Archive for Trauma

How Memory Tending Can Transform You: An Interview with Dr. Daphne Dodson

You may have donated that Times of Your Life Paul Anka 8-track to charity when it didn’t sell at the last neighborhood rummage sale, but the words to “Good Morning Yesterday” live on. Sometimes it is hard to find the “memories you left behind” as Anka sang in 1976. Sometimes, as Freud argued, those memories sink below the level of our consciousness, but continue to work on us in various ways even decades later. Sigmund Freud even formulated a term “return of the repressed” to explain where neurotic symptoms originate, writing that illness is

…characterized by the return of the repressed memories — that is, therefore, by the failure of the defence…. The re-activated memories, however, and the self-reproaches formed from them never re-emerge into consciousness unchanged: what become conscious as obsessional ideas and affects¹

Jung, too, expressed the opinion that our memories can torment us to a dangerous extent when he wrote,

It may be that the majority of hysterical persons are ill because they possess a mass of memories, highly charged with affect and therefore deeply rooted in the unconscious, which cannot be controlled and which tyrannize the conscious mind and will of the patient.²

You don’t have to be a depth psychologist to notice when, at times, memories of your own rise up unexpectedly out of nowhere, often instigating powerful emotions. It happens for me with a handful of certain memories that show up, surprising me with their content and their intensity, making me wonder why a certain memory would arise for me when millions of others are lost.

memory_4.jpgThis is why I was fascinated to meet Daphne Dodson, a qualitative researcher who has spent the past 20 years interviewing people, who is currently researching and writing about a concept she calls “Memory Tending.” Daphne, who recently completed her Ph.D. in Depth Psychology, specializing in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, began thinking about the idea of Memory Tending after noticing that her daughter frequently seemed to have different memories of the same experience they had both lived through. As a researcher, Dodson realized that people she interviewed often utilized a memory to relay to Daphne who they were, to paint a picture or convey an image of how they perceive themselves to be. She began to wonder if memories might be “images,” and could be experienced much in the same way as we experience our dreams.

memory_2.jpgLooking at memories as images can be a tool to help us understand who we are and “where we might be going psychologically,” Dr. Dodson believes. The fact that we can each have a different memory of the same lived experience means it creates for each of us own personal psychic material that we can work with, or tend. The beauty of looking at a memory as an image (which in addition to being visual, could also be sound or smell), is that the image can invite us to engage with the way we see certain things of the past. Engaging with memories in an imaginal way enables us to create new relationships and perspectives with those images or stories from the past, resulting in clearing ongoing associated negativity or trauma that makes us stuck, or in amplifying the benefits of positive memories.

memory_3.jpgI consider the possibility that memories themselves may evolve as we transform our own relationship to them, much in the same way we humans individuate according to Jung—a self-generating pattern in which, as we change, the memory also transforms itself. Then, the more the memory transforms, the more we do as well. Daphne has a thoughtful response to this. It is important to note that while our memories can indeed change and evolve, she asserts, the original event doesn’t change—just our relationship to it. The original event will always be just as important in shaping who we are because of it. However, if we’re able to step into a memory of an event imaginally through a process like Memory Tending, even negative memories that haunt us can be engaged, allowing us to reshape our relationship to that memory and therefore to our own past self.

There is also clinical value to the process of Memory Tending, and Daphne shares some interesting examples from her research about how Memory Tending is helping people transform their lives and the lives of those around them. One therapist she knows has been using the practice in conjunction with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which was developed for emotional processing of traumatic memories. In her practice, the therapist uses EMDR to help integrate emotion in the body, and then brings in Memory Tending with the client to work with it imaginally and deepen the EMDR experience.

Daphne suggests an idea that might radical to some, but one that resonates with me personally. A particular memory tends to choose us, she submits. In this way, memories might then be considered an extension of the objective psyche that Jung described so passionately; the collective unconscious or archetypal Self, a field in which we move at all times, and which has our best interest at heart. Dream work is seen similarly in Jungian theory.

