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Identity Crisis & Meaning: 4 More Depth Psychotherapy Insights

August 17th, 2015 · identity crisis meaning

As we discussed last time, issues of identity crisis and meaning are experienced by many — and they are very important, potentially positive, events.

identity crisis meaning

Famous photograph by Banksy

Here are some additional insights that are intended to put issues of identity crisis and meaning into a helpful and healing context.

As Life Progresses, Identity and Meaning Become More Individual

Generally speaking, when we start into the first part of adulthood, we are working toward values that are shared with the society as a whole, in areas such as independence, self-sufficiency, relationship, and many others.

But then, as we move further into our lives we find that answers to questions about meaning and identity tend to become more individual: what specifically is meaningful for me, in my life?

Those who evade these questions of individuality tend to find themselves moving more and more towards what some psychotherapists would call “bad faith” with oneself.  They function from a concept of their own identity that grows increasingly collective and that they know, on some level, is disconnected from who they really are. It may be charming and attractive, but it’s mask-like and inauthentic, unsatisfying even to the person him- or herself.

identity crisis meaning

Turn Away from Mass or Collective Identity

The crowd can seem to provide identity, and, in a sense it does — but ultimately, it’s often kind of inauthentic.

To take a simple, small-scale example, there may be a kind of gratification, and even meaning, involved in being Toronto Blue Jays fan.  After all, they’re having a great season, for the first time in many years!  I can gain a sense of pleasure, shared purpose, and even identity in going down to Rogers Centre and cheering them on.  Yet as something to root my life in, a source of meaning, most people would find it pretty thin stuff.

Sources of Identity and Meaning are Rooted in the Unconscious

Who we really are is profoundly connected to “the shadow”, as Jungians say.  That’s the largely unconscious part of the psyche where aspects of ourselves that we have for one reason or another rejected, suppressed or left undiscovered “live”.  A lot may hinge on our ability to accept and dialogue with the parts of ourselves with which our usual conscious mind is not always comfortable.

Important parts of what gives us our identity may be deep within the unconscious. Who you are is not the same thing as having a concept of yourself.  We often try to do this, but the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives tend to not quite ring true.  Some thing or things is missing.  As researchers and theorists such as neuroscientist-psychologist Prof. Jaak Panksepp hold, there is a fundamental awareness of the self at the unconscious level, that actually underlies all our experience.

In our deepest being, there is a “felt sense” of our own wholeness and integrity.  To be on the path of experiencing this more and more is to be on the journey towards wholeness.

Identity Crisis, Meaning and the Undiscovered Self

You get bigger as you go / No one told me — I just know“: so sings Bruce Cockburn, and he’s right.

identity crisis meaning

Finding My Way Through the Maze

Fundamentally, we seek that felt sense of wholeness, and a sense of being authentically one with ourselves.

To get to this sense of wholeness requires a discipline of paying attention to those parts of ourselves that we rarely notice, the semi-conscious and unconscious aspects of ourselves.  It also entails paying attention to the symbolic life within us, in our dreams and elsewhere, that opens up the unexplored parts of the Self and its relationship to the world.

At whatever stage of life we might be, this search for greater awareness and insight can be assisted by depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Identity Crisis & Meaning: 4 Depth Psychotherapy Insights

August 10th, 2015 · identity crisis meaning

Issues of identity crisis & meaning aren’t confined to cigarette smoking French existentialists in Left Bank cafes; in our time, this is the experience of many.

identity crisis meaning

Rene Magritte, “Decalomania, 1966”

Identity Crisis Can Occur at Many Lifestages

Contemporary depth psychotherapy practice shows that the experience of loss of identity or meaning can occur at many points in the life journey.

Such crises can frequently happen at midlife, but that’s not the only time, by any means.

I had such an experience at a time in my life that might be called a “quarter life crisis”.  The experience of the deafness of one of my children led me into a time of profound questioning of who I was, and what I really found meaningful in my life, which included a complete re-examination of the orthodox religious faith which had been a mainstay in my life prior to that time.  It initiated a period of deep change in my life, as is the experience of many who have such experiences.

Identity is Linked to Meaning

Our identity is closely connected to where we find meaning.  Here, I’m using “meaning” to refer to that special way in which I value things, when they are so important that they make up an important element of the value of my whole life.

When things carry “meaning”, in this sense, their value is fundamentally linked to my identity as a person.  What I value in this sense is a crucial component, perhaps the crucial component of who I am.

