Why ISAP-ZURICH is Unique

Murray Stein, Ph.D.

It is bold and perhaps foolhardy to claim uniqueness for ISAP-ZURICH, but I will not let that deter me. This is because I believe it to be true. There is no other Jungian psychoanalytic training program like it in the world today. I will explain why, but for now trust me – it’s true.

I will not allow myself, however, to claim that the training offered at ISAP is the best in the world, only that it is unique. Who can say what is “best”? But this is sure: For some people, ISAP is the only Jungian training program around that effectively allows its students the opportunity to enter into a deep process of formation as an analyst. This formation takes place over the course of several years of full immersion in the analytic culture located now at the Old Post Office Building at Stampfenbachstrasse 115 in Zurich.

What makes ISAP unique? I will come to the point: It’s in the prima materia that is found at ISAP. That is to say, it’s all in the ingredients, and in all the ingredients as a totality. A finished meal depends on the ingredients that go into it, and its quality is finally a product of these and the artistry of the cook. The distinctive feature of ISAP is in the ingredients first of all, secondly in the distinctiveness of its programs, its curriculum, and its model of total immersion, and thirdly its vas, the magical container of Zurich, the city where the process is located and grounded.

First, then, the ingredients, the prima materia. From Jung’s writings on alchemy, we know that the final product sought – the lapis, the “philosopher’s gold” – lies hidden and contained within the materials that are assembled and placed into the vas at the beginning of the opus. Often these materials do not look very promising at the outset, but it is essential to get the right combination of metals and minerals, plants and liquids, and there are many recipes for this. At ISAP the prima materia is made up of the people who learn and participate in the programs – the students and their teachers. Among these an alchemical process is at work from beginning to end of training and beyond. Students interact with one another, they interact with their teachers and personal analysts and supervisors, and they interact with the unconscious that emerges at many places in the course of their studies. This combination is unique at ISAP because the students and teachers and training analysts come from so many different countries (some 20 lands are represented in the student body at any given time; the analysts likewise hail from many countries and cultures) and from a wide variety of backgrounds (the sciences, the arts, business, the professions). This tremendous variety of cultural and educational backgrounds and ages (from the 20’s into the 80’s) creates a very rich, and indeed a unique, prima materia at ISAP. ISAP is multiculturalism realized, globalism in action. It is the world in miniature and interactively engaged across all boundaries and borders.

Take a glimpse into ISAP. I open a seminar I am going to lead on “A Comparison of Freud and Jung on the Psychology of Religion” by asking the twenty or so students to identify themselves briefly by background and country. In a variety of accents, some clear and others somewhat opaque, they answer in English: Canada, Russia, Israel, USA, Switzerland, Finland, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil, UK, Ireland, Chile, and Germany. Canadians are the most numerous with three. No country or culture or language group is dominant. The religious backgrounds are spread out across a wide spectrum. The professional backgrounds mentioned are also diverse –psychiatry, business, clinical psychology, social work, religious studies and divinity, medicine, art therapy, political science, economics, philosophy. This could be a Tower of Babel with so many languages and perspectives speaking at once and each unintelligible to the other, but it is not. The perspectives enrich, the cultural differences contribute their flavors, and archetypal images and themes emerge from the burbling conversations. There are moments of insight and moments of emotion. There are even numinous moments, for we are after all dealing with religion and religious experience. Jung’s massive breadth of interests and references can encompass all the cultures brought together here. Each student gives and takes what she or he can, and they take it back into their own analyses for further incubation and reflection. As seminar leader, I am moved by the material and by the psyche that collects and gathers in the room over the four-week period of the seminar. I believe no one leaves this seminar untouched. Each person contributes, whether with speech or simply with intensive listening and presence.

