Encounters with Jungian analysts: Fritz Kunkel

Robert A. Johnson (1921-2018) analyst and writer is someone who deeply explored the spiritual and the psychological. Searching in his twenties for spiritual enlightenment in the East with Krishnamurti – an experiment that Johnson describes as his last attempt to find gold in someone else, he had a powerful dream pointing to finding his own alchemical gold and how he would have to retrieve this by going deep into a cavern. In a depression and state of despair he was advised to return to the United States and visit a Jungian analyst who worked with dreams, and so Johnson began his first analysis with Dr Fritz Kunkel, an elderly German who had fled Nazi Germany.

The analysis started badly in having agreed to see him Dr Kunkel then said he was too busy – Johnson later found that Dr K had by his own admission a serious flaw of never saying no, and then having to extricate himself by indirect means from over-commitment. Eventually Johnson having failed to find another therapist that seemed to meet his needs persisted with Dr K and so he parked outside his office.

‘I sat on the doorstep, and when he came out the door I burst out, “Dr Kunkel, I cannot find anyone else who understands me. You have to take me on.” We began our analysis later that day.’

At the first official session Dr K gathered background information about Johnson’s life, finances and support systems. He spoke slowly and deliberately and was extremely interested in dreams believing that they were critically important in finding a balance in one’s life. Johnson was to write down his dreams and bring them to the sessions. And, he then dreamt

‘pages and pages of big, elaborate dreams. Dr Kunkel was fascinated by them, and he told me that many of the images were archetypal … and together we began to unravel how they might be influencing my thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.’

The analyst’s technique was not so much to interpret the dream but rather to appreciate and befriend it, recognising that the dream has a wisdom that is complete in itself.

‘Mostly he acknowledged what I was, no more and no less, warts and all. When I found that I could talk about anything and that he would listen unconditionally, it unleashed a torrent in me.’

This was genuine Jungian analysis – providing an environment that supports and encourages self-discovery.

‘A middle ground where the therapist must stand and provide courage for the patient, assisting by providing tools and a safe environment in which to experiment by applying those tools …he explained how the mechanism of projection worked and gave me the tools to take my own gold back. For that I will be forever grateful to him.’

Dr Fritz Kunkel