So that which carries meaning, in this most fundamental sense, is truly bound up with who I am.  If I can’t really find any meaning in anything, I can’t really be in touch with who I really am.  And that could be quite a dilemma.

Value, Meaning Changes Through the Course of A Human Life

identity crisis meaning

What we value at the most fundamental level may change dramatically throughout the course of life.  Sometimes, quite fundamental values die, or lose their meaning.  This can be a source of great psychological pain, but it can also create space, so that new, more fundamental values can emerge.  Sometimes life undoes what seem to be fundamental values in our lives.  Things in which we found immense value, or to which we felt unconditionally committed, can become much less important (witness my example of a fundamental shift in religious values).  Yet out of that experience, if we’re really willing to examine ourselves, and to do the hard work, may come other experiences that make us aware of what is really valuable in life and who we really are.

Identity Crisis and Meaning are Linked to Symbols

The emergence of new meaning is often tied to the emergence of new symbols in a person’s life.

Symbols carry a special feeling charge, a value charge that allows them to serve as guideposts for the orientation of our lives.  As Prof. Andrew Samuels of the University of Essex tells us,

Symbols are captivating pictorial statements…. indistinct, metaphoric and enigmatic portrayals of psychic reality.  [The meaning of symbols] is far from obvious; …it is expressed in unique and individual terms while at the smae time partaking of universal imagery.  …[R]eflected on and related to, they can be recognised as aspects of those images that control, order and give meaning to our lives.  Symbols… are expressions of something intensely alive… “stirring” in the soul.

Symbolism is linked to unconscious processes: old symbols die, and new ones come to life in the psyche.

The symbols are filled with the vitality of both our conscious and unconscious selves. For the process of addressing identity crisis and meaning, uncovering the symbollic aspect of our lives can have immense importance, and is one of the fundamental things in the work of the depth psychotherapist.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Soul Aspects of Career Change After 40, 2

August 3rd, 2015 · career change after 40

Career change after 40 can sometimes seem like a “silver bullet” solution.  It may very well be the right thing to do for soul — but it’s essential to put that decision in context.

career change after 40

Claude Monet, whose painting career began in his 40s

I’m reminded of the famous quotation from T.S. Eliot:
career change after 40To do the right deed for the wrong reason…
How can we avoid “doing the right thing for the wrong reason” when it comes to later life career change?

Is Career Change What I Need, or Is It a Stand-In for Something More Basic?

For many, the call to go their own way is loud and clear on the far side of 40.  The call to be oneself will not be completely satisfied by a career change — and may well not even involve a career change.  But for some people, career change will be a key element in the process of going in their own unique direction.

Now, that’s the kicker: career change will not help you one bit, if it is not first firmly rooted in the process of discovering and living out your own individuality.  As with all major life transitions, if career change is not accompanied by the process of living into your unique self, it may well not help you one bit.

If I’m Not My Work Role — Then Who am I?

After 40, clinical experience in psychotherapy shows us that job does not equal identity.  If you think that solely by changing your career, you are changing your identity — or possibly even unconsciously escaping your identity — that would truly be “the right deed for the wrong reason”.

In the first half of adulthood, it may be far easier for at least some people to identify themselves with their work role.  As we go through the midlife transition, and into the second half of life, that identification with job becomes harder and harder.  We all know that the first question someone will ask you at a cocktail party tends to be, “So, what do you do?”, referring to career.  Yet, we all know how much of our identity is left out when we answer that question.

It’s All About the Journey

career change after 40

Journey is a fundamental metaphor for human life.  Jung spoke of this in his time, and neurolinguistic research has confirmed it in ours.  From a depth psychology perspective, the journey that is life is a journey into our individual identity.

A key part of that journey is vocation.  That term can have many meanings, but from a depth psychotherapy perspective, it concerns listening to the promptings of our own inner being.  It is the call, not to some external goal, but primarily to be our real selves, and to be authentically connected to as much of who we really are as we possibly can be.

James Hillman on the Idea of Individual Calling

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman has given an expansive picture of what he refers to as “the soul’s calling”:

…Hillman’s fundamental question, “What is my soul’s calling?”, is at the very heart of the the work of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Soul Aspects of Career Change After 40, 1

July 10th, 2015 · career change after 40

Career change after 40 can seem like a daunting prospect. This isn’t a post about the logistics of job-finding.  It’s a post about the meaning of changing career — the soul level view.

 career change after 40
What is meant by “soul”?  When depth psychotherapists use this term, they’re referring to the deepest levels of who we are.  How does the possibility of career change look from that perspective?

