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How to Make Difficult Decisions: 8 Questions to Ask Yourself, B

March 30th, 2015 · how to make dIfficult decisions

So, what can psyche tell us about how to make difficult decisions?

how to make difficult decisions

In Part One, Questions 1. to 4., we looked at the pressures, conscious and unconscious, that might bear on how we make decisons.  Here we deepen the questioning.

5.  What does my body tell me about this decision? (or how do I feel?)

Isn’t the body irrelevant to decision making?  Actually, not at all. If we listen to our bodies, they tell us a great deal about what is right and wrong for us in the decisions we have to make. Many times, our bodies reflect our real feelings, when we’re not conscious of them. The body’s state can show us much about the emotion that we’re carrying deeply within us.

To feel this, we have to understand the language that the body speaks. Consider an individual who decides to accept a promotion and transfer to a far away city, who immediately upon doing so starts to experience stomach trouble to the point vomiting and diarrhea. That person might tell themselves that this response is just a natural expression of nerves. But therapy might well reveal that a more appropriate interpretation is that the body simply “can’t stomach” the transfer.

Modern Jungian therapy knows it’s wise to try and hear, rather than ignore, the deeper wisdom of the body. It can make all the difference between a decision that is fundamentally affirming of self and life, and a decision that rides roughshod over who we really are.

Disrupted sleep, rock-hard muscular tension and the racing heart of anxiety all speak volumes.  The conscious mind might not know, but the body knows something about how to make difficult decisions.

6.  What Are my Dreams Saying?

how to make difficult decisions

My dreams may also speak an earthy and earnest wisdom. In many ways, dreams may show us how a decision relates to the deepest self.  They may put the decision in the context of our earlier experience, our fundamental personal makeup, and our most basic biological, evolutionary and cultural heritage. Depth psychotherapy on dreams may reveal that we are being pressured into a certain course of action by a bullying father complex.  It can also show when a particular course of action holds the promise opening up a whole range of psychological possibilities, or a way to move forward and out of a seemingly insoluble dilemma.

Noting our dreams and getting help to understand their language is an excellent aid to decision making.

7.  Do I Need to Make this Decision, or to Hold the Tension?

how to make difficult decisions

In the last post, we saw how an overly strong sense of urgency about making a decision might be caused by a psychological complex.  But even if we’re not being needled by a complex, it may be very valuable to ask whether it’s the right time for us to make an important decision.

Sometimes, especially with key decisions, it may be important for us to just sit for a time with two incompatible options.  As Jung might tell us, sometimes just considering the two irreconcilables can lead to the emergence of a third completely unexpected alternative that leads out of a dilemma in a completely expected way.

As leading neuroscientist Prof. Joseph LeDoux of NYU tells us, most of mental processing is unconscious. If the conscious part of ourselves which is always trying frantically to plug every hole in the dyke can stand back, sometimes what emerges from the unconscious mind is an unbelievably apt contribution to solving our dilemmas.

8.  Who am I — Really?

This can be an important question because, often, it’s possible to be just too definite about “who I am”.

Certainly, I can try to map out what kind of person I am, and see how that helps me decide for this or that option.  “I’ve never been a dancer; there’s no way I’m going to salsa classes with my wife.”  “My partner might like the suburbs, but that’s not who I am as a woman — I’d never go there!”

Yet, more often , it’s easy for our preconceptions about ourselves to influence our decisions, and even to interfere with our decisions.

It’s wise for me to stay open, and not have too pat an idea of who I am.

Depth psychotherapy can help us to bring the whole of who we are as a person to the challenges of major life decisions.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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How to Make Difficult Decisions: 8 Questions to Ask Yourself, A

March 23rd, 2015 · how to make dIfficult decisions

As therapists know, decision-making is tough: sometimes, brutally so.  We all wonder how to make difficult decisions that feel integral and good.

how to make dIfficult decisionsWhat questions should you answer before you make a decision?

These questions aren’t “magic bullets”, taking all difficulty out of the process.  But, if you can stay with them, you might find that you’re making better decisions that are more reflective of who you really are.