Memory Tending could also be an extremely useful for application to the collective, I think. In the midst of the overwhelm we all feel on a regular basis, due not only to a constant inundation of bad news in world, but also perhaps due to what must surely be disenfranchised trauma arising from our terrible history of colonialism in the west, and even memories held in the land.

When I inquire about applying Memory Tending to the collective, Daphne relates how the idea of Memory Tending originated through Dream Tending®³ (a practice developed by Pacifica’s Chancellor, Steve Aizenstat, over 40 years ago). In Dream Tending, as she describes it, one first amplifies dreams as Jung suggested, then engages with them in a transpersonal way, moving to the imaginal where images are seen as having their own wisdom. While Dream Tending doesn’t typically take place on behalf of a group, Daphne points out, she has seen cases where individuals who are present during Dream Tending sessions can get pulled into the experience, almost as if they get caught in the psyche and are there “among” the psyche, so it’s no longer “just an individual experience.” Something similar could potentially take place if it were done around a particular place and with intentionality by a group who sought to create a meaningful practice dedicated to something other than themselves, she muses.

memory.jpgI think about what Jung referred to as “big” dreams, and how they can often be given to an individual on behalf of the collective. Some indigenous peoples had rituals of gathering in the mornings to share their dreams in order to determine what messages to provide guidance to the tribe. Could certain collective memories choose us so we would do the work of psyche together for collective healing? It’s an intriguing idea.

Anytime one of us is willing to engage in our own personal psychological work, or the work of the land or the greater world and the greater psyche, Daphne affirms, it has a tremendous reach for the anima mundi, the soul of the world, itself. In our conversation, Daphne goes on to address the ethical concerns of Memory Tending, and shares more examples of how it has been instrumental in the process of transformation for many of her case subjects.

In spite of her long career as a researcher, Daphne first developed the idea of Memory Tending while in her doctoral program at Pacifica. She credits her professors there with much of her inspiration. Not only do the professors at Pacifica teach students academically, they also nurture souls, she insists: “Pacifica provides access to that kind of deep understanding of self, others, and the world around us. Pacifica itself holds that much-needed container for growth, not only academically, but on a soul and psychological level as well.”

View research topics from recent and upcoming dissertation defenses at Pacifica.edu – oral defenses.

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Daphne Dodson with Bonnie Bright here (approx. 26 mins)

¹ In “Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defence” in 1896, Freud introduced the idea of “the return of the repressed” as a mechanism that fuels neurotic symptoms.

² C. G. Jung, para 176 in “Cryptomnesia” from his essay, “On the Psychology of So-called Occult Phenomena,” in Collected Works Volume 1.

³ See www.dreamtending.com


daphne_dodson.png

Daphne Dodson, Ph.D. is a global qualitative research psychologist primarily conducting studies in the fields of infectious and auto-immune diseases. Her specific areas of interest include cultural psychology, the imagination, and memory. Dr. Dodson’s work will appear in two upcoming publications. Her essay, “Rebirthing Biblical Myth: The Poisonwood Bible as Visionary Art” will be published in Jungian Perspectives on Rebirth and Renewal: Phoenix Rising, a new book from Routledge. “Saying Goodbye to Our Children: A Phenomenon of Soul-Making” will appear Psychological Perspectivesa journal sponsored by the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles.


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

NOTE: This blog post was originally posted at Pacifica Post, the 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.


corbett-lionel.jpg

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.

Gun Violence in America: Jungian and Depth Psychology Perspectives


Gun Violence - a Jungian and Depth Psychology PerspectiveIn light of recent events at Isla Vista/UCSB as well as the hundreds of other gun violence incidents across the country and the world, I wanted to share/re-share some depth psychological resources and discussion around the topic. But first, some statistics courtesy of NBC News

  • Every year in the U.S., an average of more than 100,000 people are shot, according to The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.
  • Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention, the Brady Campaign reports.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns — more than the population of St. Louis, Mo. (318,069), Pittsburgh (307,484), Cincinnati, Ohio (296,223), Newark, N.J. (277,540), and Orlando, Fla. (243,195) (sources:  CDFU.S. CensusCDC)
  • One person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes, 87 people are killed during an average day, and 609 are killed every week. (source: CDC)

Meanwhile, as many psychologists and commentators alike are saying, the problem goes well beyond gun laws. Our cultural container and systems for treating mental health are simply not adequate to treat people with the deep-seated issues that often precede such violent acts. As you’ll note in many of the following resources, the general agreement is that focus needs to be on the underlying depth psychological issues that apply to the profile of mass shooters, who are often young men.

