On Becoming a Psychologist: An Archetypal Love Story by Robert D. Romanyshyn

Eros and Psyche

When I was a boy Sunday afternoon dinner was always a school day for me. Outside the official classroom it was a day for education, a word whose loveliness is so apt here because it was the day when, unbeknownst to me, I was being introduced to and seduced into my life. This education was not about facts that had to be memorized and mastered. Nor was it about ideas or opinions about the events of the times. Rather its lessons unfolded through stories told within the context of a ritual space and time. Seated between my Irish mother and Ukrainian father, I was invited with my two sisters into a sacred space differentiated from the ordinary, quotidian world. Sitting back in his chair, taking a slow, deep breath, my father would light a cigarette and the drama would begin.

The stories were always variations on the central theme of exile and homecoming. Of course, I did not know that these stories belonging to my parents were archetypal. But the stories, with their images and moods dipped in the flowing rhythms of the spoken voice, fascinated me. My Sunday day education was one of enchantment, an education in the power of words well-spoken to create worlds. Seated between these story tellers, neither of whom had a high school education, I was being formed to be who I have become and am still becoming.

Those Sunday afternoons were a long time ago, some 60 years as measured by a calendar, where time as a matter of mind stretches along a line without depth from a past to a future until it snaps. But time measured by the heart is a spiral coiling back upon itself at different levels, gathering those Sundays into the present as I imagine and am drawn into a future. Now as I approach my eighth decade my love affair with psychology and with being a psychologist is starting over. In this new beginning I am taken back to those Sunday days of education, remembering my origins and being re-membered by them, re-collecting the lessons learned there, and preserving those lessons by transforming them as I fall in love again with the psyche. In the tale of Psyche and Eros we are told that the union of love and the soul produces Joy and it is joy that I experience in starting out again to learn the ways of soul. Joy and also not a little trepidation!

Love and its Shadows

The tale of Psyche and Eros is not naïve. Psyche suffers in learning how to love and my love affair with psychology has had its full measure of the shadows of love. I have been at times an impatient lover of soul, trying to discipline soul within the forms of psychology. I have also been a disappointed lover, unsatisfied with the refusal of soul to be confined within the discipline and at other times deeply unsatisfied with the intransigence of psychology to yield itself to the seductive ways of soul. But perhaps most of all I have felt homeless and orphaned in this love affair, deluded by an expectation that in psychology I would find a home for the longings stirred within my heart on those Sunday days of education.

Indeed, the gnosis of the heart was a fruit of those Sunday lessons, a lived though not articulated awareness that soul work is as much a matter of the heart, of being moved and quickened, as it is a matter of the mind being awakened. Those tales told at those Sunday dinners stirred the depths of soul before they touched the surface of mind. Telling tales and being touched by them also taught me how to listen and to appreciate those small and often unnoticed shifts in tempo and pace marked by pauses, acting as it were as a mark of punctuation, a comma or perhaps, if one’s ears were finely tuned, a semi-colon or even a colon, and to the slight alterations in emphasis and tone, signaling like an exclamation point that one should take notice. As the meanings of the words being spoken were carried on the tides of breath, and even shaped by them, I learned on those Sunday days that soul work was homework so that later, as I grew older, I imagined that psychology would be a way home.

In all the roads taken since those Sunday days, in all the books read, the classes taken, the lectures written and given, the conferences attended, the papers and books published, I have been living in the gap between the discipline of psychology and the epiphanies of psychological life, between the well formed words of the discipline and the whispers of soul. The virtue of the backward glance is that through it one might get a glimpse of the pattern that has been lived and in doing so might find the vocation to continue by starting over. It is what I am attempting now in new work whose intention is to take up again that pattern that has held together the arc of my life in psychology. It is a pattern woven of three connected and enduring questions:

Is psychology psychological?

Is the discipline of psychology inimical to soul?

Can one be a psychologist and live a psychological life in service to soul?

These questions span the arc of my life in psychology. Already in the title of my first book Psychological Life: From Science to Metaphor, there was a dim apprehension of these questions. The title suggests a shift not just in words but also and more pointedly in terms of the context of psychology. To move from science to metaphor is to situate psychology not within a discipline but within discourse and moreover within a style of discourse that is indirect and is a figure of speech. While I could appreciate then that the indirect style of metaphorical discourse alludes to a meaning that remains elusive, it would take me a while to catch up with the deeper implications of that style, especially the implication that the discipline of psychology as it exists today is a perspective on psychological life, an allusion to soul that slips the net of psychological discourse, a way of talking about soul that is and is not true. It would take me some time to appreciate that as discourse soul work is a continuing conversation among all the disciplined ways of saying soul, of telling its stories, that psychology has developed today. Moreover, it would take me an even longer time to fully understand metaphor as a figure of speech alludes to the figurations of psyche that are the guise of its appearances.

From my first book to my last one, The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind, my vocation to psychology has been a slow journey into opening a dialogue among three grand narratives in psychology: psychology as a human science within the tradition of phenomenology, psychology as a hermeneutic science in depth psychology and psychology as a natural science. The journey, however, has been difficult and has been marked more by failure than any success. It is difficult because each of the grand narratives ignores and forgets that each story reveals something of the soul’s mysteries and conceals something. Discourse as dialogue is difficult because each story falls into a complex unconscious identification of its tale with the truth.

So I begin again along two new paths. One path is called Footprints in the Sand: On Becoming a Psychologist. The other path is called Fireflies in the Night: Elements of a Psychological Life. Both are experiments in love being conducted within the context of how the three grand narratives in psychology have been attempts to woo soul into being its lover while jealously guarding itself against her other suitors. The two paths are ejaculations of a wild hope to liberate psychology from its complex attachment to soul, to free psychology from its jealous possessiveness of soul. They are exclamations of a Dionysian joy trying to lead psychology into awareness that soul has many lovers, to educate psychology into becoming and being psychological.

Footprints in the Sand: On Becoming a Psychologist

We imagine that we chose the paths that mark the journeys of a life, but we do not, or at least we are as much agents in service to something other that calls us into a life, as we are authors of a life. I never chose to become a psychologist. Becoming a psychologist was not a rational conscious decision. As I wrote in a recently published essay, ‘I only ever wanted to be a bus driver.’ But through dreams, symptoms, synchronicities, encounters with the numinous splendor of the natural world, fateful circumstances and meetings with others, I was drawn into becoming a psychologist. Psychology was a vocation before it ever became a profession and in the gap between the two I was increasingly educated into a difference that is at the root of my love affair with soul. That difference, which is expressed in the three questions cited above, could be reframed here in terms of a distinction Jung has drawn between the spirit of the times and the spirit of the depths. Psychology as a profession is in service to the spirit of the times; as a vocation it is in service to the spirit of the depths.

My love affair with psychology has unfolded within the tension of this distinction and the stories I tell in this volume are an account of this affair. They are simple and quite ordinary tales, which suggest to me that the ordinary occasions in a life harbor seeds of what might become extraordinary. That, for example, I would spend the early morning hours of my summer vacation days watching in fascination an army of ants marching across a brown patch of dirt to disappear underground through a small hole, would seem inconsequential to my becoming a psychologist. But, like so many other ordinary moments, it has lingered and in its returns has revealed a miracle at the heart of the ordinary.

There are times when this new work seems like a foolish quest, times when it feels as if it matters only to me. Perhaps that is or will be the case. Nevertheless, I am starting again because the bus I am driving across the gap between the profession of and the vocation to psychology has had its routes mapped out by something other than me. I am beginning again because I feel an obligation to make a place for this gap and for the ordinary moments that do shape the making of a psychologist. I feel an obligation to make a place for the spirit of the depths in the formation of psychology within the spirit of the times.

I thought that my service to psychology was finished. But as I wrote in the final sentence of my last book, The Wounded Researcher, the work is finished but it is not done. So, I am following again as I have followed before the footprints of Psyche imprinted in sand before they are washed away by the tides or covered over by the wind.

Fireflies in the Night: Elements of a Psychological Life

Fireflies in the night! They bedazzle us. They come and go indifferent to our summoning them. But in their brief elusive appearance, they bring a light to the darkness and call forth from us a response, even if it is only a gasp or the pointing of a finger that says, “Look, over there. Do you see it?”

Fireflies in the night is the image that holds for me those epiphanies of soul that shine from the depths. Those sparks of psyche are for me elemental qualities of soul. Indeed, what if we imagine soul itself as elemental, as elemental as air and water, fire and earth? As elemental as flesh, which is Merleau-Ponty’s final understanding of the lived body, which he says has never before been thought of that way in philosophy?[i] What is elemental is basic and essential, a stark simplicity, the ‘thereness’ of a force of nature itself. We have taken the elements apart, analyzed water and air into their chemical signatures, explained and harnessed the combustible character of fire, and made the matter of earth matter as an inanimate resource for our use. We have done the same with soul. In the spirit of the times we have measured, calculated, explained and lost sight of soul in the process. The love song that psychology sings in this spirit has put soul to sleep where it lives in dreams.

Fireflies in the Night is a wake up call. Soul as elemental is as fundamental as air. Just as we breathe this elemental force and not its chemical signatures, which are already one step removed from the living reality of air, we live within the elemental reality of soul, awash within its magical epiphanies. The sparks of soul attended to in this volume are the many ways in which we are moved by soul. Fireflies in the night is the image that invites me to let go of the ways in which the spirit of the times has shaped psychology as a profession, an image that is a subtle, elusive seduction to remember what is forgotten in the day light consciousness of psychology as a profession. Look! There it is and then it is gone. A brief shining in the night that asks me to give up psychology for a moment for the sake of being psychological, a summons to fall again madly in love and begin again the love affair with Psyche in the darkness of night made bright for a moment by an elusive light.

As an elemental psychology, Fireflies in the Night is perhaps even a new introduction to psychology, a different way of imagining an introductory text into psychology, which re-balances the spirit of the times in psychology with the spirit of the depths. Or, perhaps, it is a farewell for me to the spirit of the times in psychology and my way of un-becoming a psychologist.

What it is or will become, however, is not for me to decide. All I can say at this point is that this volume is an attempt to describe how in these past 40 years or so I have responded to psychology as a vocation, to the spirit of the depths that companions the spirit of the times in psychology as a profession. As such it is the continuation to volume one, to those footprints in the sand which led me to psychology as a profession and to the point now where the spirit of the times in psychology might be renewed by the spirit of the depths, as it was once more than a hundred years ago at the origins of depth psychology.

Each of the eight parts that compose Fireflies in the Night is another way of responding to the elemental epiphanies of soul, a way of wooing soul to tarry just a bit longer before it slips away. Taken as a whole they are a chorus sung in praise to those sightings of soul that, like fireflies in the night, have for a moment shed some light on the depths that have given a pattern to my life, those elusive, elemental and epiphanic moments that re-collected now have transformed the outer skin of events into the bones of experiences. What I offer below is a description of the flow of these songs and a brief description of the elemental quality each of them addresses.

Fireflies in the Night is a

A Portrait in Dreams–we are such stuff as dreams are made on, made between waking and dreaming, on that edge, pivot, threshold, our waking lives and its events stitched together through and with the threads of dreams–


An Unfinished Life—where the Orphan is that archetypal figure who remembers for us in times when we forget that soul work is homework and who lingers and waits for us to   recollect what has been—

Left by the Side of the Road–where the companions who hold the unfinished business of our lives also wait and linger–

during our

Inner Journeys in the Outer Worldwhere the work of soul making is done before being re-collected, where the world is the vale of soul making–


In the Company of the Dead—who hold the threads of an unfinished life that ties our lives to theirs, and who as companions feed us and demand of us a ritual sense of living–


In the Shadows of the City—where the byways, detours, alleyways bend and twist the straight lines of the ego mind—


Leaning toward the Poet —who cultivates in us the qualities of a poetic basis of mind to counterbalance calculative ways of thinking and who opens the heart as another way of knowing–

And drawn to the

Epiphanies in Dark Light —to that aesthetic presence of the world as image, where the filament of the invisible hides and shows itself through the visible, through those moments like sunlight filtered through a green leaf that open us to the splendor of the world and its seductive enchantments.

Closing time

In these two volumes I am trying to be receptive and responsive to those conditions and circumstances that have molded the ‘I’ who is telling these tales. Is this attempt a memoir? If it is then it is an inverse memoir. As such it is not unlike Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections, a memoir not only of the outer events of my life but also of the patterns of which I have not been the maker, patterns woven by soul in the chiasm of outer events and inner experiences. In this inverse way, this work is a soul history of one becoming a psychologist in the gap between the spirit of the times and the spirit of the depths.

But if the ‘I’ who tells the tale is the ‘I’ who has been made by the tale, the inverse character of the telling plays on the edge, in the gap, at the threshold of the chiasm of activity and passivity. Indeed, perhaps the most significant discovery at the origins of the spirit of the depths arising with depth psychology out of the spirit of the times is the recognition that at the heart of our activity is passivity. It is, however, a passivity that is not the opposite of activity, or its negation. On the contrary, it is a passivity that in its receptivity is itself active. It is the receptivity of the soul embodied, the receptivity of our human embodiment, of the body one is, as the foundation for the body one has; an embodiment in which one is simultaneously the one who touches and is touched, the subject who sees because he/she is seeable. This understanding of embodiment is itself a thread that early on led me into phenomenology and to the forty year dialogue between depth psychology and phenomenology in which I have been an eavesdropper, picking up bits and pieces from that conversation.

