Interview with Dr. Thomas Kirsch

Interview with Dr. Thomas Kirsch on the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of C.G. Jung`s Death

by Walter Boechat
Chair, Publications & Communications Sub Committee
IAAP Communications Officer

Thomas Kirsch, former IAAP President. © Don Williams 2003Dr. Thomas Kirsch is the son of two first generation Jungian analysts, James and Hilde Kirsch, who began their analytic work with Jung in 1929.Through his family he met many of the first generation of Jungian analysts. He is a graduate of Yale Medical School (1961) and completed his psychiatric residency at Stanford Medical Center in 1965. A graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco, he has served there in many capacities, including being president from 1976 - 1978. From 1977 until 1989 he served as a vice-president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology, and from 1989 - 1995 as president. He has also been a member of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis since 1976.'

Author of many papers on dreams, history of analytical psychology, and the analytic relationship, and editor of Jungian sections in encyclopedias and psychoanalytic dictionaries. Dr. Kirsch has published “The Jungians” a book on the history of analytical psychology.

In addition to his private practice, he is on the faculty of the C.G. Jung Institute in San Francisco and a lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at the Stanford Medical Center.

Dr. Thomas Kirsch generously accepted our invitation to be interviewed for the IAAP Celebration of the 50th anniversary of C. G. Jung’s death. We are very thankful to Dr. Kirsch for talking to us about the influence of Jung’s ideas in United States and in various other countries during the last 50 years.

1. Dear Tom, I remember well when we met in Rio de Janeiro in 1993. At that time you were the president of IAAP and the second Brazilian IAAP Society was being organized. You came to Brazil to visit the country and have a personal contact with the local Jungian groups. Since then, besides the two Venezuelan and two Brazilian IAAP Groups a new IAAP Society was created in Uruguay and four IAAP Developing Groups started in Latin America. What is your personal experience of the developments of IAAP in Latin America and other various parts of the world you have been? Do you think this could work as an evaluation of Jung`s cultural influence in the last 50 years?

The IAAP began in Switzerland and for the first 25 years had a strong European--North American axis. By the time that I became president of the IAAP in 1989, the Iron Curtain had fallen, and individuals from the Eastern bloc and Russia wanted to learn more about Jung. Small enclaves of Jungian institutes had been developing in Venezuela and Brazil, but there seemed to be a burst of energy emerging in Latin America. There appeared to be small pockets of interest in Jung's psychology in almost all the South American countries.

Walter, I don't quite know what you mean by "evaluation of Jung's cultural influence in the last 50 years"? I actually entered psychiatry 49 years ago and was already identified as a Jungian. That was a year after Jung's death, and I had already spent two summers in Zürich in 1957 and 1958, so I experienced the Jungian movement from early on until its present position. I felt fortunate to be president of the IAAP at a time when there were so many cultural shifts worldwide. I was especially pulled in by the enthusiasm of people from Eastern Europe and Russia, as well as the emergence of interest from Latin America to Jungian psychology. There had been a shift worldwide to an interest in spiritual matters, sometimes quite fundamentalistic in nature but at the same time genuine. Jung's psychology began to speak to some of those individuals who were seeking deeper spiritual meaning.

I have not attended some of the more recent Latin American Jungian congresses, but I have heard that they have been extremely well attended. I can only assume that there has been a rapid growth in the interest in analytical psychology in Latin America by all the new groups that are forming in the different countries.

I have not mentioned China where in 1994 Murray Stein and I, with our respected wives, first visited Guanzhou and Beijing and we began to so sow the seeds of interest in analytical psychology. My wife, Jean Kirsch, had her first inspiration to found an international student program at our Institute in San Francisco. This has developed into the International Student program where our Institute takes a student from a region where there is no Jungian training possible and brings them to San Francisco for two years of intensive analysis and training. We have had students from Asia, Eastern Europe, and most recently from Colombia.

To return to China Jung had studied the philosophies and religions of Asia very seriously, and I think his psychology fits in particularly well to the Chinese psyche. The notions of acausal thinking and synchronicity are central to Chinese philosophy as they are to Jung’s psychology.

So as one reaches across the globe, it is evident that the influence of Jung and analytical psychology has grown enormously. 50 years ago Jung was known mainly as a dissident of Freud. As a depth psychology it was considered marginal and not truly a part of psychoanalysis. As Freud and more traditional psychoanalysis have lost much of their influence, Jung has become a much more important figure. There is not a direct correlation between the lessened psychoanalytic influence and the rise in interest in analytical psychology, because Jung is still identified in many ways with Freud and psychoanalysis. Especially with the recent publication of the Red Book we see how fundamentally different Jung’s point of view of the of the psyche is in its the emphasis on the religious and spiritual dimension.