1.  Does this situation seem familiar?  Have I been here before?

I might be struggling with a decision that, on a certain level, has a very familiar deja vu feeling.  Could it be that the type of decision that I’m called upon to make is just very difficult for me?  Perhaps this type of decision repeatedly trips me up.

If I’ve really wrestled with this type of question before, it may hook some emotional aspect of my past experience.  My past history, either in early life, or at some later point, may repeatedly get involved in the decision.

Or, I might be running into an issue that concerns personality type.  Maybe I am not at my strongest making decisions that involve intuiting future possibilities, or managing a great deal of detail — or any of the other possible “Achilles heels” that can ensnare each of us when it comes to using our weaker psychological functions.

2.  Where does the urgency come from?

how to make difficult decisions

Decisions may feel urgent to us for all sorts of reasons.

There can be objective outer factors that make us aware of the decision as urgent.  Work deadlines or financial pressures would be examples.  Yet sometimes we’re driven by a strong sense of subjective urgency.  We can feel an inner pressure to make a decision when there is no objective outer cause for this feeling.

If nothing objective is driving my need to make a decision, it might be best to not make it right now, and take a “wait and see” approach.

If nothing objective is really pushing me to make a decision, I might want to look at the subjective, possibly unconscious roots of my sense of urgency.  A complex may be pushing me to make the decision.

Example: L has been looking for an accounting job, to replace her old job.  Finally she gets two offers.  She feels great urgency to make the decision and get on with a new job.  Yet L’s sense of urgency stems from the fact that she doesn’t really want another accounting job, but it makes her anxious to face that fact.

Sometimes, it’s right to take a decision slowly, and let your unconscious mind work on it.

how to make difficult decisions

3.  What are my biases?

We all have biases that affect our decisions — and we’re often not even aware of them.  Sometimes bias is in the unconscious.  Researchers like Prof. David Amodio of New York University have revealed our unconscious biases around race and gender role stereotypes.  Yet these are far from the only areas where unconscious biases exist.

Depth psychotherapy sees such biases as stemming from complexes, clusters of emotional energy gathered around an archetypal core.  Only by making such biases conscious can we gradually free ourselves from their influence, and make choices that truly line up with who we are and what we really want.

4.  Do different parts of me want different things?

People often use the word “torn” when describing a major decision that they have to make.  It might feel that part of me wants a certain thing, while part of me wants another.

Do “different parts of me” or “different people inside of me”  want different things?  This isn’t an abnormal state: it’s a fairly normal situation.  The human psyche has many different elements, which sometimes want very different things.  Understanding those different people inside of me might change not only the particular situation I’m dealing with, but actually the entirety of my life.

how to make difficult decisions

Who are the different voices inside of me?  What does each of them want?  How can I make a decision that all of me will be able to live with?

Questions about Decisions

Major decisions often occur during major life transitions.  They also often form an important part of the midlife transition.  In Part B of this post, we’ll examine four other key questions we should be asking about our descisions.

Depth psychotherapy reveals important ways to confront and work with the decisions in our lives, and help us to make choices that honour our entire personhood.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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What is Personal Growth, Really? Part 2

March 16th, 2015 · personal growth

How are you and I going to deal with this issue of personal growth?  In Part 1 of “What is Personal Growth” we explored appropriate and inappropriate uses of that term.

personal growth

In this post, we’ll go after the question, “How, practically, can I find personal growth?”

The Invitation to Personal Growth

Where does the invitation to personal growth appear in our lives?

Contrary to what we expect in our culture it doesn’t usually stem from heroic efforts of the will.

In fact, it seems most often to come from encounters with those aspects of our lives that we’d rather not be dealing with.

For instance, in my own case, I know that the experience of dealing with the deafness of my son was life-changing.  I realize many people have dealt with much harder things, but this was extremely hard for me.  Often, I didn’t know how to cope.  Those experiences brought personal growth into my life, and continue to do so today.

These experiences changed me, not because I set out on a ego project of “self improvement”, but because I had to come to terms with what life brought, and unexpected aspects of myself.

In the Deepest Personal Growth, the Ego is Not Really Running the Show

Often, it’s growth for the ego to learn to stand back.

