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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 5: Dogs

March 31st, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist, psychotherapist

A Jungian psychotherapist has a passionate interest in symbols, and one of the most strikingly visible symbols in suburban life must surely be: dogs.

Jungian psychotherapist

“CAVE CANEM” – “Beware the Dog”, Pompeii, Italy 1st C., A.D.

“Yes, Brian”, you say, “I get it.  There are dogs in suburbia.  OK.   Big deal.  So what?”

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Suburbia as Doggy Homeland

Dogs are almost omnipresent in suburbia.  Clearly, in our culture as a whole, and in suburbia in particular, dogs are very important to very many people.  To a Jungian psychotherapist, this importance is both psychological and symbollic.  The recent CBC documentary Dog Dazed opens up this more psychological aspect of dog ownership powerfully.

In suburbia, what is the psychological function of the dog?

Well, there are several important things to note about our dogs…

dog-at-starbucks

Dogs Don’t Desert

Dogs are by nature social, and instinctively adapted to life in packs.  This social aspect of dogs likely made them the first animal to ever be domesticated.

One of the things that endears us to dogs is that they are particularly responsive to human affection and care.  These are beings both very different from ourselves, and very open and eager to be emotionally connected to us.

Dogs don’t desert their masters.  As a result in myth, and many religious traditions they are portrayed as accompanying their masters to death and into the afterlife.  This symbolism was common in ancient Egypt, as Manchester Museum Egyptologist Campbell Price tells us.

As a result of these attributes, dogs have a very deep, even archetypal place in the human psyche.

Dogs as Instinct

Another aspect of dogs is revealed in the way that they represent the body and instinct in life.

Humans have long relied on the dog’s superior senses — superior hearing, ability to detect scents, sureness of direction — to extend the range of our own senses.  We are acutely aware that, in certain of these respects the dog’s abilities are unquestionably superior to our own.

Dogs in human life may also be symbolic of instinct.  Given their nature, they unquestionably represent  an instinctual desire to be social, to affiliate, to “be part of”.  Similarly, they can represent the sexual instinct for humans; the territorial or boundary-maintaining instinct, and the instinct to hunter and to track.

In addition, dogs embody for us a simple ease with bodily life.  We may say that a person is not comfortable in his own skin; we would never say that about a dog.

The Dog Within

A Jungian psychotherapist sees suburbanites’ love affair with the dog in terms of our deep yearnings for connection,  and for unconditional love and acceptance.  Similarly, that the dog is a symbol of our desire to be connected with the simplicity and self acceptance of bodily, instinctual life is not lost on a Jungian psychotherapist.  The journey of individual therapy is a journey to connection, beginning with acceptance and then love of oneself and welcome of instinct and body.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by Hanumann ; VIDEO: “Dog Dazed” ©Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 2013
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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4 Advantages of Individual Therapy Over Self Help Books

March 25th, 2013 · individual, individual therapy

Self-help books are unbelievably popular, but they don’t meet many of the needs that individual therapy can meet.

individual therapy

It’s not that self-help books aren’t good or useful.  But there are some key, bedrock things that we need in our lives that we can get from individual therapy, particularly depth psychotherapy, that we can’t get from books or videos.

Four key advantages of one-on-one therapy are …

1. An Empathic Witness

A very important thing about individual therapy: you’re not alone with whatever you’re carrying or trying to sort out

The reality is that many people in our world have never really been truly witnessed, or seen in their own right, as who they really are.  It can make a profound difference when, in individual therapy, a person actually gains consciousness of this.

To sit with a therapist committed to a non-judgmental, unconditionally accepting stance, who helps me to move towards full acceptance of who I am can be powerfully transforming. It can humanize my experience — help me to feel that, even the things that I have the greatest difficulty revealing or talking are all comprehensible and essentially human.

Hand in hand with this experience comes another…

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2. Recognition of Individuality

Through telling the story of my life with a truly listening witness, I become aware of the dimensions of my story that I share in common with others, but also of the ways my own story is unique to me and defines me as an individual.