2. There is a special interest in China nowadays. Could you extend a little about the developments of analytical psychology in recent years in China?

As I mentioned in question one, Murray and I traveled to China in 1994. At the time it seemed premature, but in retrospect the timing was fortuitous. At that first visit Murray and I presented basic Jungian psychology at different hospitals and universities in Guanzhou and Bejjing. What was of particular relief to me was to see that as I presented Jung's psychology, it fit well into the age old philosophy of China. For instance speaking about synchronicity and acausal thinking was quite natural to the Chinese doctors and psychologists to whom we were speaking. It made me realize that Jung's study of Eastern religion and philosophy, especially the Chinese, was congruent with Chinese thought. Our trip had been stimulated by Murray's meeting with Prof. Heyong Shen, who accompanied us from Guanzhou to Beijing. Prof. Shen has since become an active international presence representing China at many international conferences. He also has studied for two years as an international student at the Jung Institute in San Francisco. He has organized a series of conferences in conjunction with the IAAP on Jungian psychology and Chinese culture where speakers from different disciplines have spoken. The next one will be in Macau in June of 2012.

As a result of the tireless work of Heyong Shen and his wife Gao Lan, the interest in analytical psychology has grown quickly. There are now developing groups in Guanzhou and Shanghai, and they are both extremely active. Prof. Shen has also been made a professor at Fudan University, Shanghai one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in all of China.

Hong Kong has had for many years a strong interest group in Jung and analytical psychology. From this interest group has emerged a Developing Group with a number of highly qualified clinicians receiving training in Jungian analysis. Shirley Ma, a Jungian analyst who trained in Zürich and who lived in Toronto for many years has returned to Hong Kong and is teaching in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hong Kong has frequent visitors, mainly from Europe, but also some from the United States. Members of the SAP have spent time in Hong Kong, and there is an active sandplay group there as well.

By chance I was introduced to Steve and Jenny Chang, Taiwanese business people who have a strong philanthropic interest in both the arts and psyche. Their company's United States headquarters are near San Francisco, and a luncheon was arranged. They made a warm invitation to Jean and me to give lectures and seminars in Taipei which occurred in October of 2007. We were surprised by the amount of interest there was in analytical psychology, and how many of the psychologists were eager for more training in analytical psychology. We returned the following October for more seminars and lectures, and we realized that there was enough interest to think of beginning a Developing Group. In conjunction with Joseph Cambray, an IAAP site visit was arranged when several members of the IAAP executive committee were also going to other places in Asia. By 2010 a Developing Group was established in Taiwan which is growing. In addition to the Developing Group, Jean and I have been leading a reading group using Skype with interested members once a month on basic readings in Jung.

The most recent development is that Wayne Cheng from Taiwan has been chosen as the new international student to the Jung Institute in San Francisco. He will begin in September 2011 for two years.

As you can see from this brief description of the different areas which are all Chinese, they are very different. The developing groups which emerge from mainland China have a different cultural background from the ones in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong and Taiwan have a definite Western influence and orientation, whereas the mainland China groups seem more like mushrooms which are rapidly growing from new soil. Actually, each of the Developing Groups which are all Chinese has a distinct and individual character. How each of them will emerge over the coming years will be interesting to see, because each one is so different. Given the large population of this region, in time what happens here will affect the development of analytical psychology in the world.

3. Could you give us a brief account or your parent`s connection to Jung and to the Jungian movement? Could you compare the experience to analytical psychology they had with your own experience now, concerning developments in theory, differences in practice and cultural influences?

That is very broad question. I could practically write a book about what you are asking. Let me begin by mentioning that a new book published by Routledge and edited by Ann Lammers has all the correspondence between my father and Jung between 1929 and 1960. There are approximately 150 letters between the two, and it includes some correspondence between my mother and Jung as well.

My father began to see Jung in 1929 and had approximately 60 hours of personal analysis with Jung along with additional hours with Toni Wolff. In those days that was considered a long analysis. My mother began her analysis with Jung in 1935 and had far fewer hours with Jung. Along with the personal analysis, many people attended either the English speaking seminar which went on during the academic year, or they went to the lectures at the ETH where Jung lecture to the engineering students on psychological subjects. Unless you were Swiss, you had to travel from some distant place, which was not easy. So the hours were bunched up together and then there were long absences. World War II came in the middle of both my parents’ analysis, and they were out of contact with Jung between 1940 and 1946. They never were to resume any kind of analysis with Jung except for the occasional hour when they were in Zurich. But Jung’s health was so precarious after 1944 that there was not frequent contact.

