Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Psychotherapy and Will Power: Four Simple Truths

March 24th, 2011 · 4 Comments · 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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© 2011 Brian Collinson

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

4 Comments so far ↓

  • jamenta

    Anielle Jaffe, Jung’s associate and secretary wrote about Jung that he would often admonish her by saying “Don’t Interfere”. It is likely that our modern belief and insistence on “will power” often ends up obstructing real psychological growth, as the ego keeps trying steering hard against the current of the unconscious – and the deeper goals of the Self. Instead, we simply need to give the unconscious room to act – both within by carefully listening to our dreams and thoughts and outside of ourselves with Synchronicity. Listening to it and understanding the currents of the unconscious help sail our boat, but insisting we go counter to the deeper goals of the Self is like trying to be a 13 year old when you are 50, or trying to walk down a street with your eyes looking behind you.

    One reason I find cognitive (and it’s more discredited predecessor behavioral) psychology distasteful – both are so – ego dependent, without any significant acknowledgement of the unconscious.

    It is as if mainstream modern psychologists refuse to even admit in the existence of the unconscious little alone it’s impact upon our lives and psyche. Will-power and the belief our psyche is merely the end-product of mechanical-biological forces of the brain – have led to simplistic drug-therapy solutions – which often prove more dangerous than the psychological problems themselves – and have been shown to not be as effective as psychotherapy, especially for long term growth.

    I am in agreement with you here Brian. Excellent BLOG post. As Jung once said:

    “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

    So true …

  • Brian C

    Thanks for your comment, Chris. I agree with you that this whole subject of the will is an important one, and that it is not always a simple thing to understand. Some people do seem to have an abundance of will power, and seem to be readily able to force themselves into incredible examples of the power of the strength of will, truly doing the “bootstraps” type of feat. Others find it hard to gather up the will power to press ahead in terms of obstacles. Depth psychology would often tend to see issues having to do with inability to “put the will in gear” as having their source in psychological energies in the person which caught up in trying to dealing with conflicts and issues going on in the unconscious. It has always stressed too, that the liberation of a person’s will has to do with the resolution of those kinds of conflicts. The situations in which people from very difficult situations liberate very creative energies, and live them out, are truly fascinating.

  • Brian C

    Thank you for your comment, John. I agree heartily with the points that you make about the will and the unconscious. This is a really good line: “insisting we go counter to the deeper goals of the Self is like trying to be a 13 year old when you are 50, or trying to walk down a street with your eyes looking behind you.” I agree, and, unfortunately, it is very easy in our culture to ignore the demands and needs of the Self, because we are so utterly fixated on the conscious mind. We are utterly smitten with the triumphs of the will, but we ignore those situations in human life where the conscious will is clearly not in control. I agree that 20th and early 21st century psychology is still dominated by those trends in psychology that would tend to downplay or deny the role of the unconscious. I wonder how things will look in 2060, though, as the findings of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology become more firmly integrated into the main body of psychology? I suspect things have already begun to change.

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