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Conferences, Complexes and the Inferior Function

Updated: May 5, 2022

#JungianBitsofInformation was in beautiful Ascona, Switzerland for the Eranos and Monte Verità Conference - Jung's Red Book for our Time: Searching for Soul in the 21st Century A fascinating programme of lectures promoted and supported by Pacifica Graduate Institute, Foundation of the Works of C.G. Jung, Eranos Foundation, International Association of Analytical Psychologists (IAAP), Associazone per la ricerca in psicologia analitica (ARPA) and my training institute, the International School of Analytical Psychology (ISAPZurich)

In the latest #JungianBitsofInformation blog and podcast, I will share some of my thoughts about the discussions at the conference and some photos of Ascona.

The latest in the blog series, 'What's it like to train as an Analyst?' I will explore Jung's infamous Word Association Experiments and it's uncanny ability to bring awareness to one's Complexes including my own(!) and in my latest podcast, I will explore the Inferior Function with Sonia Ouertani-Starkey.


I have arrived back home in Zurich after a trip to Ascona for the Eranos and Monte Verità conference. It was also an opportunity to take a few days off from work and training as an Analyst. I had an amazing trip. I am totally enchanted by Ascona. I left Zurich last Wednesday leaving Zurich Hauptbahnhof bound for Ascona. The journey included a short, 10 minute stop over in Bellinzona, then a short thirty minute train ride to Locarno.

From Locarno, I took a 20 minute bus to Ascona. Overall, the journey takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes. Ascona is located within the Italian region of Switzerland. It is a completely different place compared to the northern, German region of the country. I was blown away by the snow capped mountains, crystal clear lakes, lush scenery and relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere. Joined by a couple of friends who study or studied at ISAPZurich, I felt a great sense of gratitude to be able to experience Locarno/Ascona.

I stayed at the Seven Boutique Hotel which is right next to the Ascona Promenade.

A wonderful hotel located in several buildings around Piazza Giuseppe Motta and alongside Via San Sebastian. My room was in a building off Via San Sebastian. Inside the building is an old fashioned courtyard and a garden which had just been freshly mown. Grass so green and lush, I could have laid down on it for hours. Ascona is known for its Mediterranean-style architecture and cafe-lined promenade on Lake Maggiore. In Borgo, the old town, is the 16th-century Church of St. Peter and Paul. The Museum of Modern Art has paintings by Paul Klee and Alexej von Jawlensky. The hilltop Monte Verità, a colony for artists and intellectuals in the early 20th century, has a historical park and museum. The entire trip went way beyond my expectations. I cannot recommend Ascona enough. It is a great destination to unwind, enjoy the local Italian based cuisine and fine Ticino wines. The Lake Maggiore region is an ideal warm climate and has the perfect soil for cultivating the grapes which make Ticino wine distinct.

The conference started bright and early at 9am on Thursday 28 April and ran until 5pm Sunday 1 May. A packed schedule of lectures was delivered from some of the best lecturers in the Analytical Psychology field. Most notable were Stephen Aizenstat, Riccardo Bernadini, Steve Buser, Joseph Cambray, Linda Carter, Toshio Kawai, Heyong Shen, Leslie Stein, Murray Stein and Nancy Swoft Furlotti. This glittering list of scholars also included relatives of Carl Jung, Thomas Fischer and Carl Christian Jung. Thomas Artz, co-organiser of the event sadly passed away two years ago. The event was cancelled due to the pandemic. His absence was deeply felt and he was posthumously remembered in a touching opening speech by Murray Stein. As far as I am concerned, the event was a huge success, much in part to Thomas Arzt's vision and dedication. The conference also include a tour at Monte Verita, Hotel Ascona to view the art of Luigi Pericle and lunch, and Eranos. Pericle's art was discovered by the owners of the the hotel, Greta and Andrea Biasca-Caroni. We watched a video of Pericle's life and listened to Andrea's memories of Luigi Pericle, about finding his paintings in his home after they bought his property following his death. Pericle left thousands of artwork in a house right next to Hotel Ascona. Andrea grew up near the home of Pericle and knew him quite well. It was a fantastic visit.

The Symposium or lectures discussed Carl Jung's Red Book within the context of the world's past, present and future crises. Jung strated to work on the Red Book in 1913 until his last and abrupt journal entry in 1930. The Red Book is a thoroughly documented journey into his inner world. Precipitated by a break down in his relationship with Sigmund Freud, a close associate and ally, Jung developed a deep depression. It was during his depression when he attempted to better understand his symptoms, that his psychology, Jungian or Analytical Psychology, emerged, as a distinct form of psychoanalysis, much different from Freudian Psychoanalysis. Jung's Red Book documents how he drew from his inner experiences which created a template for Jungian Analysis which is still used up until today. The emphasis of the lectures was on the value of the Red Book for individuals and collectively specifically 'The Red Book has the potential to offer guidance for people living under the disruptive conditions for the first half of the 21st century. This potential will be explored by the speakers and participants in this Symposium' (Eranos Foundation).

