Jung’s Memories Dreams Reflections 9

Portland Therapy

“Only after I had familiarized myself with alchemy did I realize that the unconscious is a process, and that the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious. In individual cases that transformation can be read from dreams and fantasies. In collective life it has left its deposit principally in the various religious systems and their changing symbols. Through the study of these collective transformation processes and through understanding of alchemical symbolism I arrived at the central concept of my psychology: the process of individuation.” -C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 235.

Sea change. Your psyche isn’t a fixed entity. It’s unfinished business–it goes through transformations. Look closely, and you’ll notice that the symbols that come up in your dreams and fantasies express these transformations. Jung says he found parallels to these processes in myths and religions and even the obscurities of alchemy. Turns out something discernable is going on in us, something that creates changes in recognizable patterns and that issues forth a changed you…an individuated you. Maybe there is something to trust in this individuating. I hope so. I’m counting on it!

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 1

Individuation tree

“My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole. I cannot emply the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.” – C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 17.

Jung begins his autobiographical reflections with a concise statement of the notion of individuation. The person you become grows up from and out of the rich soil of the psyche. Perhaps some hidden pattern runs like intricate roots through your life. What is the push inside you? What wants to come forward? What wants to feel the impact of confronting the world and be transformed? “I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.” Coming from the inside. Remembering, dreaming, reflecting, desiring, longing, wondering…not so much knowing.

Exploring Depth Psychotherapy

pathway to the psyche

Here’s a start to a few blog entries exploring important aspects of psychotherapy as practiced by depth psychologists of various stripes.
Let’s assume a basic working definition of depth psychotherapy. Let’s assume that it’s a form of therapy that goes out of its way to include the unconscious psyche in treatment. By unconscious psyche we mean at minimum certain dynamic patterns that are always at play beneath the surface of our awareness. Let’s assume that engaging the psyche stimulates growth and movement and often helps to ease problematic symptoms of emotional suffering.

So how does a therapist go about engaging the psyche? Truth is, there are lots of ways. There are lots of schools of thought in the history of depth psychotherapy, each with its own opinion about how this should be done. Today, as neuro-mania (the reduction of all psychological experience to brain phenomena) reveals its limits both as theory and treatment in psychiatry, renewed interest in the depths of the psyche is creating excitement as psychology begins to re-balance its lopsided though important focus on brain and behavior.

The best place to start exploring is the therapeutic relationship. Someone comes to therapy, usually in a state of suffering and concern. Something in the suffering–the symptoms–expresses the individual’s difficulty. I’ve found that it’s rare that people will seek out and commit to psychotherapy when they are feeling okay. Maybe they begin in a state of crisis and difficulty, and then begin to feel better, and continue therapy for the sake of further personal development, but it usually takes a painful difficulty, or symptoms, or a loss, or an illness, or a life crisis to bring a person into my office to begin an adventure of self-discovery and renewal.

The relationship of therapist and client therefore includes this aspect of seeking help, wanting relief and healing. At the same time, it’s odd to say yet definitely true that most people are ambivalent about the very same changes they long for. I can say this based on my experience both as a therapist and as a client! There’s something scary about change, apparently. Sometimes this is called resistance. Forces for change are mobilized, but so are forces against change. This is normal, and a good therapist makes room for ambivalence and facilitates change at the pace the client is okay with.

One fundamental gain in psychotherapy is the experience that the client has of being seen and understood. Having a hard time brings isolation, and most of us tend to hide the less fun aspects of our lives. Who wants to hear that? we say to ourselves. Or we try to share what’s going on, but it’s too much for our friends and families to handle, or seems to be. That’s why a depth psychologist will try and provide the kind of safe container that welcomes all of the client’s conscious and unconscious parts into the mix.

One final note for now: I’ve noticed over the years that many people in my office feel a deep longing that is almost unspeakable. Something is missing. It’s hard to say exactly what, but there is a felt sense of lack, and a heartache. I’m not saying therapy necessarily is the answer to this longing, but it can be surprisingly effective is accessing the longing and can even change the way a person gets to bring it into the world outside. Deep desire can lead to interesting transformations that ripple outward through a life. Transformation can happen from the inside – out. Inside the therapy office to outside in the world. Inside the inner self to outside in outer behaviors.

I will save this inner – outer dynamic for another post.


The Power of Not Now

Various popular renditions of spirituality and therapy in our current culture encourage us to live in the present moment. We are told to realize the true self in the now–to become conscious, aware, transformed. Sounds good, right?

That is my simplistic take on what seems a common thread of much spiritual and psychological and therapeutic thinking these days. The thread of “living in the present moment” has good precedent in Buddhist and Hindu thinking. I’m not for or against this thinking, but it’s worth playing with for a moment.

To begin with, I wonder why this goal of living in the now isn’t working better, for more people.

I have to wonder how well any of our popular spiritual and therapeutic self-help is working for us. Take a stroll through the self-help and popular psychology sections at Powell’s bookstore. While there’s some good stuff being written, at least now and then, these strolls tend to elicit a certain despair in me. So many theories, systems, and recipes for well-being. The striving for an elusive cure to what ails us goes on forever, aisle upon aisle, world without end. What does that tell us? We want to become conscious, live in the now, make sense of suffering, manage depression, cure addictions, alleviate anxiety, heal wounds, transform behaviors, and renew relationships. And we evidence an unending appetite for new methods of achieving these ends.

