Reading Guide – An Introduction To Jung’s Collected Works

This is, without a doubt, the most frequently asked question I get: “So how do I get started with Jung?”.

This question is completely justified since Jung’s Collected Works weren’t put in a very logical sequence, they were organized by themes rather than chronologically. Also, Jung expected a high degree of erudition from his readers. Furthermore, there are a few specific concepts and ideas that are fundamental to understanding his method that he only explores once, in very specific chapters.

There’s certainly a learning curve when it comes to reading Jung, as his concepts must be understood in relation to one another. For instance, the relationship between the conscious and unconscious is compensatory and complementary.  This means that we have to apprehend a system of ideas and how they work with one another, instead of learning individual concepts.

In addition to that, it’s important to understand how his ideas came to be, i.e. understanding his way of constructing ideas holding paradoxes, as well as his empirical and pragmatic approach to Psychology. That’s why I strongly recommend reading this article first – The Foundations of Complex Psychology, before jumping into the Collected Works.

With all of that in mind, I carefully curated a reading guide intended to give you a solid foundation in Jung’s key concepts, psychodynamics, and method of interpretation. Anyway, if I had to start all over again, this is precisely what I’d follow. So forget post-Jungians, it’s time to learn directly from the fountain.


In this article, I’d like to leave you a few extra keys that will help you understand how Carl Jung constructed his psychology around striving to conciliate the paradoxical nature of the psyche. He follows a few precepts which he calls antinomies, which can also be understood as paradoxes.

Volume 16 is the only place where Carl Jung reveals in a concise way how he thinks about his psychology and his psychotherapeutic method. Jung states that “The psyche is infinitely more complicated than light; hence a great number of antinomies is required to describe the nature of the psyche satisfactorily” (C. G. Jung – V16 – §1). In this light, there’s four major precepts Carl Jung follows:

1 – “Psyche depends on body and body depends on psyche”.

This first statement refers to the conflict between psyche and matter. In psychology, this debate revolves mainly around the physicalist perspective, that is, if the psyche is a mere epiphenomenon of the brain. If that’s the case, the psyche would be considered solely a fruit of brain activity and it would be possible to influence it exclusively through physiological interventions. Translating that, we would be able to solve every psychological problem with surgeries and medication.

We have to remember that Carl Jung went to medical school and he was obviously aware of the influence of the body over the psyche, but his findings dictate that the opposite is also true, the psyche can also have an influence on the body. However, we can’t isolate either one of them, as both work in conjunction, that’s why it’s a paradox. Furthermore, Carl Jung was interested in creating a psychology capable of holding these opposing and complementary truths, with the intention to create a new way of studying the psyche that’s different from the materialistic standpoint, giving the psyche its own dignity.    

2 – “The individual signifies nothing in comparison with the universal, and the universal signifies nothing in comparison with the individual”.

This second antinomy refers to the paradox between the individual and the collective truth. Every time we try to create a formula and something that’s generally valid, we’re hurting individuality. This creates a major problem since we need generally valid truths to live in society, to share knowledge, and to have replicability. However, it’s impossible to encompass everyone and every individual perspective. Carl Jung was aware that he needed to create a psychology that was capable of being generally valid, but at the same time, it had to respect individuality. That’s precisely why, as we’ve seen in the first chapter, he never created a theory, but a map to navigate the psyche.

3 – “A psychological statement is only true if its opposite can be asserted”.

This antinomy makes a direct reference to the paradoxical nature of the psyche, as truth is dependent on the perspective you adopt. For instance, as we’ve discussed in the psychological types chapter, every statement that we make about extroverts will work in the exact opposite manner for introverts, and vice-versa. When interpreting dreams, we can always interpret in a positive or negative light, the right interpretation is dependent on the individual’s conscious attitude. Lastly, a strong ego-complex is one capable of holding opposing and complementary truths, which is the premise for the individuation process.

4 – “In psychotherapy there are no rules”.

In this last antinomy, Carl Jung is explaining once again his attitude toward theories. But since this statement also needs to follow his own precept, psychotherapy does have rules and at the same time, it doesn’t. We certainly need knowledge of common and recurring patterns and they’re extremely relevant to share and expand psychological knowledge, however, we always have to notice how this is being expressed in a single individual, as this will always be the most important thing. Carl Jung even states that he needs to be ready to produce a new and unique understanding to every patient he meets, knowing very well, that he’ll also find many commonalities and patterns.

