“I don’t believe there is a God, I know there is a God.” -Carl Jung
God is a touchy subject in psychology—for that matter so is Love (more on that later). Certainly the field of psychology is not geared to benefit only those with a belief in the almighty. Agnostics, atheists, those who are deeply religious, folks who are completely indifferent about this “God thing”— all are able to benefit from psychotherapy.
Still, it’s hard to get away from God when talking about psychology. Carl Jung, one of the most highly regarded psychologists in history, broke with Freud over his theory of the “collective unconscious.” The theory states that we all come from the same pool of consciousness. According to Jung there is no such thing as an absolute individual. Further, within this pool we all have the capacity to express any “archetype” (personality type) of the human experience—from the darkest villain to the holiest saint. If this sounds suspiciously like an argument for the existence of God, well, it kinda is.
Jung also became fascinated with the symbol of the circle in his teachings. He called the circle “the great primordial image of mankind—that in considering the circle we are analyzing the self. It expresses the totality of the psyche in all its aspects, including the relationship of man (and woman) and the whole of nature. Through the ritual action [of drawing the circle], attention and interest are led back to the inner, sacred precinct, which is the source and goal of the psyche and contains the unity of life and consciousness." Joseph Campbell, a friend of Jung, says the circle is, “representative of the center from which you’ve come back to which you go…it is the alpha and the omega.” The circle represents the coming and going from a source—whether that being from the womb to the tomb, the body’s journey from the earth back to dust, or the souls journey from God to the body and back to God.
Let’s look at another idea concerning God and therapy. If God is Love, as so many have stated, there’s no need to talk about spirituality in therapy. As long as Love exists in the therapeutic relationship, we could, from this definition say that God is in the therapy. But psychology usually doesn’t like the word Love any more than it likes the word God. Theories such as Humanism tend to favor concepts such as having “unconditional positive regard” for a client. Attachment theory talks about developing “positive attachments” with others—ultimately both are talking about Love. Inner child work as coined by John Bradshaw does actually state that we need to Love our inner child. Uh oh, God is creeping back in.
Further, I once knew a man who said he went to a therapist with a problem with alcoholism. The therapist said, “I can’t help you with that. You need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. I don’t know why it works, but it does.” Statistically A.A. is by far the most successful treatment for the often life debilitating and even life threatening problem of addiction. As a result most therapists are trained to refer their clients to twelve steps if they are in the midst of treating an addiction. Therapy can help in the recovery but it is generally not intensive enough for the addict. The twelve steps are about developing a relationship with a “higher power” and surrendering your powerlessness over the addiction to that higher power. Through this surrendering the addiction if often successfully treated. That God thing is coming through the door again.
Another form of treatment becoming popularized in psychology is Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation whose origin can be traced to Buddhism. It teaches the practitioner to “witness” his or her own thoughts. This “witnessing” is essentially a way of giving up identification with the neurotic mind and begin identifying with something called pure consciousness. Others would call it, ahh, yeah—God consciousness.
While the physicist Stephen Hawking famously says, “There is no God.” Albert Einstein said, “I want to know the thoughts of God, the rest is mere details.” One thing we can probably agree on is that whether we need God or not is up to us, whether we need Love or not is a no brainer—we all need it.
Below Joseph Campbell discusses Jung, the circle of life, and God: