A Dangerous Method Seen From A Jungian Ecopsychological Perspective, Even
Dennis L. Merritt, Ph.D., Jungian Analyst, Ecopsychologist
The film A Dangerous Method is remarkable in its presentation of the early days of the psychoanalytic movement that was to revolutionize our understanding of the human psyche. Superb acting dramatizes the relationship between two giants of the psychoanalytic world, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the struggle between them that led to a painful split still reverberating through their two schools of thought over 100 years later. Sabina Spielrein, a former Jewish patient with whom Jung was to have an intimate relationship, functions in the archetypal feminine role of Eve in painfully forcing the raising of male consciousness through the discovery of countertransference. She became the seed of Jung's concept of the archetype of the soul, the anima or inner feminine in a man. Other significant elements in the film include the powerful role of sex in life and in the therapeutic environment, the the midlife crisis, the association experiment, and the issue the “Jewish” and the “Christian” cultural unconscious. As a Jungian analyst and ecopsychologist, I see in Sabina Spielrein as portrayed in A Dangerous Method as the catalyst that eventually led Jung to believe that a strong emergence of archetypal feminine energy in Western culture is the most important element in a needed paradigm shift. He called the shift a “New Age” and the “Age of Aquarius,” a shift with important ecological implications.
Why the Method was Dangerous
The beginning of psychoanalysis was particularly dangerous because it blew the lid off a culture trapped in a repressive Victorian worldview. Following Freud's initial exploration of the unconscious using cocaine and hypnosis, he developed a revolutionary approach called “the talking cure” which encouraged patients to tell their thoughts and fantasies to an analyst. What is repressed ultimately turns against us in a negative form, and what Freud discovered was the results of centuries of repression in our Judeo-Christian culture of powerful instinctual drives, especially sexuality. The material was so shocking Freud called it “the seething caldron of the Id,” full of animalistic drives, barbaric behavior, and childish immaturity, as he saw it.
While Freud was analyzing privately and primarily with sexually repressed and abused Viennese women, Jung, 19 years Freud's junior, began working in the world-renowned Burgholzli clinic in Zurich in 1900, the year Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams based on approximately 13 years of developing his methods and concepts. Eugene Bleuler, the chief at Burgholzli, insisted doctors live on the grounds of the cantonal mental institution, as depicted in Method, eat with the patients, and speak in their dialect. (Ellenberger 1970, p. 666, 667) Because of Jung's background, described in his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he was particularly good at relating to schizophrenics and published an important paper on the topic. This, together with his development of the association experiment, convinced Jung their was an unconscious and led to his meeting with Freud.