Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Psychotherapy, Jungian Analysis and Creativity

March 30th, 2011 · depth psychology, Jungian, Jungian analysis

Some fear that psychotherapy, even Jungian psychotherapy will lack creativity.  They envisage talking endlessly to a minimally responsive therapist who records everything, but shows little of his or her reaction.  They even fear that it will be overly rational, and distant from feeling.  But it doesn’t have to be so.  Proper therapeutic work can bring genuinely creative possibilities into being.

The Water of Life

Psychotherapy can enable encounters with enlivening, vital elements in the psyche.  Often, such contents emerge, and take us partially, or sometimes entirely by surprise.  They may take the form of things that we discover attract us, for reasons that we would find it hard to explain.  Or maybe there are things that we’ve yearned to try for much of our lives that suddenly become urgent.  Or else there are feelings that we discover ourselves feeling, that suddenly make us seem that much more alive.

The Spectrum of Aliveness

On the other hand, I’m not talking about that kind of ungrounded “being positive” prevalent in our time.  Often we find ourselves opening to a whole range of widened feeling possibilities.  Often this may mean both possibilities for feeling that move us towards new passions and joys, and also capacities for genuinely feeling the sorrows, angers and difficult emotions in our lives.  It seems almost to be a psychic law that, as the capacity to experience one of these things increases, so does the other.  An approach that is one-sided, that only offers joy and exhilaration would involve a fundamental denial of what it is to be human.  As we experience the whole spectrum of our feeling in more depth however, we feel more alive.

Opening; Emergence

The particular importance of the best psychotherapy involves opening those parts of the psyche that are poorly connected to, or disconnected from, consciousness.  There is a whole range of thought, feeling, intuition and sensation experience that is actually or potentially part of us.  From the perspective of consciousness, it might almost seem as if it were the experience of ‘somebody else”!  Yet it is that full spectrum of psychic content that carries the fullness of our life.  This is not to say that it is easy or effortless to let it emerge into consciousness, but the full impact is real.

Image and Possibility

To the best of my knowledge, it was American archetypal psychologist James Hillman who was the first to refer to “imaginal” reality.  Images and feelings that emerge from the unconscious levels of people, particularly people in psychotherapy, can have a compelling reality.  And they can reveal a great deal about the unique psyche of the individual.  As individuals creatively explore such psychic content, and take steps to bring its reality into their own lives, people start to flesh out new possibilities for their lives.

What Will Your Deepest Self Create?

The creative powers released in psychotherapy can be vast and compelling, and might not take the form and direction that the conscious mind would expect.  Have you had experiences of unexpected creativity coming to the fore from within yourself?  Or, the experience of having the unconscious mind solve something that the conscious mind could not?  A living, vital experience of psychotherapy can often bring an individual into contact with a creative wisdom that the person did not know that she or he had.

Wishing you creativity and vitality on your journey to wholeness,

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Psychotherapy and Will Power: Four Simple Truths

March 24th, 2011 · the will, will power

Some people think that psychotherapy and will power belong hand-in-hand.  Others think that, if only a person had enough will power, she or he would never need psychotherapy.  What’s the truth here?  Can our will power alone solve deep personal issues?

C.G. Jung says this about the will:

The motto “Where there’s a will there’s a way”… is the superstition of modern man in general….  He is blind to the fact, that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by powers beyond his control.  They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an invincible need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, dietary and other hygenic systems….  This aspect of the modern “cultural” mind shows an alarming degree of psychological confusion.

C.G. Jung, “The Archetype in Dream Symbolism” in Collected Works, Vol. 18

In the 21st century, people very often feel pressures in their inner and outer lives that are beyond their control.  Jung’s work and modern clinical experience show us the following four important things about the will.

1.  The Human Will is Important

If we completely lacked the capacity to direct and focus our will, there would be very little that we could acheive.  This is not the same thing as saying that having a strong will enables us to simply push through all difficulties.  A person facing a true psychological crisis is going to find it virtually impossible to simply will themselves to soldier through it.  That is why people turn to therapy for support at such times.

Will power is necessary to enable the individual to confront their issues.  Many times, sitting with clients, I have been fully aware that it took a tremendous amount for someone to talk about big issues or face strong feelings.   But that is not the same as just assuming that will power can cut right through the situation.  People need something beyond that.

