Archive for Clinical Psychology

The Value of Multi-Cultural Perspectives in Depth Psychotherapy: Interview with Dr. Matthew Bennett

Counseling is an applied healing art that helps us address suffering, enrich personal lives, activate our potential, to live more fully, and to develop more adaptive capacities to life in the view of Dr. Matthew Bennett, a psychotherapist and lecturer who teaches Counseling program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. More, psychotherapists and counselors that have a depth psychological orientation are prepared for a “broad spectrum slice of the human experience,” which for Bennett, includes the ability to be emotionally present in difficult emotional circumstances or even to simply better hold and tolerate emotionally powerful situations.

Depth psychology is grounded in the humanities, Bennett reminded me when we connected for an interview on the topic, and therefore it can contribute to an individual experiencing a fuller and richer life. Being able to identify with different kinds of people and to accommodate varying perspectives are just some of the advantages that depth training can contribute to a therapeutic practice. In addition, if one is willing to be a student of the human mind, and of the context provided by mythology and literature, it all serves to “broaden us out”—in a depth psychological way.

Jung spoke of his own work in archeological terms, which does imply a depth that is “going toward the center,” Matthew points out. All depth psychological orientations anchor us, and mythology, storytelling, dreams—even reading fiction—each express some dynamic of what it means to be human. Each contains energetics that are useful in reconciling opposing points of view. That’s how depth becomes breadth, Matthew says. It enables us to countenance the deeper or chthonic layers of life and to draw closer to the archetypes, where things become not only more dynamic and more irrational, but also more powerful.

Jung warned against getting too close to the archetypes, Bennett notes, because identifying with an archetype too strongly may potentially lead to one being consumed by it, so there is a need to take action—to come back from that world and operationalize and integrate what was found and experienced there. Bennett relates how certain old Zen stories tell of pilgrims who go out into the wilderness seeking enlightenment, but who always end back “bare of breast in the market, buying vegetables.” For Matthew, this signifies closing the circle, of coming back home again; of bringing what was learned into everyday life.

Matthew, who spent three years in the Peace Corps in Warsaw, Poland—his own version of “venturing into the wilderness” I would dare to say—insists he found a new way of being in the world through the experience. “The kinds of capacities that depth psychology encourages and fosters allows us to be more in the world more fully and more vibrantly,” he insists.

Peace Corps and Pacifica  Announce New Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program

The idea of wholeness is, in fact, a fundamental idea of Jung’s work, and it entails in part developing the ability to embrace the parts of ourselves that are not wholly conscious, welcomed, or appreciated. It’s important to engage those aspects of the world (and therefore ourselves) in order to make meaning. Reflecting on this, I am reminded of something Jung wrote about how critical it is to go out into the world and encounter people in everyday situations in order to relativize and amplify our understanding:

Anyone who wants to know the human mind will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There, in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, Socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with real knowledge of the human soul[1]

Bennett likens the idea to something written by Terence, the Roman slave who became a playwright: “I count nothing human as alien to me,” a statement that further illustrates how reality is grounded in human experience. Bennett goes on to point out that T.S. Eliot even insisted that magical formulas are for practical results, such as getting a cow out of a bog. Bennett’s own work has largely been connected to helping people be in this world, he notes, not to transcend out of it. In the end, that was the instinct that led him to the Peace Corps.

Bennett, who served from 1991 to 1994, never intended to join the Peace Corps, but as he describes it, it was just something that “grew out of” him, and which unfolded in a series of small steps that led to it. He likens it to Tolkien’s hobbits, whose walkway approaches a larger road, that in turn leads to the whole world, and you “never know where you’re going to get swept off to”—which is also true of depth psychology, Bennett points out.

Listen to the 28 minute interview with Dr. Matthew Bennett here.

When our conversation turned to the question of whether Americans are too identified with our own culture, Bennett offered a clear perspective. The American culture is a powerful solvent, he suggests, making it easy for us to dissolve into it. It’s a big country with peaceful borders, vast resources, and intellectual vibrancy with fewer of the conflicts many other countries face. It’s easy for Americans to “float” through our culture and be “suspended” in it, Matthew insists: “Culture is a prism through which we view all of reality, and I think reality itself is culturally determined.” In a consensual reality, the more people decide and agree what is real, the more powerful an idea becomes, he notes: It’s good for us to step out of the culture and see what else is out there.

Joining the Peace Corps and other similar kinds kinds of experiences serve to place people in new cultures. Matthew reminds me that there is a tradition of young people of means, particularly in Europe, to take a year off school and travel the world, and joining the military also provides a similar experience to some extent. To be able to turn around and view one’s own culture from afar is valuable and healthy. Often it’s said it’s harder to re-enter one’s own culture after such an eye-opening experience, he notes, and it illustrates how powerful and seductive one’s culture can be. Such insights include the meaning of truth, justice, and even life itself—and such beliefs as the role of men and women, among others. When we’re able to take back and take those cultural differences in stride, the more we’re going to be able to take those differences in stride when trying to help people who are culturally different.

Having had the good fortune to study abroad myself during my undergraduate years, and to travel quite extensively since in a myriad of cultures that are vastly different from my own, I can relate. Being able to see how people live and think in ways that are often radically different from own very way of being in the world has opened my own eyes to new and different ways of seeing—changing me so much even that I occasionally find myself impatient when I feel others are unable to imagine a certain perspective I have gained and adopted through my experience. In depth psychological terms, identifying, opening to, and ultimately embracing the “other” is a required step toward wholeness.

However, culture isn’t something that necessarily can be or should be transcended, Bennett believes. Like personality organization, another core interest for Bennett, each belief is like its own little culture contributing to a sense of self. Sometimes cultural information contains something almost akin to survival data. The combination of information, the lenses we engage, really flow from how we understand ourselves to be. The process of psychotherapy then, becomes the journey of beginning to understand it and empathize with it. For a therapist, it’s figuring out how a client “makes sense.”

“Just that act of treating people as if they made sense, and trying to connect empathically with how it does make sense is really heart and soul of what I think psychotherapy and counseling are,” says Bennett. “Visiting other cultures and seeing the world sets you up up for that and makes it easier to do.”

The Peace Corps, in partnership with Pacifica Graduate Institute, recently announced the launch of a new Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program, which will provide graduate school scholarships to returned Peace Corps volunteers who complete a degree-related internship in an underserved American community while they pursue their studies. The Coverdell Fellows Program gives returned volunteers the chance to build on their classroom experience by sharing their unique knowledge and skills with local communities.

