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Dehing, J. (1994). Containment - an Archetype? Meaning of madness in Jung and Bion. J. Anal. Psychol., 39(4):419-461.

(1994). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 39(4):419-461

Containment - an Archetype? Meaning of madness in Jung and Bion

Jef Dehing, M.D.

Our body formed from matter, our soul gazing toward the heights, are joined into a single living organism.

(C.G. Jung, The Zofingia Lectures § 142)

Can live since we are lived, the powers That we create with are not ours.

(W.H. Auden, ‘New Year Letter’)

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind

Cannot bear very much reality.

(T.S. Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’, Four Quartets


The constitution of the human psyche, founded on its archetypal basis, has been one of Jung's main concerns in his work. In particular he studied the phenomenological aspects of this ‘individuation process’, thereby stressing the ubiquitousness of the archetypal images. Psychotic disease was considered to be the consequence of an engulfment of ego-consciousness by archetypal forces.

Jung frequently stressed the containing function of the archetypal structure, and the necessity for ego-consciousness to keep in touch with it. On the other hand he also emphasized the importance of the containing function of ego-consciousness: he even states that the archetype is dependent on the ego for its very existence. But he is less explicit about the genetic aspects of this subtle interaction: how does psychic development come into being in childhood, and how does the psychotherapeutic situation get it going again when it has been deadlocked?

In this paper I shall try to approach these questions, introducing the difficult problem of psychosis as a contrapuntal subject.

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