Profiles in Jungian-Christian Dialogue:
John Costello - DVD and CD (transcript online below)

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Profiles in Jungian-Christian Dialogue: John Costello. 26 Minutes

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Christianity has a tremendous need for a psychology like Jung's, and the wide-spread interest on the part of Christians in his psychology can be taken as a recognition of that fact. But the Jungian-Christian dialogue has been going on for more than 40 years and something keeps it from flourishing. In this series of profiles we are going to meet people involved in different facets of this dialogue, try to discover what is happening in it today, and what hopes there are for it in the future.

In this video we are in London, England, visiting John Costello, both a Jungian analyst and a practicing Catholic. He is very concerned with how religious belief relates to Jungian psychology. Since there were only a few analysts who felt a religious attitude was important, he started a special training group a few years ago to train analysts who were interested in the interface between religion and psychology.

Format: straight interview

John Costello's e-mail address is:

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Online Transcript:

Jim: Christianity has a tremendous need for a psychology like Jung’s, and the wide-spread interest on the part of Christians in his psychology can be taken as a recognition of that fact. But the Jungian-Christian dialogue has been going on for more than 40 years, and something keeps it from flourishing. In this series of profiles we are going to meet people involved in different facets of this dialogue, and try to discover what is happening in it today, and what hopes there are for it in the future.

Today we are in London to meet John Costello.

John Costello: I think it is fair to say that I never chose to be a Jungian analyst. I came to Jungian analysis as someone in need of help, and at that time of my life I was in utter confusion on a whole lot of fields, but mainly in the area of what I would now describe as spiritual. I came into Jungian analysis, and for me it was like a duck discovering water for the first time. There was a completely natural affinity between my own dispositions and my own interaction with sort of my own psyche and unconscious. From there it went on to my becoming a Jungian analyst and bringing with me my own Catholicism. It also sort of became a real sort of subject of interest, and a personal sort of development and the like in a big way, so I carry all that sort of religious belief, religious background into Jungian analysis.

Once I had qualified as a Jungian analyst I set up practice in the normal way, and then people started coming to see me, males and females, believers, non-believers, and whatever, but after some time it became obvious that a certain segment of people were coming to see me because I was a Catholic, I was a believer, I was a Christian. They very definitely wanted something that someone who at least understood what they believed in, and they also wanted to discover how that related to their own inner workings, is the only way I could describe it. Sometimes you discover that the problem was to do with their own psychological make-up. Other times you discover that their understanding of what they thought that they believed, or what they believed was not at all very clear, or they had put some type of a slant on it that was not really in line with their beliefs. And certainly on other occasions it would be the case of it not being in line with their own psychological dispositions. So you had a very interesting type of dynamic emerging. On the one hand you had a belief that was not fitting into a psychological disposition, or on the other hand, you had a psychological disposition that was having great difficulty in grasping the depth, the significance, the meaning, the value of the religious belief. And that where it started to arise. And there were a small number of us here in London who had that type of psychological disposition and belief, we were interested in it, and we found that there was always a problem in trying to find suitable therapists and analysts where this type of interaction could be successfully brought to some kind of conclusion. It was out of that, that need, that we decided to train some individuals along those lines who would spot and be aware of the need for that interface between the psychological on the one hand, and the religious on the other hand. So it required, in psychological terminology, quite a sort of important commitment to what Jung called the religious attitude, and I think that is probably where the two coincide. The person of religion needs a religious attitude. The person who is committed to the whole idea of depth psychology and the unconscious also needs a religious attitude, and my belief is that the two are very closely interconnected, possibly even the same. I wouldn’t be at all too sure, but I wouldn’t make that claim, but they certainly are very, very closely related. That’s where the overlap comes.

