Brian Collinson

Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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?


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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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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New Year: 4 Tips for Dealing with Stress in the Workplace, Pt 2

January 19th, 2015 · stress in the workplace

In my last post, we examined some central insights related to dealing with stress in the workplace; in this post we look at some key insights concerning our particular individual identity and workplace stress.

dealing with workplace stress

In Part 1 of this post we saw how our complexes and our shadow can impact our relationship to work.  Now we look at work much more closely in the light of who we really are.

I am Not My Work…

stress in the workplace

One of the biggest difficulties for many people in our age and culture is to become conscious of the fact that the work role is truly not one’s personal identity.

We all need a social mask and a pattern of response to our work environment to maintain appropriate boundaries and the integrity and solidity of the self in the work place.  It keeps us from losing our identity at work, and is what Jungians would call a work persona.

Yet the individual may become so actively identified with the work role as to have no real awareness of individual identity beyond work  He or she runs the risk of becoming lost to the things that really make her or him who they are.  Such identification opens up the floodgates to potential stress, because any sense of self-worth or self-esteem comes to hang completely on success or failure at work.  We haven’t even mentioned job loss or retirement: to such a work-identified individual, it can feel literally like complete loss of identity and social death.

A variant of this theme, common in our time, occurs when an individual has so much demand and so many out of control expectations thrust upon them by the work place, that they literally have no time to think about or do anything personally meaningful, other than work.  The individual doesn’t choose to be identified with work: rather, he or she is thrust so deeply into the demand of work that there is no psychological space or energy for any other identity than the work role.

In either situation, however hard it is, the individual needs to get out from under the work role, and discover his or her fundamental identity.  The stress burden is overwhelming, and the self is at stake.

…And My Ultimate Vocation is to be Myself

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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

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New Year: 4 Insights Into Stress in the Workplace, Pt 1

January 12th, 2015 · stress in the workplace

The post holiday New Year is prime time for stress in the workplace: what insights can depth psychotherapy offer to help us hang onto ourselves as we “go back”?

stress in the workplace

Specific techniques for managing stress in the workplace are useful, but particular insights that bring us to greater conscious awareness can be even more important.

1. Complexes Get Activated in the Workplace

After working in quite a variety of workplaces in my life, I’ve learned that one thing work places will invariably do is activate our “stuff”.  In other words, as a depth psychotherapy approach to anxiety and complexes would see it, the work environment can really get complexes going.

How?  Well, all of us are subject to complexes.  University of London lecturer and Jungian analyst Christopher Hauke reminds us that Jung saw complexes as the main content of the personal unconscious. These clusters of intense emotion profoundly affect our reactions to situations in our lives.  This happens on a conscious level, and, what is even more significant, they “get to to us” even more profoundly on an unconscious level.  So what does this mean for us?

Example.  Jenny has boss trouble.  Things went well with her previous boss for 3 years at the environmental consulting firm where she works.  When her current boss was promoted, things went well for several months.  Now the relationship is tense, and at times, unbearable.  For reasons Jenny can’t fully explain, her boss makes her anxious, defensive and angry, seemingly at the drop of a hat.  Jenny will ultimately realize, months from now, that her boss, even though female, evokes a complex in her that echo the frustration and pain of dealing with a perfectionistic, dismissive father, who never really listened.

Complexes affect us in ways we’re simply not aware of — often leaving us completely at their mercy.  Even if we make the intellectual connection between the complex and the life situations where they “hit” us, that doesn’t mean we’ve dealt with the complex.  To do that, you have to explore the associated feeling; looking at dreams and other factors can help you to become aware of the ways in which the complex impacts you unconsciously.

stress in the work place

2. Shadow and the Workplace

Some readers might be wondering, does my workplace have a shadow?  The answer is yes, even if you work for the most apparently benign organization in the world.

There are always aspects of an organization that those who are in it, or who run it, don’t see or acknowledge.  It’s very important thing to know this about your work environment!

It’s important to know, for instance, where the organization you work for just doesn’t “walk the talk”.  An organization may proclaim that “our people are the most important thing” or “we’re actively working to embrace change”, when its behaviour shows that they’re committed to no such thing — or to its opposite.   It’s important, for your own stress level, to try and realize where an employer is prepared to look at its shadow, and where it just isn’t.  Forcing an employer to look at its shadow when it’s violently resistant to doing so isn’t just stressful — it’s potentially dangerous.

