fog while crossing a treacherous glacier, full of crevasses, with a company of soldiers.

The situation was so dangerous that everyone had to stop just where he happened to be.

Yet there was no trace of panic, but rather the spirit of a public festival!

Had one been alone, or had there only been two of us, the danger could not have been overlooked or laughed off.

As it was, the brave and experienced had a chance to shine.

The timid took heart from the plucky ones, and nobody said a word about the possibility of having to improvise a bivouac on the glacier, which could hardly have passed off without frostbite, etc., let alone about the perils of an attempted descent.

This is typical of the mass mentality.

Young people in a group get up to tricks they would never do by themselves.

During the war, compulsion neuroses among soldiers vanished overnight as a result of group activity.

The group confessions of sects like the Oxford Movement are well known; also the cures at Lourdes, which would be unthinkable without an admiring public.

Groups bring about not only astonishing cures but equally astonishing psychic changes and conversions precisely because suggestibility is heightened.

This was recognized long ago by the totalitarian dictators; hence the mass parades, chanting, cheering, etc.

Hitler inspired the most massive group experience of change in Germany since the Reformation and cost Europe millions of dead.

Heightened suggestibility means individual bondage, because the individual is at the mercy of environmental influences, be they good or bad.

The discriminative capacity is weakened, and so is the sense of personal responsibility, which as in the Oxford Movement is left to “Lord Jesus.”

People have wondered belatedly about the psychology of the German Army-no wonder!

Every single soldier and officer was just a particle in the mass, swayed by suggestion and stripped of moral responsibility.

Even a small group is ruled by a suggestive group spirit which, if it is good, can have very favourable social effects, though at the expense of mental and moral independence of the individual.

The group accentuates the ego; one becomes braver, more presumptuous, more cocky, more insolent, more reckless; but the self is diminished and gets pushed into the background in favour of the average.

For this reason all weak and insecure persons belong to unions and organizations, and if possible to a nation of 80 million!

Then one is a big shot, because he is identical with everybody else, but he loses his self (which is the soul the devil is after and wins!) and his individual judgment.

The ego is pressed to the wall by the group only if in his judgment it is not in accord with the group.

Hence the individual in the group always tends to assent as far as possible to the majority opinion, or else to impose his opinion on the group.

The levelling influence of the group on the individual is compensated by one member of it identifying with the group spirit and becoming the Leader.

As a result, prestige and power conflicts are constantly arising due to the heightened egotism of the mass man.

Social egocentricity increases in proportion to the numerical strength of the group.

I have no practical objections to group therapy any more than I have to Christian Science, the Oxford Movement, and other therapeutically effective sects.

I myself founded a group nearly 40 years ago; but it was composed of analysed persons and its purpose was to constellate the individual’s social attitude.

This group is still active today.

The social attitude does not come into operation in the dialectical relationship between patient and doctor and may therefore remain in an unadapted state, as was the case with the majority of my patients.

This drawback only became apparent when the group was formed and called for the mutual rubbing off of sharp edges.

In my opinion group therapy is only capable of educating the social human being.

Attempts in this direction are being made in England, particularly with unanalyzed persons, on the basis of psychological theories inaugurated by me.

Mr. P. W. Martin, Talboys, Oxted, Surrey, could give you further information. I rate these attempts very highly.

However, in view of the foregoing critical remarks about group therapy, I do not believe that it can replace individual analysis, i.e., the dialectical process between two individuals and the subsequent intrapsychic discussion, the dialogue with the unconscious.

Since the sole carrier of life and the quintessence of any kind of community is the individual, it follows that he and his quality are of paramount importance.

The individual must be complete and must have substance, otherwise nothing has substance, for any number of zeros still do not amount to more than zero.

A group of inferior people is never better than any one of them; it is just as inferior as they, and a State composed of nothing but sheep is never anything else but a herd of sheep, even though it is led by a shepherd with a vicious dog.

In our time, which puts so much weight on the socialization of the individual because a special capacity for adaptation is also needed, the formation of psychologically oriented groups is certainly more important than ever.

But in view of the notorious tendency of people to lean on others and cling to various -isms instead of finding security and independence within themselves, which is th e prime requisite, there is a danger that the individual will equate the group with father and mother and so remain just as dependent, insecure, and infantile as before.

He may become adapted socially, but what of his individuality, which alone gives meaning to the social fabric?

Sure, if society consisted of valuable individuals only, adaptation would be worthwhile; but in reality it is composed mainly of nincompoops and moral weaklings, and its level is far below that of its better representatives, in addition to which the mass as such stifles all individual values.

When a hundred intelligent heads are united in a group the result is one big fathead.

There used to be the quiz question:

What are the three biggest organizations whose morality is the lowest?

Answer : Standard Oil, the Catholic Church, and the German Army.

It is precisely in a Christian organization that one might expect the highest morality, but the need to bring fractious factions into harmony requires compromises of the most questionable kind.

(Jesuitical casuistry and perversion of the truth in the interests of the Church!)

The worst examples to date are Nazism and Communism, where the lie has become the principal reason of State.

Conspicuous virtues are relatively rare and are mostly individual achievements.

Mental and moral sloth, cowardice, bigotry, and unconsciousness dominate everything.

I have 50 years of pioneer work behind me and could tell a pretty tale in this respect.

Admittedly there has been scientific and technological progress, but no one has yet heard that people in general have become more intelligent let alone morally better.

Individuals can be improved because they present themselves for treatment.

But societies only let themselves be deceived and misled, even if temporarily for their own good.

For what we are dealing with is simply the passing and morally weakening effects of suggestion.

(This is why medical psychotherapists, with few exceptions, have long since abandoned the use of suggestion therapy.)

The good is never easy to reach; the more it costs the better it is.

Socially good results have to be paid for too, usually later, but then with interest and compound interest (witness the Mussolini era in Italy and its catastrophic end).

To sum up, I have reached the following conclusions:

1 . Group therapy is indispensable for the education of the social human being.
2. It is not a substitute for individual analysis .
3· The two forms of psychotherapy complement each other.
4· The danger of group therapy is getting stuck on the collective level.
5 · The danger of individual analysis is the neglect of social adaptation.

Yours sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 217-221