Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Facing Loneliness and Depression in the COVID-19 Experience

March 30th, 2020 · loneliness and depression

Again, like last post, I’m addressing our experience of COVID-19, this time looking at our experience of loneliness and depression. 

I’ve concentrated my blog posts on COVID-19 related subjects recently, because the changes it has brought to our daily lives are already having an enormous psychological impact. The COVID-19 “self-isolation” process has impacted the lives of individuals and families in a very far reaching manner. In our society, all of us are struggling to adapt to this new reality in a variety of ways.

From interactions with clients and other therapists, I would say that there is a strong sense emerging that, along with the other stressors in the current situation, many are experiencing loneliness and isolation caused by the “self-isolation” process. Many of us seem to be trying our hardest to avoid this awareness, and yet we are constantly confronted with it.

How COVID-19 Isolation Affects Us

What does it mean for us psychologically to be isolated in our homes, as many of us are in the current “lockdown” situation? Clearly, it’s not an experience that many find easy. Researchers such as Sheffield Hallam University’s Antonia Ypsilanti have observed the tendency of individuals who are alone and isolated to look inward, and to tend to be focused on their own perceived flaws.

So, what does it mean for those individuals living on their own (28% of all Canadians, Statscan tells us) and for the rest of us, when we have an enforced social situation that requires that people stay in their houses, and basically not interact in the common meeting areas of our neighbourhoods, towns and cities?

This is a vast, unique type of change, even for people who might be used to living on their own. This isolation is coupled with huge amounts of fear and uncertainty about the global and local economic situations moving forward. As events force us to socially distance, we experience loneliness and feel the loss of the ability to see, converse with, hug, or simply be present with friends. Life can start to seem like a shallow imitation of the real thing. This can be very fertile ground for depression.

Loneliness & Depression Need to be Addressed

Jungians are famous for emphasizing the individual. We celebrate the journey and development of the unique person, which Jung referred to as individuation. Yet, in addition to this individual emphasis, Jung was always careful to stress the need in humans for what he called eros , which Jungians have described as “the function of relationship” or “the principle of psychic relationship”.

In short, Jung was always fundamentally concerned with the unique journey of the individual, but he always saw that as only being possible when individuals were connected by relationship. He saw the connection between people as something essential to being human.

In the particular moment of history in which we find ourselves, this is a vitally important message. Each of us as individuals, and all of us together as society need to be bound by strong cords of relationship in order to retain, and develop, what is most fundamentally human in us.

Connecting with Others; Preserving Your Inner Life

This time is important for all of us, in terms of our capacity for connection and relationship with others. It’s an essential time to explore the ways we might relate to others as creatively as possible. For our own well-being, we really have to put our effort into this. As a neuroscientist who investigates social isolation put it recently in New Yorker magazine:

So, just like we’re worried about an economic recession, we should worry about a social recession [italics mine] —a continued pattern of distancing socially, beyond the immediate pandemic, that will have broader societal effects

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, quoted in New Yorker Magazine, 23 March/20

It’s important for each of us to watch for our own patterns of distancing socially, and to seek ways to connect with others that involve hearing human voices and seeing animated human faces. It’s important for us to express connection, friendship, respect — love — to others in as many ways as we can at this time.

If you are finding yourself subject to: loneliness and depression;, anxiety; a tendency to want to isolate at this time; or a fear of going out, it may be very important for you to seek out psychotherapeutic support, from an appropriately qualified professional such as a depth psychotherapist.

Wishing you peace, resilience and good connections,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Coping with Uncertainty & Fear in Times of Disruption

March 23rd, 2020 · coping with uncertainty

Continuing on from last week’s post on COVID-19, this post explores ways of coping with uncertainty and fear in angst-laden times, like the present.

Sign of the times…

The COVID-19 situation is certainly rapidly changing and constantly fluid.  We are all perpetually seeking to understand the situation, and its meaning for our lives, the lives of those who are close to us, and the society as a whole.  Given the high stakes, both in terms of directly health-related matters, and in terms of the economic consequences of the pandemic, very many of us are now coping with uncertainty, and a considerable amount of fear.  How can we possibly take care of ourselves in such a situation, and find meaning for our lives?

Be Kind to the Reptile Brain… but Don’t Let It Run the Show!

Many people will tell you that there has been an atmosphere of unreality about the developments of recent weeks around the pandemic. The news of the lockdowns, or of the hits that the economy has taken have unfolded for us, but for many people, they have an air of fiction about them. It reminds me of the lines from a Beatles song:

Though she feels as if she’s in a play / She is anyway…

Beatles, “Penny Lane”

We are seeing a lot of denial around the events of recent weeks. As UC San Diego Prof. Saul Levine tells us, denial is:

A psychological defense we all use at times to reduce our anxiety when something feels particularly disturbing.