It’s Not All About the Marketplace

The media, at least in North America, increasingly give us the message that it’s all about the marketplace. If we take this message completely to heart, we would then end up making every choice in a way that molds us into what the market wants. In essence, the continual message goes, that we should give up on our own uniqueness, and turn ourselves into something trendy and salable.

But is that really what human life is all about? Are we really prepared to accept that that is all that human life is about?  Real psychotherapy says no.

In actual fact, there are many people who, on the upside of 40, simply don’t turn themselves into a souless commodity and yet they are able to transform their outer career selves to reflect something important and urgent inside of themselves.  Consider these folks:

  • Anna Mary Robertson Moses – worked her farm, and sold potato chips, up until she age 80, when she changed her focus to painting — and in the process became iconic folk artist Grandma Moses;
career change after 40

Painted by Grandma Moses, at Age 85

  • Julia Child – didn’t start cooking French cuisine until she was 36, and didn’t publish a cookbook until she was 50;
  • career change after 40
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder – of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, didn’t publish any of her books until she was 65; and,
  • Henry Ford – was 45 when he created the Model T
  • career change after 40

    If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” ~ H.F.

What the Heck is “Vocation”?

It’s not what your junior high school guidance counsellor meant by the term, in the sense of a neat little career pigeon hole into which the individual can be inserted: computer programmer, tree surgeon, jazz dancer, etc.

Vocation relates to an urging, yearning or calling at the level of the inmost self.  Here’s a useful summary:

What is it, in the end, that induces a person to go [his or her] own way and to rise out of unconscious identity with the mass as out of a swathing mist? Not necessity, for necessity comes to many, and they all take refuge in convention [italics mine]…

What is it, then, that inexorably tips the scales in favour of the extra-ordinary? It is what is commonly called vocation: an irrational factor that destines a person to emancipate [him- or herself] from the herd and from it’s well-worn paths.

True personality is always a vocation… despite its being, as the ordinary [person] would say, only a personal feeling. He must obey his own law….  Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner person [italics mine]….

~ C.G. Jung

How do I start to hear the voice of the inner person?  The best place to start is to look compassionately at the most vulnerable innermost part of ourselves, which may well also be the most wounded part of our inner being, which may well have been numbed and cauterized by the brutal falsity of “what everyone knows”.

The question of vocation is often central to psychotherapy after the age of 35.

In my next post, I’ll examine several questions concerning vocation, including, “Is Career Change What I Need, or Is It a Stand-In for Something More Basic?

 

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Summer, & the Importance of Self Awareness, 2

July 6th, 2015 · importance of self awareness

The season of summer sun may bring home the importance of self-awareness in some ways that are rather different than we might expect.

importance self awareness

In my last post, we saw how the summer solstice is a time that, for many of us, may represents the height of our capacity for consciousness, as embodied in the kind of aliveness that circadian rhythm may allow us to experience at the time of the height of the sun. But there is another aspect to these days after the solstice, and that is that the sun starts to decline, and the days start to become shorter.
What happens to our awareness then?  Can there be anything good that comes out of this?

The Slow Downward Movement

As the maximum power of the sun is symbolic of the maximum extent of the powers of consciousness, so the shortening of the days and the return to darkness can be seen as a move in the direction of the unconscious — the other pole of the human psyche.

Just as it’s inevitable for the seasons to slowly oscillate between light and darkness, so it is that the human psyche oscillates between two different dimensions: the conscious and the unconscious

The sun’s movement mirrors a psychic reality.  At some times we are more aware, more alive, more conscious of who we are, more open to the relatively unknown aspects of the self.  At other times, we lapse more into less conscious ways of functioning, and motives and feelings that are often unknown to the conscious mind can actually affect, or even at times, govern our functioning.

So, we have the conscious and the unconscious dimensions of ourselves.  And the rhythm of the year symbolizes a fundamental dynamic of human awareness: the ebb and flow of the conscious and unconscious portions of the self.  Yet, through using our conscious mind to explore the unknown, perhaps unconscious aspects of ourselves, we can further the process of integration of the conscious and the unconscious self into increased wholeness.

