Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections 7

therapy relationship

“For psychotherapy to be effective a close rapport is needed, so close that the doctor cannot shut his eyes to the heights and depths of human suffering. The rapport consists, after all, in a constant comparison and mutual comprehension, in the dialectical confrontation of two opposing psychic realities. If for some reason these mutual impressions do not impinge on each other, the psychotherapeutic process remains ineffective, and no change is produced. Unless both doctor and patient become a problem to each other, no solution is found.” -C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 167.

These sentences remind me of times earlier in my life where I sought out the help of a psychotherapist, but found myself across from a clinician who did not intend to see me or my suffering. What an alienating experience. Fortunately, soon I found someone who made room for me and what I was going through and allowed my experience to impact her. I’m always shocked to hear from clients about negative therapy experiences they’ve had in the past. Really, they said what to you?! It takes emotional energy and focus on the part of the therapist to let the client’s suffering in. It’s not an option to remain separate, unaffected. As Jung says, therapy brings together two psyches and creates a vessel in which profound changes can begin to take place. Such a relief to be heard….

Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections 6

Portland Therapy lighthouse

“Years ago I once drew up statistics on the results of my treatments. I no longer recall the figures exactly; but, on a conservative estimate, a third of my cases were really cured, a third considerably improved, and a third not essentially influenced. But it is precisely the unimproved cases which are hardest to judge, because many things are not realized and understood by the patients until years afterwards, and only then can they take effect. How often former patients have written to me: ‘I did not realize what it was really all about until ten years after I had been with you.” -C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 165.

Jung’s words here don’t sit well with the ego’s desire to be in control of outcomes from our psychological work. It’s a reasonable desire, though things tend to unfold in ways beyond our control, or even our capacity to understand. So much about our individuating remains a mystery. What a relief, really! Feel the release of not having to take all of the responsibility! Interesting too that Jung imagines seeds being sown during therapy that only years later sprout above ground. I’ve noticed this in my own therapy experiences as well as with clients at times. Try telling that to a mental health insurance company! Think of your personal development as an adventure that is unpredicable and exciting. Let your symptoms lead you to answers that you have an inkling of already but haven’t fully embraced.

Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections 5


Mt. Hood

“Therapy is different in every case. When a doctor tells me that he adheres strictly to this or that method, I have my doubts about his therapeutic effect. So much is said in the literature about the resistance of the patient that it would almost seem as if the doctor were trying to put something over on him, whereas the cure ought to grow naturally out of the patient himself.” C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pp. 152-3.

Is there a method in this madness? We might well ask that question about psychotherapy. After all, we’re trying to get down to the deep forces in a person’s psyche and create lasting shifts and hopefully stimulate a cure that, like Jung says, grows out of the individual personality. This process may not be quite so neat and clean as some therapies out there that basically follow a manual, a treatment plan devised somewhere by some researcher and applied to you the individual because your symptoms match a certain category like depression or anxiety. Yet personally I find that the changes that come out of Jung’s “natural cure” are more trustworthy. They tend to stick, in other words. I like what Jung is offering here–that depth psychotherapy involves the whole person in a very individual process of coming into being. He certainly lived this process of individuation out in his own life.

Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections 4

“In many cases in psychiatry, the patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which as a rule no one knows of. To my mind, therapy only really begins after the investigation of that wholly personal story…. In therapy the problem is always the whole person, never the symptom alone. We must ask questions which challenge the whole personality.” C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 138.

How often is the actual story of the patient ignored by “mental health providers” today? Jung makes this claim that therapy only begins with the personal story after relating an unusual case from early in his days as a psychiatrist for inpatients. He tells of a woman patient admitted with depressive symptoms. She gets diagnosed schizophrenic and is given a poor prognosis. Jung decides to develop a relationship with her and see if he can elicit her story. Turns out she has a terrible secret that lived in her and began destroying her psychologically. Once they get to what is tormenting her, she recovers and leaves the hospital.

We are each a complex amalgam of factors, from genetic predisposition to emotion to spirituality and everything in between. Therapy has to let in all the factors, and the whole person, who is greater than the sum of those factors.

Dream On

We depth psychologists talk a lot about dreams. But what is it to dream? And what is it not to dream?

Psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden has this to say in “On not Being Able to Dream”: “Much has been written on what dreams mean; relatively little on what it means to dream; and still less on what it means not to be able to dream.” He goes on to tell about Wilfred Bion’s notion that the activity of dreaming is more fundamental than we normally think.

