Dr. James Hollis: The 21st Century’s Most Prominent Jungian

When many of us think about psychology, one of the first names that comes to mind is Sigmund Freud. The seminal psychologist and researcher was responsible for reinventing the world of psychology, transforming it from a disreputable and foolish science (in the opinions of his then colleagues) to one of the most influential scientific ideas in modern history. Sigmund’s work earned him the nickname “the Father of Psychoanalysis” after his predominant field of work, psychoanalysis or talking therapy. 

Sigmund Freud trained many other psychologists in his wake, but one in particular he saw as the heir of his work and the next great name in psychoanalysis. Carl Jung began studying under Freud in 1906, and the two researched and learned alongside each other for the next six years. The two of them advanced some of the newest and fundamental conceptions of the psyche and the self, but in 1912 over fundamental differences in certain conceptions of the unconscious mind, Jung branched out on his own and began developing his seminal theory of the collective unconscious and analytical psychology.

Analytical psychology remains the theory that Jung is most known for. The branch encompasses empirical research into the psyche and involved clinical research and exploration of thought and feelings. Jung was also the first to advance an ethical code for psychologists, writing that he considered it “a moral obligation not to make assertions about things one cannot see or whose existence cannot be proved.” This quote would inspire and drive the work of Jung’s most famous modern disciple, Dr. James Hollis.

Dr. James Hollis’s Background and Education

Born in Springfield, Illinois, Dr. James Hollis graduated from Manchester University in 1962 and Drew University in 1967 with degrees in psychology and other humanities before teaching for over two decades in humanity fields. In 1977, Dr. Hollis trained at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland and is currently a licensed Jungian analyst in Washington D.C., having served as the director or president of many Jungian boards, foundations, and educational centers. Dr. Hollis was inspired by the work of Carl Jung largely because he felt drawn to the therapeutic and scientific pursuits of the researcher.

Carl Jung’s work looked to explore the mind in a holistic and honest way, observing the lived experiences of individuals and helping individuals sort through their own experiences while understanding what symbolism or relevance they might hold. Hollis worked heavily with Jung’s archetype theory, looking at the factors that shape universal narratives, myths, and other cultural phenomena that shape our personal experiences and our larger human experiences. 

Dr. James Hollis’s Practice

Hollis’s work is known for being refreshingly, brutally, and painstakingly honest. His trademark bracing, no-punches-pulled observations about the world reflect the honest analysis of empirical evidence that his scientific forefather, Jung, so often championed. The most important part of Hollis’s belief system is that the modern world is increasingly dangerous and perilous; in essence, what we have today is not working for us. He writes in response to the modern world:

On a collective level, our culture’s treatment plans for the absence of a personal, intimate relationship with the gods are materialism, hedonism, narcissism and nationalism, as well as a coursing nostalgia for a world that never really existed. Our contemporary Odysseys are redirected to the Apple Store, the palliative pharmacy, or forays along the River Amazon Prime. Guided by Google, whereby all things are knowable, we wonder why we are so absent-spirited, so lost, and so adrift. We may say that these secular surrogates, these ‘isms,’ constitute our values, our de facto religions, those in which we most invest our energies. But we have to ask the obvious question, ‘How well are they working for us?’

The obvious answer to that question according to Hollis’s work is, this is not working for us. The state of the modern world is causing more anxiety, more depression, more unhealthy coping mechanisms, and more damage to our collective psyches, both consciously and unconsciously. Perhaps worse, in growing numbers, people are simply not dealing with their problems. In his popular book “Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves,” Hollis observes: “It is much easier to deny, blame others, project elsewhere, or bury it and just keep on rolling.”

In the wake of the pandemic, Hollis notes that things have gotten even worse. He sees productivity and motivation in steep decline, a sense of oppression and heaviness among clients, and a growing disorientation from people that cannot find their purpose when the world has changed. 

Even before the pandemic, Hollis was noticing these trends, and it led him to write one of his most popular books, “Living Between Worlds,” as well as numerous other pieces that deal with the fear and lethargy that consume our lives. On the disorientation and oppression he notices in the world, Hollis writes-

It is troubling to me that so many of us, so many of our days, succumb to fear and lethargy. Some days we spend mindlessly distracted by the diversions of popular culture. Some days we are numbed by the press of duties, legitimate claims of work and relationship, and little is left over. Some days we simply forget to show up. But how are we to “show up,” and in service to what, remain compelling questions, and worthy of periodic reflection.

Hollis and Jungian Analysis

Hollis clings to Jungian analytic therapy because he sees it as the best way to treat the aimlessness and lethargy that are plaguing the world. Many of his clients are in their middle ages, about to be or newly retired, and facing a long period of their life in which they are completely uncertain of what comes next. Hollis’s famed book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life looks at the lessons he’s learned from treating these middle aged clients. He writes,

Of course as people age they can grow ever more cautious, timid, fearful, rigid, and resistant to change. We see that in the divisions which beset our country now. But it’s clear to me, and anyone who works with a psychodynamic perspective, that our psyche wishes to grow, to develop, to bring new things into the world … surely one of the most telling tests of our lives is whether we are living in a way which is driven more by challenge than by comfort, one which asks more of us than we had planned to offer.

And in his other seminal work, What Matters Most: Living A More Considered Life, he writes, 

It has become clear to me, for example, that aging itself does not bring wisdom. It often brings regression to childishness, dependency, and bitterness over lost opportunities. Only those who are still intellectually, emotionally, spiritually growing inherit the richness of aging.

The best (and worst) part of Dr. Hollis’s work according to many reviewers is that it is brutally honest. There is no pop-psychology, no “instant inner peace” and no expectations for immediate relief and improvement. “I like to quote Harry Truman,” Dr. Hollis says, “who said ‘I don’t give people hell, I just tell them the truth and they think it’s hell.’ Jungian flies in the face of … the whole self help industry.” Nothing about Hollis’s writing and work is necessarily easy to take in, but it is important. 

The type of reflection that Hollis is promoting is honest, radical, and groundbreaking work that asks people to re-examine their goals, their hopes, and their plans for themselves. The results of Hollis’s work is a painstaking but beautiful new view of life, one that incorporates honest observations about the world with an adjusted perspective and a new purpose: to move forward.

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