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The 4 WORST Kinds of Help for Midlife Issues

January 26th, 2014 · help for midlife issues, midlife, midlife issues

People try to help those they love who are struggling with midlife issues; but some kinds of help for midlife issues are really, really, stomach-churningly BAD.

help with midlife issues

“YUCK! You actually said THAT???!!!”

Here are 4 of the WORST things to say to someone working their way through midlife transition.

1.  “It’s Just a Phase: You’ll Get Over It”

I call this one the “teenager going through a phase” comment.  It is truly an amazingly unhelpful thing to say!

The changes going on in an individual at midlife are pretty fundamental.  A person may find him- or herself profoundly confused or disoriented.  Certain things previously taken for granted, such as a profession or career, relationships with a significant other, or with friends or significant social groups, or a religious or political affiliation — may simply no longer have meaning.  The individual may be struggling at a very deep level to identify what is of lasting value in his or her life.

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This is not “a phase you’re going through”!  This is not going to pass, with a little rest, a change in diet or a week in Barbados.  Often, individuals go through profound, far-reaching changes at midlife transition.  The best thing that those who care about people in this stage of life can do is to show deep respect for the process.

2.  “Grow Up”

What can I say?  Wow.  This is an even less helpful version of the “teenager advice” thing.  Yet people say this — or think it — with great regularity.

Now, there certainly are people who fit into the “teenager who never grew up” category (von Franz’ Puer Aeternus).  Such people often demonstrate a selfish, entitled outlook coupled with a complete unwillingness to accept any real responsibility for their lives or any recognition of any obligation to others.  Some live out this pattern year after year after year.  There are few things sadder than a 63 year old teenager.  However, the person who seeks help for midlife issues often shows a very different pattern.

Example.  “Joe”, a Chartered Accountant, is the picture of responsibility and commitment.  People see Joe as a rock-steady individual, a competent “straight arrow”.  Yet, now, at 48, Joe is consumed with the idea of training as a glass artisan, moving to Vancouver Island, and opening a studio.  After many years of marriage, as the kids head off to university, he is now uncertain as to whether he and his wife have very much in common anymore, and long-time friends seem to be headed off in different directions.

help for midlife issues

3.  “You’re Only as Old as You Feel”

People say this with the best of intentions, but it negates the reality of the person in midlife transition.  Someone at 48, for instance, is in a different place in life than someone in their early 20s, in very many ways.  They have different priorities, different attitudes and insights, and a whole range of experience of living that they simply did not possess in their early 20s.

We live in a culture that privileges youth, and often devalues the richness of experience, wisdom and depth that people gain as they move through the life journey.  Consequently, we often see getting older as a process of diminishing, rather that as a process of growth in inner richness, and in possible new types of awareness.

4.  “Wait Until You Retire: It Will Get Better Then”

This is well-intentioned, but dangerous counsel.  As Jung famously said,

“It’s good to retire, but not into nothing.”

Sadly, many save and wait for “Freedom 55” (or 60, or 65) as if some magic kingdom comes with the arrival of a matured pension plan.

help for midlife issues

Welcome as economic freedom is, retirement alone won’t remove fundamental questions around meaning or value in life, around encountering the unexplored or unknown parts of myself, or coming to terms with the unlived possibilities in life.  Only genuinely meaningful soulwork, encounter with my deepest self, and with others, is going to provide the fullness and richness of life that I need as I grow older.

Often, work with a depth psychotherapist can be a key element in finding genuine help for midlife issues.


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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


What Kind of People Go to a Depth Psychotherapist?

January 19th, 2014 · psychotherapist

Not surprisingly, a lot of people are curious about who it really is who actually goes to see a depth psychotherapist.


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Therapy that explores peoples’ inner depths and even looks at their dreams can seem exotic.  Who are these people who engage in this kind of personal work?

Not Abnormal

One of the most important first things to say about this is that the people who choose to work  with a depth psychotherapist, in the vast majority of cases, are not in any particular way abnormal.  For the largest part, they do not seem to suffer from any kind of major psychopathology.  In fact, they mostly seem to be people who are high functioning, with families, careers and professions, who are reasonably well-educated, and often quite involved in their communities.  Which might leave an observer still asking the question, “OK, that’s great… but why do these people feel the need to see a depth psychotherapist?”

Not Self-Obsessed

Our observer might wonder, “Well, then, is it because these people are a little self-obsessed, or maybe even narcissistic in their nature, so that they are continually needing to think and obsess about themselves?”


But the evidence would be pretty slim for this theory as well.  Often, the practitioner of depth psychotherapy finds that it’s a great challenge to really get people to look inward, and to really take the time to reflect upon themselves.  This is particularly true in our culture where technology is continually pushing us to send our energy outwards others  through texting, Twitter, Facebook or other social media, and social-media induced angst is rampant, as Prof. Peggy Drexler of Cornell points out.

People Who Feel Something’s Missing

One characteristic that people seem to share who go to see a depth psychotherapist is the sense that something is missing.  That they want a greater sense of depth and reality in their lives, and often a sense that they want to “stop going through the motions” of having a life and find more good, genuinely engaging stuff in their lives.  Sometimes they talk about meaning in life.  Sometimes they talk about self-acceptance, or about just wanting to feel more real.

People Who Want to be More Alive / Aware


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The great jazz singer Billie Holiday said the following about her singing, but it is true about having an individual personal life:

You can’t copy anybody and end with anything.

If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling.

People who go to see a depth psychotherapist are people who yearn to accept themselves, and to live from a place of wholeness, authenticity and reality, in their own individuality.  Often, depth psychotherapy can bring a sense of healing and liberation.