First, depth psychologist Craig Chalquist’s latest post “No Man Is an Island: Recognizing Gun Violence as a Cultural Symptom,” is an insightful depth psychological take on the problem, even employing a terrapsychological view based on the psychology of place where the shooting occurred.

 

Many Depth Psychology Alliance members joined Jungian analyst, Dr. Michael Conforti, and me for a two-part teleseminar“Beyond Horror and Hope: The Archetypal Intersection of Innocence and Evilwhich were exploratory conversations in response to the Sandy Hook Connecticut school shooting. We offered these in 2012 after the shooting in NewTown, CT, but I think they are still so relevant today if you want to listen to the archived recordings.

 

In January 2013, I interviewed depth psychology professor, Dr. Glen Slater, for Depth Insights radio podcast, The Roots of Mass Shootings: A Depth Psychological Look at Gun Violence, a conversation that touched on his 2009 article in Spring Journal, “The Mythology of Bullets.”  You can find a link to the full article, courtesy of Spring Journal, on that podcast page.

Finally, I mentioned some of my thoughts at that time in a short blog post on here on DepthPsychologyList.com“The Shadow of Society and its Role in Mass Shootings.”

Please feel free to comment on any of these resources here, or share some you have come cross that you have found insightful or worthwhile.

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Holding the Opposites, Grounding in Earth to Cope with Difficult Times

When we are not grounded, not connected to our roots, terrible psychic issues occur, which lead to feelings of intense fear and anxiety suggests Jungian analyst Judith Harris, in her book Jung and Yoga: The Psyche Body Connection. She quotes C. G. Jung, who, in his complex work, Mysterium Coniunctionus, establishes that the element of earth holds the exact central point between the tensions of two opposites.


Grounding oneself in the earth results in feeling held by the Great Mother, rendering one nourished, nurtured, and whole. The center is the eternal, Harris states, and all that is contained within it is represented by the archetype of the Self, which contains the totality of the psyche. The center implies stillness, and in the stillness there is space for something new to emerge. When we connect to the sacred center, the earth, “the deep-seated origins that existed thousands of years before us brings healing at a profound mystical level” (Harris, p. 76).

“He who is rooted in the soil endures,” wrote Jung (1927). “Alienation from the unconscious and from its historical conditions spells rootlessness. That is the danger that lies in wait for the conqueror of foreign lands, and for every individual who, through one-sided allegiance to any kind of -ism, loses touch with the dark, maternal, earthy ground of his being. (Jung, 1927, p. 103).

According to Jung, when we go “down” (the direction of earth), we connect with the collective unconscious which includes the past: we go back in time, and in so doing, we touch all the unfulfilled lives that have been lived before us, allowing them to be lived out; redeeming them. This alignment with the center, the earth, the archetype of the Great Mother allows us to discover the miracle of creativity (in Harris, 2001).

Man facing coming night storm

Judith Harris reminds us that when sufficient energy moving in one direction accumulates, it will always ultimately be reversed in order to prevent one-sidedness. When torn between the opposites, chaos results, and we are literally torn in two—unable to stand, to move, to bear the confusion—while still being drawn further into the chaos. The age-old motif of descent, or “dark night of the soul,” carries with it the theme of a quest, an initiation, a purification that will lead to liberation, renewal, and rebirth.

When times seem dark, there is little we can do but to hold the tension, the grief, and the pain. We must be willing to be still and grounded enough in order to witness the fall of night, the darkness that makes its cold nest all around us, cutting us off from home. There can be no regeneration until we can do so. Until we all are willing to reconnect with our roots in Mother Earth, to take on the darkness and embrace it, we will continue to colonize others, to disregard the spirit and inspirited that surrounds us, and to suffer. Sometimes symbolic death can occur in the process, but in dying, new life occurs. When the Gorgon, Medusa, of Greek myth was decapitated by Perseus, it is said that her blood gave birth to the Pegasus, the winged white horse who represents poetry and creativity.

