The Enduring Controversy Around Carl Jung

Joseph Dana
6 min readJun 10, 2022

I received an interesting email from a reader following my last newsletter on Active Imagination. The reader thanked me for sharing my journey but said, “this should be noted and faced.” He linked to an article about Sabina Spielrein, one of Carl Jung’s famous patients with whom he had a controversial and unethical relationship. The Nazis later killed Spielrein, and the linked article claims that Jung and Sigmud Freud stole her groundbreaking ideas on psychoanalysis while she was his student. It’s a wild story that was made into a feature film in 2011, starring Kiera Knightly as Spielrein (trailer below).

I don’t doubt the veracity of these claims of theft. I am sure that Jung and Freud stole ideas frequently throughout their careers. The practice of Active Imagination, as one example, wasn’t invented by Jung. He borrowed the technique from several ancient traditions. Isn’t there a great quote that goes, “good writers copy and great writers steal”?

By no means does this absolve Jung or Freud from stealing someone’s work, but the objection that I should highlight this footnote in a series about my personal journey into depth psychology got me thinking. As I briefly noted in the first piece of this series, I have always had a strange relationship with Jung, which was born out of my strained connection with Christian theology and the controversy of Jung’s antisemitism.

Was Carl Jung an antisemite?

Aryeh Maidenbaum, a Jewish Jungian analyst and director of the New York Center for Jungian Studies, wrote an excellent piece for Jewish Currents on the topic of Jung’s antisemitism. He notes that Freud embraced Jung’s gentile roots because he thought it would expand the nascent field of psychoanalysis beyond the cloistered milieu of Jews in Freud’s circle. The claims against Jung of antisemitism began to bubble after Jung and Freud famously split. When the Nazis rose to power, Jung accepted the presidency of the German General Medical Society for Psychotherapy.

Joseph Dana