Christian Roesler

Current Emotion Theories and Analytical Psychology

As the concept of archetypes can be called the core concept of analytical psychology, which distinguishes it from other schools of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, the confusion about the definition is an intolerable situation. There is a strong need to redefine and reconceptualize archetype theory, so that analytical psychology can make use of a generally accepted theory, which is in accordance with contemporary insights in other disciplines, namely biology, genetics, psychology, anthropology, cultural studies and the neurosciences.

The presentation will provide a detailed description of the confusion around the definition of the term archetype, on the one hand by referring to comments in the published literature, Jung’s own definitions and explanations of the concept in his published works, on the other hand by referring to the results of a survey in Jungian scholars, where highly problematic and contradictory conceptualizations are continued to the present day.

As a solution for this problem the author argues that Jung‘s conceptualization of archetype theory is not one coherent theory, but contains four different theories which have to be clearly separated from each other: there is a theory of biologically/genetically inherited mental capacities; an anthropological theory about human universals, e.g. in mythology, religious ideas, social practices etc.; there is a transcendental theory, which draws on philosophical traditions (e.g. Kant, Plato) and attempts to situate archetypes in a transpersonal sphere - connected with ideas about synchronicity and the unus mundus; finally, there is a theory about a universal process of psychological transformation which takes place in life as well as in psychotherapy, and this idea is of major importance for Jung‘s approach to psychotherapy. The last part could also be called the core theory of analytical psychology, and a large part of Jung‘s works deals with the attempt to draw a map of this process, hence his studies in alchemy, religion, mythology etc.

Based on this differentiation the state-of-the-art in the respective disciplines will be analyzed in detail. This aims at clarifying the assumptions and claims that were continued in archetype theory since Jung’s days. The findings from biology/human genetics/evolutionary psychology regarding innate mental patterns are presented in detail, as well as the findings from anthropology regarding universals, the findings from religious studies regarding universal ideas, from paleoanthropology/prehistory regarding archaic religious practices etc. Based on these findings it can be argued that the majority of Jung‘s claims of the universality of certain human patterns, religious ideas etc. cannot be supported. It can even be demonstrated that some of the major archetypes which Jung himself described in detail, namely the idea of a great mother, of rebirth etc. are in fact not universal but can be traced back in history to their places of origin.

The investigation also demonstrates that racist ideas in the sense of colonial thinking, the idea that the mentality of the so-called primitives is inferior to that of the so-called civilized nations, is deeply woven into Jung‘s thought.

Based on these detailed analyses it is proposed to give up on the biological and anthropological argumentations contained in classic archetype theory, as it can be demonstrated that they are largely refuted or at least are not backed by evidence from the relevant disciplines. As a solution the author argues that analytical psychology should reduce its archetype concept to the last of the above-mentioned parts of the theory, that is the idea of a universal process of psychological transformations which provides a map for psychotherapy.

The aim is, in any case, not to destroy archetype theory, but instead to put it on a firm scientific base which is in line with contemporary insights in the respective disciplines. The attempt is to formulate a reconceptualized and coherent theory of archetypes/the collective unconscious on the background of the insights in the disciplines mentioned above, a coherent and generally acceptable theory of archetypes for the 21 st century.


Prof. Dr. Dipl.-Psych. Christian Roesler is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences in Freiburg/D, lecturer of Analytical Psychology at the University of Basel/CH. Jungian psychoanalyst in private practice in Freiburg and member of the faculty of the C. G. Jung-Institutes in Stuttgart and Zurich. Specializations in work with couples and families, interpretive research methods. Research and publications on: Analytical Psychology and contemporary sciences, couple counselling, postmodern identity construction, narrative research, media psychology.


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