Historical Perspectives : Graham Saayman

Journey to the Centre : Images of Wilderness and the Origins of the Southern African Association of Jungian Analysts.  Graham Saayman (South Africa)

Journey to the Centre :
Images of Wilderness and the Origins of
the Southern African Association of Jungian Analysts (SAAJA)
by Graham S. Saayman

The Cape of Good Hope Centre for Jungian Studies, inaugurated in 1987, was the prototype of SAAJA, which was granted training group status by the IAAP in 1995.  The Centre was founded on (1) A Jungian Study Group for senior practitioners led by M. Vera Buhrmann, the only practicing Jungian analyst in South Africa at that time (2) A program of Jungian psychological theory, research and clinical practice, developed at the University of Cape Town by Graham Saayman and Renos Papadopoulos and (3) The Wilderness Leadership School, pioneered by Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela, supported by Laurens van der Post.

The program in the University Department of Psychology between 1974 and 1989 grappled with the challenge of developing a practice of psychotherapy relevant to the South African context and appropriate to a world beset by much doubt, alienation, conflict, anxiety and trauma.  A primary objective of the research-practitioner model was to equip students with general principles and basic skills in cost-effective, preventive and benign approaches integrated synergistically with a Jungian psychotherapeutic model.

Motifs of Nature, instinct, image and spirit informed the work. A foundational undergraduate course on psychobiology linked the psychology of dreaming to the survival value of primordial images in orchestrating instinctual patterns of behaviour.  The material also focused on hormonal and socioecological factors associated with the social structures of large-brained, long-lived mammals with long periods of dependency of the offspring upon the protective social system.  Field studies of dolphins and baboons sought to illuminate the evolution of the social organisation of hominid bands during the hunter-gatherer era, facilitating a Jungian understanding of the adaptive functions as well as the shadow of the modern family system.

A research group at honours, masters and doctoral levels tested hypotheses derived from Jungian theory.  The premise that all members of the human family have evolved universal, species-typical, biological, emotional, cognitive and spiritual systems provided a theoretical framework. Laboratory studies focused on the psychophysiology of the “fight-flight-freeze” responses to threat. Whilst these autonomic reactions likely had survival value during the hunter-gatherer era, the difficulty many people have in living out these instinctual dynamics underpin many of the anxiety, depressive and stress-related disorders of modern times. A conceptual integration of Patanjali’s astanga yoga and Jungian theory generated a series of studies of the relationship between sleep, dreaming, relaxation and meditational techniques for processing feelings, desensitising anxiety and managing stress.

Supervision of family therapy from a Jungian perspective was offered in the postgraduate program in clinical psychology.  Jung’s understanding that a “phylogenetic substratum” orchestrates human ontogeny was extended to include a series of mutually adapted biopsychosocial patterns of relationship (birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, middle-age, old-age and death) in the lifecycle of the family system. Collective patterns of behaviour and associated primordial images imply a relational system with the family as the primary vessel that anticipates individual family members interfacing with relevant others in a typically human mode. This conceptual extension of Jungian theory enabled an expanded spectrum of analytical psychology to inform therapeutic interventions, now not only with individuals but also with subsystems of family networks.

Appreciating the innovative work of the Wilderness Leadership School, a Jungian framework for the role of wilderness excursions in the psychotherapeutic endeavour was developed, using a participant-observer methodology. When training analysts for work in a world beset by material and spiritual imbalance, where the head has taken so much from the heart, it seemed vital to offer candidates the opportunity to live briefly in the way the human race began, appreciating how the plants and animals are interwoven in the tapestry of our origins and passages.

In evaluating this project some thirty years after its inception, two broad measures of outcome emerge:  Whilst some critics dismiss C. G. Jung as an unscientific, animistic thinker, present evidence suggests that in grappling with the nature of human nature he grasped the decisive problems of our times. The human species evolved over millions of years with genetically programmed patterns of behaviour and sensitive biological needs and limits. Modern civilization, obsessed with the scientific paradigm and the conquest of nature, has, somewhat paradoxically, arrived at terracide as a likely outcome of tinkering with technology. Ecological impacts are likely to shape earth’s foreseeable future.  Distinguished earth scientists predicted long ago that manmade global warming would produce effects as devastating as full-scale nuclear war. The countdown to catastrophe is under way. Increasing temperatures over the last two decades are reducing the ice packs of Hudson’s Bay, on the edge of the Arctic tundra in Northern Canada. The habitat of the polar bear, the largest predatory animal in the world, freezes later and thaws earlier in the year.  Hunting seals on thinning ice, bears fall through into the sea so far from land they drown. The great totem animal of the north hunts through garbage bins for human offal. The vanishing polar bear will haunt the human family’s dreams.

And after that, what dreams of hope may come?  Analytical Psychology suggests that enantiodromia, a natural law of opposition, regulates human nature. When the energy driving events has swung too far in one direction, the opposite may constellate.  When hope is at its lowest ebb, the shadow may emerge as a valuable ally, since it compels reflection and initiates the journey of self-discovery. Modern South Africa is a work in process in living out this theory. As the world slips ever more deeply into the politics of confrontation and competition for declining planetary resources, South Africa, located between the affluent, technological countries and the impoverished “developing worlds,” has the potential to offer alternative solutions and outcomes. The country has begun a unique yet painful and risky journey in discovering how the human spirit may contain the terrible wounding that racial fear inflicted on the people and forgive a transgressor with a sorrowful heart.  There can be no greater power in human life than that.

Biographical Details

Trained as a psychologist at the University of Natal, McMaster University and the University of London and as a family therapist at Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals, Graham Saayman has a long-standing interest in human development, including the evolutionary origins of humans.  His research as an ethologist at the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals in the 1960’s revealed that pheromones influence primate behaviour. He investigated hormonal and ecological determinants of baboon social systems in the Limpopo Valley and Kruger National Park and made the first systematic study of dolphin social behaviour off the south-east coast of South Africa in the 1970’s. Between 1976 and 1980 he was the representative for Africa on the International Ethological Committee.

As Professor of Psychology at the University of Cape Town (1974 - 1989), he was one of the first behavioural scientists to introduce Jungian thought to university-based research and to connect ethology to analytical psychology. He was a founding member of the Cape of Good Hope Centre for Jungian Studies and is an Honorary Member of SAAJA. He was elected an Honorary Member of the International Association for Analytical Psychology in 2001.