The Nighttime Side of the Psyche

importance of self awareness

As we discussed in the last post, the conscious self can make the grave error of assuming that it’s “the only game in town”.  This is hazardous, though.  If we don’t seek to understand what is motivating us in unconscious ways, we stand a very good chance of finding our lives run by the unacknowleged and unknown parts of the psyche.

Example.  Consider someone who unconsciously always pursues romantic partners who are fundamentally inaccessible.  The individual may continually curse “my rotten luck” in choosing such people, but, in actual fact, they may be choosing such partners precisely because they are inaccessible — and so there is no real risk of trusting them, and therefore being hurt by them, as may have happened in a significant relationship in the past.  This is a dynamic noted by commentators including Jung, Freud and Lacan, among others, as Prof. Ian Parker of Leicester notes.

To function in freedom, in ways that give us what we’re seeking in life, we need to understand the night time side of the psyche: and, we need to integrate it.

Solar Consciousness, Lunar Consciousness

importance self awareness

Sometimes the sun’s bright light is used to symbolize conscious awareness, while the light of the moon represents a softer, more subdued, perhaps more intuitive awareness, that is closer to the unconscious, and incorporates awareness of elements of it.

For the journey toward wholeness, we need the bright light of solar consciouness, but we also need the softer, less rational, less clear-cut consciousness that is symbolized by the light of the moon.

The Importance of Self-Awareness: Bringing Sun and Moon Together

importance self awareness

Rare Photo: The Two Lights Together

We can use our conscious awareness to become aware of our unconscious aspects — what Jung and other psychologists have called “the undiscovered self”.  We can train our consciousness, in its strength to explore and reflect on the unconscious and unknown aspects of ourselves.  In fact, doing so can be one of the greatest adventures in life — and, ultimately, one of the most rewarding.

The importance of self-awareness only becomes more and more apparent as we gradually, increasingly dispose ourselves to it.  In conjunction with growing compassion for ourselves, such self awareness is the heart of the work of depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Summer, & the Importance of Self Awareness

June 29th, 2015 · importance of self awareness

Here we are at the height of the summer sun; it seems a strange time to reflect on the importance of self awareness, but symbolically, it’s very appropriate.

importance of self awareness

Nordic Summer Solstice Bonfire – “Ligo 2015”

Archetypally, the sun symbolizes conscious awareness, shedding light on things and enabling us to distinguish things and discern what they really are.

Symbolism of the Solstice

The solstice just occured on June 21, the first day of summer, with the sun at its high point in the sky.  The sun’s light is as strong as it gets, and it is the longest day of the year.

In many religious and spiritual traditions, the summer solstice is a high holy day.  Why?

Well, the human organism responds to additional light.  Consequently, midsummer gives many a feeling of physical and emotional empowerment, and increased capacity to start new endeavours, connect with others, explore new frontiers, and to feel the vital importance of self awareness, as it grows.

On the unconscious level where symbols are created, solstice beckons us to use our increased resources to become more conscious, more aware, more fully alive.

Yet, as the ascent of light reaches its maximum, the days slowly get shorter and darker, and we also move toward the decline of the year.

Solstice in Folklore

At summer solstice, the Sun reaches its northern limit.    It’s both the time when the Sun is at maximum intensity, and  when that intensity slowly and subtly begins to decrease.   So, these are two aspects of traditional celebration of the summer solstice.

Traditional cultural practices include round dances and bonfires,  marking the yearly height of the sun’s intensity.  Yet,  in contrast,  it’s also a time of fairies and spirits,  lust and love,  and trickery —  opposites are combined, as Dr. Ismail Wali shows in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.   Our consciousness may be at its most intense at the Solstice,  but it won’t remain so.   We should make hay —  or increase conscious self awareness —  while the sun shines.

importance of self awareness

Seeing Ourselves, Being Ourselves

There are two large errors that consciousness can fall into when it comes to dealing with the unconscious.

The first of these would be arrogance of consciousness, which assumes that conscious will and awareness is all that there is to oneself as a human being. Both recent neuroscience, and insights gained from depth psychotherapy show us that this is a hazardous way to think and act. The analogy I often use is to imagine a flea perched on the top most hair on the head of an enormous bull elephant,  crashing through the bush, and congratulating itself on its marvelous rate of travel. Clearly the flea of consciousness would do well to take better account of the huge forces at work which are not under the control of its will.

The second error is lethargy of consciousness. Here it’s as if the flea, despite every opportunity to understand the elephant simply–doesn’t. Given our gift of consciousness, doesn’t it actually make a lot of sense to know what we can about our unconscious selves, especially when it can have a huge bearing on concerns such as anxiety and depression?