What if, instead of striving for a final solution, we slow down and spend some time with the longing in us that drives much of this striving? Our culture values drive, achievement, mastery, and consciousness, and does not encourage us to slow down and feel things that might not be terribly comfortable at first. But I suspect that the human heart, with its longings, confusions, stuck points, unconsciousness, and hurts, will ultimately evade our desperate attempts for a final fix. As a result, we may in the end feel like we’ve failed to live up to some psychospiritual standard of good living–being in the now, being conscious, healed, on top of things, whatever.

A more human approach might help us remember the power of “not now.” We need room to be stuck, confused, defended, and to let our development take the time it needs. The movement of psychological development–individuation, in Carl Jung’s terms–is a spiral path, some have said. Progress is made towards a center, but we also go round and round. That’s just how it is. We are chagrined to encounter our “same old shit” in new and deeper forms over the years. We come around again to the same old joys too, and remember how easy it is to forget them. Real change happens in this cyclical way.

Image of the Spiral

We sense the presence of the center as a kind of timeless “now,” though we don’t get to hang out there forever. If we actually did succeed in fixing / curing / redeeming the innate messiness of a human life, and living 24/7 in a state of ultimate conscious realization of the self, we wouldn’t be living a human life any more. We’d lose touch with the longing that reminds us that there is, after all, a center that we are circumambulating. We’d lose touch with the wounds that open our hearts to others that we’re sharing our lives with.

I think that this take on things makes room for letting go into a development of the self that truly gets the striving ego out of the center… which I think, in the end, is the point of those who tell us to awaken into the present moment–as it is, with all its messy glory, not as we’d like it to be.

Midlife Crisis (and Transformation) in Portland?

What might a so-called midlife crisis really look like? And does it really happen here? In Portland, aren’t we (I’m generalizing to make a point) pretty well put-together? We’re conscious about the environment, intentional about what we eat, invested in local communities, authentic in relationships, and so on….

It’s not good or bad to have these ideas about being conscious and well-put together, but it’s important not to take them as literal truths. Part of the danger of such literalism is that something important could get overlooked: that there come times in life where our self-image falls apart–a little or a lot–and may even need to fall apart for us to transform. Midlife is a period where this sometimes happens, leading to a renewal of life and self.

The so-called midlife crisis is often seen in psychology as happening as early as 35 years old, and often later, at some point in the 40s or 50s. The psychologist Carl Jung contributed a lot to the psychology of midlife. Jung’s view feels a little old in some ways, but still holds deep insight if we adjust for cultural changes that have occurred since his time. Jung argued that the first part of adulthood usually focuses on adapting to life in society. We get educations, find work, build a career, have relationships, become parents, and thus establish a well put-together place in the world.

It’s usually once we have been through a lot of this stuff of life’s first half that we may reach a critical moment. It certainly doesn’t happen to everybody, but something may come along to upset the structures that we have so carefully built and tended in the first half of life. The outward cause of the upset could be a death, an illness, a divorce, the loss of a job, a new relationship, an inner malaise, a depression, trauma, or any number of events on the outside or inside of life that threaten to shake up the known structures of life and self.

A lot of strong feelings can come through during this time. It’s not necessarily all bad or all good feelings that come, but an intensity of feelings and a variety too. The Jungian analyst Murray Stein and others have written about midlife crisis as a kind of second adolescence. If you will remember the tumultuous feelings and developments of your first adolescence, you might get some flavor for the second adolescence of midlife. Like the teen years, midlife can be a major transition into a new phase: what Jung called the “second half of life.”

And like the teen years, midlife can feel unsettling. We can feel confused and uncertain of the future. It’s often a rich and satisfying time as well as a challenging one. We may begin to realize that the old structures of our life could use some readjusting. We may begin to enjoy living in ways we forgot we knew. A feeling of renewal can come, and a feeling of increasing freedom to be ourselves.

The midlife crisis and transformation doesn’t tend to happen without struggle. There’s a reason people in one form of midlife crisis or another end up in therapy. In Jung’s view, therapy can facilitate a long-term process of change. The uprooted feelings of midlife can lead into a new feeling of rootedness, deeper in our real selves than we had imagined possible. Then life can proceed out of a new source of vitality and development.

I ran across this poem by Pablo Neruda today, and I think its language evokes some of the feelings and potential of the so-called midlife crisis and transformation.

Lost In The Forest
by poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood—
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.

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.

Above and Below

In the few hours that I have so far devoted to psychologist CG Jung’s recently published, The Red Book, most of that time has been spent gazing at the many images, which have so painstakingly been reproduced by digital imaging.

One dynamic recurs in many of Jung’s paintings: two forces, one pushing up from below, and one pushing down from above, meet in the middle. The two forces are generally imaged by Jung as obelisk-like forms, or half circles, or other forms that convey the forceful movement from below upwards, and from above downwards.

Right there in the middle, there often appears a mandala of some kind. Here, in the middle, where there is a tension between two poles, that is where the soul takes shape. That is where the individual human life becomes what it was intended to be.

Theoretical as this may sound, it does convey something common to our experience of psychological development and healing. In one way or another clients (and therapists!) are bringing various conflicts, various tensions from inner and outer life. The most basic tension may be this: everyone struggles to be who they truly, spontaneously are, given outer and inner realities that prevent the true self from coming into being. On the one hand, the outer environment and relationships may stifle the individual’s true self; on the other hand, the inner life of the individual’s personality may carry wounded or estranged parts of the self, and these also can stifle the expression of a person’s true being.

Each individual is in a developmental process through the whole life span, whether it is made conscious at all or not. Therapy brings a focus to the tensions and conflicts, the lost parts of self, the unknown strengths, and change begins to take place.

Jung used his own development as a person — “individuation,” in his terms — as a kind of experimental field where he could observe firsthand, from the inside, what happens as a person goes through major changes and comes to live more authentically the life given to her or him.