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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Counselling for Anxiety: the Deep Story, 1

January 12th, 2014 · Anxiety, counselling, counselling for anxiety

Counselling for anxiety is a matter of vital importance for a people who live in anxious times, but anxiety mustn’t be approached superficially.

counselling for anxiety

Certainly, in our era, we live in the midst of a wide range of anxiety-provoking factors.  There are economic issues, environmental issues, educational issues, social and technological change, issues concerning health — a multitude.  Yet the profoundest forms of anxiety are connected with our sense of our selves.


A Depth Approach to Counselling for Anxiety

We will never escape anxiety entirely.  It will always be a part of life.  But to the degree that we are connected to the depths of our personality, and aware and accepting of who we are in depth, to that degree the factors that cause anxiety in our outer lives become more bearable, and manageable.

As Jungian analyst James Hollis tells us;

The willingness to open to depth is the chief way in which dignity and purpose return to life.

The Top Priority of the Ego is Security

The ego, that part of our personality that is aware and conscious, is involved in a continual search for certainty and security.  The ego has a story it tells itself about its own life, and about the world, a way that it puts things together.  The ego, which is to say, that part of you or I that is conscious, tends to be highly invested in believing this story. But what if, as is very often the case, the story that the ego tells itself, is either incomplete, or simply not accurate?  What if my “certainties” aren’t really as certain as the ego would like them to be?

Doubt as Threat and Liberator

An example.  Take the case of someone who in early life is given the message by those who are closest that other people — maybe all other people — are fundamentally unworthy of trust, even though there is no evidence of such general unreliability that the young individual can themselves see.  Nonetheless the parental figures to whom the child is attached continue to deliver this delusory message that is contrary to the child’s own experience.  What may well happen is that the child could absorb the message that, because Mom and Dad  believe that such a  thing is true, even though the child sees no evidence of it, it must be that the child cannot trust his or her own judgment or powers of observation.

This lack of trust in the self may abide in the adult self.  The individual may carry a fundamental attitude of mistrust both toward the world, and toward his or her own judgment — even though such mistrust is actually completely unwarranted.  Jungian psychotherapy recognizes that it is only when the individual can come to the place of “saying no” to such an attitude, imparted quite possibly in early childhood, that any kind of real change can occur.

Return to Instinct

counselling for anxiety

Initially, it might not be very easy to tolerate such “rebellious” thoughts — thoughts that are contrary to patterns developed over a lifetime.  Yet such “doubts” can often be an  essential gift.  They can be essentially related to restoring the individual’s connection to his or her deep, instinctual self, and to the primary things which that instinct knows about the world.

 Counselling for anxiety using the approach of depth psychotherapy is often about the process of connection in a new way to the deep, often instinctual, levels of the self.


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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Finding Hope: A Depth Psychotherapy Perspective

January 5th, 2014 · Hope

Early in the New Year, hope can be a very important thing, as Jungians and other depth psychotherapists well know.


Hope is a fundamental human psychological need.

So, What Really Is Hope?

Some authorities, such as psychology Prof. C.R. Snyder of the University of Kansas define hope as “the overall perception that one’s goals can be met.”   However, authorities such as  Prof. Richard Rorty of Stanford have sought to understand hope as about more than just goal setting.

For Rorty, hope is about finding a promise or reason for expecting a better future.  For him, as depth psychotherapists would agree, hope is not just centered around the success of the particular goals that we in our ego-bound way might set.  It’s much more fundamentally concerned with the feeling and belief that life can and will open up in a way that is hospitable to who and what we most fundamentally are.

The New Year’s Resolution as a Symbol of Hope

New Year’s resolutions serve as a particular symbol of hope.  The New Year is a time of renewal, but it is also a time of focus on the future.  We want to believe that the future will be good and trustworthy.  New Year’s resolutions are a concrete and yet symbolic expression of this hope.  It’s as if we’re putting ourselves on the line, and saying, “I believe in the future, and here’s my commitment to it” — at least if we’re sincere in our resolutions!


Hope as Anchor

The New Testament aptly describes hope as “the anchor of the soul”.  I particularly like this, if we use the word “soul” here, not in some abstract “ghost in the machine” sense, but as referring to our deepest being, our deepest identity.  So that, our hope would then be the anchor of our deepest identity.  My hope would be fundamentally connected with being at home in my most intimate self.

The philosopher Kirkegaard stated  that “The most common form of despair is not being who you are. ”  To not live out of who I most fundamentally am, is a basic failure of hope.

So perhaps rather than trying to bring about this or that moral reform or change of habit, our focus with New Year’s resolutions should be on understanding and being more grounded in our own fundamental real identity.

Hope as More than Goals and Willpower

Jung makes some very relevant comments about his experience with clients:

The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble.  They can never be solved, but only outgrown.  This “out-growing” on further experience was seen to consist in a new level of consciousness.  Some higher or wider interest arose on the person’s horizon, and through this widening of his view the insoluble problem lost its urgency.  It was not solved on its own terms, but faded out when confronted with a newer and stronger life-tendency.  It was not repressed and made unconscious, but merely appeared in a different light, and so, did indeed become different.

The most important kinds of change result not from the exercise of our will-power, but through greater encounter with our own nature.


Finding and Living Out of Genuine Hope

Often the journey of discovering our own individuality, accepting it, and living it out can be a source of genuine hope for the individual.  The process of depth psychotherapy is often the best way to foster self-acceptance, and, with it, the sense of hope, and of resilience.


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© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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