Savour the Gifts of Summer

When summer arrives our conscious powers may well be at their height.  Consider what this consciousness might bring to our journey:

 

Do you feel clear-sighted at the height of summer?

Is there a special “summer place” where you feel your strongest, best, most relaxed?

If you have the chance to get away this summer, and the chance to rest, recreate and perhaps reflect, please take note: what kind of insights or awarenesses start to come into your life?

Depth psychotherapy stresses the importance of self awareness, and seeks to enable the healing such understanding can bring into the individual’s life.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Emotional Burnout, Recovery & Living Your Real Life, 2

June 23rd, 2015 · emotional burnout recovery

Can emotional burnout be an important part of your life journey?  How does emotional burnout recovery relate to our major life transitions?

emotional burnout recovery

When Everything Gets Like Volcanic Ash…

In my last post, we began looking at the anatomy of emotional burnout, and what it might mean to experience emotional burnout recovery. Now let’s examine burnout more closely as a part of the individuation process.

Emotional Burnout Itself as Major Life Transition

Often, the experience of emotional burnout can itself have the character of a major life transition. By this I mean that the actual experience of burning out, itself, and of emotional burnout recovery can have a kind of death and rebirth character. The individual may experience a complete loss of flavor and color in the things he or she is doing in professional life, and/or in other aspects of life. This may be accompanied by a complete loss of energy and motivation. Whatever zest or enthusiasm the individual may have had for the career or other life activity at some earlier point in their journey, it becomes apparent to the individual that that particular way of living is over and gone for him or her.

It becomes apparent to the person that some new way must be found. There must be a kind of rebirth that gives life value, enabling the individual to find energy for living. The individual will find themselves on a journey to restore the lost joy of life and zest in working. When the he or she does find it, there will be a strong sense of having been through a major passage.  Emotional burnout is itself the bridge from one way of being in the person’s life to another.

emotional burnout recovery

Emotional Burnout Occurring Alongside Another Major Transition

Yet, emotional burnout may also accompany any of a large number of other significant life transitions.  Below are only some of the other life transitions that can lead to emotional breakdown:

emotional burnout recovery

In addition to each of these, emotional burnout has a complex relationship to anxiety and depression.  A person who is struggling with pre-existing anxiety or depression may very well find that emotional burnout, with its sense of the loss of value and meaning, eventually becomes part of what they are experiencing.  And, from a depth psychotherapy perspective, that brings us clearly to the question of the relationship between emotional burnout recovery and the unconscious mind — more specifically, the shadow.

Emotional Burnout and Shadow

Shadow is the term that is used for all those aspects of the personality of which the person is unaware, and /or which they do not want to acknowledge.  People often assume that the shadow embodies all that is wrong, weak or morally deficient in a person, and, very often, there is truth in this.  However, it’s not the whole story.  There are many elements of ourselves that are in the shadow which we actually need to find a subjective sense of wholeness and completeness, and, often, to find a forward direction in our lives.

This can be particularly true in situations of emotional burnout.  It may well be that aspects of the burnout sufferer’s personality which have been unable to find expression through a certain career or series of life commitments are now simply demanding the attention of the individual, whether the person’s conscious ego likes it or not.  It may well be time to listen to this aspect of the self, even though it takes us into unfamiliar, unexplored territory.  As the Sufi poet Rumi puts it so well:

 

 

Sometimes, it can be hard to even visualize an alternative to the work world and commitment world that we have created for ourselves.  And very often, the work of psychotherapy is discovery that life-giving altenatives exist, if only we can be open to them.

.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Emotional Burnout, Recovery & Living Your Real Life, 1

June 15th, 2015 · emotional burnout recovery

Emotional burnout can take the wind out of your life’s sails.  How do you know if you have it, and what can you do to foster emotional burnout recovery?

emotional burnout recovery

Here, we’ll look at what psychotherapy can show us about what burnout really is, and what it has to say to us about our lives, and why we need to respond to it, before it’s too late.  In the next post, we’ll look at how best to respond to the signs of encroaching burnout.

Professional, Yes, But Also Profoundly Personal

It would be a mistake to think that burnout is exclusively a professional matter.  It can afflict other, non-professional areas of life, just as profoundly.