Now, you and I also have a shadow side.  There are aspects of ourselves that we’re unaware of, or don’t want to acknowledge.  Encountering your employer’s shadow can often be a sure fire way of getting your own shadow activated — often through our complexes (see above).  Understanding all you can about your employer’s shadow, and how it triggers you, can be a powerful way of learning a great deal about yourself, and managing stress.

This post centers on two key insights based on workplace stress and the kind of issues that bring people into depth therapy.  In the next post, I invite you to examine two more.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


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The New Year & the Promise of Finding Happiness in Life

December 29th, 2014 · finding happiness in life

At New Year’s Eve we tend to confront the elusive goal of finding happiness in life.  What is true happiness, and where can it be found?

finding happiness in life

To ask an even more fundamental question: is truly finding happiness in life even possible?  Well…

…It Depends What You Mean by Happiness…

If happiness means feeling the way you do at Disneyland every day, then, no, you’ll never find true happiness.  It’s basically not possible to live life with every day being a picnic, full of stimulating fun experiences, without any real hardship.  No matter how many times you read and re-read The Secret, reality is going to impinge. You will have hardship, and there is genuine sorrow, and very often, even tragedy, in life.  Even in fortunate, upper middle class communities like Oakville or Burlington.

Well, is there any other way of finding real, lasting happiness?

Does Finding Meaning Bring Happiness?

There may well be strong benefits to the individual in finding meaning or key values, but that these might not quite fit the conventional description of happiness. Certainly, for many, finding something that imparts genuine meaning in their lives  is very good, very positive, very valuable.

Does that fit the conventional meaning of happiness?  Maybe not, but there are significant numbers of people for whom the value they experience from furthering the key source(s) of meaning in their lives is greater than even being conventionally “happy” would make them.

How to find meaning?  That takes exploration, and real work on oneself — but it may very well be worth it.

Self Acceptance

Real, genuine self acceptance takes a great amount of cultivation of self-understanding and compassion for oneself.  This is truly the fruit of depth psychotherapy, as only a psychology that is truly open to the unconscious dimensions of the person, and bringing them into contact with consciousness and the ego, can really bring the possibility of truly in-depth self-acceptance.

Does this kind of self-acceptance bring happiness?  Perhaps, but it is a happiness that brings together all of a person’s joy, pain, despair contentment — everything.  So it’s definitely not a happiness of the “Don’t Worry, be Happy” variety

Does Creating Bring Happiness?

Can creating make a person happy?  Clearly human beings are pre-disposed to be creative.  Creation seems to be fundamental to our nature as a species.  Creative acts, such as creation through the visual arts, music, dance, drama or writing can be accompanied by real joy.  They can also be accompanied by feelings of intense pain, as many artists, writers and musicians attest.  Yet acts of creation can be deeply infused with meaning and involvement of the whole person (see above).  Not exactly conventional happiness — but perhaps something more.

finding happiness in life

Could Being Happy Mean Loving One’s Fate?

CG Jung spoke on several occasions about amor fati, or “the love of one’s fate”, an expression he took from the philosopher Nietzsche.  In his book  The Joyful Wisdom , Nietzsche wrote the following about a very special resolution he made at New Year’s 1881:

Today everybody permits himself the expression of his wish and his dearest thought; hence I, too, shall say what it is that I wish from myself today, and what was the first thought to run across my heart this year – what thought shall be for me the reason, warranty, and sweetness of my life henceforth.

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful.  Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth!  …And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”

E.M. Forster echoes this in  A Room with a View when he has a key character say :

By the side of the everlasting Why,

there is a Yes and a yes.

Yes. “To be only a yes-sayer”, to affirm my life, in its substance and its wholeness.  To look at the whole incredible pageant / circus / tin of worms that is my life, with eyes wide open, and to say: YES.

finding happiness in life

Beyond the glib superficialities, every New Year brings us close to the powerful archetype of Renewal.  Each New Year, like the animating spirit of Jungian or depth psychotherapy , invites us to live in that profound yes.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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Overcoming Perfectionism and Learning to Let Go, 2

December 21st, 2014 · overcoming perfectionism

In Part 1, we saw why overcoming perfectionism and learning to let go are so important; here, we look at what we can start to do about it.  An important question is: How do I begin to let go?

overcoming perfectionism

Marion Woodman, in her marvelous Pregnant Virgin shared some deep insights about getting beyond the woundedness that fosters perfectionism.  She explores the image of “the pregnant virgin”as an archetypal symbol for the return to the unadulterated, spontaneous, creative self, in women and men alike:

What does one do when everything rational inside says “Let it go,” and everything emotional says. “I cannot”?…  How does one rechannel love into fresh creative outlets?  How does one reopen oneself to the flow of each new day?  How does one become a virgin again?  Or perhaps a better question: How does one become a virgin at all?

