Amplification in Jung’s Analytical Psychology

Amplification is a part of the method of interpreting Jung’s clinical and cultural material, especially dreams. Amplification involves the use of mythical, historical and cultural parallels in order to clarify, broaden and, so to speak, increase the volume of material that can be obscure, thin and difficult to deal with.

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Through  amplification , the analyst allows the patient to go beyond personal content to the broader implications of his material. Thus, the patient feels less alone and can locate his personal neurosis within the general suffering of humanity.

Amplification is also a means of demonstrating the validity of the concept of the collective unconscious . Jung’s initial understanding of the collective unconscious was that it consisted of primordial images that were, to a large extent, consistent across cultures and historical times.

Amplification is a kind of “natural thinking”, proceeding by analogy and imaginative elaboration. In this sense, it can also be seen as an in-depth psychological approach based on what is claimed to be the natural functioning of the mind, which is not linear and orderly.

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Jung first introduced the idea in an essay in a collection edited by Freud in 1908, when he stated that he does not want the process of interpretation to proceed “entirely subjectively.” In 1935, he talked about the need to find “the fabric in which the word or the image is incorporated” (Jung, 1968, p. 84). There he makes the claim that the amplification follows a kind of natural “logic”. In 1947, the value of amplification lies in the fact that it can allow us to reach, by inference, the archetypal structures of the unconscious mind that, by definition, are unrepresentable in themselves, must be distinguished by their appearance in culture, and that, therefore, they can only be evaluated using techniques, such as amplification (Jung, 1947). Gradually, Jung was seeing amplification more as a technique to be used in a wide variety of contexts and less as a general principle of mental functioning. Therefore, the amplification is behind the immense extensions of cultural and historical material that Jung establishes for his readers.

When the clinical technique related to active imagination was refined, amplification took on a new meaning in Jungian clinical theory. Sinking into the unconscious, often through artistic activity, what was found in it was not meant to be just a self-indulgent aesthetic process, the ego’s role in amplification was important as a critical agent, not to mention as a barrier against psychosis.

The clearest demonstrations of the clinical uses of amplification are found in relation to dreams .

Amplification as a concept also had a significant effect on the development of analytical psychology as an institution . If patients were chasing the parallels with their personal material in terms of cultural material, they needed libraries to do that. This was one of the reasons for the creation of Analytical Psychology “clubs” in urban centers. In the clubs, selected patients and analysts could relate to each other in more or less equal conditions, in part, united by the need for academic resources (Samuels, 1994).

The main criticism of amplification has been that it can make analysis a very intellectual process and sometimes leads patients to an inflation by which they equate their personal situation with something much bigger, therefore, not only avoiding the transfer, but also having a rewarding omnipotent fantasies (Fordham, 1978, p. 220).

Amplification needs to be discussed in the context of current debates about interpretation: it is better located, as part of a hermeneutical approach rather than a causal-positivist one. The concept has recently been extended to cover more of the field of interpretation than Jung intended (Samuels, 1993). The common daily analytical procedure of interpreting the patient’s material in infantile terms can also be seen as a kind of amplification, neither hermeneutic nor causal-positivist.


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