Dreaming is not identical to the “dreams” we wake up remembering. Instead, when we are functioning well, dreaming is happening all of the time, waking or sleeping. It is the unconscious psychological work of linking elements of experience that have been stored in memory. Dreaming makes sense of our emotional realities by making these links and giving elements of experience form. This can take place while we are sleeping, and it can take place while we are awake.

I remember consulting with a very experienced psychoanalyst a few years ago about cases. I asked him how he worked with dreams in his own practice, with his own clients. He said that his approach had changed over time. Now, he said, he thought of each session itself as a kind of dreaming. In other words, each session enters the space of making associations, links, and playing with meanings. Client and therapist dream up the session together and so engage in learning from experience.

In this view, the background experiences held in memory are raw ingredients. We can’t digest experience without first dreaming it. The act of dreaming cooks the raw ingredients. It creates a meal that we can eat and share with others.

Bad things happen when we can’t dream. At the extreme, some individuals become unable to dream when in a psychotic state. Psychological digestion is disturbed, and the results can be catastrophic. For most of us, there may be moments of failing to dream–aspects of self and world that we choke on and need help to swallow and metabolize. That’s where psychotherapy comes in and creates a vessel for this alchemical work.

To Reveal To Conceal

“Reason is emotion’s slave and exists to rationalize emotional experience. Sometimes the function of speech is to communicate experience to another; sometimes it is to miscommunicate experience to another. Sometimes the object is to achieve access to, and permit access from, a good spirit; conversely, to deny access to a bad spirit.”

These sentences appear on the first pages of psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion’s book, Attention and Interpretation. Speech is not a simple matter of communicating something true to another. To reveal, and to conceal, and endless combinations of the two, with varying degrees of conscious intentionality, is the way things go. Bion is speaking in particular of the psychoanalytic situation, a certain kind of place, and relationship, and method of proceeding. To say that reason is emotion’s slave is a hard saying for me to stomach, given my background in philosophy. On the other hand, my reason indicates to me that Bion is right to a greater extent than is comfortable to admit.

I find strange comfort in this troubling news.

Here’s why, or here is my attempt to conceal and reveal the why. To begin, I must let you in on a little twisty journey my thinking and feeling has taken in the past few weeks.

I was re-reading Saul Bellow’s novel, Humboldt’s Gift, a favorite that I read in my 20s, I think, and immediately knew as one of those novels that would return to me over the years to put certain questions and thoughts to the fore and hopefully deepen my sense of the real. So anyway, I was reading and found that the main character, Charlie Citrine, constantly refers to Austrian mystic, philosopher, and founder of the “spiritual science” and the popular movements of anthroposophy and Waldorf schooling, Rudolf Steiner. Steiner wrote prolifically about his spiritual experiences, and Charlie finds himself drawn into Steinerian meditative exercises aimed at perceiving spiritual beings, and (thus for Charlie) overcoming the disenchanted materialism of modernity and its soulless world of matter-in-motion. I read a bit of Steiner myself after encountering Charlie’s interest, but so far haven’t been able to dig it. I feel like Steiner is pulling spiritual fantasies out of the unconscious (fine with me), but calling them literal realities, truths that can be known directly by the initiate. I have trouble with that sort of move on many levels that I won’t go into now.

Then I picked up a copy of Saul Bellow’s Letters, and found that he had carried on a correspondence with Owen Barfield–a Steinerian anthroposophist himself–on spiritual and other matters. Barfield was one of the Inklings–the Oxford-based group of writers that included J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and C.S. Lewis. I have known about him for many years, but never explored his writings in depth. In these letters (don’t you miss actual letters?) and in his fascinating books, Barfield turns out to be the more intelligent exponent of the spiritual views that may originate in Steiner, though, as C.G. Jung notes, most of what you find in anthroposophy or theosophy you can find in the ancient Indian scriptures.

Barfield specializes in “thinking about thinking,” to use his own phrase. He is also (like the other Inklings) trying to rediscover something lost to modernity and our way of apprehending reality. He finds a way to understand the world itself as animated and in fact conscious. In a word, his world is ensouled.

Rather abruptly, back to Bion. What is this talk of “good spirit” and “bad spirit”? I am so curious that he chooses these words, in a work that wants to bring precision to psychoanalytic speech. He does not elaborate the choice in these pages. For me the word spirit in this context evokes the uncanny. I imagine a hidden space, and an intense desire to invite another into this space, and at the very same moment an intense desire to block access at all costs.