Footprints in the Sand and Fireflies in the Night are tales of an eavesdropper, bits of gossip, if you will, about the conversation between a psychology informed by the spirit of the times and the whispers of soul from the spirit of the depths. Along the way it has occurred to me that the place of the eavesdropper is neither inside nor outside. The eavesdropper occupies a threshold place and from that place the telling of what is overheard has a special mood to it. It is the mood of reverie, which, as Gaston Bachelard reminds us, is a mood that for a moment liberates one from the burden of his/her name, frees one from the burden of an identity.[ii] Reverie is therefore the appropriate mood of this inverse memoir because reverie uncouples one from the tyranny of the ‘I.’ It inverts ‘Cogito ergo sum’ into ‘Cogitor ergo sum,’ an inversion from the ‘I think therefore I am’ as the active author of thinking into ‘I am thought therefore I am’ as the recipient of a thinking thinking itself through the ‘I.’ In the mood of reverie between activity and receptivity, the ‘I’ who thinks and the ‘I’ who is thought impregnate each other with their presence. In the mood of reverie the memoir is made in that place between the ‘I’ who thinks and tells the tale and the ‘I’ who is and has been thought and told the tale.

Two other significant features of this inverse memoir need to be mentioned both of which flow from the mood of reverie. One is the obvious implication of the deconstruction of memoir as an account of a singular life, a deconstruction of the tale told from the point of view of the logical, literate and linear ‘I’ of mind who overlooks the events and circumstances of that life from some distant place above it. In this respect this inverse memoir is a series of memoirs, tales of plurality made and told between the one who has lived the life and the ones who have stitched the threads and woven the patterns of that life.

The other significant feature of this inverse memoir is that of language. As the remarks on reverie indicate, these inverse memoirs make a needed place for the forgotten and ignored passive voice of verbs. Psychology fashioned in the spirit of the times privileges the active voice of the ‘I’ who thinks and speaks when it translates language from the spirit of the depths. For example, one dreams at night and upon waking declares, ‘I had a dream last night.’   Such a way of speaking betrays, however, the phenomenology of the experience of dreaming and in doing so builds a psychology of interpretive and reductive moves in terms of the spirit of the times that turns away from the spirit of the depths where the dream had me, where the ‘I’ who has had the dream has first been dreamed. So, while so much of these memoirs employ the active voice, the passive voice, which even my computer prompts me to change to the active voice, lingers and waits for its moments. Indeed, the eight parts that make up Fireflies in the Night are experiments in translating the spirit of the depths into different ways of saying soul.

To bring this first saying of these memoirs to a close, it is the poet who addresses me:

‘Catch only what you’ve thrown yourself, all is

mere skill and little gain;

but when you’re suddenly the catcher of a ball

thrown by an eternal partner

with accurate and measured swing

towards you, to your centre, in an arch

from the great bridgebuilding of God:

why catching then becomes a power—

not yours, a world’s.’ (Rilke)

In these memoirs I am trying to be the catcher of what has been thrown toward to me.

[i] For this idea of flesh as an elemental reality see Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968) The Visible and the Invisible. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. For a discussion of this key idea within the context of his entire opus see Romanyshyn, R. (2011) ‘The body in psychotherapy: Contributions of Merleau-Ponty in Jones, R.A. Body, Mind and Healing after Jung. London and New York: Routledge.

[ii] Bachelard, G. (1969) The Poetics of Reverie. Boston: Beacon Press.
Bio: Robert Romanyshyn is a faculty member in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Clinical Psychology and Depth Psychotherapy programs, and an Affiliate Member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. He has authored: Technology as Symptom and Dream; The Soul in Grief: Love, Death and Transformation; Mirror and Metaphor: Images and Stories of Psychological Life; and Ways of the Heart: Essays Toward an Imaginal Psychology; and The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind.

Robert Romanyshyn is a faculty member in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Clinical Psychology and Depth Psychotherapy programs, and an Affiliate Member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. He has authored: Technology as Symptom and Dream; The Soul in Grief: Love, Death and Transformation; Mirror and Metaphor: Images and Stories of Psychological Life; and Ways of the Heart: Essays Toward an Imaginal Psychology; and The Wounded Researcher: Research with Soul in Mind.



  1. Perhaps nothing is caught any more than a raindrop is caught upon a leaf in Spring rain.

    This is how love writes it’s memoirs, leaving neither footprint nor photograph.

    And the evergreen leaf tells the bridgebuilder’s tale.

  2. This piece is really wonderful and captures much of the awe we sense through engaging with our elders’ stories and those of others, indeed in weaving our own stories of life and truth. The archetypal is everywhere, we just need to open up to it and let it work its magic. Thank you for sharing.

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