My parents left Germany in 1933, went to Palestine for one and a half years, and then ended up in London in 1935. My father became a founding member of the U.K. group , and my mother became a lay member in 1937. When it looked like England would be overrun by the Nazis in 1940, our family fled to the United States. My father had many relatives in San Francisco who sponsored him and our family to come to the US. He discovered Los Angeles on the way to San Francisco and decided that this was a better place for refugees. There were already many famous authors and musicians like Thomas Mann, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Kurt Weil who had come to Los Angeles.

So beginning in 1941 my parents began to form a group of individuals who were interested in Jung. Max and Lore Zeller arrived a few months later, and the two families became the bulwark of the developing Jungian group. There were many transitory phases before the Los Angeles Jung Institute came into being. I saw firsthand as a boy what it took to bring a Jung Institute into being. All the meetings took place in our house so I knew all the people who were in analysis with my parents and who later became the founders of the Jung Institute in Los Angeles. In those early days there was a complete mixing of the professional and the personal relationships. Having an analytic hour and then coming over for dinner were completely usual occurrences. My father began to give seminars on Jung’s untranslated works into English, as well as other seminars on topics such as Jack London, the Old Testament. In 1947 my father returned to Zurich for the first time after the war, and Jung and my father resumed their contact. My parents along with all their students practiced the classical Jung approach to analysis. They continued to practice that way until their respective deaths in 1978 and 1989. Through a separate fund they began to bring students of Jung to Los Angeles from Zurich. For instance, M.L. von Franz came to lecture in 1953 at a time that she was not well known outside of Zurich. Many others from Zurich were sponsored in the decade of the 1950’s. The connection between Los Angeles and Zurich was extremely strong, and my parents for over thirty years went every year to Zurich for their own analysis with C.A. Meier and Liliane Frei.

As new developments occurred in psychotherapy some of the younger analysts wanted to incorporate these ideas into the classical Jungian model. My parents were not too pleased with these changes. They both continued to practice until ill health forced them to stop shortly before their deaths, my mother in 1978 and my father in 1989.

I finished my own training at the Jung Institute in San Francisco in 1968. I had been in Zürich in the summers of 1957 and 1958 and had experienced the rather quaint grouping around the very small Jung Institute. All the teachers and analysts were direct students of Jung, and Jung even came around from time to time. In San Francisco, the training was far more clinical, and the Jungian analysts were much integrated into the general psychotherapeutic and psychoanalytic community. There was much less social contact with one’s analyst, and I began to appreciate the separation of the professional and personal relationships. I had not seen that either in Zürich or in Los Angeles growing up. However, in 1968 there were still no separate Jungian schools such as developmental and classical. We were all more or less classical at that time, except for the group in London which was small in comparison to the rest of the Jungian world.

4. I imagine you had an interesting experience in Jung’s ideas today interviewing Jungian analysts from various parts of the world and different cultures for your book The Jungians, published in 2000. Could you tell us something about your experience?

By the time I was elected an officer in the IAAP in 1977 there was already a transition from the first generation of analysts who had worked with Jung to the next generation who had no direct connection to Jung. There were separate professional societies in many countries, and tensions were beginning to arise within individual societies.. The first society to split was the Italian, but then over the years many others have split. That has been the norm.

I spent 12 years as a vice president, and I watched how things were developing. I became president in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell in Eastern Europe, and when analytical psychology was becoming popular in Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Korea, and many other countries. How Jungian analysis was practiced in all these countries was different. Because of the different political and cultural situation in each country, some practiced on the model of a private practice, others in government run clinics, others in government psychiatric hospitals, so that what constituted Jungian practice was markedly different in each country. How “Jungian" everyone was differed greatly in each country and within each country. By this time the developmental model from London had been influential in a number of other professional Jungian societies, transgressions between patient and analyst had been too frequent, and many changes were taking place in the general field of analytical psychology.

The early classical Jungians had emphasized dream interpretation and active imagination which included amplification of archetypal imagery there was less emphasis on early development and transference interpretation. By 1989 the boundary violations which had injured a number of patients as well as the analysts meant that the discussion and interpretation of transference issues as well as emphasis on developmental issues in childhood had generally gained in importance in Jungian analytic work.

By the time my term as president of the IAAP had finished in 1995 there were people coming from all continents including Eastern Europe, China, South Africa, etc. the official Jungian membership had grown to over 2300 members by that time. How Jungian psychology and analysis was practiced in these different countries was very different. One could legitimately ask what holds all these people together who can then call themselves Jungian? That is a question that I attempted to answer in my book The Jungians. It has something to do with the role of spirit and meaning that all of us are seeking in our own individual ways. That is a very broad answer, but I think it is beyond the scope of this interview to go into more detail. On this open ended answer I would like to end this interview.

Dear Tom, I thank you very much for your contribution and your ideas. I am sure the IAAP membership will profit much for this interview. You gave us a broad view of the deep influence world over of the creative genius of C.G.Jung.