Guild of Pastoral Psychology (Edinburgh Group) pulic lecture

with Craig Stephenson

DATE: Friday 17th November

Possession is the linchpin of Jung's analytical psychology. In his Collected Works, possession forms the throughline, from his 1902 dissertation for his medical degree to an essay completed shortly before his death in 1961, in which he recommends to psychologists the practice of placing classical case histories of possession in a parallel and analogous relationship to contemporary secularized cases of psychopathology. Possession is the concept with which he formulates ideas about the dynamic between an ego consciousness and an autonomous unconscious, with which he conveys phenomenologically the power of neurotic and psychotic symptoms.

We will reconnect Jung's concept of possession to its etymology - to the forceful image of selfhood sitting in its own seat, and of the suffering inherent when selfhood experiences itself as unseated by something Other-and to its basis in the Western history of religion. Focusing on a particularly famous case of possession in seventeenth-century France, we will examine how theorizing about possession in Europe changes over the subsequent four hundred years and situate Jung's concept within this historical continuum.

Weekend workshop for psychotherapists, counsellors and other health care professionals

DATES: 18th - 19th November

On Saturday, we will look at how anthropology and psychoanalysis parted ways and why anthropological argument criticizes Jung. We will consider examples from the rich anthropological literature on possession, and I will propose Jung's concept of possession as a bridge with which to facilitate a rapprochement between psychoanalysis, psychology and anthropology. We will also examine the recent introduction of possession as a mental disorder into the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual (DSM). I will align Jung's concept of possession with contemporary critiques of Western psychiatry by medical anthropologist Roland Littlewood and transcultural psychiatrist Laurence Kirmayer. Like Littlewood and Kirmayer, I will argue that the West overvalues the coherence which it reads in psychiatry's discourse. I will suggest that Jung's concept of possession critiques notions of personhood as firmly and singularly defined by consciousness and posits a much more fluid, pluralistic and embodied notion of what it signifies to 'sit in one's own seat'.

On Sunday, we will situate Jung's concept of possession in his practice of psychotherapy and compare his theorizing within this context to other practitioners who employ complementary concepts. We will consider how Jung's concept of possession renders coherent contemporary psychotherapeutic techniques such as containment/ temenos, personification/mimesis, and synthesis without betraying the ontological paradox at the centre of these practices. I will defend Jung's concept from academic and clinical prejudices which denigrate it as esoteric, and I will differentiate it from practices which employ possession within a system of belief. We will consider a few clinical examples in light of the weekend's discussions.

By setting history, anthropology, psychiatry and psychotherapy side by side, by attempting an interdisciplinary synthesis of a sampling of the diverse material on possession, we will work towards assessing and evaluating Jung's concept of possession with questions such as 'How valid is his formulation?', and, more pragmatically, 'What is it good for?'


Craig Stephenson trained at the C.G. Jung Institute Zürich. Canadian by birth, he has lived and worked in Canada and England, and now lives in France with a private practice in Paris.

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