Somewhere within me, as I write these words, I have the sudden felt understanding this underlying eternal tenet: that in holding the tension of the opposites, a miracle occurs. The transcendent solution that arises is tangible; real. If I can just be aware and still myself in that center between the opposites of any seemingly hopeless or stressful situation… If I can just feel my feet on the ground and hold the tension, even in the midst of two end points that don’t appear they can ever be reconciled… If I can ground myself down into the earth, I can actually be present enough to behold the process taking place.

It seems like few of us in our fast-paced (often overwhelming and sometimes frightening) contemporary culture are willing to embrace the dark earth; the deep, devouring feminine that insists we surrender and be purified. Collectively, we tend to mill about our daily lives with their myriad of responsibilities, activities, and worries, disconnected, lost, homeless, fearful, and alone. Where do we begin?

It begins with the individual taking root and making a stand even in the midst of fear, anxiety, and despair. Rather than fleeing into panic, distress, or anger, or trying to distract ourselves, we must each learn take on that dark night, to stop the frantic buzzing of useless wings and allow the night to wash over us, silent and still as we embrace it; as it engulfs us and devours us. We must hold the tension; trusting that something bigger exists, releasing the attachment to the notion that we will ever see the hive again, but knowing that the earth is so much bigger.

References

Harris, J. (2001). Jung and yoga: The psyche-body connection. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.

Jung, C. G. (1927). “Mind and Earth” (1927). In Collected Works Vol. 10: Civilization in Transition.


When Culture Battles Spirit: An Archetypal and Depth Psychological Look at the Nature of Addiction

Addiction (of all kinds) has been described as everything from frustrating to “hell” to “possession,” and worse. The pattern of addiction is an archetype that has been around for millennia, but it certainly seems like our current culture is more and more conducive to the iron grip of addiction in a multitude of ways–including everything from the more traditional issues with alcohol, drugs, gambling, cigarettes, sex, food, or work, to new and emerging culturally supported issues like television, shopping, Internet, email, texting, social media, mobile gadgets, video gaming, and more. Often, particularly in the case of the latter group, we don’t even realize the extent of our addiction to these categories which might simply be labeled “entertainment.” Indeed there thousands of messages vying for our attention via media on any given day seducing us with their siren song of escape from our everyday lives.

Are our “everyday lives” so distressing that we must seek escape? It seems that things are moving faster than ever before and the container that used to exist for earth-based, indigenous cultures who had options to deal with their troubles (i.e. to go to the “earth,” the shaman, or the community) is no longer an obvious option to deal with our distress. More, as activist and Buddhist scholar   points out, we are collectively aware, perhaps for the first time in history, that humanity has the capacity to literally destroy ourselves. Add to that the many and varied challenges of childhood and early experiences that may have engendered disorientation, distress, or trauma–and the lack of initiation, an archetypal concept that provides a container for us (very human) individuals to move through life experiences in stages that offer learning and growth, we have fewer and fewer tools to deal with the challenging issues that bleed into our sometimes fragile egos.

Philip Cushman, in Constructing The Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History Of Psychotherapy insists we suffer from what he terms the calls the “empty self,” in which the individual in modern culture is driven by a felt sense of hollowness, a lack of meaning by which, yearning for something it can’t quite identity, desperately seeks to fill itself up through increasing compulsive consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity and even psychotherapy. To alleviate the anxiety, depression, isolation, and suffering, psychosomatic disorders, or addiction, we turn to consumerism, increasing the demand for more and new products that require increasing amounts of natural resources, fossil fuels, and rare metals and minerals and leading to ever greater deposits of refuse, non-recycled materials, and other consumer waste.