In Western culture, we have learned to see the ego as absolutely predominant.  We tend to highly exalt its power, and those activities which exalt the power of the ego over virtually everything else.

Consider, for instance, Iron Man Marathons.  They’re a remarkable acheivement, no doubt, but we tend to celebrate them as a triumph of ego or will over the body.

personal growth

In our culture, we tend to exalt the ability of the ego to get whatever it wants.  Our cultural heros are very often the people who get what they want no matter what.  Consider television like”the Apprentice” with the all-conquering Donald Trump.  More recently, we have the character of Frank Underwood on the wildly successful House of Cards.

These collective heroes are often suffused with a “narcissistic” self-obsession, referring to the mythical young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool..

personal growth

Contrary to what we often think, narcissism is not based in an excess of self-love, but, rather, its opposite.  As the prominent Jungian psychiatrist Edward Edinger reminds us,

Narcissisus represents the alienated ego that cannot love… because it is not yet related to itself. To fall in love with the reflected image of oneself can only mean that one does not yet possess oneself….  Narcissism in its original mythological implications is not a needless excess of self-love but rather just the opposite, a frustrated state of yearning for a self-possession that does not yet exist….
In the case of Narcissus, fulfillment of self-love, or union with the image in its depths, requires a descent into the unconscious…

Response to the Deep Self

For Edinger, the important stage of personal growth that concerns love for, and compassion for the self requires an in-depth encounter with the unconscious aspects of the personality.  This means an encounter with the self, and a compassionate love for the self — especially for those aspects of the self that do not fit the projects, goals and tastes of the ego, including its tendency to demand excessively idealized and perfectionist standards of achievement, and conduct.  This is what we commonly call the shadow.

Personal Growth, Self Acceptance — and Acceptance of the Self

This encounter with and acceptance of the Self is the heart of what we call personal growth.  As Jung tells us, such experience of the Self is often more of a defeat for the ego, than a fulfillment of its ideals of personal triumph.  Yet it’s what we need to begin to live in life, health and a growing sense of peace with who we fundamentally are.

Depth psychotherapy is fundamentally about the encounter with the depths of the person.  It’s about the move to loving and accepting our complete “unedited” personhood.  This means not only our egos, but the fullness of the strengths, weaknesses and the new territory of the undiscovered self.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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What is Personal Growth, Really? #1

March 9th, 2015 · personal growth

A lot of depth psychotherapists are fairly wary of the term “personal growth”; is there any legitimate way to use that term?

personal growth

One of the most prominent of depth psychotherapists to object to the notion of “personal growth” was the late archetypal psychologist James Hillman, Hillman frequently took the idea to task, especially as embodied in overly optimistic forms, such as the Human Potential Movement.

Here is the kind of thing Hillman would say about personal growth:

personal growth

 

Why Many Depth Psychotherapists Have Trouble with the Idea of “Personal Growth”

So, for Hillman, and many who share his outlook, “personal growth”, at least as embodied by people like the Human Potential Movement, is naive and Pollyanna.  It doesn’t take account of realities like aging, illness and physical and mental decline, nor of the ways we are constrained by our environment or genetics, nor by just how plain difficult it is to live everyday life.

These critics have a point.  Certainly, it would be incredibly naive to think that we can just go from strength to strength in life.  The realities to which Hillman and others refer do have a powerful and profoundly limiting impact on our human existence.

If the term “personal growth” amounts to what is embodied in the mantra that “Every day / And in every way / I’m getting better and better”, then it’s truly a hollow idea.  We are not moving towards some ideal state of human perfectibility, where we are always happier, more content, less judgmental, less defended or completely freed from the impact of a dysfunctional family.  If there is a journey of personal growth for us to undertake, it must mean something other than that.

personal growth

Why “Personal Growth” is Still a Useful Term

Yet, human beings can still grow in wisdom, and in acceptance of self and life.  We will never be all-wise, but surely it’s an increase in wisdom to stop flogging ourselves for not matching an idealized image of perfection that we carry inside, that’s completely at odds with our true nature.  In this sense, it can be most genuine growth to stop trying to be who we’re “supposed” to be, and, instead, to just let ourselves be who we really are.

