Cultural Psychotherapy

Following from comments in response to my last blog…

The idea of repression is not new. Neither is that of the psychotherapy that can help bring repressed material into consciousness where, the idea is at least, it can be addressed.

But what happens to repressed material that belongs to an entire culture, to a whole society of people? How can that be worked with?

Jung – who has cropped up a couple of times there in the comments – wrote an essay in 1936 called “Wotan”. It predicted the rise of the Germanic hero myth in northern European culture and warned that unless a symbolic way could be found to acknowledge and engage this story, then it would emerge in the literal world as ‘Ragnorak’ – the war at the end of the world.

His essay was largely ignored at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s a bit of a stunner.

So what repressed myth is emerging now, from our contemporary culture? What are the symptoms? And what are they symptomatic of?

How do we engage psychotherapy across an entire culture, especially one that has become globalised. Is this even possible? To what extent is psychotherapy bound to the idea of the individual itself? Entwined with the very thing that is making our culture sick in the first place.

David Key


  1. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around Jung’s work but from a slightly different perspective, from the Christian part of our cultural background, I sometimes wonder if we see ourselves as a type of collective “prodigal son”. We are merrily burning our way through our “inheritance” of natural resources with the assumption that when we run out we can always “run home” and there will be plenty of fatted calves and full cupboards for us to continue to live off. We can then happily relinquish responsibility for our situation to some mythical parental figure. Perhaps the real life equivalent is awaiting some new wonder technology that will magically expand our resource capacities again, the idea of which fuels the denial that we have pretty much already blown our entire inheritance and we have nowhere to run to.
    I wonder if we can only work on these things at the individual level but if enough of us push ourselves to develop personally and go through the “growing up” process from consequence ignoring adolescent, to aware and self regulating adult, then as a group our average level of development rises. Then, perhaps, as a nation or culture we move forward into more adult ways of viewing and controlling our behaviours and attitudes to our environment.
    This is all just opinion of course, but thinking these things reflects why I’ve found your projects so intriguing :-)

  2. “…making our culture sick in the first place.” Wotan reflected the expression of sick society and a Nazi sympathizer (which Jung was most certainly).

    • Whether or not Jung was a Nazis sympathiser is conjecture. I respect your opinion… but I don’t agree with it. I wonder what you base your comment on?

  3. Quite often, tender qualities are shoved away in the shadow because it hasn’t felt safe to express them. This can show up as a yearning for something that has been lost – a feeling of incompleteness or inauthenticity.

    I think there might be signs of this in our culture. For example, in the 1980s it would have been seen as a bit pathetic to talk publicly about compassion.

    But in the last year, a public talk by the Dalai Lama in Dundee was sold out within an hour of the tickets going on sale. And Harry Burns the chief medical officer in Scotland made compassion the focus of a recent speech.

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