There was a huge amount of information, opinion and guidance shared with the audience. I actively listened to each lecture that I attended, but it is challenging to summarise the depth of information presented throughout the conference. So perhaps I will summarise my take aways from the lectures. Each and every one of us is an individual. Each of us has an inner world, an inner world full of creativity and imagination. We experience our world as a collective, a world full of conflict and war, a climate crisis, global pandemic, and poverty and economic struggles. Each of us have our own emotional problems, we suffer and experience anxiety, pain and loss. Our experience of the world is universal but we divide ourselves into different nations, religions, tribes and races. Our inner world, or the unconscious, has the potential to provide us with the courage to manage our anxieties and strife and to see the 'universal' in all of us. The unconscious is a great source of inspiration. It is an untapped source of creativity which can bring enormous relief to an otherwise suffering individual. Within this context, the lectures explored Jung's journey to the unconscious as documented in the Red Book and his transformation into the world renowned depth psychologist he went on to become.

Jung's journey to his inner world equates to a journey back to the soul. He called out to his soul and it responded, literally. He found himself deluged by visions, dreams and various sub personalities which he conversed with in depth. He drew the spontaneous images which came to his conscious mind in intricate detail. His journey to the inner depths of his soul became a therapeutic tool which forms part of a Jungian analysis, for those who can withstand the challenge. It is called active imagination. A process of dreaming with open eyes. In active imagination, you concentrate on a specific point, mood, picture or events, then allow a chain of associated fantasies to develop and which gradually take on a dramatic character. Thereafter, the images have a life of their own and develop according to their own logic. Active imagination creates a new situation, psychologically speaking. The contents of the unconscious become clearer and articulate. The process triggers feeling which propels the ego to react more readily than with dreams. Therefore, the individual matures much quicker because the images that present themselves in active imagination anticipate dreams.

The individual's willing and conscious participation in active imagination brings about the transcendent function i.e. a collaboration between conscious and unconscious factors. The manifestation of active imagination can be written, drawn or painted and then brought to an analysis for interpretation. These are fantasies which have a revitalising or transformative effect on the individual who may be suffering from emotional problems. However, active imagination achieves success only if it is consciously integrated by the individual through a creative and active endeavour. It is a method of raising to consciousness those contents which lie immediately below the threshold of the unconscious. Jung argued against the indiscriminate use of active imagination. He felt the process is sterile if the individual remains caught up in their complexes, remains beguiled by the fantasies and ignores their demand for confrontation, the unconscious contents possess a significant amount of energy which when afforded an outlet, they take possession of the personality leading to inflation or possession.

The lecturers' explored how individuals can cultivate a practice of active imagination in their lives, the benefits, dangers and possible outcomes. Ultimately, Jungian or analytical psychology practices are life changing if consciously practiced by the individual and not the group. We become more self aware, develop psychologically, discover our purpose and meaning in life, more ethical and as a result, become ethical, considered, balanced individuals. It is indeed a tall order. There are billions of people on this planet. How does one persuade that number of people to carry out active imagination? A lot of people are already 'active imagining' they just don't put a psychological label on it. It is a process of discovering your soul, engaging in a dialogue with it, documenting the engagement, and reflecting on those contents for a life well lived.

Ultimately, the lectures attempted to convey the message that Jung gave throughout his life that the only real danger to man is man himself and he is pitifully unaware of it. The unconscious wants to live too and it is ignored at our peril. The unconscious will derail your conscious ambitions and everyone else around you. However, if you enter a dialogue with your unconscious, it will limit the damaging impact on you and others around you, including society as a whole.

The aim of my blog and podcast is to bring awareness about Jungian ideas and concepts and also to raise awareness and understanding of the unconscious and its impact in our personal lives, the workplace and society in general. The lecturers provided a multi faceted view of Jung's Red Book. I am not doing justice to their comprehensive presentations. Having said that, it was amazing to see the efforts of one man, Jung, touch so many lives and professions. Analytical psychology is a great tool to understand individuals and also to better understand their impact on society.


How do you feel when you go to a conference? Are you excited by who you are going to meet or do you feel anxious about networking with total strangers? The Eranos conference was attended by around 70 people on site and 90 online. A large number of people for an event that was two years in planning. After being in lockdown for so long, it was a little strange to be in a closed space with so many people but I was looking forward to it. I am not at all anxious about attending large conferences. In fact, I am more concerned about whether I will be able to talk to as many people as I would like. For some people, a large conference induces anxiety. Where does this anxiety come from? Well, it could be a Complex, the next subject of my blog. What is a Complex?

Jung viewed the psyche as made up of a number of separate but interacting systems. The three main ones are the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The ego represents the conscious mind as it comprises the thoughts, memories, and emotions a person is aware of. The ego is largely responsible for feelings of identity. Jung emphasized the importance of the unconscious in relation to personality. However, he proposed that the unconscious consists of two layers - personal unconscious which contains temporarily forgotten information and well as repressed memories.

