Panel IAAP/IPA: Symbols and Symbolisation in Clinical Practice and in Elisabeth Márton’s Film

Freudian Analysis, Jungian Analysis: Points of Convergence and Differences

Christian Gaillard
Paris, France
Société Française de Psychologie Analytique / IAAP


Let us mention at the outset that, when comparing Freudian and Jungian approaches in matters of clinical practice, thinking and theorizing, the choice to focus the discussion on symbols and the work of symbolization is an excellent one.

Why? Because the very mention of symbols or symbolization means that the unconscious is involved; an unconscious that is obviously at work, in labor, seeking and finding its own means of expression. We must then deal with it in a very concrete way, as it presents itself, and as it questions us. This leads us directly to the very heart of our work, which is not practically or strictly speaking the unconscious per se, but rather our connection to the unconscious.

The unconscious, in fact, requires that we take a stand. It puts each and every one of us to the question, such that if our respective training requirements, clinical practices and theories can quite clearly be distinguished, it is equally clear that the unconscious is neither Jungian nor Freudian, nor Lacanian, nor Kleinian, nor is it of any other allegiance.

The unconscious has its own reality, one we all need to adjust to, whether we are a Freudian, a Jungian or an analyst from another school – its reality is active and living, and we face it as best we can, each and every one of us, with the meager means at our disposal, some that were transmitted to us and others that we forged for ourselves during our years as clinicians.

Actually, when we question ourselves as to shared characteristics in the presentations of this panel, as well as during the subsequent discussions, four characteristics come to mind:

First of all, there is a surprise effect, one that never fails to capture our attention, inciting us to listen to and observe the symbols and the work of symbolization. A surprise that strips us of our preconceived notions and ordinary certainties, forcing us to grapple with something essentially unknown, yet something we have all trained in and practiced, through personal analysis, through a similar process of supervision, and through our daily clinical practices.

Secondly, as this surprise effect is in constant renewal, and therefore stimulates and sustains our attention as clinicians in an always unpredictable way, it leads us to accompany our analysands in that psychic space, quite at the heart of the transfer relationship between the analyst and the analysand, that sometimes makes possible a real encounter between the two, through the shared experience of the same psychic reality.

In addition, I find in each of these presentations and in the discussions that followed, another common viewpoint based on experience: for all of us, the symbol is characterized as a representation, associated with an emotional charge connected to that representation in a single event, a single occurrence, and expressed in a unique manner. It is obvious, indeed, that for all of us, one of the essential functions of the symbol and the work of symbolization is precisely in that connection between representation and emotion. As a result, the work of symbolization presents a continual challenge and requires a deeply personal commitment, and at the same time, it offers a chance, a privilege and a source of happiness if we can take advantage of the opportunity.

Finally, I notice that for each of us, the work of symbolization is a “work in progress,” in development, in transformation. Let us insist on this last term: transformation. It means that with the emergence of a symbol and its associated emotional charge, we assist and participate in a change in the economy of the relationship to the unconscious, and by the same token, to a change in the economy of the relationship to ourselves and to others.

Our discussion about symbols and the work of symbolization places each and every one of us, Freudian or Jungian, at the very heart of our clinical work. No doubt, this is the main reason why we can listen to each other, hear each other, and at least in part, but in a basic way, understand each other.

To me, these are the main points, the basis really, of a coming together, and of a possible understanding between us: the basic understanding that comes from having undergone different, but fundamentally similar training in analysis and in the clinical practice of analysis, and of being involved in a common experience of the unconscious and its expressions, confronted with the same challenges to give accounts of these experiences in our respective theoretical frameworks, and to get the most out of the situation for the development of our patients.

Here, notwithstanding, is where our differences begin. Differences that need to be considered and discussed, in order to distinguish whether they are differences only in accent when it comes to a clinical practice that we largely share, but that we inflect and modulate according to our allegiance to a particular school, a particular theoretical perspective, and/or a personal inclination; or whether these differences are so important as to lead to definitely distinctive practices and conceptions of analysis.

In effect, if any analyst, from any school, can be open to surprise and pay attention to the expressions of the work of the unconscious, the Jungian analyst, specifically, as we will have often noticed during this panel, becomes a willing witness to a sense of processes coming into play, sometimes in the long term, even in the very long term. The Jungian analyst allows them free rein, believing that another dynamic will be created, changing the outcome for the analysand and opening new perspectives.

Like Jung, today’s Jungian analyst conceives and practices the somewhat difficult economy of the relationship between conscious and unconscious as a system where opposing parts not only contradict and thwart each other, but may just as well counterbalance each other and attempt to find a new equilibrium, sometimes in the most unexpected way. Throughout his works, Jung speaks expressly, on this subject, of contradiction, complementarity and compensation (in his own language, Jung takes pleasure in using such meaningful terms as Gegenwirkung and Mitwirkung). For Jung, and for later Jungians, opening a way for a new equilibrium and a new coming into being is indeed considered an essential function of the work of symbolization.

Such an attitude towards the unconscious indicates the kind of gamble a Jungian analyst might make not only about the capacity for the development of psychic functioning but also, more radically, on the skill of the unconscious to express itself, a skill largely autonomous and autochthonous as evidenced in the creativity characteristic of the work of symbolization and in the accompaniment of the analysand: an attitude that is open, confident, vigorous and energetic. We witnessed such confidence in Gert Sauer when he spoke of a snake that appeared in the dreams of one of his patients, and in the way Jean Kirsch welcomed the dream with the bouquet of flowers, told by Alain Gibeault, although some might think such a reaction was decidedly too optimistic.