Again and again we have to say to ourselves: what was my feeling in that situation….  Feeling evaluates what something is worth to me.  What am I willing to put energy into?  What is no longer of value to me? [italics mine] 

This dimension of feeling — which is not the same as raw emotion — is essential.  To get to how we really feel about things — beyond the complexes and “trips” put upon us by others and circumstance, is a key part of getting in touch with the spontaneous, unadulterated “virgin” self.

overcoming perfectionism

Find a Creative Passion

overcoming perfectionism

Exploring your deep creative aspects can definitely be a powerful way of getting in touch with the authentic self.  It could be using clay, painting, writing prose or poetry, dancing when you’re alone in your living room, cooking, doing improv — really any of a huge number of possible outlets that take us out of our ordinary, everyday kind of awareness, and let the shy yet luminous being within each of us show him or herself.  This is a topic I’ll be writing a great deal more about in the near future.

Do Analysis —Really Do It

Whether you call it Jungian analysis or depth psychotherapy, depth work that gradually brings the unconscious self into dialogue with the conscious self over time, can certainly facilitate the process of “letting go”, by bringing individuals into awareness of the deepest parts of the self.

Such in-depth exploration is not going to occur in 5 or 6 sessions.  Yet, over a period of time, good depth psychotherapy work can help us feel much more connected to our own individual, spontaneous reality.  This is particularly true if the analyst/ therapist is continually bringing us back to both our bodily awareness (please see below) and the activity of the unconscious, in dreams and elsewhere.

Truly Listen to Your Body

This is about doing body work.  Body work does not mean just “working out”.  It’s possible to do all kinds of incredibly strenuous “working out” — and still be entirely alienated from your body.  It’s all well and good to do an “Iron Man Marathon”; yet we need consciousness of the subtle awareness inherent in our flesh, rather than treating our flesh as if it were made out of iron.

As a general guideline, any approach that treats the body as a machine, or treats the physical world as fundamentally illusory is not going to help.  We need the awareness that will keep us right in our flesh, knowing that consciousness is just as present in our left little toe as it is in our heads.  Such awareness can often be a part of depth psychotherapy.

To let go into the flow of our lives, and the reality of our own being is fundamental to true depth psychotherapy.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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Overcoming Perfectionism and Learning to Let Go, 1

December 14th, 2014 · overcoming perfectionism

Overcoming perfectionism and learning to let go are essential if we are ever going to live our authentic lives.  Times like the Holiday season offer a huge opportunity to experience just how much this matters.

overcoming perfectionism

In some ways the Holidays can serve as a little miniature model or encapsulation of the whole of life and the journey to wholeness.

Perfection: the Archetypal Gadfly

Why do we human beings so easily fall into an obsession with things being perfect?  Why does the ideal of perfection have such compelling power?

Humans have always been haunted by the idea of perfection.  From early times, we have ascribed perfection to our deities and divinities.  This is rooted in the young child seeing the parents as omnipotent and morally perfect.  As the child matures in healthy relationship, he or she gradually outgrows this.  The child becomes aware of its own ability and strength, and of the parents’ humanity and fallibility.  Perfection is increasingly seen as something “ideal” or “belonging to the realm of the gods”.

 Gods and Humans

However, York U.’s Prof. Gordon Flett and colleagues show us how parental demands and insecurities can interfere with our sense that we’re “enough”, landing the demand for perfection firmly on our shoulders, and with it, the continual sense that our efforts fall short.

Speaking archetypally, the individual is then sucked up into the “realm of the gods”.  The gods might be perfect; but for humans the demand for perfection is frozen death.  This shows up in curious ways.  Many of us, at Holiday times, for instance, are very aware of the individual who is so obsessed with Holiday arrangements being “perfect” that all the joy is taken away — for themselves, and for others.

Depth psychotherapy seeks to enable the individual to gradually free him- or herself from unyielding perfectionist demands.  It’s about cultivating the acceptance of ourselves in our human ordinariness — which we share with all the humans who’ve ever lived.

To accept the self means to accept human life for what it is, and letting life flow.  As Lao Tzu said so long ago in the Tao te Ching,

Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

What Does it Even Mean to Let Go?