Contemporary Jungian Marion Woodman insists the root of addiction is unique to each individual but linked to our culture. In his online article “Depth Psychological Perspectives On Addiction And Treatment,” John E. Smethers, Ph.D. writes, “Woodman suggests that many of us, despite gender, are addicted because we have been driven to specialization and perfection by our patriarchal culture (p. 10). Obsession is at the root of perfection. An obsession is a persistent or recurrent idea, usually strongly tinged with emotion, and frequently involving an urge toward some kind of action, the whole mental situation being pathological. The roots of fear can also be pathological.”

When we are fearful, then–as most of us are in our fast-paced, uncertain world with so many demands to live up to– it is natural to lean on something for emotional support to shore us up. Ultimately, the literal desire for “spirits” such as alcohol may also be an unconscious longing for spirit, an unconscious longing to be connected to something bigger than our everyday egoic selves and to find ourselves located in a larger fabric of being. Smethers posits that addiction may be a “pedagogical tool” of the psyche, presumably capable of teaching us life lessons of a nature and scale we couldn’t possibly learn in any other way.

In his article “Addictive Disorders and Contemplative Practice,” Elliott Dacher M.D. echoes this theme, reminding us that Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes the role of spirituality in recovery. Many who have studied the works of depth psychology pioneer Carl Gustav Jung are aware of his role in the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in regards to his relationship with Bill Wilson, who believed he overcame his addiction through “spiritual efforts.”

Jungian Michael Conforti looks at addiction as a repetition of an archetypal pattern at play, a set of symptoms that have emerged into form due to the influence of a surrounding field. When an individual enters a particular manifest field, he or she becomes subject to the patterns at play. Engaging concepts from complexity theory and the new sciences, Conforti explains that the one way to shift the dominant pattern is a perturbation that causes a new course of action. Sometimes this occurs by “grace”–as when something “big” happens in the addicts life and he or she hits a turning point–and sometimes it occurs via the work of a good psychotherapist or “pattern analyst” (Conforti’s term) who can recognize the universal, historical, age-old patterns at work in one’s life and create a safe container in which change can occur.

In a similar vein, Jungian analyst David Schoen explores the archetypal aspects of addiction in “The War of the Gods in Addiction: C.G. Jung, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Archetypal Evil” emphasizing the crucial process of neutralizing the Archetypal Shadow (also called Archetypal Evil), an aspect of addiction. Schoen explores this concept extensively through a core Jungian approach including theoretical and clinical material, modern and ancient myths, and fairy tales. He also references the significance of using dreams for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of addiction.

—By the way, David Schoen is offering a free 4-week teleseminar, “The War of the Gods in Addiction” starting January 9th, 2013 (you can join any week) as part of the free online depth psychology book club on Depth Psychology Alliance, and co-sponsored by Jung Platform and Shrink Rap Radio (who also offers an audio interview with David Schoen here). (Join any week or listen to the archived recordings later)

Few of us escape the grips of addictive patterns and their underlying fields and forces in some form or another. Even if we manage to repress the symptoms of addiction, or to sublimate them by turning the urge into some kind of positive action, or to somehow refrain from acting them out, there are often core issues in our lives–both individually and culturally–that compel us to turn to addiction to release other stress and deal with emotions that may otherwise overwhelm us. 

Taking a depth psychological look at addiction and engaging in reflective and/or proactive methods that help us develop a relationship with the unconscious aspects of our whole selves that are longing to be heard can liberate us on levels we can scarcely envision. If you long for relief, or simply wish to understand your own addictionsundefinedwhatever they may beundefinedbetter, try one of the depth practitioners on DepthPsychologyList.com and start the process to a new you.

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.

The Importance of Witnessing and Feeling in the Face of Tragedy

More than ever, many of us are looking for meaning in a culture where we are moving faster connecting with each other less less. The more things feel out of our control, the more we tend to tamp down emotions not allow ourselves to witness or feel the devastating effects of our environments the things going on around us.

After all, feeling the impact of the horrors of genocide, war, disaster, famine, or senseless acts of violence such as the mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut Clackamas, Oregon this week would be virtually impossible for us to humanly bear if we really allowed the reality to sink in. (In fact, the shooting in Connecticut was the eighth mass shooting in the U.S. in 2012 alone as outlined on ThinkProgress, which posted a timeline of shootings that have occurred since the infamous incident at Columbine, stating: “The rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world. In the last 30 years since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders.”)