Reserve and criticism regarding Jungian practice, its conception of symbolic life, and more generally speaking, of analysis, may certainly come from our Freudian colleagues and cousins.

As for the Freudian analyst, the emphasis is immediately and classically placed, as Monique Gibeault did during this panel, on an immediate and inalienable necessity, to know who had such and such a dream, at what moment, and under what conditions. Gert Sauer may condone such requirements, yet he doesn’t hesitate to let the serpent in question exist exactly as it manifested itself, practically without interpreting it, letting it deliberately exist within himself, and possibly in the more or less conscious echoes of the dreamer, even letting it evolve and develop into one of the varied meanings held by the serpent symbol in the scenes of diverse cultures.

Clearly, both the Freudian analyst and the Jungian analyst refuse, or at least distance themselves from, an overly literal or too-unilateral interpretation that would fix the meaning of an event and take away all of its impact, or risk producing useless resistance. Both will make room for the symbol in all of its polysemy. They will then wait, without impatience or worry over mastery, until the analysand lets new material emerge that expresses and explores a particular dynamic or until the analysand gains enough self-awareness to resolve present conflicts in a direction that is simultaneously desired and resisted.

However, a Freudian analyst will emphasize more clearly and with more insistence than would a Jungian colleague, the present impact of the symbol, in the hic and nunc of its appearance in the particular dream of a particular patient, at a particular moment in the analytic work, with a particular analyst, and will also be attentive to the archaic modalities of psychic functioning that present themselves – in this case in the dream of the serpent, Monique Gibeault speaks of castration anxiety and the fear of being devoured – as well as the moments in childhood that are also activated and require precise circumstantial recognition.

Therefore, while the Jungian analyst willingly accepts being uplifted and nourished by symbolic life as it expresses itself on the diverse scenes of our collective unconscious in a manifestly transgenerational and even transcultural way, the work on the singular and very circumstantial history of each person rigorously remains at the core of the everyday fare of clinical work for the Freudian analyst. On this subject, Alain Gibeault speaks not only of formal and topical regression, but also of the temporal regression necessary to the forming of symbols; this leads him, or rather leads the analysand working with him, to rediscover the more or less repressed memories of abandonment haunting the analysand. This again leads the analyst to point out the barriers and limits everyone faces in the enigmatic but undeniably obvious fact of sexuality, as it imposes itself in the “primal scene” that Marcio Giovanetti insistently evokes, as well as in the successive stages of everyone’s life, from the first experiences in infancy till inevitable death.

Does that mean we should go so far as to say, as we have often done in the past, that Freudian analysis is reductive and causal whereas Jungian analysis is teleological? I believe not. This is a perfect example of a debate that is largely outmoded, much too caught up in a representation of the other to really make possible a meeting and a confrontation.

A meeting and a confrontation witnessed in our discussions, and where it appears that one and another, the Freudian analyst and the Jungian analyst, share the same involvement in a work that, both of them know, let us say it again, will only truly be fulfilled in the present of a history that is constantly evolving and in a continual process of transformation.

If the Freudian analyst is attentive to the past, it is less to explain the present in a causal way than to sustain the emergence and re-experience of a potential for life too long thwarted. If the Jungian analyst willingly focuses on what is emerging, it is less to anticipate, predict or prescribe it according to a teleological view, as it is to try and set it into motion. This is why we Jungians should qualify this process, strictly speaking, as prospective, rather than as teleological.

Three or four, perhaps five generations after Freud and Jung, a coming together has occurred; it silences none of the differences between our traditions, our training and respective biases. On the contrary, it commits each of us to listen to what the other hears – and sometimes thinks – better than the other, about a rather complex reality: the various modalities of our relationship to the unconscious.

Moreover, if a rapprochement has progressively developed between our different traditions and schools, it is also patently obvious that each of our traditions is presently constituted of clinicians with varying profiles, to the extent where the abstractions I just spoke of, “the Jungian analyst” or “the Freudian analyst” are presently, in fact, out of place. Sometimes one even sees more closeness and understanding today between a Freudian analyst and a Jungian analyst than between two Freudians or two Jungians.

I think, nevertheless, that it would be a mistake to conceive or dream of a blend of the two, or some kind of synthesis of our respective approaches. It is preferable, I believe, in the interest and the fruitfulness of our debates and definitely, for the welfare of our future analysts, and for that of our analysands, that our differences, on the contrary, assert themselves, develop and argue among themselves, on as clinical a basis as possible, as was the case during this panel.

It would be good for every one of us, and for all our analysts in training, to enroll their clinical practice and reflection in the tradition and school that enables them to best develop their own personal qualities and skills – and also helps them to best compensate for their specific shortcomings.

Maybe then will our differences find meaning in the tension of a complementarity and compensation allowing each to measure up to the other and to readjust – which is, of course, a very Jungian perspective. A perspective can never become a reality unless a third party intervenes. This third party will have been for us, and among us, Elisabeth Márton’s film dedicated to Sabina Spielrein between Freud and Jung.

This film has succeeded in connecting truly documentary data of this story and its fictional dramatization around a series of symbolic themes as alive as they are insistent – windows opening and closing, trees, hands, waters one emerges from, or that, too calm, close in on themselves, or overflow – such that the right relationship, in this work, between the representation and the emotional charge secretly connected to it, has led each of us, Freudian analysts and Jungian analysts, to finally reconsider the history we share and that divided us, that of the beginning times, too often partially reconstructed, the history of Freudian analysis and of Jungian analysis.

Hence, our sincere gratitude to the film’s director.