Matthew Bennett is presenting a 2-day workshop, Artifice of Eternity: Aging and Long-Term Care, July 16-17, 2016, at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Learn more or register at http://www.pacifica.edu/current-public/item/artifice-of-eternity-aging-and-long-term-care

[1] C.G. Jung, “New Paths in Psychology.” In Collected Works 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, p. 409

Matthew-Bennett.jpgMatthew Bennett, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, lecturer, and administrator with experience in public sector mental health and substance abuse treatment. He has broad experience in program development. He was formerly founder and first Director of Training for the Ventura County Behavioral Health Pre-Doctoral Internship in Clinical Psychology and Chair-Elect of the Psychology Department at Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura, California. His research interests include personality disorders, comparative personality theory, and internet applications for mental health. Dr. Bennett is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer (“Poland III, 1991-1993”).

NOTE: This blog was originally posted on Pacifica Post June 22, 2016

The Therapy Room and the Interactive Field: Dr. Joseph Cambray on Becoming a Supervisor in Depth

Psychotherapy is pervasive in contemporary culture. Even if you’re not a therapist yourself, if you’re taking the time to read this post, chances are good that either you or someone close to you has been involved in therapy at some point in their lives. And, while you may feel you have a good understanding of what happens in the therapy room, there may be more than meets the eye.

Do you ever wonder, for example, what has to occur in the therapeutic process so that the basic experience is what it needs to be for both the client and the therapist? How does a therapist tap into the unconscious in order to help the client be more of “who they are”? How does synchronicity—and the interactive field that emerges between two individuals—serve up messages from the unconscious for the benefit of the work? More, where does the therapist her/himself turn for help in honing their own intuition and skills that ultimately contribute to their own individuation process in working with clients?

These are all questions I asked Jungian analyst, Dr. Joseph Cambray, when he agreed to take a few minutes away from his busy schedule as provost at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Dr. Cambray is co-leading a 10-week course, On Becoming a Supervisor in Depth, along with Linda Carter, Avedis Panajian, Lionel Corbett, and Patricia Katsky starting March 3, 2016, at Pacifica.

Joe Cambray is not only eminently qualified to offer insights on what goes on between a client and therapist in the therapy room, he also has a long history around the process of supervising other therapists, having taught a course on becoming a supervisor for nearly 12 years at Harvard Medical School. More, his landmark book, Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe, also reveals how Joe is uniquely qualified to help each of us identify ways in which unconscious patterns are at work in our lives and in our journeys of individuation.

Joe describes his own perspective on what has to happen in the therapy room so that the basic experience is what it needs to be. While the focus is on the internal life of the person and on them becoming more of who they are, he notes, there is a symmetry between the client and the therapist. The therapist pays attention to his or her own reactions within the dialogue, and uses them to guide him.

blog_supervisor.pngThrough clients’ dreams and through certain events in their lives, it is possible to see how the unconscious is mobilized and activated. More, there is a field that transpires between the therapist and client—what Jung himself might have described as “a multi-dimensional field within the limited frame of our own sensory perception.” Therapists hone certain skills and processes that enable them to tune into what’s emerging into the field between the two individuals. As images arising in the therapy begin to create resonance, it enables us to perceive how the archetypal field is shaping itself, and what’s coming into consciousness.

Perceiving the field is about the “third”—the supervenient— the extraneous or unexpected, Cambray asserts. It’s “something holistically larger” that happens between two individuals that neither can own, but that both are within: an “emergence”—or “emergent phenomenon.” The mind emerges out of the brain in interaction with the environment, including the narrative dimensions of the environment.

How do you begin to go about training a therapist to notice the field, and what is emerging in the field, I wondered aloud. Cambray points out how the process is illustrated in Jung’s Red Book, and in the way in which Jung took great fantasies that were disturbing him and entering into those fantasies rather than repressing them or disregarding them. While there were psychological dangers to this kind of work, Jung persisted, and he set a pathway for us to follow.

Some of the analytic tools therapists use to perceive the field are reverie –that is, sitting quietly and observing the contents of the mind and watching what emerges; countertransference, when the reactions of a therapist that are activated within the therapeutic dyad might be considered a communication from the unconscious, and therapists as resonant instruments in the process; or what Cambray calls objective empathy, where the therapist is empathic with the whole of the situation— including the unconscious dimensions—and not just the client’s ego. Joe recounted a transformational experience of being in analysis himself when he realized the analyst was speaking directly to a figure from a dream they were discussing, bypassing Joe’s own ego completely, as if he were a bystander in the process.

In fact, the way we traditionally understand empathy is far too limited, Cambray suggests. Jung’s notion of a psychoid unconscious (or archetype), in which the structure of the world is intuitively informing us all the time, is an important aspect of the process. Cambray, who refers to “the artistic intuition of the psychoid,” points out how extraordinary elaborate geometric patterns that exist inside 13th century mosques in Iran could not be “worked out” with any of the simple geometric tools that we have—and, in fact, were not replicated by scientists in the west until the 1970s and 80s. Seemingly, five hundred years prior to our current science, the craftspeople who created the patterns were in touch with a fundamental geometric structure of the universe.

blog_supervisor_pollock.pngA more contemporary example, Joe states, is recent analyses of the fractal qualities that are inherent in Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, which reveal Pollock had “spontaneously intuited a way to get at the optimal amount of fractal density.” It’s that kind of intuitive knowing from nature—not from a cognitive rational process—which, when they emerge in therapy and supervision, are art forms.

All this prompted me to inquire how synchronicity, the topic of Joe’s aforementioned book, shows up in the therapy room and in supervision. In complex systems, there is language available that allows us to talk about the way interactions create a larger, holistic structure, Joe submits. Intuition is that part of our psyche that has evolved to pick up patterns—and those are not necessarily causal patterns. Joe sees synchronicity arising in supervision, in the therapy room; even when he does analysis using Skype, noting some interesting examples. We have only scratched the surface of looking at synchronicity with Jung’s work, Cambray believes. The fields (between us) have synchronistic dimensions to them. It’s a fundamental part of the structure of reality.

blog_supervisor_flying_v.pngUltimately, Joe notes, we can look to nature for some remarkably creative solutions. As a culture, we’re just beginning to touch on biological intelligence. Ant colonies are incredibly intelligent as a whole unit in the way they solve problems. Insect swarms or flocks of birds that act in perfect sync, with no apparent guiding principle that overtly tells them all to turn left at the exact same moment, are also examples. Nature provides a set of micro-cues that create collective behavior “in the most wonderful and mysterious ways.” What we call intuition is some of that kind of collective phenomena, Joe suggests.