Often only the acceptance of a non-judgmental other, who helps me discern the patterns in my life, can help me gain real understanding of my own character and unique identity.

3. Therapist’s Insight & Experience

A self-help book, published for the masses, will necessarily deals in generalities, and only speaks to my life insofar as I can extract meaning from its generalizations.

But an individual therapist can take in, and respond to my individual reality, providing meaningful insight and specific interpretations of my situation and what I’m going through.

Work with an individual therapist reveals aspects of my situation where I have “blind spots”, or where I don’t understand my own reactions, or make meaningful connections.

individual therapy

4. Awareness of the Unconscious Personality

Depth psychotherapy , as defined by Eugen Bleuler, affirms the self healing nature of the psyche.

But unless a person understands how those dynamics are at work in their specific case, he or she will likely not be able to connect with and cooperate with that healing.  To do this may mean confronting the part of myself that I don’t know — what Freud, Jung, Adler and others call the unconscious.

To understand this, we generally need help to discern where the unacknowledged parts of ourselves are appearing: actions and motivations that we don’t understand; unique anxieties and obsessions; our dreams.

It’s nearly impossible to get this kind of deep insight in a way that is anything like specific enough from a book.  Such insights are key, valuable parts of the journey of individual therapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by arhatproblems ; Akuppa
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

 

 

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Individual Psychotherapy: A Golden Age of Workaholism 2

March 19th, 2013 · individual, individual psychotherapy, workaholism

Given the current epidemic of workaholism, it’s an issue for individual psychotherapy to take very seriously.

individual psychotherapy

We need to understand as much as possible about how it can possess and consume the lives of individuals.

If we take workaholism seriously as a form of addiction, what does that imply for the way we look at compulsive working?

Workaholism as Addictive Self-Medication

If workaholism is a form of addictive self-medication, we need to think about it in terms of one of the key cornerstones of addiction therapy.  That is the principle that you will never get a person to give up an addiction, unless we understand what the addiction actually does for the individual, and help him or her to find another way of meeting that psychic need.

“Presenteeism”

Prof. Ruth Simpson of Brunel University has described a phenomenon she calls “presenteeism“.  In addition to the tendency to come to work when one is ill and shouldn’t be there, Prof. Simpson characterizes it as “”the tendency to stay at work beyond the time needed for effective performance on the job”.

Is working endlessly a form of self medication?   It most surely can be, by performing several functions for the individual.  Two primary things it does are as follows.

1) It allays my anxiety by giving me the feeling that I’m exerting additional control over the work load.

2) It assures me that, through my satisfyingly virtuous performance, I am doing more and better than the others.  No one is putting forth the effort that I am.

Work and the Hero Archetype

Individual Psychotherapy

Heroic Work: Hercules Cleaning the Augean Stables

The workaholic, whose work is never done, strives to accomplish the superhuman, the Herculean, the task beyond mere human doing — more…better.  As such, the he or she is in the grip of a monstrous inflation.  He or she is identified with the hero archetype.

True heroes aren’t human.  Ulysses, or Achilles or Hercules — or Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter — are beings from myth.  When we try to literally live hero out in human life, as the workaholic does, we set ourselves up for a potentially tragic outcome.  As James Hillman has it:

“…the hero then, in a living world of gods, and the heroic today are two very different cases….

Then he [sic] was half-man and half-god, but when the gods are dead, the hero becomes all too human….  Today, cut off from this psychic background, the heroic becomes the psychopathic: an exaltation of activity for its own sake.

“Exaltation of activity for its own sake” — could any phrase better characterize workaholism?