Many people experience emotional burnout from emotionally demanding caregiver roles — another form of what Profs. Brotherridge and Grandey call “emotional labor”.  This can be true of those who have the responsibility for dealing with infirm or elderly parents; those dealing with children facing illness, emotional crises, or extraordinary needs; people living in communities struck by natural disasters; or even those in difficult, emotionally demanding marriages.

Depth psychotherapists know that emotional burnout doesn’t just happen all at once: you slide into it gradually.  So, how do I know if I need to think about emotional burnout recovery?  What are the signs?

A Key Element: Exhaustion

emotional burnout recovery

 

Physical and emotional exhaustion are the hallmarks of emotional burnout. We can be sure that you are starting to encounter this when you experience chronic fatigue, which begins with a lack of energy and general tiredness, and leads to a sense of absolute physical and emotional exhaustion and depletion. This is often associated with insomnia, which can start as struggling to fall asleep one or two nights a week, but can lead to a generalized inability to sleep. Impairment of concentration and attention are also characteristic, and can become serious enough that you simply cannot get through the demands of the day. Physical pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches can all be signs, as can increased illness and loss of appetite.

Depression, including feelings of hopelessness and guilt, entrapment and feeling that the world would be better off without you can all be characteristic of emotional burnout. So, too, can serious angry outbursts. Anxiety of varying degrees of intensity can accompany emotional burnout, to the point where it interferes with your ability to work productively and to relate your personal life. If any of these symptoms occur with any intensity, seek professional help right away.

Loss of Enjoyment and Detachment

emotional burnout recovery

“The Joyless Winter Day” – Joseph Farquarson

Nearly all emotional burnout recovery will involve dealing with some level of loss of enjoyment around work and social relations, which, at its extreme, can lead to downright aversion.  This can be associated with genuine pessimism about oneself and the future.  It can also lead to dangerous levels of isolation, detachment and disconnection from others.

Weakness and Powerlessness, Real and Imagined

In the grips of emotional burnout, a person may experience a real loss of productivity, an inability to complete basic tasks, and a generalized sense of being powerless to “climb out from under” the burden.  As we saw above with depression, this can lead to a sense of apathy and hopelessness.  Not surprisingly the individual often finds that this is accompanied by a growing sense of irritability.

Questions of Vitality, Self and Meaning

From a depth psychotherapy perspective, what are we to make of emotional burnout and emotional burnout recovery?  Are there insights that can help with this very big issue?

 

In the next post, we’ll look further at emotional burnout recovery, its connection with major life transitions, what it might imply to take the self and its needs seriously, and the importance of all of this for the individual’s journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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How Could Talk Therapy EVER Possibly Help Me? #2

June 7th, 2015 · talk therapy

“Could talk therapy ever possibly help me?” As we started to examine in the last post, the evidence shows it most definitely can.

talk therapy

What’s more, research shows that the benefits of talk therapy go on and increase after the therapy is over.
Here’s why that’s true.

The Power of Talking with a Supportive Witness

There’s real value in speaking with others to gain clarity.  Often what we feel or think can be indistinct and vague until we start to try and express it.  Then, as we try and make clear to another what we mean, it becomes much more distinct and understandable.  An emotion or an intuition or a vague idea becomes vclear and inwardly, we feel, “Yes — that’s it.”  And if this happens while we’re speaking with someone highly supportive, we also feel that this sharing of what’s within us validates and affirms us.  We not only understand and are more conscious of our inmost feelings and thoughts — we feel that they are valid, that another human “gets us”, and our feelings connect us with the broader human race.  This leaves us freer to accept our feelings and ideas, to manage them, to take steps to alleviate them, or, to fulfil our desires.

In the particular focussed space created by psychodynamic therapy, also know as “talk therapy”, a rare type of conversation goes on.  In it, the dialogue revolves around the inner live of the client.  Things become clearer, more visible — more conscious — and easier to address.

Getting Past Repressed Emotions

If a person doesn’t talk about the emotionally powerful and difficult things in life,  and represses them, or dissociates from them,  they will make likely make their presence felt,  often in destructive ways,  in all kinds of situations in the person’s life.   Contrary to what many think,  pushing down and trying to forget one’s real feelings doesn’t work all that well,  in the long run.   If we refuse to give our feelings attention,  at some later point,  those emotions will force us to attend.   This often happens in midlife transition,  but that’s is far from the only place where this occurs.   Strong emotions that are left unexamined and unchallenged produce powerful complexes  that distort our relationships,  and sap our energy and happiness.   Talk therapy offers a safe container to process and explore  this kind of emotional dynamite.

talk therapy

Research: Long-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Rewires the Brain

An arresting fact about about talk therapy is that, at least in some situations, it can bring about changes that are observable by brain imaging in the way the brain functions. We tend to think that this is something only medication can do, but there is strong evidence of talk therapy bringing about such changes.