In other words, I imagine an irrational moment. What struck me about Steiner and Barfield was a wish to make it all conscious, to evolve to a spiritually enlightened state and progressively reveal mysteries. Where is the irrational in this? Where is that which forever resists attempts to colonize it and know it and progress beyond it? My own sense is that the irrational factor is the very factor necessary for the ensoulment of the world. Without it, language would conquer and illuminate everything, leaving no place for unknowing, and thus no place for wonder, symbol, and relationship to the mysterious other outside oneself.

Longing for Paradise

I recently picked up a psychology book that I’ve had my eye on for awhile now. It’s written by a Jungian psychoanalyst named Mario Jacoby. The book is, Longing for Paradise: Psychological Perspectives on an Archetype. Jacoby’s theme centers on the importance of the paradise archetype in psychological life and development, not to mention in the work of psychotherapy.

This is a bit of a different take on “paradise” for psychological thinking, and it provides a good jumping off point for some reflections.

The usual schtick in psychology on this matter smacks of “nothing but” reductionism. Reductionism happens when you take a complex phenomenon and break it down into its component parts, and say that the complex whole is nothing but the sum of its parts. Here are some reductive variations that you might come across on the present topic: The longing for paradise is nothing but a regressive wish to dissolve into infantile, oceanic feelings of oneness, free from the conflicts that real life involves. Or, the longing for paradise expresses a developmental failure to mourn the loss of unity with mother, and to accept separateness. Or, the longing for paradise afflicts those who didn’t get an adequate holding environment in infancy, and so they forever long to redress that early lack. Or, the longing for paradise shows a rejection of limitation, and should be analyzed away as an inflated identification with the realm of the archetypal, and specifically with the archetypal Mother.

These are all possible ways to understand thing A (the longing for paradise) in terms of thing B (some form of developmental / psychological problem). Thing B is supposed to explain how and why thing A comes about.

Jacoby, in what I’ve read so far, knows how to think about paradise in developmental and psychopathological terms. He points to the early holding environment, in which mother and caregivers must respond adequately to the hunger, anxiety, distress, and need for touch and loving attention in the infant. If a good-enough experience at this stage doesn’t happen, he offers, significant disruption of emotional and relational health later on is likely. An inordinate fixation on paradise and a pursuit of paradisiacal experiences might well grow out of an early trauma to the holding environment, in which some degree of paradise is actually appropriate for the sake of the utterly dependent infant.

Naturally, psychology wants to explain the longing for paradise in terms of the early environment and early relationships. Where else but with mother do we ever get some measure of paradisiacal experience? Infancy even entails a certain timelessness. The rhythm of relationship to mother is the ordering principle of the moment-to-moment experience of being that psychology imagines the infant to live. Grown up time does not exist for the baby.

Modern attachment theory and infant observation seem to support such thinking. Clinical experience also seems to support the notion that early traumas to primal relationships create suffering in clients, and that the therapeutic relationship, when it works well, can bring some measure of healing to the early wound. The image of paradise is one image among others that can come up in this area of experience, in or out of the therapy room.


I think we need to think symbolically about this. A psychological theory is a kind of symbol that happens to be highly differentiated. But it’s a symbol nonetheless. I am using the word symbol in the sense given by the depth psychologist C.G. Jung. A symbol, in Jung‘s psychology, is a living reality. It’s an image that forms in order to communicate something that words can’t express adequately in a rational way. A symbol expresses an unknowable reality that otherwise we could scarcely approach at all.

I’m proposing that the psychologist or psychoanalyst is using the image of a good enough mother-infant relationship as a symbol. It’s a symbol that psychology uses to communicate to itself something unknowable–in this case, the elusive image of paradise, imagined as a state of being that is touched in infancy.

It’s important to take note that when a psychologist looks at the realm of infancy and begins to make theories about the infant’s inner experience, there is naturally a significant degree of projection involved. What the therapist experiences in working with clients at this early level of emotional experience, as it gets expressed in psychotherapy, ends up as part of the theory about the infant’s inner life. Even the therapist’s own longing for paradise gets into the mix, and possibly imagined as a lost state of being that the infant must have experienced, or is supposed to experience when things go well.

And why not? It’s very legitimate to create theory out of clinical and even deeply personal experience, in addition to data such as the observation of infants and mothers, so long as we are aware of what we’re doing.

Stay with me a moment longer if you‘ve come this far. I know this is getting long, and perhaps muddled.

What I’m coming around to is the fact that no matter the brilliant insights of psychology into the developmental substrate of the paradise archetype… the image of paradise remains the image of paradise, and psychology will never divest that image of its power by explaining it theoretically. Sure, the archetype can cause problems in living and relating. But in itself it’s not something to be fixed, cured, treated, analyzed. The longing for paradise speaks to an experience common to all human beings, whether or not the primal relationship with mother got disrupted. That’s what’s meant by calling it an archetype: it’s typical of human existing to touch this particular place.