I agree. Given our conversation, I’m more motivated than ever to pay attention to emergent patterns. And, for all the ways we each strive to perceive what is arising from the unconscious, you can bet the best therapists are tuned in to help us interpret and digest what emerges, and that each of them has a supervisor who is equally engaged.

Listen to the full audio interview with Dr. Joe Cambray here (Approx. 30 mins)

Join Dr. Joseph Cambray and colleagues Linda Carter, Avedis Panajian, Lionel Corbett, and Patricia Katsky, for a 10-week series, “On Becoming a Supervisor in Depth,” starting March 3, 2016, at Pacifica Graduate Institute.


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Joe Cambray, Ph.D., is Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Pacifica Graduate Institute as well as a Jungian analyst. He is Past-President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology, and former US Editor of the Journal of Analytical Psychology. For years he was on the faculty of the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies at Harvard Medical School where he co-taught a year-long course on becoming a supervisor. His numerous publications include the book based on his Fay Lectures: Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe; a volume edited with Linda Carter, Analytical Psychology: Contemporary Perspectives in Jungian Psychology; and a two volume compendium on research in analytical psychology co-edited with Christian Roesler and Leslie Sawin currently in publication. In addition, he has published numerous papers in a range of international journals.


bonnie_bright.jpgBonnie Bright, Ph.D., graduated from Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program after defending her dissertation in December 2014. She is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies, and of DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners. She is also the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal, and regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. Bonnie has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute; in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and has been extensively involved in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This blog post was originally published on Pacifica Post, an official blog site for Pacifica Graduate Institute on February 18, 2016.

 

Alchemical Active Imagination: Interview with Jungian Analyst Tom Elsner

The brilliant use of alchemy as a symbolic language and process for psychological and spiritual development is arguably one of C. G. Jung’s greatest contributions to the field of depth psychology. While alchemy may appear to be a mystical—and mysterious—domain, Jung developed a powerful and inspired method for accessing it by entering into dialogue with the rich manifestations of the unconscious and applying it to our daily lives for transformation and growth.

“True knowledge of oneself is the knowledge of the objective psyche as it manifests in dreams and in the statements of the unconscious,” wrote Marie-Louise von Franz, one of Jung’s closest colleagues. Finding myself intrigued by the idea of tapping into alchemical symbolism, and wanting to know more, I realized there was no better person to share some insights than Tom Elsner, a Jungian analyst and professor of Alchemy at Pacifica Graduate Institute, where Tom is teaching a 3-day workshop on the topic of Alchemical Active Imagination at P….

Tom immediately offered some history on the process of active imagination, which Jung developed to work with his own difficult experiences. Starting around 1916, after Jung notoriously broke with his mentor, Sigmund Freud, Jung went through an intense psychological process that included depression, accompanied by many deep dreams and visions. Over a period of 16 years, Jung gave voice to his inner dialogues through writing and painting, a process that ultimately resulted in The Red Book.

For Jung, active imagination was the process of making one’s subjective psyche objective—that is, making the unconscious overt and tangible in terms of images, voices, and inner experiences—so that it can manifest in ways we can more easily understand. By entering into dialogue with those images and voices, Jung found himself actively engaged with “emotional drives and dynamics that would otherwise have overwhelmed him,” Tom Elsner points out. It was an effective and inspired way to work through challenges of the psyche.

From around 1916, while Jung was in the depths of his process, he discovered alchemy and realized that alchemists were having symbolic experiences similar to his own. Alchemy emerged out of magical practices in ancient Egypt, was fertilized with philosophical views from the Greeks, and evolved via the Middle East, eventually taking root in Europe in the Middle Ages. By the time Jung came across the ancient texts in the twentieth century, alchemy had fallen out of favor in the west due to the Enlightenment and the focus on scientific thinking. Jung understood alchemy made no sense if one thought of it as chemistry. But if alchemy was viewed as a symbolic process, the images served powerfully as a “huge thesaurus coming out of the unconscious,” Tom notes. And so Jung applied it to the seemingly infinite stream of alchemical images in his own dreams, visions, and fantasies, as well as those of his patients.e.

Jung considered himself a natural scientist and strongly sought to bring an interdisciplinary dimension to psychology, involving other of the sciences of the time. While he undoubtedly related to the medieval alchemists as the natural scientists of their time, Elsner argues that active imagination, as Jung conceived it, has inspired the basis of many of the expressive arts, including dance, poetry, painting and sculpture, that have quite strongly emerged in current day psychotherapy.

However, it was only in the 1930s after Jung met Wolfgang Pauli, the Nobel prize winning quantum physicist, and they took up what was to be a 26-year correspondence, that Jung began to feel that there was a science that supported his experience of the autonomy of the psyche, and some of Jung’s paranormal experiences, as well. This was a significant intersection for Jung with alchemy. He saw it as the joining of the natural sciences with depth psychology, which paved the way for his theories about synchronicity and allowed him to expand his views about archetypes from seeing them as merely experienced on the inner plane to “something that [actually] inheres in the quality of matter—a kind of a return of soul to the world,” Tom affirms.

Utilizing alchemical images to make the subjective psyche objective, as Elsner describes it, is to begin to imagine how certain states of being, such as depression, can emerge and then engage. How might it turn it into an image, for example? What does it look like? Where it is in your body? What is it saying to you? Actively and intentionally engaging in dialogue allows us to overcome passive victimhood of a mood or state; to differentiate ourselves by encountering it as an object we can work with, rather than as something we are identified with, or identical to.

In our conversation, Tom describes in some detail how we might go about conducting an active imagination, engaging with a personal challenge, and “wrestling” with the psyche in order to come into some kind of relationship. Following certain guidelines or rituals in the process, taking action rather than passively watching what unfolds, and writing, drawing, or painting your experience (perhaps even hanging your work on the wall so as to “let it stare at you”) are all recommended aspects of the process. This kind of process can have an almost magical effect if you let it, Tom suggests.

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A core focus of alchemy is the union of opposites, often depicted in alchemical images in the form of the king and queen, sun and moon, spirit and matter, or above and below. Thus, the work of alchemy begins with work of the shadow; with what has been repressed, which includes earth, nature, and the feminine, each largely split off in the western culture, Tom notes. Jung and Pauli envisioned an animated world in which psyche and nature are not split but rather are mysteriously intertwined. For them, that coniunctio, or union of opposites, was taking place in the both the microphysical world and in the collective unconscious.