Also, in a related way, it is genuine growth to be able to simply see ourselves as we really are.  We may never be able to see absolutely everything about ourselves in the depths of the unconscious.  Yet, each new hard-won piece of awareness brings us to some greater measure of understanding, self-acceptance and compassion for our own struggling and wounded selves.  Without this kind of growth, our capacity for real acceptance and compassion for anyone else is likely to be extremely stunted.

Giving up these idealized images and genuinely seeing ourselves as we are increases our overall capacity to accept life itself for what it truly is.  To accept life as it is, rather than trying to blindly and compulsively make it into something it is not — surely this is a very important kind of wisdom, and personal growth.

Will we ever succeed in doing these things perfectly and completely?  —No.  Does that negate the value of obtaining as much of this type of wisdom as we can?  –Most certainly not.

The Invitation to Personal Growth

personal growth

The continual striving to enter into this kind of wisdom, this kind of self-knowledge, and this kind of growth is at the very heart of depth psychotherapy .

In Part 2 of “What is Personal Growth, Really?” , we’ll look at personal growth and how it relates to our ego and our overall psychological wholeness, the Self.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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Feeling Betrayed: Emotions, Archetypes and Recovery, 2

March 2nd, 2015 · feeling betrayed

As we described in the first part of “Feeling Betrayed”, betrayal can be a devastating experience.  So, how could anything good possibly ever come from it?

feeling betrayed

Often, discovery of betrayal is a huge emotional blow.  Before anything can occur to bring an individual back into the flow of life after a major betrayal, this enormous impact must be acknowledged and accepted.
The individual must get past denial or splitting off of the grievous emotional pain.  He or she must also get past the temptation to pass punishing — and unjust — judgement on him- or herself for being the victim of a betrayal.

Seeing Oneself in Betraying Relationships

feeling betrayed

We can learn a great deal about ourselves in the process of understanding how a betrayal comes to occur in our lives.

Sometimes feeling betrayed arrives with no warning, and nothing in the relationship that led up to it, but most often, this is not true.

Acts of betrayal often occur in relationships of one kind or another where weaknesses go unacknowledged.  That is to say, that the relationship may have aspects of which we are unwilling to become conscious.  For instance, in a marital relationship, one or both partners may compartmentalize, showing one aspect of who they are in the marriage, and another, quite different, outside.

To deal with betrayal is often to be in the realm of shadow.  Betrayal forces us to quit idealizing the other.  Yet it also makes us less naive or idealizing about ourselves.  I may be taken past sunshine illusions, and realize how my denial, my complexes, my deep childhood yearning to be loved at any cost, may have all helped to set the stage for the devastation of betrayal.

A Meeting with Our Instinctual Selves

If we can stand to see it, betrayal can often lead to encounter with our core and instinctual selves, which are non-rational, but very real.

Often, in retrospect, the individual recognizes that the unconscious instinctive self warned of the betrayal prior to its occurrence.  Dream images, or even a direct voice urging the individual to “pay attention to John (or Jane)” are typical warnings from the unconscious.  Many individuals who ended up in betrayal situations recount having such warning experiences.

Connection with these instinctual aspects of the self can lead us to a different understanding of who we are, and a different journey through life.

Self-Honesty and Self-Acceptance

Betrayal represents a threat to the integrity of the self, leading to self-devaluation.  To see beyond the betrayer’s rejection to the love of oneself, as one is, is often the call of the self in the midst of the pain of betrayal.  This entails accepting our vulnerable, flawed selves, and the recognition of how much we yearn for love, and how fundamental it is to us.  This painful journey is essential.

Betrayal, Self-Betrayal and Power

feeling betrayed

Self-acceptance in the light of betrayal can take us deep into vulnerability and shadow.  Betrayal in our adult lives may take us to fundamental issues rooted in early life.

Professor Arno Gruen of Rutgers writes of how, deprived of basic love and the security of true acceptance at an early age, a child can be forced into destruction of the true self and pursuit of power and social status.  This requirement to betray self by surrendering autonomy to get the “love” of those who wield power over us can lead to self-hatred.  A betrayal later in life can reactivate intense feelings around early self-betrayal.

