Journeying Toward Wholeness

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5 Key Issues in Depth Psychotherapy for Men, Part 1

April 28th, 2013 · men, Psychotherapy, psychotherapy for men

The key issues in depth psychotherapy for men are not fundamentally different from the issues that confront women in therapy, but there are clear differences in the way that men experience them.

psychotherapy for men

This difference in experience is tied up with the whole meaning of what it is to be male.

In this post, here are the first three of five key factors that very often present themselves for males through the whole process of psychotherapy for men.

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1.  The Male Mask and Self Acceptance

The women’s movement has revealed many social masks that our culture forces upon women.  We’re somewhat less aware of the masks that men are pressured to adopt.

Clinical experience with psychotherapy for men shows the tremendous pressure on men to adopt certain roles and postures.  The culture is well-pleased with unemotional men — and there’s a particular unconscious cultural hostility to vulnerability in men.  In our collective mind, the ideal of the strong, self-sufficient, serenely independent male strongly influences women’s expectations of men, and men’s expectations of each other.

Men are lonely behind such masks.  They keep men from being themselves, and from authentically connecting with others.

We have to get out from behind this crippling persona  and be conscious of who we are — as opposed to living with illusory pictures of the self.

WARNING: Entails seeing areas of weakness and broken-ness.  PROMISE: Starts the journey to compassion for oneself.

2.  Emotion, Feeling, Sexuality

The limited emotional range which our culture leaves open to males makes it very difficult for males to meet their need for love and intimacy.  Intimacy is also connected with vulnerability, and that doesn’t fit well with the dominant male mask.

All of this impacts male sexuality and sexual issues.  Men are often very fearful of revealing themselves in sex in ways that leave them vulnerable and open to being shamed.  This leads to routinized sexual expression in which the male never lowers his mask.  Sheer sexual pressure may keep him sexually active, but he can easily fall into incredibly sterile patterns of sexual relating.

3.  Receptivity & Relation to the Feminine

psychotherapy for men

Another key issue for males is their relationship to receptivity, which is seen as a feminine characteristic.  Our culture, even in humour,  stresses that males should be aggressive, seizing initiative in situations from sports to management to sex.  But the places where a male is receptive can be the most important and life-giving in his existence.

This may entail the male entering territory which our culture sees as feminine.  But being receptive — to what his own being is telling him, to the reality of others and what they are bringing to him — may prove figuratively, or even sometimes literally, lifesaving.

These three fundamental issues often surface in depth psychotherapy for men.  Two other issues will feature in Part Two of this post.

We’re not talking about pathology or abnormal psychology here.  These are key aspects of the journey of male individuation.  Often individual psychotherapy for men can profoundly assist on that journey.

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

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5 Ways Major Life Transitions Can Bring Up Shadow

April 19th, 2013 · life transitions, major life transitions, Transitions

Major life transitions are events that reach deeply inside of us, and they can often bring out our shadow, that portion of the psyche of which we are unaware, and which we resist.

major life transitions

Here are 5 ways  in which the Shadow often shows up amidst the stresses and strains of major life transitions.

1. Persona (Social Mask) Gets Thin.

Very significant emotion and distress can accompany major life transitions.

As we experience such things, aspects of our personality may become apparent that are different from the ways that others think about us, and the ways we normally think about ourselves.  We may also experience reactions that are different from those that we conventionally expect.

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At such times, social masks or personae often become so thin that aspects of ourselves that aren’t regularly seen show through.  This may be a time to learn important things about ourselves.

2. Complexes Get Activated.

A complex is an inter-related cluster of unconscious contents that is part of the shadow.  As Jung reminds us, they are strongly accentuated emotionally and incompatible with the habitual attitude of consciousness.  When a complex is activated, we often powerfully re-live something from the past.

3. We May Tend to Split Off Difficult / Painful Contents.

Because major life transitions are times of strong affect, we may not remember as accurately, nor think as clearly, as usual.

We may find that many memories will not come to mind at all.  We may also be surprised, later on, when others tell us how we have acted, and what we have said, during such times of trial, transition or crisis.

So, we need to exercise great care when dealing with major life transitions.

4. We May be More Receptive to the Unconscious.

On the other hand, during major life transitions, we may be more receptive to the unconscious aspects of ourselves, and what shadow might be bringing to us.

major life transitions

At one point, a client experienced this powerfully.  He was at a point in my career when he was feeling pressure and striving very hard  to present a “tough guy” image to meet the challenges of the business world.  He was never more surprised than when the  realization came up from the unconscious that, actually, the last thing he really wanted to be was that kind of guy, and that he really wanted to be compassionate, affirming and open.  In the words of James Hollis, “Whodathunkit”!

What might be waiting for you in shadow, the unknown parts of yourself?

5. We May Be Open to New Possibilities…

Major life transitions may actually open up possibilities in our awareness and our lives.  We may find  that we become less reliant on conventional ways of seeing things in our lives, and on conventional pat answers, and more open to something new.