The reason for the denial is that taking in what has happened might well be completely overwhelming and immobilizing. We need to recognize that there is a part of ourselves that is very afraid of these events, that wants to run away. It wants to “go to the cottage and never come back”, in the words of a friend. In Jungian terms, the fear in the present situation is in our shadow, which Jung simply defined as “the part of ourselves that we do not wish to acknowledge”.

This is a manifestation of the primitive parts of our brain, “the reptile brain”, as it is often called, that is concerned at a very basic survival level with the fight-or-flight response That part of ourselves can easily feel lonely, resourceless and panicked, in the midst of coping with uncertainty and fear. We need to take care of that part of the brain, and to be compassionate towards it — but we also need to be sure that it’s not running the show.

Steps We Can Take to Address Fear

Maybe we can’t completely eliminate fear and a sense of isolation, but there are many things we can do to make it better. Here are a few ideas.

Definitely consider limiting your intake of news. I’ve stated this one before, but it’s worth emphasizing. News content can often gain a great deal of attention if it is fear-inducing and disempowering, and news outlets are fully aware of this. It’s worthwhile identifying a trustworthy news outlet that doesn’t sensationalize — and giving it a relatively small amount of attention.

Stay connected with people you appreciate. This might seem hard, given all the restrictions we now face with “social distancing”. Yet, it’s possible to do some creative things, such as starting a cocktail hour or coffee meet up on a video conferencing site. Meeting virtually with a group of people you know can be enlivening. Social contact can help a great deal in reducing fear.

Find revitalizing ways to exercise. This may be a good time to try some new exercise equipment, or a new exercise regime. There are all kinds of online exercise platforms created by various fitness clubs, as well as quite number of online T’ai Chi or Yoga platforms. Exercise has great value in reducing stress.

Do something that channels your passions. It could be writing, working with clay, painting, quilting or home gardening, But identifying your passion, and working to deepen your connection to it, is something that reduces stress and brings a real sense of fulfillment and connection to soul

You might not be able to see a depth psychotherapist face-to-face right now, but you could certainly start a connection with one online. It might be of great help to discuss the ways in which you’re currently coping with uncertainty and fear, and simultaneously to explore the things that are trying to emerge in your life, on your journey toward wholeness.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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


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Coronavirus: Coping with COVID 19 Uncertainty and Anxiety

March 16th, 2020 · coronavirus, COVID 19

In very rapid order, we have seen the COVID 19 novel coronavirus epidemic push itself into the center of our attention.

The novel coronavirus has emerged as a major public health and economic issue.  In an attempt to control its spread, public health officials are now placing more controls on our social and economic activity.  COVID 19 has certainly shot quickly into a place of prominence in our collective consciousness.

What is more, many of us are experiencing very real effects on our daily life, as our society wrestles to control the spread of the virus. I am aware of how many people in my client group have been asked to self-isolate because of possible exposure to COVID 19 in the workplace, or because they themselves or a relative have recently returned from travelling to the U.S. or overseas. I expect that this is fairly representative of the population of the Greater Toronto Area as a whole. If so, there must be a great many people who are being directly affected.

Psychological Impact of Coronavirus

These substantial effects experienced by many can have very real psychological effects on individuals. It’s not uncommon for people to feel a sense of loss of control and loss of freedom, as various restrictions come into effect. As a result, many people seem to be experiencing some degree of anxiety or depression about the current situation.

In addition to the specifics of COVID 19 quarantine, self-isolation, and other restrictions, many people are also feeling a great deal of anxiety about the financial impact of the coronavirus situation. We had been in a stable and growing economy for quite some time, but now, at least in the short run, things seem considerably more choppy and unpredictable.

Such feelings can be that much worse for individuals who have a history of anxiety in any of its forms, or any form of depression, and for those who have undergone any of a large number of types of traumatic experience. The fact that we are all subject to an unending stream of new, angst-provoking material in the news stream also makes our reactions more intense.

Avoiding Panic and Herd Mentality

In dealing with this type of situation, it is very easy for individuals to slip into a mindset characterized by panic. It is possible for anxiety to become so intense that it turns into terror or unreasoning fear, which interferes with our capacity to think clearly. As prominent anxiety expert Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg explains, this occurs when the amygdala, the part of the brain that acts like a “smoke detector” (or crisis detector), associates a state of felt uncertainty with intense feelings of fear.

This type of panic response can easily intensify a kind of psychological response that social psychologists such as Stanley Milgram refer to as herd mentality. People look to the group more intensely for guidance when they are in a state of perceived fear or peril. Jungians are very aware of how such states in groups can lead to what Jung called temporary “mass psychoses“, where an entire group is subject to delusions about a situation or is responding in ways that are patently irrational. This can lead to the kind of hoarding phenomena that we have seen recently, where people, without any rational basis have been stocking up on household supplies to such an extent that big box stores in our area are completely stripped of toilet paper (!), in the groundless belief that shortages are about to occur.