2.  Large Parts of Any Human Being are not Under the Control of the Will

Jung knew that very large portions of the human mind are unconscious.  And modern neuroscience agrees that the greater part of the brain’s activity is unconscious.  So, that part of the mind cannot be directly controlled by the conscious will or the ego.

Much that goes on in our minds has little to do with the power of the will, including our most intense feelings and emotions.

3.  There are Limits to What Human Will Can Acheive

Because of the nature of the human mind, it is impossible for the will to just “whip things into shape”.  We are much, much more than just our conscious mind and will.  Something beyond willing, much more profound and deeper, is needed, if a person is going to experience real inner healing.

4. There is a Great Deal More to Each of Us Than the Will

The very good news is that there are self-healing forces at work in the psyche, and good therapy can tap into them.  These aspects of ourselves are not under conscious control, but they are very real.  The unconscious is working to restore balance, healing and perspective to our lives, especially when we are in crisis.  The directions that our deeper psyche points us towards are often significantly different than the way we might consciously choose to react.  Perhaps the greatest real test for our strength of will might be, can we will ourselves to listen to our own deepest self?  If we can, possibilities for real change and real growth work in us,  but in unexpected ways.

How do You Feel about Will Power — and the Self?

What’s your view of all this?  Is the power of one’s will the true test of a human being?  Or, have you ever had the experience of something else at work in you, something even deeper and more powerful?  In good psychotherapy that touches the depths, many people become aware of these deeper aspects of who they are.  I welcome your comments!

May your journey to wholeness connect you with your deepest self,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Addictions, Perfectionism and Jungian Psychotherapy

March 19th, 2011 · addiction, perfectionism, Psychology and Suburban Life

There can be a strong connection between perfectionism and addiction, as Jungian psychotherapy readily asserts.  We live in the midst of intense pressures that many experience as a continual demand to overcome, and to excel.  For many, this leads to a gnawing, unending driven-ness, in which their efforts are never good enough, complete enough, or secure enough, especially in their work.  They pour more and more of themselves out in the effort to acheive an impossible standard that is continually elusive.  In the process they feel more and more empty and hollow inside.  These people are in a continually painful state.  They cannot ever feel satisfied or secure, valuable — or even adequate.

 Not Looking at the Shadow

In the terms of Jungian psychotherapy, this is a shadow issue.  For such individuals, it is intolerable to face or accept their unacknowledged weakness, vulnerability and humanity.  They strive to get rid of “the shadow”, the suffering, exhausted and often despairing parts of themselves that are so difficult to face up to.  Through inhuman effort, they strive to eliminate their unacceptable parts.  They try harder and harder.  But the cost to the individual can be so great that it brings immense pain.  Often, it is only through the “self-medication” of addictions — alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn, Internet, you name it — that the awful pain and emptiness can be kept away.

Woodman on Addictions and Being Perfect

Prominent Jungian analyst Marion Woodman writes about those individuals who are perfectionistic in their attitudes, in a way that combines with addiction:

Behind the masks of these successful lives, there lurks disillusionment and terror.  One common factor appears repeatedly.  Consciously the individuals are being driven to do better and better within the rigid framework they have created for themselves;  unconsciously they cannot control their behaviour.  There are countless individual and collective reasons for the outbreak of chaos as soon as the daily routine is completed.  Will power can only last so long.  If that will power has been maintained at the cost of everything else in the personality, then nothingness gapes raw.  When in the evening it’s time to come back to oneself, the mask and the inner being do not communicate….  Compulsions narrow life down until there is no living — existence, perhaps, but no living.

Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride

 I believe there are millions of people who are caught in this trap in our present time.  Such individuals are not going to get out of their prison by greater effort of will.  Many such individuals would benefit greatly from entering into depth psychotherapy, so that they can get in contact with the living part of themselves.

Can You Be with Yourself, and Feel It’s Good?

Can you give yourself a break?  Can you put on the brakes, and accept that enough is enough?  Can the inner critic in you be silenced, or are its attacks relentless?  Do you medicate in some way, to keep the pain and loneliness at bay? 

There is hope, and there are possibilities.  If you find yourself confronting feelings of hollowness, or despair, because of perfectionism, there are ways of opening up to the reality of the self, and to accepting the real, vital and unique person within you.  Don’t deny yourself!