What remains to examine is how this archetype expresses itself in psychological life and in psychotherapy. I’ve got a ways to go in Jacoby’s book, and so maybe I’ll save the rest for another post.

Depth Psychotherapy

There are many ways of studying and working with the depth of the psyche. The term psyche denotes the soul–the very substance of who we are as human beings in the world. Psyche refers to what we know about ourselves, and to what we don’t know about ourselves. Both the known and the unknown. What we know is referred to as conscious, and what we don’t know as unconscious. In reality, we are always a complicated mixture of both known and unknown.

So-called “depth psychology” and “depth psychotherapy” or “analysis” are especially interested in how the deep unconscious levels of the psyche operate. Depth psychologies argue that–contrary to popular opinion in our time–the bulk of who we are exists unconsciously. For the most part, we are unknown to ourselves, or known only partially. We tend to think that we know more than we do, and that we are in control of more than we are in control of. Yet we cannot escape the fact that the psyche resists our attempts to know and to control, and ultimately demands a sacrifice of such attempts. What we can do is listen to the symptoms, dreams, ideas, feelings, human relationships, and images that the psyche sends our way. A new, less troubled, more creative relationship to our deepest selves can then take root and begin to change our lives.

Working out psychological difficulties in therapy therefore means facing the unconscious, and listening to what it has to tell the client and the therapist. That’s the nature of the conversation in therapy. It is a conversation with the psyche that generates therapeutic changes over time.

The depth psychologist Carl Jung elaborated a depth psychology in the early and middle parts of the 20th century. Jung was a close associate of Sigmund Freud’s for a period of years. Just as his career seemed to be advancing towards its high point, Jung left Freud’s movement of psychoanalysis, and spent the rest of his career developing his own theories. The depth psychologies begin with figures such as Jung and Freud, and include many other, more recent psychologists who have changed the field of psychotherapy. Many new theorists have added to, challenged, refined, and re-imagined the psychologies of these two founders of depth psychotherapy and analysis.

Sigmund Freud, Stanley Hall, and Carl Jung, in the front, from left.

Sigmund Freud, Stanley Hall, and Carl Jung, in the front, from left.

Now we are at a crossroads in the field of depth psychology. The old divisions between differing schools of thought are becoming less and less interesting. The points of connection between the depth psychologies and psychotherapies are what hold more interest now. The reason for this is simple. All of these ways of thinking about the psyche and about therapy are attempting to understand what happens in therapy. The point of unity is the experience of therapy itself, and there are many ways of trying to understand what happens there, and how individuals undergo processes of psychological change.

The “Field” of Depth Psychotherapy

There are many ways to practice depth psychotherapy these days. One meeting point that I see between various theories is a focus on the therapeutic relationship itself. What happens in the therapy hour has a way of generating therapeutic change. That means it’s important to pay attention to what happens in the “field”–that is, the space of the relationship that exists between client and therapist, and encompasses them both in the therapeutic hour. Many contemporary depth psychotherapists recognize that what happens there is the most important therapeutic factor in getting a person’s life and development unstuck and moving.

Depth psychologies often refer to the space of the therapeutic relationship as a field–something like a field in contemporary physics. This is a space where different elements of the two individual psyches in the relationship interact on many levels. When things are going well, there is a feeling to this space of being held safely, known, and welcomed. When challenges come up, it’s safe enough to work them through in ways that create helpful changes that ripple through the client’s life and relationships.

An alchemical image of the relational field

An alchemical image of the relational field

It’s not the therapist’s interpretations and interventions (however insightful they may be, and however attached he or she may be to them) that matter most. To say that depth psychotherapy is insight-oriented therapy isn’t quite right, in this view. When a therapist makes an interpretation that meets and helps the client make sense of a felt experience that’s hard to put into words, often the therapeutic factor derives from the feeling of being understood, of being known and held by the space of this relationship, with this therapist. Insights happen, but the curative factor is not the strictly cognitive event of understanding one’s own unconscious process.

It’s more a matter of feeling known than of knowing rationally.

This is a key distinguishing factor of depth psychotherapy and analysis from other therapies. We see that therapy creates a relational field in which both conscious and unconscious processes of psychological development come into play, get unstuck, and move forward. The field of the therapy hour eventually extends outwards into the client’s life in the world as the effects of therapy manifest themselves.