Journeying Toward Wholeness

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A Jungian Psychotherapist Respects Midlife Transition 1

July 30th, 2012 · midlife, midlife transition, transition

A good Jungian psychotherapist has great respect for the psychological processes that make up the midlife transition in most people


This is because, for many, much of the course of life and of the value they assign to it will be determined during the period of midlife transition. Whether we’re aware or not, the middle of life is when we really work out, or determine what our attitude will be toward some key aspects of life.

These attitudes determine fundamentally how life gets lived out.

1. Have I Understood and Accepted My Identity?

It isn’t unusual for people to find that their understanding or sense of themselves starts to change with the midlife transition.  Oftentimes, this entails losing lots of illusions about our identity.  We start to understand that certain dreams and ambitions will never be fulfilled, while possibly other desires and ambitions that weren’t important earlier in our lives come to the fore.

This leads to a related subject…

2. My Attitude Towards the Shadow — the Parts of Myself That I Find Really Hard to Face

We all know that they’re there.  While we may have varying degrees of clarity about these aspects of ourselves that are painful or shameful to look at, they need our attention.  We need to face them as clearly as we can, and to assume responsibility for them.  The only way not to live life through the midlife transition as anything other than a bitter illusion is to let in those parts of ourselves which are exiled, yet contain our vitality.

 3. Open-ness

As life goes along, we can get more and more set into ruts we have travelled for so long. These may concern habitual concepts of ourselves, the rigid rightness of our own views, or the types of experiences to which we’re open.  A Jungian psychotherapist knows from training and experience that if we don’t find ways to stay open, and to experience new things during the midlife transition, we risk falling into greater and greater rigidity, and moving farther and farther from real life as we age.

 4. The Challenge of Accepting Life

In midlife, we face the challenge of moving into a creative acceptance of the totality of life.  This is no idle exercise: our ability or inability to do this may profoundly affect the whole remaining course of our lives.  The privilege and challenge of a creative psychotherapist is to work with the individual to bring a creatively receptive attitude into being.

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Individual Therapy, Men & Male Individuation, 2

July 23rd, 2012 · individual, individual therapy, Individuation, men, therapy

This is the second post in my series on men and male individuation, and how that all relates to individual therapy.

individual therapy

Being Male: Not As Simple as It Looks

The women’s movement, over the last 45 years, has strongly — and rightly — made the point that traditional male-dominated structures in society tend to keep women from being individual selves.  What isn’t as well appreciated is that, often, those same old patterns keep men from individuation, just as effectively.  These stereotypes even contaminate certain types of individual therapy.

The Last Thing Men Need is Another Stereotype

There is a stereotype waiting in the wings in our society, ready to fill the vacuum for individual men, but not in a helpful way.  The archetypal pattern of dominance and submission, or, as you often hear it put today, the “Alpha Male / Beta Male” image,  is rooted in the archaic instinctual division between competent, capable males who lead, and supposedly incompetent, clueless men who need to get led by Alphas.  Often, our culture holds out the image of these Beta Males — the majority, according to this view — as hopeless big kids, or even more toxically, stereotypical “failures” or “losers”.  Examples of this Beta Male stereotype abound in our culture:

individual therapy

  • Al Bundy from the sitcom Married with Children;

individual therapy

  • Raymond from Everybody Loves Raymond; and,

individual therapy

  • last, but oh-so-far from least, Homer Simpson.

Not surprisingly, the only alternative that the culture holds up is to be the invulnerable, all-conquering Alpha Male:

individual therapy

…like, say, “The Donald”…  Is this really all that there is for men?  If so, God help us.

Pressures Within; Pressures Without

The pressure is on, inner and outer, for men to either strive to embody the unassailable success of the Alpha Male, or else to accept the subtle but definite sense of failure with which our culture taints men who are not perceived as Alphas, and accept that humiliation by fleeing into the various distractions and anaesthetics our society offers.  Isn’t there any other possibility?

Individual Maleness

There is.  It involves creatively opening up and exploring who I am as an individual male person.  It entails going into my depths, and coming to accept and embrace who and what I am as a unique individual.  It requires accepting my woundedness, and being open to the healing that acceptance can bring.  It entails a new kind of awareness, stemming from what it is to uniquely be me.  Individual therapy can be key to this process of male individuation.

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The Depth Psychotherapist & the Meaning of Dreams

July 19th, 2012 · dreams, meaning of dreams, psychotherapist

What possible reason could a depth psychotherapist have to care about the meaning of dreams? Well, there are several reasons, as C.G. Jung shows us in the quotation below:

meaning of dreams

Dreams Contain Images and Associations

The language of dreams is fundamentally, uncompromisingly illogical.  This can easily offend us.  This language expresses itself through the power of images and associations which are not rational in the usual sense.  Yet, if we can understand that language, the meaning of dreams can bring profound insights.