But what does it even mean to let go, and to let life flow?  Here is a marvelous poem that Joanna Wiebe shares, written by her late sister, Christine.  It has a connection to the holidays, to an experience of positive parent, and to an experience of falling through fear into letting go, and letting everything be what it is.

overcoming perfectionism


This is how it should be:
Christmas vacation, and I am six;
Daddy and I are driving outside the city
to a great hill with untouched snow.
Sun warms the car.
I climb up the tracks Daddy makes
hearing the crunch each time the first time.
We stand at the top, just Daddy and I, breathing,
and the sparrows laugh.
“I’m afraid,” I say.
But then we’re sailing
and I’m safe on a narrow strip of wood
clinging to his broad back,
a solid thing in a swaying world,
and I’m laughing and wishing
we could fall like this forever
into the sun sparkles and whipping wind
and the white snowdrift
waiting to embrace us
over and over and over.

~Christine Wiebe

overcoming perfectionism

“This is how it should be.”  Yes: the zone of uncertainty, and of letting go and letting it happen, is where human life occurs.  The mess is where the life is.  For us to be there requires what Jung would call a “religious” outlook.  By this he doesn’t mean organized or formal religion, but an awareness that something bigger is unfolding at the heart of our lives than the ego can understand and control.  We need to stop “shoulding” and “oughting” ourselves, and trust in life.

Depth psychotherapy is about letting go into our own lives, with compassion and hope for who we most fundamentally are.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © Pascal modified ;  Visit Grand Island        Ramón Cutanda López modified;  
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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7 Stress Management Tips That Take Soul Seriously, 2

December 7th, 2014 · stress management tips

In the Part 1 of this post on stress management tips from the perspective of soul, we started to explore options for reducing stress by making choices aligned with who we really are.  Here, we continue that exploration.

stress management tips

Although these “tips’ have broad general reference to our lives, they’re also relevant to trying to live authentically through the Holiday season.

Claim Your Right to Go Your Own Way

Going with your own chosen path can be tough.  Clinical experience certainly shows the   incredible climate of expectation surrounding people at the Holidays.  Some of this is outer, stemming from friends, relatives, co-workers, etc.  But just as formidable is the mass of inner expectation, the ways we “should” and “ought” ourselves.

Being social beings, we face the expectations of others.  Sometimes those expectations are benign, and, even if they don’t reflect everything we want, the cost to us of meeting them is small.  But sometimes the cost of meeting others’ expectations is higher than we can possibly afford to pay.  A person who has been emotionally abused by a parent or sibling, for instance, may find the prospect of spending Christmas day at a family gathering with that family member simply unbearable.  If the abuse has been physical or sexual, this may well be true in spades.

Even if the emotional issues are not as dramatic, the emotional undertow may be just as powerful.  It can be extremely painful to be in family situations where an individual cannot be who he or she is: in Jungian terms, the Self may simply not allow it.  We have to be discerning, and continually asking ourselves, “What works for me?”

Discern What Really Matters — to You

The type of discernment described above is a matter of great importance throughout the adult life journey.  Yet, the Holidays just have a capacity to bring this need for discernment home, often, in uniquely powerful ways.

stress management tips


In my deepest self, what do I really value and desire?  This isn’t an easy question.  Often some real journeying and real work on one’s conscious and unconscious selves is needed to find answers.

The Holidays may underline for us just how important these questions are.

Affirming My Own Story, Distinct from “The Family Story” or “The Collective Story”

My authentic story, who I am, does not boil down to the way my family sees me, the story that they tell about me, or the expectations they have of me.  The same is true of the perceptions and stories of society as a whole, or of the particular social groups to which I belong.

It’s essential to identify “the real story” about myself.  This is not the superficial story that the ego may settle for, but the authentic story of myself that emerges from my deepest being.  This deeply resonant story is what Jung refers to as my “personal myth”.

Be Open to Your Own Experience

Can I really be open to my own experience, or am I continually governed or dominated by what others say of me, perceiving myself and living my life only as “they” tell me that I “should”?  Such a posture in life can be a source of immense, often unrecognized stress.

Consider the Holidays.  They promise an experience of transcendence, numinosity, wonder, and intimacy.  They often deliver so much less — and our culture seeks to fill the gap with sentimental schlock and materialism.  So the question I face around the Holidays is essentially the same question that I face about life as a whole.  Will I settle for the paltry experiences that my culture insists are my birthright, or will I go in search of my own experience, my own lived truth, my own real life?

This key question in life is writ large for us at the Holidays: What is mine?  What is my own individual experience?  What makes me feel alive?  Consider Jung’s answer, embedded in a striking photo from the Martha Graham dance company:

stress management tips

Depth psychotherapy is passionately concerned with the individual becoming “on fire” — fully alive.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

PHOTO:  Attribution Share Alike  © John Talbot modified ; Ramón Cutanda López modified;  
© 2014 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)