May 1, 2023

Reviving Wholeness: A Journey through Alchemical Recovery

Often, the most precious treasures are concealed and must be unearthed. Alchemy, the ancient practice, endeavored to uncover the “gold” hidden within the “dross” of matter. Carl Jung interpreted alchemy as a symbolic and psycho-spiritual process of “individuation.” In Jungian perspective, the alchemical pursuit of the “Philosopher’s Stone” was synonymous with achieving wholeness and connecting with the archetype of the “Self.”

Jung’s Alchemical Lens on the 12 Step Process

This Jungian interpretation of alchemy can shed light on the 12 Step recovery process. The 12 Steps can be associated with the three stages of alchemy: 1) Black (steps 1-3), 2) White (steps 4-9), and 3) Red (steps 10-12). Each stage corresponds to a specific psychological transformation.

Embracing the Black Stage: Calcination and the Start of Transformation

The initial Black stage encompasses the “calcination” process. As an addict enters treatment, the “prima materia” undergoes a metaphorical burning, often through a challenging experience of withdrawal. To recover, the addict must shed their addicted persona, leaving behind their previous level of consciousness. Steps 1-3 facilitate separation from the negative persona and ego surrender, marking the start of a journey into the unconscious.

Navigating the White Stage: Conjunction and the Path to Inner Clarity

The intermediate White stage, known as “conjunction,” involves facing certain unconscious aspects of the psyche, primarily through the completion of the 4th step. Symbolized by white, this stage represents a purification of the soul. The addict gradually becomes aware and integrates disowned aspects of their psyche, which Jung referred to as the “shadow.” The White stage culminates in steps 8 and 9 when the addict seeks to make amends for past wrongs committed during their lower (addicted) state of consciousness.

Entering the Red Stage: Coagulation and the Rebirth of Spirit

The final Red stage corresponds to the “coagulation” process. By this point, the addict has discarded their old identity and traversed a liminal state of uncertainty. During this stage, the addict undergoes what the Big Book terms a “spiritual awakening” or “psychic change.” They slowly adopt a new identity, perceiving themselves, others, and the world in a completely different light. The Red stage symbolizes spirit, which breathes life into what was once lifeless. The concluding three steps revolve around reintegration, marking the final phase of the transformation process.

The Healing Power of Depth Psychology in Recovery

As we explore the 12 Steps from a depth psychological viewpoint, we recognize our participation in a transformative journey that shares similarities with practices and rituals from diverse cultures and historical periods. This understanding is therapeutic in itself. We believe it is our responsibility to educate our clients. Education, derived from Latin, means “to lead out.” It is not our role to impose beliefs upon our clients, but rather to introduce innovative, personalized, and thought-provoking approaches to recovery. Depth psychology offers a unique way to achieve this like few other methods can.


Corey Gamberg
Written By

Corey Gamberg

Professional Overview Corey Gamberg, a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor with over a decade of... Read More

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