The depth psychotherapy of individuals in betrayal situations focuses on compassionate acceptance of our frail, needy selves, and our need to move into our lives from that place of self-love and deep acceptance.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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Feeling Betrayed: Emotions, Archetypes and Recovery, 1

February 24th, 2015 · feeling betrayed

Feeling betrayed is one of the most painful and difficult of emotional states.  A betrayal in a key relationship — sexual, familial or friendship — can lead to an individual facing feelings of abject despair, and of being completely undone.

feeling betrayed

Many of us learned the famous line from Shakespeare uttered by Julius Caesar in school:
“Et tu, Brute?  Then fall, Caesar!”

Just last week, in my therapy practice, I met with a client who revealed a history of experiencing multiple betrayals on matters of great emotional importance within relationships of high significance.  When the individual confronted the depth of the feeling involving these experiences, they were close to those of Shakespeare’s Caesar, who fell into absolute despair in the face of the betrayal of his friend.

We humans are social animals.  Our evolutionary past centers around life in small, close groups.  It is in our nature to form close bonds of crucial importance, which psychotherapists call attachment bonds, with those people who are closest to us.  When those bonds are most crucial to us, when we trust them, and that trust is flagrantly broken, our reaction is most often intense grief and despair.

The Pure Bitterness of Betrayal

Betrayal is a common enough experience in human social life.  It has been with us throughout the ages, and people in the 21st century experience its reality just like all who have come before us.

Trust is natural.  The more complete the trust, the more devastating the betrayal.

Often, when people encounter betrayal of various sorts, they feel that they have been gullible and unwise.  Their refrain is often, “How could I have been so stupid?  I should have seen this coming!  How could I have been so blind?”  Yet, often for these individuals, betrayal has actually come with little, if any, warning.

feeling betrayed

At its extreme, betrayal can be traumatic.  For instance, when an unsuspecting spouse suddenly finds clear and flagrant evidence of an affair, the experience of the discovery may take on many of the typical aspects of a traumatic event, such as re-living memories or finding the discovery of the affair appearing as recurring parts of a dream sequence.

The Archetype of Betrayal

In his work “Symbols of Transformation” Jung discusses the “unjust betrayal of the hero” motif, found throughout human mythology.  Some examples would be:

  • Siegfried and Hagen;
  • Baldur and Loki;
  • Samson and Delilah;
  • Julius Caesar and Brutus; and,
  • for European cultures, the iconic image of Jesus betrayed by Judas
  • feeling betrayedThis motif keeps appearing in our myths, mythologists would tells us, because it represents a perpetual fact of human life: there will always be those who will betray the trust of others, for whatever reason of their own.  Even the heroes and the gods, with all their strength and wisdom, are subject to having their trust betrayed.  We ordinary human beings share in their vulnerability, not because we are weak or stupid, but because it is in the nature of our life as social beings that we are made to love and to trust — and we must run the risks of that.

feeling betrayed

Can Life be Found on the Far Side of Betrayal?

In myth, a death due to betrayal is often followed by a re-birth or resurrection.  Similarly, individuals can and often do find a way forward on the other side of betrayal.  This is not to underestimate the difficulty of recovering from betrayal, but often there is a new life — even a better life — to be found in the ashes of betrayal.

Feeling betrayed may require us to go deep into ourselves, to recover who we most fundamentally are, what is truly important to us, and where life is calling to us. Often depth psychotherapy can be a vital part of this process.

In the next part of “Feeling Betrayed” we will look more at the self-knowledge that can come from betrayal, and recovery into life on the far side of it.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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How to Get Help for Depression, 2

February 16th, 2015 · help for depression

In the last post, we started to look at how to get help for depression through depth psychotherapy; here we’ll look more at how depression impacts us in key life situations and how we can begin to journey through it.

help for depression
 Here are three types of life situations where depression may have a large impact on the life of the individual.

