Who was Carl Jung, and what does he have to do with Alcoholics Anonymous?
Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who originated the idea of psychoanalysis and, quite accidentally, contributed to development of Alcoholics Anonymous. It began in 1931 when he accepted a young American in his Zurich clinic for treatment of alcoholism. The man, Rowland Hazard, had so damaged his life and career with drinking that he traveled to Switzerland to consult the famous Dr. Jung for a cure.
Hazard placed himself under Dr. Jung’s care for a year, during which they met in the doctor’s consulting room several times a week. At the end of that time, Dr. Jung regretfully told Hazard that he could offer no further help. The patient needed more than medical or psychiatric treatment to recover from his alcoholism said the doctor. Jung told him that he needed some sort of spiritual conversion. According to Jung, conversions were rare, but when they did occur the alcoholics were able to stop drinking.
Hazard returned to the U.S., still desperate for a cure and looking for help. He joined the Oxford Group, a spiritual organization that originated in England but found American roots in Akron, Ohio. The Oxford Group, a precursor to A.A., stated that it had “no hierarchy, no temples, no endowments, no salaried workers, no plans but God’s plan.” These became the principles of A.A. when it branched off from the Oxford Group in the 1930s. The singular goal of the A.A. program was to help alcoholics get sober.
Hazard met Bill Wilson, A.A, co-founder at Oxford Group meetings in Akron where they both became active members and gave up alcohol for good. Later, Bill wrote a letter to Dr. Jung, emphasizing that Jung’s influence on Hazard played “a critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.”
Dr. Jung responded that he’d had many experiences with men of Rowland’s type. “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness.” He added that a spiritual conversion can happen “only when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding…I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community.”
The path to which Dr. Jung referred was the “Higher Power” described by A.A. founders—a term now in common use. The twelve-step program of A.A. asserts that belief in a Higher Power and unselfish dedication to others are required to achieve freedom from alcohol.