Trying to answer your question around what type of problems do we get presented by Catholics, and certainly I have come across, I could certainly say that these two that I am going to mention are definitely the most popular that I have come across, and the first one is this whole business of being oneself, and being selfish. And there is a real psychological problem around it nowadays because a lot of individuals seem to think that they have an identity, when in fact they are very busy looking for an identity, and in psychological terms we would talk about these people as people who do not have egos. Now there’s a serious problem here if they do not have an ego because I suppose the teaching would say that in order to be selfless you’ve got to sacrifice yourself. Now, how can you sacrifice something you have not got? It’s simply impossible. I think people get into tremendous amounts of confusion through sacrificing something that they haven’t got. I don’t know what they end up sacrificing. I would hesitate even to call it sacrifice, but you can certainly say that there is no transformation brought about in these individuals, nothing whatever. What the work of psychology is going to achieve is to give these individuals egos, give them a sense of themselves. If you have a sense of yourself, and a sense of who you are, then you might be able to get down to selfless. It’s really at that point that you probably link up your personality with your beliefs. There is a movement forward for progression and development, both psychologically and spiritually.

The other problem that I come across very often is somewhat linked to that, and that is the whole area of religious experience. I think that nowadays far more individuals have religious experience, but they actually don’t know that it is religious experience. I am reasonably good, myself, at sniffing out individuals where I think they may have had religious experience, and it is not easy to ask the question directly, but if you at it in some indirect ways, they will eventually, with great reluctance, and fear and trepidation, disclose that something quite important happened to them. But they are absolutely afraid that, first of all, you will say that it is insignificant, that it is rubbish, or you will just simply laugh at it. So when they tell me these things, I sort of listen very carefully, and if I sort of recognize what they are talking about, I usually tend to reach towards one of my books on the bookshelf, open it up and read something for them, and I ask them, "Is it something like that?" I would say in all cases where it has happened, it has come down to the fact that the individual has, in fact, had an experience of God. The first thing is they did not have the knowledge about these experiences, the second thing is neither did they have a terminology about these experiences, so I have to give them affirmation of what they have experienced, and also some type of terminology, and of course a much greater problem, which is how does that integrate in with their own sort of belief system, and their own religion. That is kind of left for a later stage. Trying to actually uncover that is a huge problem, and there seems to be a great reluctance on these individuals to bring these types of experiences to their clergyman, or even for their clergyman to listen to them with a degree of sensitivity and sympathy. Very often the clergyman doesn’t have that expertise and knowledge nowadays. It is certainly not available at parish level I think in most cases. They are more apt to be pushed aside. So for those types of individuals very often the only option is to come to someone like me and see if I can do something for them.

One of the frequently asked questions I get is, "Why did we have to, in fact, start such a training group?" Now the difficulty arose more from the type of person who came to see us because they often complained that they had great difficulty in finding therapists and analysts who could provide a sort of a dual track hearing for them. On the one side you had a kindly ear for their religious beliefs, and on the hand, you had an ear that sort of listened to the psychological side. What we discovered, a small group of us, indeed, a very small group here in London, was that we shared a common ground with that type of individual because we, as it were, provided a type of platform or meeting place for those two aspects to come together, and in which we were able to provide at least some resolution of the conflicts that arose between those two areas. I think it is quite important to emphasize that it is not everyone, or all Catholics, or all individuals who are interested in psychology, would have that type of conflict, but there is very definitely a type of individual which we identified who has got that type of need, and that type of individual would not tend to go to what I would call the straightforward psychologist, on the one hand, and on the other hand probably go for spiritual direction. They would need someone with the common ground of religion and psychology, and it is that type of individual that we have identified and it is that type of area that we also identified as not being catered for out there among people. So it is out of that type of thinking that we set up this small training group for individuals who are interested in that type of interface between religion and psychology, and who would want to know more in how to help that type of individual we have identified. It is out of that type of grouping that the training group started some 10 years ago, and we spent some 4 or 5 years trying to get our thinking right and planning it, and then 4 or 5 years ago we actually started the training, and it is now underway.

What is different from the other psychological trainings? It is quite difficult to actually put into words, but I’ll try, and probably it is better to talk about what people say about it rather than what we believe ourselves. One of the things that we are absolutely adamant on is that the training insists that the individuals have a really thorough psychological grounding. In other words, that they have a thorough experience of psyche, as much knowledge as is possible. We mainly follow, or exclusively follow, a sort of Jungian model of the psyche because we find that eminently suitable for our purposes. I think that it interlinks and interfaces with sort of the Christian spiritual traditions, and it is possible to make the links and identify sort of the common ground, and in some places the actual psychological-spiritual realities, and it is a question of how you look at these realities is what determines the type of terminology that you may use from time to time.