The writings of Jungian and archetypal psychologist James Hillman, about the return of soul in the world, are very much related to alchemy, Tom points out—and what Jung and Hillman understood about alchemy today is very much relevant in the sense of quantum physics and new discoveries emerging there. Inner archetypal patterns now recognized in depth psychology are not just inside, but are also a structure of the external material world. They enable synchronicity, a meaningful connection between what’s happening in the inner world and what’s happening outside as well. When we engage, is produces a sort of alchemical magic that can transform us. How will you tap into that magic today?

Listen to the full audio interview with Tom Elsner here (28:55 mins)

Join Jungian analyst Tom Elsner for a 3-day workshop on Alchemical Active Imagination, March 4-6, 2016, at Pacifica Graduate Institute

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Thomas Elsner J.D., M.A., is a certified Jungian analyst, faculty at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and a member of the C.G. Jung Study Center of Southern California. He trained as a lawyer, and then as a Jungian analyst at The Centre for Depth Psychology. In his research and teaching of Egyptian, Islamic and European alchemy he continues in the lineage of Jung and Von Franz’s work. The author of numerous articles, Thomas has taught courses at Pacifica on alchemy for over seven years, as well as presenting this material in England, Ireland, Switzerland, and throughout the United States. He has a private practice in Santa Barbara and is completing a book on Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner as seen from the alchemical and depth psychological perspectives.

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Bonnie Bright, Ph.D., graduated from Pacifica’s Depth Psychology program after defending her dissertation in December 2014. She is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in depth psychologies, and of DepthList.com, a free-to-search database of Jungian and depth psychology-oriented practitioners. She is also the creator and executive editor of Depth Insights, a semi-annual scholarly journal, and regularly produces audio and video interviews on depth psychological topics. Bonnie has completed 2-year certifications in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via the Assisi Institute; in Technologies of the Sacred with West African elder Malidoma Somé, and has been extensively involved in Holotropic Breathwork™ and the Enneagram.

NOTE: This blog post was originally posted on Pacifica Post, an official blog site for Pacifica Graduate Institute

Depth Psychological Approaches to Suffering—Audio Interview & Blog post with Dr. Lionel Corbett

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran

We are all intimately familiar with suffering. And, while we might wish it away when it is painfully present, it is a normal part of human life, Dr. Lionel Corbett, M.D., Jungian analyst and professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute reminded me when I recently sat down for a depth discussion with him on the topic.

Corbett-WebImage.jpgEtymologically, the word “suffering” comes from two Latin roots: sub—meaning “under”—and ferre, meaning “to carry or bear,” as in “to bear a burden.” But suffering is not necessarily pathological, Lionel insists. The root of the word “suffer” is also the root of the English word “fertile,” so it is also related to the idea of bearing fruit. Psychologically, then, suffering can produce something; it’s not random or meaningless, nor merely something to get rid of. In reality, it can act as either a fertilizer or a poison. It can be harmful or it can be helpful, but we need a framework by which we can understand it.

Dr. Corbett, whose recent book, The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to Suffering serves as a foundation for his public workshop (February 12-14, 2016) at Pacifica Graduate Institute, asserts that suffering can be developmentally useful, enabling wisdom and understanding we might not otherwise have had. Suffering can change our worldview, our values, and even reveal aspects of a person’s character that were previously not known. It may also make us more empathic and compassionate, or more appreciative of everyday life.

We might take depression, which is one kind of suffering or “burden,” as an example, Lionel noted. It is common to look at it through a clinical lens as a disorder, but if we engage a spiritual lens, depression may be regarded as a “dark night of the soul” which will eventually enhance our spiritual development. Depending on which lens one uses to regard it, we hold an attitude that will either tend to re-enforce and solidify our usual habits and patterns of thinking and doing, or else open us to change and transformation. Suffering (of any kind) may reveal great capacity for courage and resilience in an individual—or it can result in resentment and bitterness. When we consider it using a depth psychological lens, it seems clear it is not a random process, but rather a critically important aspect in the development of the personality and of what C. G. Jung called “individuation.”

Dr. Corbett offers multiple frameworks for considering suffering; among them, the idea that suffering is a period of liminality—a term anthropologists use to describe a rite of passage. Rites of passage in tribal cultures used to occur in three phases. The middle phase was the liminal on, or the phase of being “betwixt and between,” a period of tremendous uncertainty. Considering that while we are suffering, we are simply between phases, may provide an archetypal context that can help situate us and provide meaning, giving us strength to go on.

Suffering brings up fundamental and often painful questions about individual destiny and about the meaning of life, at times resulting in identity crises or “spiritual emergencies” that arouse questions like, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What have I done to deserve this?” Jung suggested that searching for meaning in suffering ultimately makes bearable what would otherwise be unbearable, and pointed out the need to locate ourselves in a larger relationship to “what is.” “The decisive question for man is,” wrote Jung (1961), “Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interests upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance. … If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change.” (pp. 356-7)

In mid-life, Lionel points out, many of us find ourselves living out the stereotypical scenario where we struggle to climb the ladder, only to find as we get to the top that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall. In times of intense suffering, our established lifelong spiritual traditions may fail to help. Questioning one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs can be one of the functions of suffering, further amplifying the viewpoint that the way one has been living may suddenly seem rather pointless or hollow. This can cause tremendous regret or bitterness, but if one can have a direct experience of the transpersonal unconscious, what Jung refers to as “the numinous,” it can open the door to a new personal form of spirituality.

Where does suffering come from? Believing it is something that is “happening to” us is an egoic perspective, Lionel reminded me. Because the process of suffering comes out of the unconscious, we have no control over it. Jung would say that it comes from what he termed the “Self,” sending signals from the unconscious that something needs attention. While suffering can result from a complex that has taken hold of us, we can consciously and purposefully engage in the process by inquiring into aspects of or own psyche that we have to grapple with. Lionel offered a compelling metaphor, that is to look at this situation as a boat where the sailor cannot change the wind, but he can adjust the sails. The wind is like the wind of the spirit, he notes: things happen that you can’t control. The way you adjust the sails is your reaction to it.

Is suffering optional? Can we avoid suffering altogether, or at least diminish it? Are some people more sensitive to suffering? Is there such a thing as secondhand suffering, where certain individuals suffer more themselves because of what they’re witnessing? These are all questions I posed in our conversation, and some of Lionel’s answers surprised me, but this final question truly brought me back to the implications of working with suffering in a depth psychological way. “How do therapists and helping professionals sustain their work with those who are suffering?”, I wondered aloud to Dr. Corbett, who is a seasoned analyst and clinician.

There is a shamanic way of working with clients, he was quick to suggest, wherein the therapist takes on the suffering of the client, transmutes it, and then “gives it back to them in a more digestible way.”

