Lets Ask Bill W.
Question & Answer # 34
What contribution did Dr. Carl Jung make to A.A.?
Few people know that the first taproot of A.A. hit paydirt some thirty years ago in a physicians office. Dr. Carl Jung, that great pioneer in psychiatry was talking to an alcoholic patient. This is in effect what happened:
The patient, a prominent American businessman, had gone the typical alcoholic route. He had exhausted the possibilities of medicine and psychiatry in the United States and had then come to Dr. Jung as to a court of last resort. Carl Jung had treated him for a year and the patient, whom we shall call Mr. R., felt confident that the hidden springs underneath his compulsion to drink had been discovered and removed. Nevertheless, he found himself intoxicated within a short time after leaving Dr. Jung’s care.
Now he was back, in a state of black despair. He asked Dr. Jung what the score was, and he got it. In substance, Dr. Jung said, “For some time after you came here, I continued to believe that you might be one of those rare cases who could make a recovery. But I must now frankly admit that I have never seen a single case recover through the psychiatric art where the neurosis is so severe as yours. Medicine has done all that it can for you, and that’s where you stand.”
Mr. R’s depression deepened. He asked, “Is there no exception, is this really the end of the line for me?”
“Well,” replied the doctor, “There are some exceptions, a very few. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some emotional rearrangement within you. With many types of neurotics, the methods which I employ are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description.”
“But,” protested the patient, “I’m a religious man, and I still have faith.”
To this Dr. Jung replied, “Ordinary religious faith isn’t enough. What I’m talking about is a transforming experience, a conversion experience, if you like. I can only recommend that you place yourself in the religious atmosphere of your own choice, that you recognize your own hopelessness, and that you cast yourself upon whatever God you think there is. The lightning of the transforming experience may then strike you. This you must try – it is your only way out.” So spoke the great and humble physician.
For the A.A.-to-be, this was a ten strike. Science had pronounced Mr. R. virtually hopeless. Dr. Jung’s words had struck him at great depth, producing an immense deflation of his ego. Deflation at depth is today a cornerstone principle of A.A. There in Dr. Jung’s office it was first employed on our behalf.
The patient, Mr. R., chose the Oxford Groups of that day as his religious association and atmosphere. Terribly chastened and almost helpless, he began to be active with them. To his intense joy and astonishment, the obsession to drink presently left him.
Returning to America, Mr. R. came upon an old school friend of mine, a chronic alcoholic. This friend – whom we shall call Ebby – was about to be committed to a State Hospital. At this juncture another vital ingredient was added to the synthesis. Mr. R., the alcoholic, began talking to Ebby, also an alcoholic and a kindred sufferer. This made for identification at depth, a second cardinal principle. Over this bridge of identification, Mr. R. passed Dr. Jung’s verdict of how hopeless, medically and psychiatrically, most alcoholics were. He then introduced Ebby to the Oxford Groups where my friend promptly sobered up. (N.Y. City Med. Soc. Alcsm., April 28, 1958)