We also, I wouldn’t say give emphasis, but certainly there is complete space for individuals to sort of talk about their spiritual and religious beliefs. Earlier this year a woman came to see me, and she was doing psychotherapy training, and I was interviewing her for that training – it wasn’t for our own training – and one of her biggest regrets was, she says, "It is extremely difficult for me with my therapist to talk about anything religious, or to even talk about God."

In our particular training, there would be absolutely no problem with that. It would be a given. We wouldn’t even know what the problem was about if someone came saying I don’t think I can talk about God, or about my religion. It is a given. We accept it. There is certainly no attempt to sort of marginalize those types of beliefs, or those realities. There is no attempt to sort of trying to see them as compensations only. I always remember the woman who came to see me, and she says, "I believe in God, but you know, when you look at it psychologically, I don’t know whether it is a belief in God I am talking about, or whether God is just simply a compensation for a lot of other things in my life." That is precisely where we try to come in and try to help an individual, and I think it depends entirely how that individual believes in God. If they don’t believe in God, God just might be a compensation for an individual. So be it, but we are more or less interested in the individual who does believe in God, and how does it fit into the psychological make-up of that individual, and it is that type of thing, that subtle interaction all the time, because there is an awful lot of sort of neurotic reactions to this interface between the psychological and the religious because very often individuals hide behind, as it were, their religious belief. And sometimes, where there is a very strong religious belief, it in fact can be seen as militating against both the psychological and spiritual development of the individual. So in other words, I wouldn’t say that as a group interested in psychology that we would always be staving up what you would call the alleged religious belief of the individual. We would at least try to get at what the subjective truth is for that individual. It is a very, very interesting area the extent to which people use religion as an escape rather than as a means of development for themselves. That is probably one of the more subtle areas that you have to get involved in where people of strong religious disposition would invoke all sorts of religious beliefs against what is brought up psychologically. Obviously in the end those two can be brought together, but at the point I am describing now, there is a huge problem that is very difficult because it looks as if in the polarity of that it asks, is the psychology right, or is the religion right? Which one is it? Strictly speaking, it doesn’t have to come to that, but to try and help the individual through that is a massive problem. But it is possible. It’s that type of area that we try to get into. It doesn’t mean that sort of the normal sort of areas of psychological problems that any type of individual would have would thereby get neglected. No. We would deal with those as a matter of routine, and that is why we insist that the psychological grounding of our trainees is sort of impeccable so they can deal with any sort of psychological problems, and psychological problems insofar as they effect or are effected by the religious dimension, or the dimensions of religion, and vice versa. What we are saying is that we would train to the level of normal psychological problems plus a special emphasis on the problems arising out of religious beliefs, religious experience, and a sort of philosophical and theological position.

The question of whether the training we offer at the present time could be of any use to people involved in the art of spiritual directing raises quite an interesting question. I don’t think I can answer the question directly, but what I can tell you what has happened over the years, and over the years I have had many requests from individuals, priests, nuns, lay people, who have been trained in spiritual direction, and what they have come to realize in the course of acting as spiritual directors is that they possibly need some further deepening and understanding of individuals, and that aspect that they feel is missing very often is the psychological dimension. While they have been trained for the spiritual dimension of the individual, as it were, they need further training, understanding and know-how of the psychological because successful spiritual direction doesn’t seem to be possible without some sort of development and understanding of the psychological. These types of individuals who reach that particular point of understanding, say that they need a further understanding and a deeper understanding of the psychological so that they can bring those two together as they meet them in individuals. For that type of individual this type of training and the type of therapist we would produce would be extremely useful and helpful to that type of spiritual director, so there definitely would be something to offer. How much, I think, depends on the actual need of that spiritual director. I don’t think I can go any further on that one at the moment because that’s more or less where it stands at present. It is more on an individual sort of basis of individual spiritual directors seeking requirement rather than the groups that train individuals, that train spiritual directors. I can’t speak of anything in that area, but individual spiritual directors, yes.

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