Reading Guide

With these last four keys, I believe you have everything you need to continue your journey on your own and become self-sufficient. However, one question that I have to answer all of the time is: “In what order should I read the collected works”? Say less, I got you! If I had to do it all over again that’s exactly what I’d follow:

1 – “Man and His Symbols”.

I suggest reading only chapters 1 (Jung’s chapter) and 3 (Von Franz’s). Jung wrote this book after a dream that propelled him to create something for the layman to get acquainted with his ideas, making this a perfect introduction.

2 – Volume 10 – “Civilization in Transition” – Chapter 4 – “The Undiscovered Self (Present and Future)”.

In this chapter, Jung explores what self-knowledge truly means. He criticizes the statistical and scientific method, and presents us with how we can develop our own personalities and individuality.

3 – Volume 16 – “The Practice of Psychotherapy” – Part I.

This is the only book where Carl Jung gives a detailed explanation of his methods and the foundations of his thinking. Furthermore, he gives a clear explanation of the development of personality and his views on psychotherapy. Just an amazing book overall.

4 – volume 17 – “Development of Personality” – Chapter 7 also entitled “The Development of Personality”.

This is one of my favorite chapters of all time and I feel inspired every time I read it. It’s important to say that “development of personality” and “individuation process” are synonyms, and in this book, Jung explores in-depth what this truly means and what it entails.

5 – Volume 9 – “Aion” – The First 4 Chapters – “The Ego, The Shadow, The Syzygy, and The Self”.

This book is so hard to understand that the editors asked Jung to prepare an introduction about his main concepts. This is the only time you’ll see him writing about his ideas in individual chapters.

6 – Volume 18 – “Symbolic Life” – Chapter 12 – “A reply to Martin Bubber”.

This is an essential read to clearly understand Jung’s position on religion and metaphysics. Spoiler alert: if you believe he was gnostic or a crazy wizard you’ll be disappointed.

7 – Volume 7 – “Two Essays On Analytical Psychology”.

Now that you have a good background it’s time to read the whole volume 7. Every bit of Jung’s ideas are in this volume, making this one of his most important works.

8 – Volume 18 – “Symbolic Life”- Chapter 1 – “The Travistock Lectures”.

Here’s where Jung introduces his typological method, the backbone of his psychology. It also has an introductory feel to it and it’s great to read this instead of jumping right into volume 6 – The Psychological Types. Furthermore, you can see how the British fellows were trying to grill him, which also adds to an enjoyable reading, haha.

9 – Volume 9.1 – “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” – First 3 Chapters – “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious”, “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious”, “Concerning the Archetypes, with Special Reference to the Anima Concept”.

Lastly, these chapters can give you a better understanding of the concept of archetypes and their applications.

10 – Volume 6 – “The Psychological Types”- Chapter 5 – “The Type Problem In Poetry”.

In this chapter, Jung introduces his most important idea and the goal of his entire work: The symbol formation process. He explores the redeeming journey our soul must endure in order to unite the opposites within, unraveling the Self.

11 – Bonus – “Animus and Anima” – by Emma Jung.

Emma Jung was Carl Jung’s wife, so I guess there’s no one better to teach us about animus and anima. She writes in a very clear and concise way, a very pleasant reading overall.

12 – Pro Bonus Tip – Volume 6 – “The Psychological Types” – Chapter 11 – Definitions.

In the final part of this volume, Jung left us a kind of “dictionary”. So whenever you’re feeling lost and can’t really understand what the heck he’s talking about, you can just check the terms and concepts there.

This might seem like a lot at first, but take your time, it’s very rewarding.

PS: I can already see a few people rolling their eyes saying this is too much and asking me what would be absolutely essential to read. Well, Just read the first part of volume 16 and then the whole volume 7. If you want something extra go for the Travistock Lectures. There you go. 

Read NextThe Shadow Integration Process and The Psychological Types Unraveled

Rafael Krüger – Jungian Therapist

If you want a short-cut that covers absolutely everything you need to know about Jungian Psychology, I invite you to check this out:

Start your journey with Katabasis – The step-by-step shadow integration manual

Sign Up For The Audacity Newsletter

Esse website utiliza cookies

Para otimizar sua experiência de navegação, usamos cookies. Ao continuar no site, assumimos que você concorda com nossa Política de Privacidade.