Second, the training is seamless at ISAP between classroom and analytic consulting room. What happens in the seminar enters into the analysis; what happens in analysis comes back subtly into the classroom; what emerges in dreams and active imagination passes through the analytic process into the classroom as depth of perspective and psychological insight; what leaps into the mind from the reading of psychological texts feeds into the classroom and into the analytic process; what sparks insights in class is further processed in supervision of control cases. And so it goes, on and on within the vas of ISAP training. And this over a period of years. It is intensive and formative. That is training. The incredibly rich program, made up of sixty offerings per semester and including didactic and experiential, clinical and theoretical, on site and off site learning experiences and locations, fills the vessel of alchemy to the brim. Fires heat the material, psyche cooks, and the peacock shows its feathers. The training and supervising analysts at ISAP also of course enter into the process powerfully with their contributions. They do not stand apart and at a distance. They are also in the vessel of transformation and on site. They bring their own psychic materials into the formative process of training. Their contributions take place in three locations principally: in personal analysis, in the supervision of cases, and in the classroom. The uniqueness of ISAP lies also in this, that personal analysts, supervising analysts, and teachers are all on site and in continual contact with the students. They are in the vas, not somewhere standing at a distance far away and contributing their bit in absentia. The full immersion model of training at ISAP includes the teachers and training analysts in the immersion. They are immersed as well as the students. They too are part of the prima materia even as they oversee the process as it develops for the individual candidates. In other words, ISAP is an intense learning community on a fulltime schedule. 

It is different from an academic learning community, however, in that it is concerned with more than cognitive mastery of materials. Its main objective is to form good Jungian psychoanalysts, which involves a deep engagement with psychic processes at conscious and unconscious levels. Individuation is the model of this formation. This includes engaging cognitive capacities and the mastery of intellectual materials, to be sure, which are carefully tested for in a serious round of examinations at the midpoint of training and at the conclusion. But the formation process also, and more importantly even, pertains to the individual candidate’s journey toward wholeness. This cannot be measured in the classroom only or in written work, such as the symbol papers and the final thesis. It is measured on an alchemical scale: Is the transformation process well advanced by the time a candidate graduates from formal training? Has the candidate experienced the unconscious in depth by wrestling with core complexes and engaging the deeper layers of the psyche in archetypal images and impressions? ISAP is keen to train the whole person and not only to instill analytic technique. 

The third essential factor in the uniqueness of ISAP is its location in the heart of Zurich. It is the only Jungian psychoanalytic training program in the city where Jung himself lectured, taught, and analyzed patients. Zurich is the vas in which ISAP as a whole is contained. Why does this make a difference? For the answer to this question to make sense, you have to experience Zurich over an extended period of time, not for just a short visit. There is magic here. Partly this is due to Jung’s continuing presence as a spiritus loci, which for Jungians is a highly important factor, but it is also due to the architecture and age of the buildings, the river that runs through the old city, the church towers and their precious bells, the guild houses, the crooked little streets, the bakeries offering a mind-bending assortment of breads and pastries, the train station, the city by day and by night in its steady hum of activity. It is an ideal place for introversion during the foggy days of autumn and winter. It is glorious in the spring with flowering trees in the parks and swans on the Zurisee and in the Limmat. No need for a car. You can take the tram or walk to your analyst’s office, to class, to the library. The city is contained, and it is a container. Many souls have been released to a new life here, from their hidebound network of mental habits and complex-burdened egos. ISAP is dedicated to the alchemy of the psyche’s transformation in the soul’s quest for inner space to grow and manifest.

The students, the teachers, the immersion model, the curriculum, the city – this combination makes ISAP what it is, a training program unique in all the world.

The proof is in the pudding. Does ISAP show results? Do the candidates who advance through the training program and graduate become outstanding representatives of what Jungian psychology stands for and offers to the world? This is difficult to answer. Many return to their home countries upon graduation. Some find a way to stay in Zurich and become new analyst-participants in ISAP. From what I have observed, I am confident that everyone who has passed through this training program successfully and graduated over the last ten years has experienced significant transformation in the course of training. And what I know about the analysts who make up the membership of ISAP and constitute its faculty is that they too are without exception engaged in on-going individuation in their personal lives. There is an exciting air of creativity among the members of ISAP, students and teachers alike. Everyone seems to be deeply engaged in learning, growing, and expressing their gifts and talents in one fashion or another. There is a buzz about ISAP. May it continue for more decades to come!