JUNG’S ADVICE TO PATIENT INFLUENCED FOUNDING OF AA
Jung indirectly influenced the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous and its Twelve- Step recovery program back in 1930, after treating Rowland Hazard III, an American visiting from abroad, for chronic alcoholism, with little progress. Jung eventually told Rowland that curing his alcoholism was beyond known medical and psychiatric treatment, hinting that short of a spiritual awakening, Rowland’s alcoholism was hopeless.
When Rowland returned to America, he took Jung’s advice seriously, and literally. He joined an evangelical church, where his religious experience there provided him what he needed to begin his first period of sobriety. In 1934, when Rowland heard that one of his boyhood friends, Ebby Thatcher, was to be institutionalized because of his drinking, Rowland intervened, pledged Ebby’s sobriety, and led him to the Oxford Group, an evangelical movement at the time, where Ebby began his first period of sobriety. Ebby then related his experience (recounting Jung’s advice to Rowland) to his drinking buddy, Bill Wilson, who also found it difficult to refrain from alcohol. The sobriety of his friend Ebby made an impact on Bill, and he would later base the co-founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Step program on Jung’s suggestion, that is, the need for spiritual development to offset the craving of alcohol.
Bill Wilson later wrote to Jung, informing him of this chain of events and thanking Jung for his critical insight, which William said became the cornerstone of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. Jung responded to Wilson that same week. In part, Jung’s letter said, “The reason that I could not tell [Rowland H.] everything was that those days I had to be exceedingly careful of what I said. I had found out that I was misunderstood in every possible way. Thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. But what I really thought about was the result of many experiences with men of his kind. His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God. How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?”
According to the Big Bunch Group, Bill Wilson treasured that letter from Jung: “Bill kept the Jung letter as a talisman. In time it was copied, read at meetings, reprinted in the Grapevine, but the original stayed in his top desk drawer and, sometimes, even though he knew it by heart, he would open the drawer, look down at the signature and reread a phrase.”
“You see,” Jung had written in the closing of his letter, “alcohol” in Latin is spiritus and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” Loosely translated: a spiritual experience to counter addiction to the spirits. ♂ ♀