The Psychological Difference

The Psychological Difference is one of the most fundamental notions of a psychology defined as the discipline of interiority. Introduced by Wolfgang Giegerich in 1978, the term delineates the difference between the personal, empirical subject, i.e., the ego, and “the soul.” Similar, though only in a formal way, to Heidegger's notion of an ontological difference, it builds upon Jung's idea of an objective psyche and demarcates a theoretical difference between everyday ego consciousness and the logical constitution or syntax of this consciousness. As Jung said, "The psyche is not in us, we are in the psyche."

The notion of psychological difference seeks to make explicit the fact that psychology’s ultimate concern is with consciousness, mindedness, “the soul,” and not with the person per se. If one is to speak of a psychology that is truly psychological, that is to say, a psychology that is true to its name, psychological phenomena must be regarded as having their own reality, life, telos, raison d'être, and self-character within themselves. By contrast, a psychology that has the human being as its primary focus is considered a personalistic or ego-psychology and is more akin to a kind of anthropology. In such an approach the empirical person becomes the underpinning substrate or touchstone from which all psychological phenomena, be they symptoms, images, archetypal motifs, etc., are to be reductively explained. Forgoing such reduction, the psychological difference is able to express and acknowledge the true objectivity and autonomy of the soul, thereby allowing phenomena to be viewed as the soul's free self-display or self-expression. It is not the positive or natural existence of psychic phenomena that is of interest to a psychological psychology, but rather, the logical constitution or mercurial spirit as which these phenomena exist.

The reality and autonomy of soul has been imaged and understood in different ways throughout the ages—as mythological figures, personified "gods," philosophical ideas, religious personages. Psychology as the discipline of interiority continues this tradition, but in a fashion that is consistent with the present status of consciousness in which the consciousness that had previously out-pictured itself in the various ways just listed has become conscious of itself as consciousness. Modern personalistic psychology, by contrast, has collapsed the psychological difference and tried to locate the “depth” or “soul” quality within the ego as a mere attribute of the empirical person. This, it could be said, has the effect of rendering a “vertical” comprehension of phenomena in their eachness impossible. A “horizontal” comprehension or construal of psychic life as externally related-entity-like figures prevails.

It follows then that the individual person and “the soul" have different arenas in which they operate.In the opus parvum or “little work,” the individual develops his or her personality within the context of personal life and subjective experience. The opus magnum, on the other hand, has to do with the soul in its greater sense as the overall status of consciousness at large and its development through the course of its history. The latter has its own objective "individuation" independent of and perhaps even in direct opposition to human influence, despite the fact that it is through humans and culture that the soul phenomena in question are manifested. It moves through its successive stages by virtue of fulfilling, negating and logically pushing off from the stage that preceded it and then, in turn, acting as a determinate to the stage that is to follow. This process is the self-unfolding historical process of consciousness wherein the logical life of the soul is made manifest.

Declaring that the opus magnum is the primary focus of "psychology as the discipline of interiority" does not mean that work in the consulting room, the opus parvum, is forgotten. Private psychotherapy focusing on the needs of the individual is seen as important in its own right. This,however, is regarded within the context of the larger soul-drama, i.e., the successive statuses attained by collective consciousness’s unfolding in the world-at-large (which includes the consulting room). Individual therapy is also conducted within the scope of a methodological stance that heeds the psychological difference and grants the patient the utmost respect by focusing not only on personal concerns, but on the psychological depths of the “soul” speaking in and through them.

We see from this that heeding the psychological difference does not mean separating and keeping ego and soul apart in a dissociated manner. Rather, it implies thinking them both together as a unity and a separateness such that the dialectical life as which they exist comes home to consciousness. Just as the alchemists referred to the “stone which is not a stone,” so too can the consciousness of the ego be seen through as expressing all that it is not, that is, the syntax of the consciousness in which it is ensconced.

John Hoedl