This, to me, is the blessing of depth psychology. Knowing it is paramount in our individuation process and having support from depth-oriented thinkers and therapists who can help us hold the suffering so it can transmute and transform us.

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching,” famously wrote Charles Dickens in Great Expectations, “and has taught me to understand what [the] heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.”

Listen to the full audio interview with Dr. Lionel Corbett here (27:12 mins)

Learn more about Dr. Lionel Corbett’s upcoming public workshop, “Depth Psychological Approaches to Suffering,” February 12-14, 2016 at Pacifica Graduate Institute.


Sources

Merriam-Webster online dictionary: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/suffer

Corbett, Lionel. (2015). The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to SufferingAsheville, NC: Chiron.

Dickens, Charles. (2003). Great Expectations. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics.

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, Dreams, ReflectionsNew York, NY. Pantheonpp. 356-7.


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Lionel Corbett, M.D., trained in medicine and psychiatry in England, and as a Jungian Analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago. His primary interests are the religious function of the psyche, especially the way in which personal religious experience is relevant to individual psychology; the development of psychotherapy as a spiritual practice; and the interface of Jungian psychology and contemporary psychoanalytic thought. Dr. Corbett is a professor of depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is the author of numerous professional papers and four books: Psyche and the Sacred, The Religious Function of the Psyche; The Sacred Cauldron: Psychotherapy as a Spiritual Practice; and most recently The Soul in Anguish: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to SufferingHe is the co-editor of Jung and Aging; Depth Psychology, Meditations in the Field; and Psychology at the Threshold.

The Shadow of Society and its Role in Mass Shootings

Concept of the Shadow in Jungian Psychology

With the gradual development of our corresponding capacity for logical thinking in humans (that is, to “think about our ability to think”), we have both increased opportunities for consciousness but also increased challenges in the sense that we categorically seek to analyze, label, and put into buckets the things we don’t understand–sometimes becoming reductive and trapped in limited thinking.
In order for us to transcend our current mythology and come to new creative awareness, we need to be able to look beyond established boundaries and facades to see what newand emergent concepts await. One good example of this is the current debate about gun control in America in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting and so many other recent tragic violence with guns.
On one level it’s quite common to look at it as whether or not we need to ban public access to guns (and it certainly is worth the debate), but if you use a depth psychological lens, you look beyond that simple black-and-white question to see what the undercurrent is in our society that is enabling or even driving certain individuals to use guns to commit such horrible atrocities. Part of the study of depth psychology includes regarding that invisible aspect of ourselves that is a blind spot for us (even though those close to us can usually see it clearly).
The negative, repressed parts of us that we are unable to deal with have often become split off from our awareness but continue existing (and acting out)–albeit under the radar so to speak. For example, one individual may be highly critical or even become derogatory toward parents who allow their children to run wild in public, but in the end it may be stemming from individual’s own deeply ingrained memory of her own experience with parents who punished her for doing the same, insisting she was “bad” for doing so.
Gradually the details of the reason for negative feelings disperse, but the negative feeling remains–simply no longer connected to any rational reason that one could point to that triggers it. Like individuals, society also had its . Going back to the issue of the growing number of mass shootings, I recently read a very good article that offers a symbolic and depth psychological take on the matter. In “Mythology of Bullets” (Spring 81: The Psychology of Violence), Jungian analyst and professor Glen Slater reflects on one of the most fundamental beliefs of the American culture at large. He suggests our inherent belief in the American dream, that anyone can achieve success if he works hard enough may be partially at fault.
In conjunction with the Second Amendment, our forefathers bestowed the right for every individual to bear arms, and the rather black-and-white mandate that stipulates failure in America is not an option and we must do whatever it takes to succeed, those who are moving at a pace that is not sustainable andstill find themselves failing, marginalized, and teetering on the brink of defeat simply fall prey to a power complex in which they grasp onto the one enduring symbol that lives in the very biology of our cells. Passed down from the pioneers who subdued (and colonized) the Wild West in order to establish the United States of America, the access to and utilization of guns and bullets to finally and forcefully remove all objects in the way seems an inherent right.
More, by placing a finger on the trigger of such a device that can kill at a distance, it makes us remote–removing ourselves from the human connection. Slater refers to connection between bullets as projectiles and the psychological projections we easily make in blaming others for our failures. The we can’t possibly see rises up, projecting fault and simultaneously seeking to obliterate anything that might be perceived to be linked to our failure, lack of ability to connect, and our corresponding exile to edges of acceptability in a society so focused on success.
Additionally, Slater points out, the tendency of our narrative –our cultural myth, if you will–is that the hero always wins, is shiny bright and successful, and has no side. There is no room for failure, andat the same time, we tend to move so fast and expect so much that we fail to allow for a slowing down, a reflection on the reality of life’s ups and downs, anda container for just being in the grips of difficulty, sadness, anger, and depression. Jungian James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology and one of the greatest depth psychologists in contemporary times (he just died last year in 2011), points out how absolutely critical it is that we engage in the journey to the “underworld.”
Traditional rites of initiation–now essentially absent in our culture–require the initiate to travel on what is essentially an underworld journey to go into the depths, encounter obstacles, overcome trials, and return bearing gifts for the society. If we are not willing to experience the depths, the despair, and the trials, we can’t possibly experience positive growth–what Jung called “individuation”–in the same way.
Equally, it’s critical that we participate in what depth psychologists Mary Watkins and Helene Schulman refer to as “engaged witnessing” to honor and validate the suffering and sacrifice of those who have lost loved ones to these terrible eruptions of in the cultural landscape. If we fail to “feel” and honor the feelings of grief, despair, anger, and loss that naturally arise in situations such as this, we remain only “passive bystanders” who are far more likely to participate only as onlookers that experience only the shock value or entertainment-related aspects of such dramatic and traumatic events.
The study and practice of depth psychology allows us to regard what’s going on below the surface, to challenge the obvious and wonder about the meaning of things yet unanalyzed. Everyone who has studied Jungian or depth psychology on some level has some insight into how we are all interconnected and how important it is to look beneath the obvious surface of things.
Join me, Bonnie Bright M.A. with Jungian analyst Michael Conforti Ph.D. for a second free teleseminar, Beyond Horror and Hope (PART 2): The Archetypal Intersection of Innocence and Evil, a depth psychological and archetypal perspective on the recent mass shootings. Register to participate or listen later.

In the Face of Trauma: A Depth Psychological Approach

In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of the Sandy Hook Newtown Connecticut mass school shooting, many of us are experiencing some degree of trauma–whether we knew the victims firsthand or not. In fact, there are many reasons we may feel increasingly traumatized in a culture where chaos seems to be the norm, rather than the unusual.