Jung outlined an important feature of the personal unconscious called Complexes. A Complex is a collection of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and memories that focus on a single concept. The more elements attached to the complex, the greater its influence on the individual. Complexes are autonomous and have an intense feeling tone. Jung also argued that the personal unconscious was much nearer the surface, close to the ego, and therefore Complexes can erupt into our consciousness, whether we are aware of it or not.

The notion of a Complex rests of the Jungian idea that we have many selves. A complex is an autonomous entity within the psyche which behave like independent beings. Jung argued that 'there is no difference in principle between a fragmentary personality and a complex.....complexes are splinter psyches' (Jung's Collected Works 8, para. 202). A Complex is a collection of images and ideas, clustered round a core derived from one or more archetypes, and characterised by a common emotional tone. When they come into play i.e. become constellated, complexes contribute to behaviour and are marked by affect whether a person is conscious of them or not.

Jung considered Complexes as the via regia or entrance to the unconscious and architect of dreams. He even considered calling his psychology, Complex Psychology. The ego itself is a complex which pitches it against complexes in the unconscious. A conflict ensues, the unconscious Complex may take over the personality, dominate or overwhelm it. A personality may identify with the complex. This can lead to a person falling into a psychosis, possession or inflation respectively. Complexes can be positive too. They are necessary ingredients of psychic life. Provide the ego can establish a viable relationship with a complex, a richer and more balanced personality emerges.

Word Association Experiment

Jung developed his ideas about Complexes, via the use of the Word Association Experiment (WAE) between 1904 and 1911.

The use of a psychogalvonometer in the test suggests that complexes are rooted in the body and express themselves somatically. At a seminar a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to experience the Word Association Test. The test is mandatory for training analysts. We take the test so we can discover our own complexes and for practice when we give the same test to clients and patients. The Word Association Test consists of 100 'stimulus' words such as head, friendly, sick, pride, yellow, habit, old, worry etc. Each word is read out to the client who is asked to respond with the first word or image that comes to mind. The person carrying out the test times the duration of time taken by the client to respond and notes the respondent's body language e.g. movements, sighs, gasps, comment, laughter, mishearing.

A central feature of the Word Association Experiment is the group of 100 stimulus words (SWs). The SWs are numbered, indicating the sequence in which you must read them when you carry out the WAE. The group of words is standard, derived from Jung’s work with some variations. The client's 'response' is their immediate verbal association to the SW. According to instructions you give, it should be the first association that comes to mind as a one-word response. Reaction Time is the duration of time between reading out the SW and the client’s response in hundredths of a second.

Initially Observable Complex Indicators (CIs) in general are manifestations of psychological disturbance or disturbed ego consciousness evoked by the SWs. Initially observable CIs include a client’s spontaneous repetition of the SW, bodily movement, sighing, gasping, giggling, crying, facial grimaces; comments and questions; misheard SWs; mispronounced responses; speech disturbance, etc. Reproduction is the client’s verbal response to your instruction to re-call his/her original associations to the SWs. This procedure takes place during the 2nd round of the 1st meeting, after a break.

During the seminar, we practiced a shortened procedure (50 SWs) with a fellow student. The procedure may be simple but it is complex and requires both calm and diligent multi-tasking. For such reasons, the lecturers emphasized the need to rehearse with a fellow student, family member or friend.

I sat down with a fellow student to practice the Word Association Experiment on each other. I responded to each stimulus word and I certainly felt a difference in my body language, thoughts and response times to particular words. At times I felt like laughing out loud, at other times it took me nearly ten seconds to respond or I felt incredibly uncomfortable. We did not analyse each other's test but scored it on our own. We transfer our responses and observations to an excel sheet which works out the complex indicators (CIs). The CIs are illustrated visually. The results are then analysed by the administrator of the test and discussed with the patient. It was interesting - and of course slightly uncomfortable and disconcerting - to see my own complexes emerge from the test.

It was a fascinating experience. The 100 stimulus words are designed to reveal a person's complexes. I think it is important for a training analyst to undertake the test as part of their training and psychological development. However, it requires practice and ethical use. I wasn't entirely surprised by the complexes which emerged when I practiced using the test. Having been in analysis since 2015, I pretty much know my complexes!

The Inferior Function

What is the inferior function? It is the function that is least developed in an individual. There are four functions of the psyche - Thinking, Feeling, Intuition, Sensation. If Sensation is a person's preferred superior function, Intuition is likely to be inferior. If Thinking is superior, Feeling is likely to be inferior - and vice versa.

The inferior function can create the complexes which disrupt our personal and professional lives. In my latest podcast, I explore the inferior function with Sonia Ouertani-Starkey. Check out my podcast page for more information:

Thanks for taking the time to read my latest blog. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out to me.


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