May your journey to wholeness connect you to your real, imperfect, but wonderfully alive self,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Jungian Psychotherapy, and Our “Typical”, Atypical Self

March 13th, 2011 · analytical psychology, Identity, Individuation, inner life, journey, Jungian analysis, Psychology and Suburban Life

Jungian psychotherapy tends not to talk much about “the typical person”.  However, someone I respect a lot recently sent me a link to a very clever video on what humans have and do not have in common.  It’s produced by the National Geographic Society, and entitled “7 Billion: Are You Typical?”  It’s a very well put-together, engaging video about “the world’s most typical person”:

Typical

The concept of “the world’s most typical person” invites some really careful thinking.  All of us seem inclined to compare ourselves to the “typical person”.  It seems to me that there are some interesting ways in which we do this.  I think we both look for the ways in which we are like such a typical person, and the ways in which we are unlike him or her.  We often do want to establish what we have in common with such a person.  We want to feel some bond of shared humanity.  But we also want to find ways in which we are individuals.

How Do You Compare?

How do you compare to the “most typical person” in this video?  He is a 28 year old Han Chinese male.  Perhaps you feel, as I do, that “The most typical person in the world is not like me, in many respects.”  But are there some deeper ways in which you and this “typical person” are alike?  Put more basically, what is it that gives you your particular identity?  What makes any of us unique individuals?  I think it’s something beyond whatever categories or traits are compared.  There’s a kind of mystery in that.

It’s All There, In Us

What makes us “atypical”, or unique?  There are many, many things, when we reflect.

It would be a big mistake to see the 9 million “most typical” humans referred to in the film as all “the same”.  Every one of them will have a myriad of unique personal factors.  For instance: different family of origin; different socio-economic background; different genetic make-up; and, different life history.  These are just four of a huge array of factors that make a person the complex, unrepeatable event that they are.

Questions for You, as a “Typical Atypical” Individual

What makes you the unique human that you are?

What do you feel are the key things about you that shape your particular identity?

What are the groups of people with whom you feel a common human link?

Are there things that you feel you have in common with all human beings?

What are the mysteries that you experience in yourself?  The things that form part of your identity that you maybe can’t fully understand or explain?

Beyond Categories, There is the Mystery That We Are

This last thing, the exploration of the mystery of the self, is the special realm of psychotherapy and depth psychology.  For many, opening up the unexplored territory in the self, and living it out, is essential to having a meaningful life.  For many, as life progresses, this journey takes on more and more importance.  For such individuals, entering something like Jungian analysis may be essential.

May your journey to wholeness connect you meaningfully to others, but above all, to your unique self,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2011 Brian Collinson

Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Psychiatrists and Psychotherapy?

March 7th, 2011 · Psychotherapy

Over this last weekend, the New York Times had an important article by Gardner Harris on the massive shift over 40 years away from psychotherapy and talk therapy by psychiatrists, entitled “Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns to Drug Therapy“.  The article is well worth a read by anyone who takes human healing and human growth seriously.

Turning Away from Talking with Patients

This article makes some very important points. It shows that psychiatrists in the United States have turned away from “talk therapy” or psychotherapy with their clients because it was too time-consuming.  Now the focus of psychiatric practice is most often very short meetings.  One psychiatrist interviewed by the Times sees some 1200 patients for 15 minute consultations about medications that are sometimes several months apart.  While the economics and other factors are somewhat different in Canada, they are not all that different.

Please don’t get me wrong.  Of course there is a place for psychopharmacology, and patients of course look to psychiatry to assist with medications that can help them find their way back towards feeling better in their lives.  The issue here is the emphasis, which has swing entirely toward the administration of medication, rather than the whole person.

Some Questions for Medicine — and for Ourselves

So what conclusions are we to draw from these developments?  It is completely fair to see the medical profession — a field our culture highly values — as embodying the highest values in our society.  In the way it deals with medical issues, our society shows the evaluation that it puts on persons.

1. Is the Individual Patient / Client Still the Priority?  It’s hard to see how the individual person is staying in focus in this process.  How could she or he be, if the doctor has to discipline him- or herself essentially not to engage with the person?