Psychologist and trauma expert, Robert Stolorow (2010) designates the contemporary era an “Age of Trauma” because, according to him, the “tranquilizing illusions of our everyday world seem in our time to be severely threatened from all sides” (para. 2). He refers to ongoing and increasing global issues like global warming, terrorism, and economic collapse–all of which raise issues of existential vulnerability and threaten to annihilate the core framework by which we make sense of our existence. To this list by Stolorow, I would add the pace and intensity by which we are fed information by mass media which assaults us with information like a firehose, inundating us at every moment with horrific news about violence (like the recurring mass shootings), crime, disease, loss, death, and destruction–allowing no time for us to integrate or “hold” the news in a lifestyle which provides no container in which we can witness it. In addition, many of us begin to feel what I call “trauma fatigue.” No matter how awake, sensitive, andcompassionate we may be, there comes a point when we simply begin to shut down and wish to go back to “normal” life. It’s all we can do to survive our own depth of emotions.

Activist and author, Joanna Macy (1979) points to a general apathy in our culture which she defines as a state that derives from dread. She claims that we live in fear of confronting the despair we all carry that lives just under the surface. For Macy, despair is  “the loss of the assumption that our species will inevitably pull through” (p. 1, column 3). More and more, we are bombarded by data that questions, perhaps for the first time, whether or not our culture, our species, or even our planet will survive from an ecological, economic, or even cultural standpoint. Growing numbers of people are tuning in to this horror across a broad spectrum of the global population. Worse, Macy points out, feeling despair in and about a cultural context can be isolating, further amplifying the dilemma. She believes there is a psychic dissonance between our felt sense of impending apocalypse and the increasingly desperate mechanisms to maintain “normalcy” as our society requires us to become adept at sweeping our fear and pain under the rug in order to avoid the taboo around directly addressing despair. “Our dread of what is happening to our future is banished to the fringes of awareness, too deep for most of us to name, too fearsome to face” (Macy, 1979, p. 64). As well, individuals who tap into the unnamed dread often conclude it is them and not society that is insane.

The Western notion of individuality maintains that we are separate individuals experiencing something unique to each of us andothers are disconnected from our experience. However, it is likely that in many cases, we have simply bracketed out the “outside,”–the collective memory of traumatic events that has accumulated over generations. Presumably, others with whom we have relationships are also experiencing the same trauma but it is unconscious, marginalized, silenced, and therefore invisible.

Fassin and Rechtman (2009) refer to both cultural trauma, the collective memory of wounds that contribute to cultural identity of specific groups including the Holocaust, slavery, and 9/11, and to historical trauma, events located in time that include acts of colonization, the atom bombs dropped in Japan, and apartheid among others. According to them, trauma embodies images of unacceptable suffering that are located in the body in order to ensure that these events never happen again. Social change in recent decades has redefined trauma survivors as “witness to the horrors of our age” (p. 22), embodying our common humanity.

Paul Shepherd compares dissociation to a fencing off of our psyche, a splitting, just as when we first fenced off plots of earth in order to manage them and accommodate our ongoing survival (in “My Name is Chellis…”, Glendinning, 1994). These fenced off areas of our psyche, once cut off, freeze in place, holding the contents in original untouched form, as if freeze-drying them to preserve the host from contamination. Jung referred to these split-off parts as complexes (Donald Kalsched, 1996).

Regardless, if left untreated, unhealed, and repressed, trauma leads to dissociation and abusive or pathological behaviors that tend to be passed on from generation to generation (Glendinning, 1994). To heal trauma, we must not only treat the individual symptoms and lives of those who suffer, but also address directly the cultural and psychic legacy we have inherited over time as the trauma was passed down through generations. In places where individuals can no longer contain the horror of the trauma that continues to live in the unconscious realm, it erupts into the collective culture as violence, terror, and abuse.

Even decades ago, C. G. Jung pointed out that our collective culture mirrors an individual who is suffering deeply from soul loss, manifesting in symptoms such as falling into conflict with himself, fragmenting into splinters in his pursuit of goals, interests, andoccupations, and forgetting his own “origins and traditions…even losing all memory of his former self” (Jung, as cited in Sabini, 2005, p.182). Disregard, numbing, or not wishing to see or feel the distress and negative effects that soul loss brings also moves us ever further away from deep connection an into a society where meaning is hard to find, compelling us try anything to fill up the gaping sense of emptiness that results, staving off the fear of annihilation that is core to the experience of trauma. Jungcorrectly diagnosed our compulsive, cultural tendency toward hyperactivity, saying, “we rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness” (in Sabini, 2005, p. 141).

While this may ring true for many of us–even decades after Jung wrote these words–there is still much potential for each of us to engage with creative imagination to envision a world vastly different than what we experience on a surface level. There is so much “depth” in the world–and though we have access to remarkable context and meaning, we can hardly remember who we truly are in the face of deep-seated patterns and complexes. Depth psychology provides a unique opportunity to engage with the invisible, hidden, marginalized aspects of self and culture that are crying out to help us be whole. But we need to take a depth psychological approach–to slow down and listen–and embrace the dark shadows in hopes of integrating all the aspects of what it means to be truly human.

SPECIAL EVENT ALERT: Join me for “Beyond Horror and Hope: The Archetypal Intersection of Innocence and Evil”–an exploratory conversation about the archetypal underpinnings of the Sandy Hook Connecticut school shooting by Jungian Analyst Michael Conforti, Ph.D., moderated by me, Bonnie Bright, M.A.

In the Face of Trauma: A Depth Psychological Approach

In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy of the Sandy Hook Newtown Connecticut mass school shooting, many of us are experiencing some degree of trauma–whether we knew the victims firsthand or not. In fact, there are many reasons we may feel increasingly traumatized in a culture where chaos seems to be the norm, rather than the unusual.

Psychologist and trauma expert, Robert Stolorow (2010) designates the contemporary era an “Age of Trauma” because, according to him, the “tranquilizing illusions of our everyday world seem in our time to be severely threatened from all sides” (para. 2). He refers to ongoing and increasing global issues like global warming, terrorism, and economic collapse–all of which raise issues of existential vulnerability and threaten to annihilate the core framework by which we make sense of our existence. To this list by Stolorow, I would add the pace and intensity by which we are fed information by mass media which assaults us with information like a firehose, inundating us at every moment with horrific news about violence (like the recurring mass shootings), crime, disease, loss, death, and destruction–allowing no time for us to integrate or “hold” the news in a lifestyle which provides no container in which we can witness it. In addition, many of us begin to feel what I call “trauma fatigue.” No matter how awake, sensitive, and compassionate we may be, there comes a point when we simply begin to shut down and wish to go back to “normal” life. It’s all we can do to survive our own depth of emotions.