Freedom in the Self

Healing from workaholic compulsiveness involves the kind of self-acceptance that allows persons to be free and adequate in themselves.  To truly be oneself, in the awareness of one’s own self and life as enough, is no small thing: it is the root antidote to compulsions to be god-like or superhuman in competence.  Such self-acceptance is the goal of the journey of individual psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by vtsr ;
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 4: Family

March 13th, 2013 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapist

A Jungian psychotherapist who didn’t take into account the impact of family would have a pretty distorted picture of suburban life.

jungian psychotherapist

There’s all kinds of material out there focusing on family dynamics, the importance of good parenting, and having a good marriage. There’s much less on the impact of the family on the life of the individual in suburbia.

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Two Parents, Two Cars and the Requisite Number of Kids

There’s a collective ideal of marriage and family that underlies suburban life, even to this day.

There is an expectation in suburbia of how families should look and function — an image.  While that has changed somewhat over the last 50 years, it’s not really that dissimilar from the vision of family life held out to people in early suburbias like Levitttown in the late 40s and very early 50s.  What’s more, it doesn’t fit the reality that many people live.

When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Pattern

Jungian psychotherapy

Unconventional in suburbia?

A Jungian psychotherapist is well aware that, if the structure of an individual’s family is atypical for suburbia, it can sometimes be demanding to live here.  Single parents in a suburban situation often know this.  Often, so does the family with a member who is differently abled, or suffering from serious illness.  Or the family  that has lost a child, or suffered a serious economic setback.

All such experiences take persons out of the everyday awareness of suburbia, and bring them into a new consciousness concerning very difficult situations.  This is true for families, and even truer for the individual.

Family Has Meaning: So Does Individual Life

Family is meaningful, and has a great importance for the vast majority of people.  As Jung notes the archetypes that underpin family are some of the very most significant in human life — they powerfully affect us.

Yet, the clinical experience of the Jungian psychotherapist shows that, even if a person has an extremely meaningful, loving family life, the question still remains: “What is meaningful for me, as an individual?”

Family and Identity

Suburbia can pressure the individual to find meaning in life solely in terms of family, but that is often insufficient.

Individuals may respond to such pressure by floating above family life in disengaged ways, never really investing in the supposedly key relationships in their lives, like the relationship to a significant other, or the relationship to kids.

On the other hand, the individual may totally succumb to straitjacketing family roles, and avoid the necessity to individuate in fundamental ways.

Avoiding both of these dangers requires creative relationship to others — to letting in their needs and the individuality in empathic ways.  It also necessitates creatively taking the inner journey and exploring our own unique needs and individuality.  The work that the  Jungian psychotherapist does with individuals concerns itself in depth with the call of life to become and remain our individual selves in the midst of suburban life.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by karen roedno1967b
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 2: Rigidity

March 8th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition

A great danger for individuals going through the midlife transition is that, as life progresses, rigidity may start to encase the personality.

midlife transition

This fear is not groundless.  Often, we see people around us become more and more entrenched in set opinions and ways of doing things as they age.  We often readily spot this lack of open-ness in others.  But is it a danger that we need to be aware of in ourselves?

Roots of Rigidity During Midlife Transition

The unknown is fearful, especially when it’s near to home.  It’s also easy to find psychological security in established patterns.

In midlife transition, we encounter disturbing forces very near to home.  To our great surprise, we may find those disruptive forces within ourselves!

Uncharacteristic yearnings may start to emerge within us.  Also, we may find that things that formerly attracted us now do so no longer.  The business mathematics major may find himself writing poetry.  The dedicated teacher may find that her work flavourless, and may want to start her own business.

These are manifestations of shadow, that part of our nature that remains hidden and unacknowledged by consciousness.  What calls to us may be the undiscovered self, the aspects of ourselves that have gone unacknowledged to this point.

A related experience is the call of the unlived life.  Individuals may experience regrets and yearnings surrounding the major choices they have made in the past that start to surface during the midlife transition, or in later periods.

Adventures in Ourselves

Unexpected thoughts and feelings may bring the individual surprise and alarm.  He or she may recoil from such thoughts, or repress them.