Dreams are Not Created by the Conscious Mind

Dreams come from the other realm — that huge portion of the human psyche that is not conscious.  This is the source of their particular profundity.  The depth psychotherapist knows they represent the unconscious mind commenting on the attitude and outlook of the conscious mind and the ego.

Dreams Represent Psychic Activity Outside of the Will

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  So they say.  But, is there a way that may be beyond the will?  Personality outside the control of the ego and conscious volition?  The great discovery of Freud and Jung was that, yes, there is.  There is a whole “other” psyche, both at the personal, and at the instinctual-archetypal level that works in us without being under the control of the everyday conscious mind.  The depth psychotherapist knows this, coming out of a hundred year-plus long tradition, the roots of which extend back well before Jung and Freud.  But today’s neuroscience, with its advanced empirical techniques, is confirming this reality — in spades.

Dreams are Actually Highly Objective

It sounds strange to speak of dreams as possessing objectivity.  Yet, if we can understand their language, dreams give us a perspective on our place in life that is not contaminated by the particular tunnel vision and defense mechanisms of the ego.  Like the sign on the map in the mall that indicates “You Are Here“, dreams give us an objective sense of what we are experiencing in our lives that compensates and supplements the perspective of the ego.


Odd as it is to find this message confirmed in popular culture, here is music by Billy Joel that is surprisingly apt:

 Dreams are Natural

Dreams are natural phenomena, occurring in many higher mammals.  Because they naturally occur, we can assume that they have an important role in our adaptation and survival.  Doesn’t it make sense that we should pay attention to them?

Often, the role of the depth psychotherapist is helping clients to understand and live out the wisdom of the unconscious, expressed in dreams, and elsewhere.


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Individual Therapy, Men & Male Individuation, 1

July 17th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, male, men

Male individuation is a man’s uniquely individual path; it’s the goal of individual therapy for men.

individual therapy

Often, discussions about “therapy for men” lapse into really regrettable stereotypes that would be completely unacceptable in discussions about therapy for women.  Is there a way beyond this?

Here are four profoundly worthwhile questions relating to men in individual therapy.

Can You be a Male and be an Individual?

Looking at the shallow and stereotypical images of men that abound in our culture, it may seem that the answer to that question is “No”.  However, when men closely examine their individual lives and stories, they often realize that they actually have been walking a highly unique path.  They have things in common with other men, but much that is truly their own.

What is it that our culture does to us that makes us think that this isn’t true?

Is It OK for a Male to Have Problems or Weaknesses?

Our culture socializes men to be intensely competitive with each other, about nearly everything.  As a result, even in 2012, it’s easy for a man to interpret any weakness — on his part, or other men’s — as losing, with all that implies in terms of shame and failure.   So, many men work extremely hard to avoid any evidence of “loser behaviour” — a.k.a. being human.

Can You be a Male and Have a Life Journey?

Males are supposed to be strong.  That image of being strong is supposed to include being — and staying — in control.  So, it isn’t surprising that men feel strong pressure to appear in control — to others, and especially to themselves.  Men are supposed to have it all together, and to have everything more or less figured out.  That sometimes makes it hard for them to acknowledge that they need to grow and become as part of the natural personal journey of life, and of becoming themselves.

What Does Male Individuation Really Mean?

Above all, it means that a man accepts everything that he is, and seeks, as much as he can, to integrate it all into wholeness.  It also means accepting himself in his identity as a man in his own way, whether or not that exactly accords with the images of men that have been held out to him by family, society and male peers.  It entails finding a freedom to affirm and rejoice in who or what he is, and to relate to others, male or female, out of that freedom.  The journey of individual therapy can affirm men, and greatly assist in the unfolding of that process.

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? #3

July 10th, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

What helps depression, in terms of concrete practical steps you can take, when you’re “stuck in the desert” during major life transitions?

what helps depression

Here are 5 concrete observations about what helps depression of the kind into which major life transitions can often bring us.

1.  The Best Way Out is Through

This may sound completely counterintuitive, but it’s essential to acknowledge the existence of depression, and to face it head on.  Very often, people try to avoid the reality of their depression, or to talk themselves out of it.  However, the only way to truly be able to come to terms with depression is to look straight into it, and to acknowledge, “Yes.  I really am depressed.”

2.  Work Concretely with the Depression

This extends point #1.  Rather than just passively enduring depression, it’s essential to actively enter into it, to dialogue with it, and to try and understand what is going on with it.  Journaling about what is going on, and about what one is feeling and thinking can be useful.  So can the active use of techniques like painting; working with clay, and even creating pictures with collage.  All of these techniques can yield important insight and awareness, although working with a good properly trained therapist to understand what is coming up or appearing in this work is essential.