Here’s additional information on the studies referenced in the slides above:

Symbolic and Archetypal Connections Made Through Talk Therapy

talk therapy

Talk therapy enables clients to process symbolic material such as comes up in dreams.  Brain science and neurolinguistics have discovered how our brains innately use metaphors to comprehend things difficult to understand, both in waking and in dreaming.  As U. Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff puts it,

The metaphor system plays a generative role in dreaming….  Of course, upon waking, the dreamer may well not be aware of the meaning of the dream….  [yet] dreams are not just the weird and meaningless product of random neural firings, but… a natural way by which emotionally charged fears, desires and descriptions of difficulties in life are expressed.

Discussing dreams in the course of talk therapy with a skilled depth psychotherapist often yields up new understanding of life situations, which may have great importance for the individual’s journey.

Talk therapy can make a profound difference.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  woodleywonderworks ; Jimmy Harris ; gnuckx
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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How Could Talk Therapy EVER Possibly Help Me? #1

June 1st, 2015 · talk therapy

Talk’s proverbially cheap… so how could talk therapy — talking about the issues in my life — ever really benefit people in distress, seeking to find concrete help?

talk therapy

How can just talk — without drugs, surgery, electrical stimulation, etc. — have a positive effect on a person’s well-being?  It seems that the answer lies in the kind of talk that goes on in talk therapy.
Here are some basic things to know about talk therapy — and why it works.

Human Beings are Hard-Wired to be Social

Evolution has made human beings a social species.   Important parts of our brain are made to function specifically in social interactions.    Deep in the unconscious parts of the brain we’re programmed to look for interaction and connection with others.   In fact there are important centers of the brain that only “light up” when we are interacting socially.   Because of the social nature of human beings, one of the best ways for us to process things in our inner life, often, is to talk about them in the right kind of supportive environment.

This doesn’t mean that we benefit from just any environment where idle social chitchat occurs.   What works well for us is the specific type of environment found in “talk therapy” or as it is also known,  psychodynamic therapy.   Here,  the individual is encouraged to talk openly and freely about his or her life in the presence of a supportive, attentive, non-judgemental listener,  who is highly trained to identify patterns, both conscious and unconscious.

“Mirroring” is Essential

talk therapy

At the deepest level, individual human beings want and need to be “positively mirrored”. By this we mean that the individual wants and needs to see him or herself positively valued by another from the individual respects in values. The person wants to know that they are held up by the other, and guarded in a positive and and affirming light.

Although we have a strong need for this type of mirroring in the early stages of life, many of us do not get nearly enough of it. As a result we find ourselves incapable of valuing ourselves in the way that we otherwise would. And it is precisely here that we see one of the ways in which talk therapy shows that it is not merely about idle talk. Very often, talk therapy becomes the vehicle for receiving vital affirmation that is essential for the growth and development of the self.  This is much more than navel gazing or the exchange of idle chit-chat.

Fundamentally, Talk Therapy Involves Insight

talk therapy

One of the fundamental characteristics of talk therapy, and one of the most characteristic things which distinguish it from idle chitchat, is that talk therapy is about gaining insight into oneself. Although other profound things occur in the course of talk therapy, at least some new insight is certainly needed if the process is to be meaningful.

What types of insight into the self are needed? In the slides below are some prominent examples:

 

Talk Therapy –Works!

talk therapy

The evidence is quite clear that talk therapy does work for people.  U. of Colorado psychiatry professor  Jonathan Schedler’s research review shows that effect sizes for psychodynamic psychotherapy are as large as those reported for other therapies that have been actively promoted as “empirically supported” and “evidence based.  Some studies suggest the effect may even be larger.  What’s more, the benefits of talk therapy can be shown to go on and even increase after the therapy is over.

Talk therapy can be shown to be an effective and genuinely helpful technique.  We’ll examine its benefits more in the second part of this post.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTOS:  Attribution Share Alike  ©  Banalities ; Wolfgang Staudt ; Yogendra Joshi ; rochelle hartman
© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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