In his book Constructing the Self, Constructing America: A Cultural History of Psychotherapyhistorian psychologist Philip Cushman (1995) perceives that the individual in modern culture is an “empty self” that is driven by its felt sense of hollowness to fill itself up through increasing consumption of goods, services, technology, peak experiences, entertainment, celebrity even psychotherapy. To alleviate the anxiety, depression, isolation, suffering, psychosomatic disorders, or addiction, as a general rule, we turn to consumerism. We distract ourselves, stuffing ourselves into individual silos no longer linked to a larger web of creation, we connect less less authentically with the world around us in order to mitigate the devastating consequences of truly seeing feeling the pain.

In western capitalist/consumer-based cultures, we have trained ourselves to disregard people, nature, events as a mechanism to protect ourselves. We may stop to exclaim in horror, to empathize with the victims, or even to shed a tear–but for most of us, in the end, all we can really do is go back to our own isolation with an added layer of defense against the anxiety despair that is so natural to feel in the face of such horror.

In their groundbreaking work, Toward Psychologies of Liberation, Mary Watkins Helene Shulman (2008) suggest it is impossible to be connected to a world we continually fail to see. This separation or loss of connection manifests in dissociation, the distancing or splitting off of affect, a sort of psychic numbing, in objectification, establishing ourselves at the top of a hierarchical structure where we become the “doers” all else around us, the objects of our manipulations our doing. Both dissociation  objectification serve to effectively turn us to stone, either by self-inflicted paralysis or by the immobilizing of others.

Dissociating enables us to feel safe by becoming numb. It cuts off emotion so we can tolerate certain behaviors, acts, or mates without being overly affected, it makes us capable of inflicting judgment or pain without suffering evident consequences. Watkins Shulman that this kind of psychological disenfranchisement extorts a heavy toll as passive bystingwatching without seeing,  observing without engagement, is a sort of self-mutilation, an amputation of our own sense of sight, a “severing of the self” (p. 66). This tendency has been called percepticideby trauma scholar Diana Taylor an act of self-blinding because to see  acknowledge the atrocities that exist would endanger ourselves.

The late archetypal psychologist James Hillman (Re-Visioning Pychology, 1975) might agree, suggesting, “The eye wound are the same” (p. 107): in other words, the thing we refuse to see the denial of that thing by the eye that does not see are both violent acts which result in trauma to the psyche–ours others. It is almost as if, through dissociation, we turn ourselves to stone (as Medusa of myth did to others) in order not to see. Watkins Shulman suggest that when the practice of percepticide pervades a culture, “watching-without-seeing becomes ‘the most dehumanizing of acts’” (p. 5).

Like many others, I’ve been more or less glued to media coverage of the shooting in Connecticut these past two days, unable to imagine how horrible it is for those living through it. I have to remind myself, though, not to get carried away by the sensationalism then turn it off when it’s time for my dinner, but to really allow myself to wonder at the tragedy to acknowledge witness the grief rising up in me so as not to further contribute to the violence on the level of the psyche.

In this time of tragedy– every day–perhaps the best way we can honor those who have suffered is to truly witness the horror allow ourselves to feel. It’s a good time to check in with what C.G. called the “Self” (with a capital ‘S’)–those forces that are bigger than our everyday selves– acknowledge that we are sad, angry, or in despair just really be in it. It’s critically important not to numb ourselves, but to really allow the grief to get the better of us, even for a short while. I can’t say how much I was touched to see President Obama allowing his own tears to be seen as he addressed the nation in the wake of the tragedy.

If you feel despair, sadness anger, you may want to seek out a friend, family member, or community of people who are willing to open to their feelings acknowledge their emotional shock–or engage with one of the many qualified depth psychology oriented therapists, counselors, or practitioners on DepthPsychologyList.com to help put difficult events into context.

SPECIAL EVENT: Join me Thursday, December 20, 2012 for an in depth conversation with Jungian Analyst Dr. Michael Conforti: “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

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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