3.  Don’t Fall Into the Trap of “Self Help Alone”

This point is related to point #2.  Many people adopt a “Lone Ranger” strategy, and rather than seeking out a good therapist, try to cope with the desert of depression during major life transitions using only self-help books.  This strategy has an awful success rate.  Recognizing that you’re human, and reaching out to someone who has the skills and compassion you need often makes all the difference in the world.

4.  Believe That the Depression Has Something to Give You

I know that this idea might seem bizarre, even scandalous.  However, it’s true: there’s something valuable at the heart of the depression.  If you can find it, it will help you on the journey to becoming more yourself.

5.  “If You’re Going Through Hell — Keep Going!” ~Winston Churchill

Churchill’s famous quote has a great deal to do with the realities of psychotherapy for depression.  If we can face the particular crisis and challenge created by major life transitions, and try to open each one up and engage creatively with it, it will not last forever.

Wishing all of us the strength and support to “keep going”,

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Jung on Individual Therapy & the Psychological Complex

July 7th, 2012 · complex, individual therapy, psychological complex, therapy

Individual therapy, as Jung reminds us in the quote below, has a great deal to do with working with the psychological complex, in all its forms.

Individual therapy

The term “psychological complex” used in a depth psychotherapy sense is now widespread in our culture.  For instance, just recently, a pundit was writing about “Canada’s superiority complex“.  But few realize that it was Jung who discovered the psychological complex, and first applied it to individual therapy.  He tells us here exactly what complexes are.

The Image of a Psychological Situation

There are certain very powerful emotional experiences of which we carry an inner image, in Jung’s terminology.  These can stem from early life, or from later times as well.  These “images” can involuntarily replay for us whenever we encounter a situation that is similar to the original experience(s) that created the psychological complex.

Strongly Emotionally Coloured

When a complex gets activated, it can bring up surprising emotions that might shock our non-complexed selves.  We can sometimes find that the emotional impact is so great that we can’t reason, or calm down.  You know the type of scenario: “Don’t mention Liberals to Uncle Frank; he goes wild!”

Incompatible with Consciousness

For Jung, complexes essentially have a “mind of their own”.  How we are when we’re in the grips of a complex can have little to do with how we might feel, think and deal with things when we aren’t in its grip.  Often, a psychological complex can be more or less in the driver’s seat [e.g., think “road rage”].

Fairly Autonomous and Only Partially Controlled by the Ego

The difficulty with complexes is that, more often than not, they are not totally under the control of the ego.  This means that, although we may wish to overcome them, or move them out of our lives, it is not a simple matter of “whupping up” the will power to do so.  No matter how much will power or concentration we may try to exert, it is likely not to be enough.

What Can We Do About Complexes?

To really start to resolve a complex, it is essential to explore its roots in the unconscious mind.  It’s only when we get to the conflict or the wound that is at the heart of a complex, and make that wound, and the feeling around it into consciousness, that we can begin to take the energy out of the complex, and begin to have an increased capacity to avoid being completely sidelined by it.

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? #2

July 3rd, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

There are key elements of psychological and personal growth involved in getting to what helps depression of the type that occurs during major life transitions.  What helps depression starts very often with a deeper level of emotional honesty.

what helps depression

Dealing with What We Can’t Sort Out

Sometimes, major life transitions are just overwhelming.  We can have a certain image, idea or feeling of ourselves and our life situation, and then find out that it gets completely undone by some development or crisis in our lives.  Although we really need to find some new way to approach our lives in such a situation, our initial reaction can be to try and return to the past, and to simply pretend that the new situation doesn’t exist…

Regressive Restoration of the Persona

Jung used this term particularly with the major life transitions associated with the second half of life, but it also applies to quite a number of other, similar transitions.  It pertains to situations where we essentially try to go back and live in the persona, or the way we presented ourselves to the world, that we had prior to the commencement of amajor life transitions.  We strive to convince ourselves that we still are that very same person.

Yet, despite our very best efforts, we can often find that we are simply not able to pull it off.  We go through the motions of living as we once did, but we seem to be only a shell of who we once were.  We simply can’t go back.

Yet, in Our Depths…

We may be in a state of conscious denial of the emotional impact and life impact of major life transitions, or even in a state of conscious depression, blankness or feeling bereft.  However, this doesn’t mean that the unconscious mind is not engaged with the impact of major life transition in its own ways.

Changes in My Identity and My Way in the World

It may be extremely difficult to come to terms with the pain, grief and loss that we encounter in major life transitions.  Yet often, it is only through surfacing these feelings that we begin to move towards the deeper understanding or attitude emerging from the unconscious.  Often, only this will allow us to accept life as it is, to find what helps depression, and to move forward, perhaps even haltingly.

Who, then, am I now? How do I now think, feel and relate?  Often, only through exploring our inner reactions in a process such as Jungian therapy do we begin to accept, move forward and create our lives again.

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