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Go West, Jung Man

Thomas B. Kirsch ’57

When Tom was born, his parents, the renowned analysts Hilde and James Kirsch, received a congratulatory note from Carl Jung. It was a prophetic omen, for Tom went on to become a prominent exponent of Jungian psychology.

When Tom was four years old, the Kirsch family moved from London to Los Angeles, where his parents became founding members of the C.G. Jung Institute. As a child, he witnessed the comings and goings of movie-star patients and analysts. Both parents were German Jews, and Tom inherited from them not only the Jungian tradition of psychoanalysis, but also the complicated history of Jung and the Jewish people. With great integrity, he carried the burden of being an interpreter of that history to Jungians and Freudians throughout his life. He joked that he was born into “the family business” and in fact, he did work as a Jungian analyst all of his adult life, as a bridge between the first generation of Jungians and those who followed.

Tom’s parents immersed him in a rich cultural history, but he developed his own connection to being an American. He loved sports and was a devoted fan of the San Francisco Giants, an avid tennis player (at Reed he played tennis with President Duncan Ballantine [1952–54]), and he loved to swim.

When it came time to consider a college, Tom was accepted to Harvard, but felt it was too far away. He was torn between Berkeley and Reed, and his mother consulted the I Ching to help him make the choice. He started at Reed when he was 17 years old, and initially had difficulty adjusting to the academics. Tom constantly checked his standing in the class because he wanted to be a doctor and at the time there was a quota for Jews accepted into medical school. But by the time he was a sophomore, the quota was lifted and he could relax. He majored in chemistry and wrote his thesis with Prof. Marsh Cronyn ’40 [chemistry 1952–89]. He always credited Reed, and especially the thesis, for giving him the skills and discipline for long-term writing projects.

After Reed, he went on to Yale Medical School and then took a psychiatric residency at Stanford, where he earned an MD in psychiatry. Along the way, he was warned that pursuing training as a Jungian analyst would be a kind of professional suicide, as the Jungian tradition was then small and poorly understood. But that did not stop him from completing his training at the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco in 1968.

Tom joined the executive committee of the International Association of Analytical Psychology, serving as its president from 1989 to 1995. While at IAAP, he furthered the development of a consistent attention to professional ethics, including the formulation of a code of ethics. He traveled the world tirelessly as an elder statesman of analytical psychology, which flourished under his leadership with the formation and development of Jungian organizations in Taiwan, China, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, Russia, and elsewhere. He maintained an active clinical practice, which was the foundation of his professional life. In addition to writing many articles on dreams, Jung, and the analytic process, Tom wrote several books, including The Jungians, a history of the worldwide development of the Jungian tradition, and his intimate autobiography, A Jungian Life.

He is survived by his wife, Dr. Jean Kirsch, who is also a Jungian analyst; a sister, Ruth Kirsch Walsh; his son, David; and his daughter, Susannah Kirsch-Kutz.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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