Activist and author, Joanna Macy (1979) points to a general apathy in our culture which she defines as a state that derives from dread. She claims that we live in fear of confronting the despair we all carry that lives just under the surface. For Macy, despair is  “the loss of the assumption that our species will inevitably pull through” (p. 1, column 3). More and more, we are bombarded by data that questions, perhaps for the first time, whether or not our culture, our species, or even our planet will survive from an ecological, economic, or even cultural standpoint. Growing numbers of people are tuning in to this horror across a broad spectrum of the global population. Worse, Macy points out, feeling despair in and about a cultural context can be isolating, further amplifying the dilemma. She believes there is a psychic dissonance between our felt sense of impending apocalypse and the increasingly desperate mechanisms to maintain “normalcy” as our society requires us to become adept at sweeping our fear and pain under the rug in order to avoid the taboo around directly addressing despair. “Our dread of what is happening to our future is banished to the fringes of awareness, too deep for most of us to name, too fearsome to face” (Macy, 1979, p. 64). As well, individuals who tap into the unnamed dread often conclude it is them and not society that is insane.

The Western notion of individuality maintains that we are separate individuals experiencing something unique to each of us andothers are disconnected from our experience. However, it is likely that in many cases, we have simply bracketed out the “outside,”–the collective memory of traumatic events that has accumulated over generations. Presumably, others with whom we have relationships are also experiencing the same trauma but it is unconscious, marginalized, silenced, and therefore invisible.

Fassin and Rechtman (2009) refer to both cultural trauma, the collective memory of wounds that contribute to cultural identity of specific groups including the Holocaust, slavery, and 9/11, and to historical trauma, events located in time that include acts of colonization, the atom bombs dropped in Japan, and apartheid among others. According to them, trauma embodies images of unacceptable suffering that are located in the body in order to ensure that these events never happen again. Social change in recent decades has redefined trauma survivors as “witness to the horrors of our age” (p. 22), embodying our common humanity.

Paul Shepherd compares dissociation to a fencing off of our psyche, a splitting, just as when we first fenced off plots of earth in order to manage them and accommodate our ongoing survival (in “My Name is Chellis…”, Glendinning, 1994). These fenced off areas of our psyche, once cut off, freeze in place, holding the contents in original untouched form, as if freeze-drying them to preserve the host from contamination. Jung referred to these split-off parts as complexes (Donald Kalsched, 1996).

Regardless, if left untreated, unhealed, and repressed, trauma leads to dissociation and abusive or pathological behaviors that tend to be passed on from generation to generation (Glendinning, 1994). To heal trauma, we must not only treat the individual symptomsand lives of those who suffer, but also address directly the cultural and psychic legacy we have inherited over time as the trauma was passed down through generations. In places where individuals can no longer contain the horror of the trauma that continues to live in the unconscious realm, it erupts into the collective culture as violence, terror, and abuse.

Even decades ago, C. G. Jung pointed out that our collective culture mirrors an individual who is suffering deeply from soul loss, manifesting in symptoms such as falling into conflict with himself, fragmenting into splinters in his pursuit of goals, interests, andoccupations, and forgetting his own “origins and traditions…even losing all memory of his former self” (Jung, as cited in Sabini, 2005, p.182). Disregard, numbing, or not wishing to see or feel the distress and negative effects that soul loss brings also moves us ever further away from deep connection an into a society where meaning is hard to find, compelling us try anything to fill up the gaping sense of emptiness that results, staving off the fear of annihilation that is core to the experience of trauma. Jung correctly diagnosed our compulsive, cultural tendency toward hyperactivity, saying, “we rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness” (in Sabini, 2005, p. 141).

While this may ring true for many of us–even decades after Jung wrote these words–there is still much potential for each of us to engage with creative imagination to envision a world vastly different than what we experience on a surface level. There is so much “depth” in the world–and though we have access to remarkable context and meaning, we can hardly remember who we truly are in the face of deep-seated patterns and complexes. Depth psychology provides a unique opportunity to engage with the invisible, hidden, marginalized aspects of self and culture that are crying out to help us be whole. But we need to take a depth psychological approach–to slow down and listen–and embrace the dark shadows in hopes of integrating all the aspects of what it means to be truly human.

Visit www.DepthPsychologyList.com to find depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners.

An Archetypal Perspective on Clinical Practice: A Summary of an Introductory Teleseminar Lecture by Jungian Analyst Michael Conforti

Recently I attended a teleseminar wich I found valuable and provocative and which inspired me to summarize it here. Please note that that this synopsis is based on my own understanding and interpretation of what was said on the call, and has not been reviewed by the presenter, Dr. Michael Conforti.

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Whether you are a clinical psychologist or psychotherapist, or simply an individual who had experienced therapy, the capacity to use an archetypal perspective is critical and greatly enriches the treatment, stated Dr. Michael Conforti in his introductory teleseminar in the Master Lecture series, “An Archetypal Perspective on Clinical Practice” on November 5, (2012).

psychotherapy

Dr. Conforti, a Jungian analyst himself of some thirty years, began the session reminding us that Jung was once a Freudian, a fact we may tend to forget. The infamous break between Jung and Freud occurred because Jung no longer found himself able to boil human instincts down to the singularity Freud seemed determined to make them. Jung perceived things on a broader level. Take sex, for example: Freud is widely known for his theory that many psychological issues could be reduced to issues around the sex drive. Jung, by contrast, observed a bigger picture in which sex is a physical act on one end of a spectrum, but on the other (archetypal) end, it is a spiritual coniunctio, a desire for union with the divine.

Generally speaking, psychotherapy—regardless of the approach—often looks at “what’s wrong with a life.” Jung realized the archetypal forces at work are inclusive of the history of humanity. The voices of our own past and humanity’s past are what shape our lives. As a clinician, Conforti says, you can hear it from your clients. These threads make a tapestry that is transpersonal.

Post-Jungian James Hillman wrote in The Soul’s Code about the shaping of a life, a concept referred to as acorn theory. The oak tree is not physically in the acorn, but somehow the blueprint is. There is a teleological aspect in which the future oak tree seems to be pulling the acorn forward to its destiny. In the book, Hillman relates a number of stories which some of the most successful individuals in their fields had to overcome the very thing that they later mastered, pointing to how our greatness lies in the root. For example, someone who became a master orator struggled with a severe speech impediment as a child. Similarly, Conforti reminds us, Jungian Edward Whitmont wondered if our traumas and issues reveal the destiny of a life, what each of our individual journeys is about.

