Aspen lecture deals with Jung, Alcoholics Anonymous

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – An analyst from the New Orleans area will provide a free lecture Friday in Aspen and conduct a professional workshop Saturday about the relationship between Jungian psychology and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

David E. Schoen, who has more than 30 years of experience as a counselor specializing in addiction, also has written a book on the topic. Published in 2009 by Spring Journal Inc., “The War of the Gods in Addiction” discusses correspondence between Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung and AA co-founder Bill Wilson back in 1930s and how the former might have influenced the latter.

“Being in the field, I saw how AA was helping people who previously weren’t being helped,” Schoen said in a recent Aspen Times interview. “And I began to ask, ‘What is it about AA that allows that to happen, and what is it countering in addiction?'”

Schoen explained that in Jungian psychology, negative and positive archetypes are commonly present in the human psyche. An archetype, in the world of Jung, is defined as an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic image derived from the past collective experience of humanity and present in the unconscious of the individual.

An example of a fictional character who represents an extreme negative archetypal figure might be the hitman Anton Chigurh in the 2007 film “No Country for Old Men,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Chigurh represented, and practiced, pure evil but wasn’t necessarily guided by the devil himself.

AA teaches that alcoholism and other addictions are essentially evil forces that can be overcome through the help of a higher power – chiefly God or some other positive spirit. In Jungian psychology, negative archetypes can be fought with the help of positive archetypes – and God (or some equivalent spirit) could fit the bill.

“I think there is this archetypal shadow in addiction that AA discovered through the help of Jung,” Schoen said. “You have to have the archetypally positive stuff to neutralize the archetypally negative stuff for a person to have a chance at recovery.” Before AA, he points out, treatments for alcoholism had a minuscule success rate.

He described the “archetypal shadow” as an impersonal phenomena that can be deadly. “When it comes into play, it can ultimately kill or destroy a person,” Schoen said.

In talking about addiction, he makes the diagnostic distinction between “abuse, experimentation, bad habits or obsessive-compulsive behavior” versus “a true addiction, which has the power to literally take over and control the person.”

Schoen stresses that “a psychological phenomena” is at play when it comes to any real addiction: alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, power, etc.

“My focus is on the psychological aspects of addiction, because I think that’s what gets shortchanged,” he said. “Everyone thinks we’re going to find a pill that cures alcoholism and drug abuse and stuff. I think those things can be helpful, but I don’t think that they address when there’s a psychological addiction.”

Both of Schoen’s events will be held in the Booz Allen Hamilton Room of the David H. Koch Building in the Aspen Meadows Resort near the city’s West End neighborhood. The Friday lecture starts at 7 p.m.; donations are appreciated, according to organizers.

Saturday’s workshop (which offers six continuing-education credits) runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and costs $99. For more information or to register, call 970-920-4705.

Also on Friday in the same building, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., mental health therapist Machiel Klerk will conduct a workshop on a way of working with dreams that is rooted in Jungian psychology. The cost is $99 and it offers six continuing-education credits. For more information or to register, call 801-656-8806.