Major Life Transitions

Major life transitions can be of such great significance that indigenous peoples often use the symbol of death and rebirth or other equally dramatic symbolism to characterize what is happening to the individual as he or she undergoes such transformations.

help for depression

 

Here’s a more extensive list of some circumstances that are major life transitions:

  • moving to a new location
  • entering the workforce
  • marital breakup
  • changes or realizations about sexual identity
  • job loss
  • major illness
  • career transition
  • religious crises
  • aging or death of a parent;
  • divorce
  • loss of a loved one; or
  • major illness or disability in a child.

There are many, many others that could be listed.

Events of this type can lead to depression in the individual.  Often that depression can be rooted in ways that the core of the individual has experienced wounding or has met with indifference at key points earlier in life.

Midlife Transition

An individual confronting midlife transition, or midlife crisis may well be confronted with a significant depression.  An individual at or around the middle of life may find that the things in life which once gave energy and motivation now seem entirely and unexpectedly gray.  Occupation, family life, religious commitments, hobbies, friendships, and even family relationships can be entirely bleached of their vitality and meaning.  Sometimes people will describe this situation as akin to travelling through a waterless wasteland or desert, or a frozen Arctic landscape.

help for depression

The individual’s particular make up, and his or her specific life experience will strongly influence how depression may manifest, and its impact on the individual.  Only by discerning one’s unique personhood, and finding what is seeking to emerge in one’s life will the individual start to move out of depression on any lasting and authentic basis.

Depth psychology views depression related to midlife transition as rooted in the individual’s unconscious.  Often, only when the unconscious is made more conscious, and the undiscovered self of the individual is brought closer to the conscious self, can energy from the depression start to transform into vitality, passion, desire to move more into life, and purpose.

Depression in Later Life

help for depression

Individuals moving through the second half of life encounter genuine difficulties and challenges.  Often, these concern physical illness or disability, mobility restrictions, illness or loss of significant others, restrictions on independence, loneliness, financial concerns, and a range of other factors.  As a result of these factors, and of many more, it is not uncommon for people in the second half of life to experience depression.

There are many issues that can pertain to opening up depression when it appears in the lives of older people.  Often, as with midlife issues, much may center on connecting with important elements of the person that are coming up from the unconscious and seeking connection with the conscious portion of the person (the ego).  There can be many unresolved issues that remain from earlier stages in life, and that also have to do with connection with others, and with value, meaning and purpose.  Often, the sense of connection with something larger is important.

The Individuality of Depression

As Marion Woodman reminds us, depth psychotherapy stays in the awareness that, to move through depression, we must truly be in contact with our individual being — particularly our own feeling.  Through in-depth connection with our true selves in an open and self-compassion manner, we move into true, lasting — and highly individual — help for depression.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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How to Get Help for Depression, 1

February 9th, 2015 · how to get help for depression

So, how to get help for depression, when it’s a little like Proteus, the ancient Greek sea god: a shape-shifter right from the word, “Go?”

hoe to get help for depression
In the Odyssey, Ulysses and his companions try to lay hold of Proteus, and he continually changes shape, again and again — a formidable foe to try and tie down.  Depression can appear in so many shapes and forms it can be hard to know just how to get hold of it.  Where should you turn to get a handle on depression?

Antidepressants

Many in our society might jump to the conclusion right away that the kind of help one needs for depression is an antidepressant.  There are countless others who feel that the only real help for depression would be an antidepressant, but who are determined to never “become dependent” on a pill so they suffer on endlessly, never getting any substantial help.

Antidepressants have their place, and they may be of significant help, but there is strong evidence that, with many kinds of depression, the best approach is to combine antidepressants with psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy Genuinely Helps

There is a strong body of evidence showing that psychotherapy is effective in allieviating depression.  But, a very important question to ask here, is effective at what?

Often, depression has key symptoms.  For instance, it can show itself via insomnia, or via its complete opposite, continual tiredness.  Similarly, it can show itself through complete loss of appetite, or through a dramatic increase in appetite.  Or through lowered self-esteem.

Such symptoms can be very distressing.  Quite naturally, the person suffering from such symptoms is eager to have them gone, and seeks treatment, of one kind of another that reduces, or, where possible, eliminates the symptoms.

Yet, depression is not identical with these symptoms.  Very often at the core of depression are some fundamental issues in the inner life of the person, and in the unconscious.