Using an archetypal lens gives us a broader lens, Conforti said, allowing us to look at the field an individual is brought into when they experience a significant event. For example, if someone is orphaned, they don’t simply change status: they are ushered into a field of “orphan” which has a correlating set of data and rules that all provide context and meaning to what it means to be an orphan. Looking at the broad archetypal picture when working with clients reveals a teleological pull, allowing us to ask archetypal questions. If someone is orphaned, how can someone with that kind of trauma have a dramatic experience of the deep unconscious, like when powerful synchronicities occur in their life?

Dr. Conforti pointed to one clinical case about a man who had been orphaned at a young age. This man had an uncanny ability for accessing psyche: his dreams often came true, he consistently won the lottery, and had a remarkable connection to music and art. As an orphan, this man had been abandoned by his mother. In the absence of the maternal holding and the absence of being able to feel secure in this world, he shifted into an oceanic sort of holding, to a world before the mother. Jungian disciple Erich Neumann wrote about how in the beginning of creation, there was sort of an oceanic bliss: a one-ness. That oceanic aspect is the unconscious. The orphan, whose developmental process of being held and mirrored was interrupted, found himself in a personal world fraught with terror. With the orphaning came an interruption of the “normal” trajectory of a life, of grounding and holding. He was left without a firewall and vulnerable to overwhelm by the unconscious. In moments of terror, we invent alternate realities. The world of archetypes and the transcendent is primary universe for all of us, but when there are interruptions in that trajectory from the world of the transcendent into the world of matter, we become (or remain) adrift and disoriented.

The motive forces of psyche and Self are the motive forces that shape your life—not the forces of this life, of making a living or having a home. Psyche places us in fields: it has a destiny factor for all of us. Each of us has a different journey, but what’s universal is that we all have a journey, certain nodal points we must traverse—markers which humanity has had to pass since the beginning of time. In the archetypal journey, there are certain familiar universal motifs transitions, initiations–certain points the “hero” has to pass. In every journey there comes a time when we must enter into relationship with another, to commit to another—whether person, belief system, etc. If we are not in a relationship to an “other,” or if we are not paying our dues to humanity, not using our gifts, we remain dependent on others and never fully arrive into our own. There’s an archetype of morality that requires us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Am I doing my work?”

The central arbiter of truth is not personal jurisdiction or values, it’s the unconscious. What happens, then, when transgression occurs, to patients whose parents have been criminal or to those individuals who have been betrayed and harmed by caregivers? The Self will alert you to transgression. Something is there to mitigate.

Our lives are forever marked by trauma. The majority of psychological approaches to life and to psychotherapeutic treatments are oriented to the unfolding of personal dynamics and an explanation of life based on antecedent events. Therapists are trained to look at life from the lens of “what came before.” ‘We are what we are because of what came before…” In the autobiography of Elie Wiesel, he refers to his mentor Sol Lieberman who told Elie it was time for Elie to “have a life”—to “make a life.” Lieberman meant it was time for Elie to enter in the archetypal (sacred) field of marriage; a new phase in his journey.

An archetypal approach allows you to see the temporal but sense the archetypal unfolding of a life—not just an individual life but the unfolding of a soul. This goes against psychotherapeutic tradition in which you’re “not supposed to tell clients what to do.” When you begin to accept an archetypal approach to treatment you go against the grain of the conventional teachings of psychotherapy. The patient does not have all the answers—the patient’s soul has answers. Conforti quoted Jungian John Beebe who said the act of interpretation is building a bridge between the internal truth of the patient and their ego

Jung’s psychology transcended personal experience. What those early Jungians saw in the temporal was an expression of the eternal. It’s not simply an issue of making a living or a career, but a matter of finding your place in the tribe, in the world. Indigenous peoples have traditionally identified and honored an individual’s gifts early on, whether the capacity to be a great hunter because they could see the subtle tracks, or a healer or a medicine woman, etc. They looked at the big existential issues in life.

An archetypal approach is looking at the existential aspect of life: what you’re meant to be. An archetypal lens in therapy shows what a life can be, and can tell you what a life journey is about. That’s why we must learn to read the symbols of Self and soul; learn the language that the whole Self and soul have to offer. You can’t approach the transcendent and transpersonal through the lens of a singular life, a behavioral psychology, or a pathology. What we view as pathology is actually an expression of the Self. There are things soul and psyche are expressing through the symptoms. This is a spiritual approach; it reveals the spiritual issues of one’s life and the journey a person is on. In many ways the archetypal clinician works a bit like a homeopath, Conforti believes: he offers “remedies”—not “fixes” but rather, what a person needs, just as if someone is lacking protein and is given protein, or requires potassium and is given potassium, for example. What do each of us individually “have to have” in our lives to make us complete? Something archetypal is calling us and looking archetypally can reveal what we each need for the journey.

It’s like the way you see more of the night sky when you look up; you’re not so confined, Conforti offers. It helps move past fears that prevent you from being who you are When you enter the world of archetypes you leave the outer world of space and time. The archetypal world is not bound by space and time: it’s not just about your mother and father but also about archetypes that encompass the world of mothers or fathers. It’s an orientation, a destiny.

milky way in starry sky

milky way in starry sky

In closing, Dr. Conforti shared the story of working at a center for seriously developmentally disabled child who was emotionally “gone” when indoors, but who transformed dramatically each day when he went into the garden, where he ran about picking flowers, weaving them into a crown and placing it on his head. The act of putting that crown of flowers was symbolic, and his relationship to it as a symbol somehow transformed him. Something happened. When in that space, the child was transported to another world. It gave him something.

boy with dandelion crown

Jung’s work is all about how our relationship to symbols can change our life: they offer us things we need to incorporate into our journey every single day. There are transpersonal movers and shapers that change us. Every one of us is transformed in the presence of certain fields that are unique and meaningful to each of us—whether it’s staying in touch with deep cultural or family traditions, or opera, or dancing, dinners with friends, gardening, cooking, etc.

To finish, Dr. Conforti addressed a question about how, as a therapist, one can recognize markers that suggest he or she is on the right track in identifying archetypal patterns at work. The psyche is interactive, Conforti said. It will reveal its process. Developing a sensitivity to universal process and universal markers, having an ethology that allows us to tune into natural patterns, and having an ongoing relationship to the unconscious are important to the process.

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