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Jungian Analysis and the 11th Step

woman after learning about Jungian analysis

The 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous reads, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out.” Although this is the step that affords the greatest opportunity for long-term spiritual growth, few 12 steppers take full advantage of it. If Bill W likened AA to a spiritual kindergarten, then the 11th step is what enables us to progress through the grades; it brings the recovering alcoholic into a deeper and more expansive understanding of God and the spiritual world. But are there still other means, beyond the traditional paths of prayer and meditation, to become more conscious? Contact our outpatient addiction treatment center to learn more.

Carl Jung was asked many times over the course of his long life what his conception of God was. Jung usually replied in a way that strongly suggested that, for him, God was an experience, something that happened to him. Most 12 steppers can relate to this. Frequently, they begin the recovery process hung up on notions of belief, faith, and atheism. Jung would agree with those 12 steppers who tend to see the struggle with belief to be really about control. Simply put, the ego wants to remain at the helm. The step process can be likened to what Jung called the “religious encounter.” The idea of God, coupled with the reality of addiction, challenges the addict to radically re-think his ideas of himself, the world, and others. The question of God appears just as the addict finally admits that he is powerless.

This means that, ideally, the 11th step should lead the addict down paths that challenge the illusion of control that characterizes ego consciousness. Practices such as meditation, contemplative prayer, and yoga can do this. However, with time and repetition, even those practices can be co-opted by the ego, meaning that they can become tools of ego enhancement. For example, if one meditates to become a more efficient executive or practices yoga to get a hot body, then the spiritual value of these practices has been lost. Jungian analysis, however, is designed to continually expand consciousness. And it is a process that necessarily involves suffering as it brings that analysand into a new and conscious relationship with his/her shadow. It is not – and cannot be turned into – another means of self-improvement or problem-solving. One could say that when a person enters analysis, he is willingly embarking upon a journey of “continuous religious encounter.” This does not mean that analysis is a new form of religion; rather, it is a unique practice that involves a deliberate engagement with the unconscious (which Jung contends is ultimately spiritual in nature).

In analysis, one learns to work with dreams and imagination. Jungian practices bring the analysand into a relationship with the psyche or soul. It can be of great benefit to have already established a meditative or contemplative practice prior to embarking upon analysis. Those skills can be of great help when learning to pay attention to the psyche. In any case, work with the unconscious always challenges the false hegemony of the ego. This ongoing process is what expands consciousness. One slowly cultivates a perspective that includes the ego but is not dominated by it.

Therapy has always been a touchy subject in the 12 Step world. Some believe that the steps render the need for therapy superfluous; others think that the need for therapy is evidence that one has not practiced the steps properly. However, over the last few years, we have seen a deep hunger and longing for something more in recovery, something beyond, or in addition to, the traditional AA/NA 12 step program. For many, analysis has proven to be a means of enlarging and amplifying one’s step experience. It can bring one to a new place, a new crossroads where one can again have a fresh experience of God.

Medical Reviewer Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Medically Reviewed by Kate Perfetti, LADC II

Kate is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked in the field of substance abuse for the last nine years. At Rockland Recovery, Kate works to provide resources to the local community and engage and progress Rockland Recovery’s alumni program.


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