As Jungian Prof. Andrew Samuels of Essex reminds us, analytical psychologists often metaphorically image depression as a damming up of energy in the psyche.

how to get help for depression

This “damming” is often caused by a major underlying conflict or life problem.  If the “dam” can be broken, the energy released often greatly assists in solving the particular life problem.

how to get help for depression

Often, this “damming up” occurs as the result of conflicts or issues that have begun in early life, and been with the individual ever since.  However, it may also stem from specific decisions made or paths chosen by the individual in his or her later life.

The experience of this kind of “damming” or conflict opening up can have a life-giving, liberating effect on the individual.

Among the most significant situations in the life journey where depression can be a big issue are these:

Major Life Transitions

Major emotional blockages are often activated when an individual of any age undergoes a major life change, such as moving to a new place, changing jobs, loss of job, illness, marriage, divorce, loss of a loved one — the list goes on.  Depression may often contain a conflict or a life pain associated with these events, but also an energy that can help in dealing with them, if we can get to its core, and understand it.

Mid-Life Transition

Similarly, the transitions that occur at mid-life, which can take many shapes for an individual.  Often at the heart of it all in the midlife passage is a very substantial depression, and, if we can enter into that depression and understand it, we can understand the various elements seeking to emerge in the individual’s midlife journey.

Depression in Later Life

Depression is not uncommon for those in the second half of life.  It can be associated with increased limitations in lifestyle, loss of a loved one, illness of various kinds, loneliness, decreased ability to look after oneself — and many other factors.  Carefully exploring such depression in the context of psychotherapy may release long-standing unresolved conflicts and blockages, and free energy for living in new possibilities that add meaning and vitality to life at this stage.

In my next post, we’ll be looking at depression in more detail in all these stages of life, and how to get help for depression through effective depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2015 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Art as Therapy: Creativity as Part of the Therapeutic Process 2

February 2nd, 2015 · art as therapy

In the first part of “Art as Therapy” we looked more generally at how art can be effective as a form of non-verbal therapy; in this post, let’s look at some more of the specifics.

art as therapy

What actually goes on when people create art as therapy?

How the Unconscious Speaks Through Art

“Well,” someone might say, “the unconscious parts of the mind speak through an individual’s artwork.”  OK, that’s fine as far as it goes — but what does that actually mean?

To answer this question, we need to be clear about the overall significance of the unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind is huge, relative to the size of the conscious mind.  Renowned neurologist Prof. Antonio Damasio of  USC has summarized a vast body of research on consciousness and the unconscious, and concludes that:

The unconscious, in the narrow meaning in which the word has been etched in our culture, is only a part of the vast amount of processes that remain nonconscious…  In fact the list of the “not known” is astounding [and includes] all the hidden wisdom and know-how that nature embodied in innate, homeostatic dispositions

The Feeling of What Happens, 1999

So, the “unconscious” contains the vast majority of brain functioning — much more than repressed memories etc.  There is inherited wisdom within us that is relevant to the life situations in which we find ourselves.  But does the unconscious embody this wisdom in any particular form that allows our conscious selves to experience it, and to begin to dialogue with it?

There is such a form: the symbol, which Jungian analyst Warren Colman describes as “the clothing of affect in image”.  The symbols that come forward from the unconscious embody the wisdom of the unconscious, if we have the courage and the humility to accept it.  They manifest in many forms: in dreams, certainly, in myth and folk tale, and, often without our even being aware of it, in all the forms of artistic expression.

art as therapy

How Art as Therapy Can be Involved in Healing

If the individual lets him or herself go, the unconscious will manifest itself in works of art, often giving us a clear commentary on what is going on in the depths of the person.

“Creative work is intimately close to the operation of destruction, at least when old forms must be rejected to arrive at a new form of expression”, Jungian analyst Prof. Christian Gaillard of the Ecole Nationale Superior des Beaux-Arts tells us.

Destruction and creation are intimately connected in the use of art as therapy.  Initially it’s creative to demolish old perceptions, often the perceptions of the conscious self separated from our instinctual grounding, so that new perceptions, new ways of seeing, and being, can be available to the individual.

