Brian Scannell

Helping Teens Navigate the Necessary Spiritual Crises of Adolescence through a Jungian-inspired Curricula

For the past seven years I have been designing curricula that focuses on helping teens navigate the threshold crossing of adolescence, leaning heavily on the pioneering work of Carl Jung.  This curriculum uses myth, fairy tales and art to provide critical context for teens to understand their struggles and emotional upheavals as well as projects designed to help develop their symbolic and intuitive thinking—crucial ingredients in their spiritual development.  This lecture will offer an overview of the curricula complete with examples of student work as well as a deeper exploration of why Jungian ideas are so desperately needed during this critical stage of development.

We are living in the midst of a global spiritual crisis, and among the victims, none are perhaps more tragic than our teenagers.  The tumult of coming of age stirs up a flurry of activity in the unconscious of teens, but to their detriment, the societies in which they live offer them little if any help in understanding these messages and the complex emotions that this perilous threshold crossing calls forth. This neglect has very tangible consequences that have manifested in dramatic spikes in teen depression, anxiety and suicide.

Jungian ideas and concepts that seem to resonate most with high school students are persona, the shadow, and dream interpretation. I speculate that the appeal lies in the fact that each gives teenagers language to name and understand spiritual truths that are beginning to emerge during this stage of development. Popular culture is a great window into what matters to teenagers. The Korean pop-band BTS is widely popular, and their recent album Persona: Map of the Soul explores the concept of persona. Black Mirror is a Netflix series that explores our collective shadow and is also extremely popular with teens. Introducing high school students to concepts like the shadow and persona help them begin to grapple with who they are, and more to the point, who they are not. When I introduce dream interpretation, students are often stunned to discover that their dreams carry meaning. Students learn the rudiments of dream interpretation in conjunction with books that highlight dreams like Gilgamesh and Demian by Hermann Hesse.

In conclusion, high school students are in desperate need of curricula that helps them make sense of the rich spiritual life that emerges during adolescence. The ideas of Jung offer just the right psychological aid for teenagers. If these spiritual needs continue to be neglected by our educational institutions, the march toward wholeness will certainly be longer and more fraught for our future generations.


Brian Scannell grew up in Georgia. From a young age he felt the pull of an artistic life but found few outlets for his creativity in his surroundings. He graduated with a degree in English literature from Montana State University in 2000. His first job was as an outdoor school teacher in Houston working with underserved communities. In 2003 he moved to Portland, Oregon and took a job with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. He also worked for two semesters as the staff photographer on Semester at Sea, a unique college campus that circumnavigates the globe. In 2009 he moved to Amman, Jordan and worked as a journalist and photographer. He earned his Master’s in Teaching from the University of Puget Sound in 2015 and has been a high school teacher ever since. He was introduced to Carl Jung in his first year of teaching as he prepared a unit on the hero’s journey. Two years’ ago, he transitioned from public school to working at a Waldorf school in upstate New York.


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