Individual therapy may contribute dramatically to the discovery and opening up of new possibilities within ourselves, and in our outer lives.  When therapy is creative, receptive and deep, it can make a real difference.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved Nono Fara ;  VIDEO: “Shadows” © Lindsey Stirling
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Individual Psychotherapy: A Golden Age of Workaholism 3

April 14th, 2013 · individual, individual psychotherapy, Psychotherapy

In individual psychotherapy for workaholism, it’s a matter of key importance to understand what it is in the person as a whole that underlies this dangerous and destructive pattern of behaviour.

individual psychotherapy

As with almost everything in psychotherapy, we can predict that this addictive pattern emerges in part from the individual’s story, and in part from the broader social and collective forces at work around the individual.

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The Golden Age: Our Culture Glorifies Workaholics

Without saying so in so many words, our culture glorifies a workaholic attitude.

individual psychotherapy

The people that inspire us as heroes in our culture are very often people we would characterize as “driven“: relentlessly single-minded in their pursuit of some goal, and as hard on others around them as they are on themselves.  Such larger-than-life figures, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, captivate us, and, with their laser-like focus, can attain an almost god-like status.

Pullitzer Prize winning social scientist Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death described this type of obsession with the heroics of achievement as “a blind drivenness that burns people up; in passionate people, a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.”

When Working Is Easier Than Facing Myself

Our culture is full of exhortations to this kind of heroic/obsessive goal-directedness.  This drug is readily consumed: its fantasy dimension can take us away from hard-to-deal with aspects of our personal lives.  Individual psychotherapy often shows that the workaholic hamster wheel can be easier than facing feelings of conflict or emptiness in our closest personal relationships.  It can be easier to immerse ourselves in work than to face who we are and what we really want in life.

Workaholism: What are We Looking For?

What is it that we are really looking for, from our work?  Certainly, we need work that provides for our own needs and those of our families.  In a time of increased economic insecurity, that need can drive us excessively hard all on its own.  But when it gets mixed up with the heroic idealization of work, it can be easy for work to take over an inhumanly large part of our lives.  Yet the truths remain true:

  • Work is not going to meet my deepest social needs, nor my need for love;
  • Work, on its own, is not going to provide me with real meaning in my life;
  • Work cannot function as the root source of my self-esteem; and,
  • Work is not going to enable me to escape the necessity of being who I am, and living my own life.

Something Better

Self-acceptance is a key element in the process of moving beyond workaholism.  It is tied up fundamentally with the process of journeying towards a sense of wholeness and completeness in my life.  I am, at base, an ordinary human — but unique, and that’s what’s precious about me.

The exploration of the uniqueness that we each possess is the only solid basis for a life, and it is the heart of meaningful individual psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by bettyx1138
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Can Midlife Transition Bring Renewal? 3: Teenage Kids

April 7th, 2013 · midlife, midlife transition

Those undergoing midlife transition often have some surprising things in common with their teenage kids.

midlife transition

…& caution, midlife?

You might not think that these two stages of life have much in common with each other, but they actually have some important common dimensions.

Teen years and midlife years initially look so different.  But there are two things that they have in common: 1)  the individual is often undergoing tremendous life changes during these two periods; and, 2) individuals often have to find a whole new way to move forward in their lives.

The Teen’s Questing Can Re-Open Questions for the Adult

A recent National Geographic article outlines some of the normal developmental challenges teenagers face to making the transition to the first adulthood.  Very often, this entails questioning key parts of the value system that the teen has grown up with, and exploring aspects of the self, and new options for living — taking risks.


Similar challenges exist for many in midlife transition.  This stage of life may entail questioning some of the key values that the individual has held until this point in life.  It may also be that, in a number of new ways — occupation, way of life, family and relationships — the individual has to explore new patterns.

Moving out of the Familiar

Many psychological authorities consider the teen’s movement out from the family of origin to be one of the most difficult psychological tasks that humans accomplish.  That would seem true.  But it’s rivalled in importance by the process of adaptation that has to take place in the second half of life, to allow life to stay full and vital, and for individuals to find true, lasting values.

Hunger for Experience

midlife transition

Now, not surprisingly, there are some important places where the challenges and the experience of a teenager and a person at midlife diverge.  For instance, where a teen may well have to learn to temper a tendency towards excessive risk taking, individuals at midlife transition, such as professionals, may need to learn to move beyond excessive inertia, habit and caution.  In some respects, it’s almost as if the person at midlife “needs more teenager” inside of them, to spur them to willingness to move in new directions.

One characteristic which the teenager and the individual in midlife transition most definitely do share is a deep hunger for new experience — to connect with something in life that is alive, vital and meaningful.

Adaptation to a New Form of Life

One of the characteristics that neuroscientists point to in the teen brain is its plasticity, a staggering capacity for adaptation to new situations.  Teenagers require this to complete the enormous, creative process of adaptation to a new world.  What is often not appreciated is that midlife transition requires a similar kind of open-ness, and a willingness to explore aspects of self and life that are unknown territory.  This exploration is at the heart of individual depth psychotherapy.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved by c g p grey ; aamylindholm ; Mary_on_Flickr
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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