Can engaging in such destruction and creation be healing?  Yes: profoundly so.

What Use is Doing Art If I’m a “Lousy Artist”?

I watch many analysands wrestle with what they feel to be their artistic limitedness when they come into analysis.  I can relate: I felt exactly the same way when I began analysis and started to create in paint and clay.  But whether one measures up to some aesthetic benchmark is irrelevant.  This is the power of art: if a person strives to bring his or her passion and vision into the clay or paint or writing, something powerful and transformative will start to happen. It will bring a certain kind of encounter with the self.

To Make the Inner Life Concrete

art as therapy

What does making these aspects of one’s inner life concrete and outward in this manner do?

It’s not too extreme to say that what one sees as emerging from a person’s work of this kind is an alternate life story.  Perhaps it’s even better described as an alternate mythology.  A story that is both an “explanation” of the individual’s lived experience and a letting-go-of-explanation, as I become aware that something more is going on in my personal existence than I can possibly comprehend.

But I can connect with it through the symbols.

Jungian or depth psychotherapy encourages each individual on their creative journey, providing transformative ways in which to take in the meaning and vitality of this process.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Art as Therapy: Creativity as Part of the Therapeutic Process 1

January 26th, 2015 · art as therapy

When people think about therapy, they generally imagine that it entails lots and lots of talk; yet  depth psychotherapy often makes powerful use of art as therapy.

art as therapy

Jungian analysts have considerable training in the ways that the deep self of the individual can be expressed through art, and so it can often be an incredibly helpful part of the process.

Why Be Creative?

Creativity is fundamentally an expression of the self, including the deeper parts of the psyche.  If the individual is genuinely letting themselves be free, and engaging in creation, as opposed to copying others, he or she is letting an important aspect of her or his identity come to the surface.

Art as therapy is fundamentally about a kind of self acceptance.    Can I accept what comes from me, that which I create?  It can be a key turning point in a client’s work if the therapist can create an environment where what is created and springs up from the depths of the self is accepted and welcomed.

Not Everything is Verbal — or Nor Can It Be

If we reflect, we all know that there are fundamental truths about human life — about our lives — that simply can’t be expressed in spoken language, or in prose — what psychoanalyst Christopher Bollis calls the “unthought known”.  This can be true of the full measure of love, the intensity of religious experience or the experience of the ground of our being, or sometimes of the extent of loneliness, or of yearning… or of the pain that is deepest in the soul.

Yet, even though we can’t just verbally describe these things, often we need to express them.  These potent things fill the human heart — and they need to find a way to be “put out there”… to live and breathe.

Certainly the community of artists exist to express such things.  We non-artists could just leave such expression in the hands of “the professionals”.  We may feel that a Group of Seven painting or a Mozart sonata, or lines from Shakespeare express something ineffable, something that we could never express.  And perhaps that’s right.  But what about our own unique truth, the truth that is unique to our own lives — that no one can ever express but us?  Yes, this truth exists: trust it to express itself, and it will.

Some Things Want to Become Conscious

They just do!  There are things within each of us that long — that need — to be expressed and made conscious.

It takes a measure of security with one’s ego, and with one’s deeper self to let this emerge.  We can all find it very easy, consciously, or unconsciously, to put on the brakes.  Yet, if we wrestle to let this inner voice come forth, we may just find ourselves in contact with the voice of the deep self.

art as therapy

The Experience of Creation

I can recall many moments in therapy work, when individuals were prepared to disengage their inner censor, and bring forth something from within themselves that really wanted to exist — a drawing, a painting, a piece of music.

This can be extremely powerful — almost more so in the work of the individual who, without special training, is just giving room for expression to something in her or his inmost self.  Perhaps not expressed in a perfect form, or through the most elegant of means, and yet I cannot describe to you the incredible privilege of seeing the way life incarnates itself in these individuals’ creative works.

art as therapy

Individuals should be encouraged to draw, paint, be creative as they explore themselves.  In doing so, they are speaking the language of the deep self and of the unconscious..  A Jungian or depth psychotherapy approach embodies much that can enrich and enliven the process of art as therapy.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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