2. Is the Underlying Perspective on Human Beings Personal, or Biological-Chemical?  It may not be fully intentional, but with such a laser-like focus on the medication needs of the patient, there is an implicit understanding of the nature of a person.  It’s a valid question to the doctors and to ourselves: if we all condone this approach, doesn’t it mean that we have essentially all accepted the reduction of the human individual to a chemical process?

3. What are We Prepared to Believe about Individual Human Beings, and about our own Unique Individuality?  Can we really accept this kind of understanding of the person when we apply it to ourselves, or to those we love?

4. How Important is Relationship to the Other — and to the Self?  If this is our benchmark, then human relationship is clearly of little importance.  Isn’t this an incredibly limiting understanding of who we really are?

Respecting and Considering Your Own Soul

How are you and I going to feel about our own inner lives, our deepest feelings, our capacity to relate to others?   To at least some extent, that is the question posed by the sea change now complete in the psychiatric profession, and its potential implications for our understanding of our own humanity.

Do we believe that the dimension of life that we call truly personal is important in its own right, or are we prepared to see it as a mere by-product of chemical reaction and biological function?  Is “my personal self” something that I take seriously enough that I’m prepared to do something about it, to take it in hand, as it were, and enter into it?

Psychotherapy is fundamentally a journey of taking individual persons seriously.  This is especially true of depth psychotherapy.  For many, the human journey cannot and will not be complete, until they have embraced their personal depths.  That’s where depth psychotherapy can often help.

May your journey to wholeness deeply affirm your unique personhood,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

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Jungian Psychotherapy and the Reality of Grief

March 4th, 2011 · grief

Jungian psychotherapy is fully aware that the intensity of grief as an experience is something shared by almost all human beings.  Its devastating character echoes down through the aeons, affecting nearly every life in every generation.  Sometimes the mute expressions of grief by those who lived long ago carry an aching eloquence that makes us feel our bond of common humanity with those brave and resilient people, the ancestors.  That’s how I felt when I heard a recent news story.

The Ancients

The New York Times recently reported on an article in the journal Science documenting the earliest human remains ever found in the Arctic region.  They are the remains of a 3 year old child who died over 11,500 years ago, in what is modern-day central Alaska.   We don’t know a lot of details of the story of the people who lived there.  We don’t really seem to know how they lost their child.  We do know that they performed the funeral ritual of cremation right in the center of their home.  Then they apparently left their home, never to return, or so the archeological record implies.

“Then they apparently left their home, never to return” — what words.  We do not know the exact facts, but across the ages, the aching pathos of that fact seems to speak volumes.  It is hard, on the feeling level, not to project our own reaction to their loss: too painful…never go back…

And Never Go Home…

We may wonder about this.  Across the ages, we wonder at the inconsolable pain caused by the untimely death of a child, a pain so great for these people that it seems to have forced them from their dwelling.

It is a symbollic truth that grief does make us leave home, in a very real psychological sense.  Grief can make that which has felt familiar and safe feel alien, sterile and full of pain.  This can be the effect on one’s own personality or on one’s familiar personal space.  The symbolism in these ancients’ acts is very eloquent: to leave the home, which very often in dreams is the symbol of the personality or of the “psychological space” of the individual.  In a very real sense, grief can evict us from our own lives.

Loss of something that we thought we had.  Disability of a child.  Death of a child.  Loss of a life partner to a debilitating disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.  Loss of a marriage in which we have placed all our hopes…

Is there any way home?  We wonder if we can feel in any sense good or “at home” ever again.  Is there a course through grief, a path?

How Can I Deal with Grief?

The experience of grief can seem so overwhelming, and so permanent.  It is not unusual for people to ask themselves, or others, “Will this ever end, or at least get better?”  Sometimes the experience can be so intense, people can even find themselves asking, “Am I going crazy?”

Clearly, anyone who has a grief reaction of this kind of intensity is never going to forget the loved one, in any emotional sense.  The yearning for their presence is always going to be a part of the bereaved person’s life.  That is the nature of love.  But over time, and under the right conditions, the loved one comes to occupy a different place within us, a place that allows us to at least begin to return some of our energy to life, as the loved one would wish for us.  To find a way to remember the loved one, while simultaneously letting life flow… this is also a part of our individual journey as humans.  To find a place of security and acceptance to process these feelings: that is often part of the journey of psychotherapy.

I wish you every good thing on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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