Midlife transition can be a time of confusion and difficulty as individuals confront realities that may bubble up from the unconscious mind, often accompanied by anxiety.  The individual may choose to reject them, and to lapse into a more and more single-minded and less flexible approach to his or her life.  In such a case, life tends to get grimmer and grimmer, and less full of colour: the rigidity that besets the aging can deprive the person of any vitality in later life.

Midlife Transition ; Rigidity or Exploration

The alternative to closed off rigidity is a spirit of open-ness and exploration, the kind needed for the journey in the second half of life, which Jung called the night sea journey.  T.S. Eliot captures eloquently the nature of this exploration at the end of his poem Little Gidding :

Free

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

So writes Eliot, and so it is with the journey of exploration in mid-life and beyond.  We explore the place from which we started, adventurously opening up possibility in ourselves through the middle of life, rather than rejecting them — and sapping our vitality.  This is the journey of renewal during midlife transition, and a key part of the exploration in the work of depth psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by vtsr ;
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

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Individual Psychotherapy: A Golden Age of Workaholism 1

March 4th, 2013 · individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy, workaholism

In my clinical practice in individual psychotherapy in an affluent suburb, workaholism is one of the more common issues.

individual psychotherapy

I’d go so far as to say that the present time may one day be known as The Golden Age of Workaholism.

What is workaholism?  The simple answer is “a consistent and compulsive addiction to working too much.”   And certainly long hours are characteristic of the workaholic.  But there is much, much more that characterizes a work-addicted person, as pioneering psychologist Barbara Killinger has outlined.

Work-Obsessed

It’s common in individual psychotherapy to encounter individuals in whom work takes up inordinate amounts of psychological space.  It is not just that it takes up too many hours; work can almost completely absorb the energy and feeling life of the individual  As Dr. Killinger observes, it’s “a Gerbil-wheel, adrenalin-pumping existence rushing from plan A to B, narrowly-fixated on some ambitious goal.”  At the extreme, nothing may matter outside of work.

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Divorced from Emotion

In individual psychotherapy we regularly see people who are effectively divorced from their real emotional life as a result of addiction to work.  The fixation can be so extreme that little else — spouse, children, outside commitments, even religious affiliation — has any meaning alongside work.

Compulsive Drive for Approval

How does this diminished sense of  one’s life come to take hold of a person?  Very often, it stems from a need to assert power and control — perfectionism striving to completely “master” the work environment.

Such a drive for control can be rooted in a deep inner compulsion to win the approval of others, and/or to gain recognition of one’s success.  Often such a powerful and unrelenting drive can be rooted in a very deep-seated sense of feeling profoundly unfulfilled or unloved.

The Uncontrollable Chariot

individual psychotherapy

The myth of Phaethon captures much of the psychology of workaholism.  Phaethon was the son of the sun god, Helios.  Taunted by schoolmates when he tells them this, Phaethon visits the sun god Helios in his palace, to confirm that he is Helios’ son.  Helios affirms this, and lovingly grants Phaethon a wish.  But Phaethon asks to drive the sun chariot — great hubris, for not even Zeus could control those fiery horses.  Helios tries to dissuade him, but cannot.   Phaethon takes the reins at dawn, mounts the skies, but cannot control the fateful horses. His wild ride threatens the earth.  Zeus is compelled to destroy Phaeton with a thunderbolt.

individual psychotherapy

Phaethon is driven to ego inflation by deep questions about who he is, and about his own value as a person.  Consequently, he single-mindedly fixates on the power and prestige of driving the sun chariot, and, as a result, meets his end.

Similarly, emotional blunting and inflated single-mindedness can burn up the workaholic.  A key goal of individual psychotherapy for workaholism is to bring him or her into acceptance of what he or she is, and to move beyond work as the sole validation of worth.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by Raychel Mendez ; detail from “Apoteósis de Hércules” by Francisco Pacheco
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

 

 

 

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