Amplification (Analytical Psychology)

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Amplification is a part of Jung's method of interpretation of clinical and cultural material, especially dreams. Amplification involves the use of mythic, historical, and cultural parallels in order to clarify, make more ample and, so to speak, turn up the volume on material that may be obscure, thin, and difficult to attend to.

Just as the analyst waits for associations to the dream imagery to reach its personal meanings, so, by amplification, the analyst enables the patient to reach beyond the personal content to the wider implications of her or his material. Thereby, the patient feels less alone and can locate their personal neurosis within humanity's general suffering and generativity.

Amplification is also a means of demonstrating the validity of the concept of the collective unconscious. Jung's early understanding of the collective unconscious was that it consisted of primordial images that were, to a large degree, consistent across cultures and historical epochs. As amplification involved the assembly of parallels from diverse sources, it could be regarded as performing this evidential function. Present-day Jungian analysts are far less convinced that universal and eternal images exist.

Amplification is a kind of "natural thinking," proceeding by way of analogy, parallel and imaginative elaboration. In this sense, it may also be seen as a depth psychological approach to scholarship based on what is claimed to be the natural functioning of the mind, which is not linear and orderly.

Jung first introduced the idea in an essay in a collection edited by Freud in 1908, when he stated that he does not wish the process of interpretation to proceed "entirely subjectively." In 1935, he spoke of the need to find "the tissue that the word or image is embedded in" (Jung, 1968, p. 84). There he makes the claim that amplification follows a kind of natural "logic." By 1947, the value of amplification lies in the fact that it can enable us to reach, by inference, the archetypal structures of the unconscious mind which, by definition, are unrepresentable in and of themselves, must be distinguished from their appearance in culture, and which therefore can only be assessed by means of techniques such as amplification (Jung, 1947). Gradually, Jung was coming to see amplification more as a technique to be used in a wide variety of contexts and less as a general principle of mental functioning. Hence, amplification lies behind the immense spreads of cultural and historical material that Jung lays out for his readers.

As the related clinical technique of active imagination was refined, amplification acquired a new significance in Jungian clinical theorizing. If sinking down into the unconscious and recording, often by means of artistic activity, what was encountered therein was not to be merely a self-indulgent, aesthetic process, the role of the ego in amplification was important as a critical agency, not to mention as a bulwark against psychosis.

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

Amplification as a concept also had a marked effect on the development of analytical psychology as an institution. If patients were to pursue the parallels to their personal material in terms of cultural material, they needed libraries in which to do this. This was one reason for the creation of analytical psychology "clubs" in urban centers. In the clubs, selected patients and the analysts could relate on more-or-less equal terms, in part united by the need for scholarly resources (Samuels, 1994). The main criticism of amplification has been that it can make analysis into much too intellectual a process and sometimes leads patients into an inflation whereby they equate their personal situation with something much greater, hence not only avoiding the transference but also gratifying omnipotent fantasies (Fordham, 1978, p. 220).

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

Andrew Samuels

See also: Word association (analytical psychology); Interpretation of dreams (analytical psychology).


Fordham, Michael. (1978). Jungian psychotherapy: A study in analytical psychology. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley.

Jung, Carl Gustav. (1947 [1954]). On the nature of the psyche. Coll. Works (Vol. VIII). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Samuels, Andrew. (1993). The political psyche. London and New York: Routledge.

. (1994, April). The professionalization of Carl G. Jung's Analytical Psychology Clubs. Journal of the Historical and Behavioral. Sciences, XXX, 138-147.