Finding Personal Power and Creativity

One of the things that we can do for ourselves in response to the uncertainty around COVID 19 and coronavirus is to seek places in our lives where we can exercise our control of events and our personal power. There are perhaps some things at present that we can’t control, but it can be very important for us to ask, where in my life can I exercise a sense of control at this time?

For instance, I may currently have to stay at home, having been told not to go into my work at this time. This may lead to a sense of powerlessness and limitation. Yet, are there things that I can do in my own home that would give me the opportunity to exercise my personal power in a way that feels good or satisfying? Are there connections I can make, things I want to learn, possibilities for the future that I don’t normally get to explore? Alternately, are there people –family members, friends or others — whom I can contact via phone, online or other media so that I can offer support — or gain support?

One area where it might be very important for me to exercise my personal power would be the amount of news or information related to COVID 19 that I let into my life. Often, people tend to instinctively seek information in a time of uncertainty, in a bid to gain more control. However, that can backfire, if people find themselves subject to a bottomless deluge of information all keyed to increasing peoples’s anxiety.

As we know, in recent years, the media have discovered that raising peoples’ fear levels increases views for news items. Healthy, self-compassionate self-care at this point may well involve limiting or eliminating the amount of coronavirus news that comes into your life. You may want to see some news, perhaps, but now may be a very bad time to be a news junkie — so simply stay away!

A final thing that you might do for yourself is to find support from a good, affirming therapist, such as possibly a depth psychotherapist. Working with the right kind of therapist at a time like this may well help to increase your sense of control, and to clarify what is really important for your life journey at this time.

With best wishes to all during this demanding period,

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Do Humans Have Instincts? If So, Can They Help Us?

March 9th, 2020 · do humans have instincts

Do humans have instincts? This is a very important question. An equally important question is: if they exist, how do they affect our lives?

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day in our area, so my wife and I went for a walk/hike, part of which was through parkland. There were a great many people out, enjoying one of the first days this month that felt like it had the promise of spring. We were struck by the number of people who were out with their dogs. In a good number of cases, people had two or even three dogs accompanying them! The dogs seemed just as delighted as their owners to be out in the sun, if not more so!

This led me to reflect on why it is that so many people love pets like dogs. Some people would suggest that it’s because we project human characteristics and attitudes onto them, and of course, that’s often true. Yet, I think that there’s an even more fundamental characteristic of dogs that we love.

Dogs are a great deal more straightforward and down to earth than humans often are. Dogs very often show us what they’re feeling and what their reactions are in a very direct way. A dog’s motivations and desires are often very plain to see. To sum it up: dogs show us a grounded, embodied instinctual life, and we love them for it.

Near to Both Body and Instinct

This love we have for the straightforward, earthy simplicity of dogs is a reflection of something we desire in our own lives. We yearn for life that is intimately connected with our bodies, and that is rooted in our most fundamental instinctual drives.

At one point psychology wasn’t at all clear that there were human instincts. For instance, in the 1950s, humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow argued that humans no longer have instincts because we have the ability to override them in certain situations. However, more recently, psychologists have tended to view instincts as “the innate part of behavior that emerges without any training or education in humans”, as U. Pittsburgh’s Amanda Spink wrote in 2010, asserting also that behaviors such as cooperation, sexual behavior, and child rearing are rooted in instinct. This latter view has pretty much always been held by Jungians.

Most of us tend to feel that we have instincts, even if we feel quite far away from them. For instance, we sense in dogs the desire to be social, and on some level we recognize that we humans share with dogs an instinctual desire to be social and to interact with others.

Yet we live in a world today that seems incredibly fast-paced and driven forward by technology, through unrelenting change. It can easily seem that our priorities in life are driven by anything but our most basic instincts. Do humans have instincts? And, if so, how do we get in touch with the instinctual layer of ourselves, to know what it is that we most basically want?

Denying Our Instinct

It can be easy in the twenty-first century to live in a manner that pays no heed to instinct. We live in an environment that bears very little resemblance to that in which early humans lived. Artificial light, computers and other technologies allow us to live in a way that is often completely disconnected from the rhythms of nature. The small social groupings that were a fundamental part of human life as it originally was have given way to vast metropolises that are dominated by our machines, and where social contact can be very limited. There are many ways in which we can feel very disconnected from the kind of instinctual life we observe in our dogs!

In light of all this, it is possible to answer the question “Do humans have instincts?” with a simple “No.” In a world like ours, we can pretend that our instinctual roots don’t exist, that we don’t need to pay any attention to our natural body rhythms, that we don’t need meaningful social connection nor need to feel grounded in a place we can really call home, and that our needs for love and intimacy don’t matter. We can “get away” with all this, and perhaps with enough distractions we can continue to function. Yet we will be completely disconnected from who we most fundamentally are. Needless to say, our journey to wholeness will have been stopped in its tracks.

Living in Our Instinct

On the other, getting nearer to our instincts can bring us closer to contact with who we really are. In many cases, anxiety and depression can be the price that we pay for ignoring our instinctual needs for good social connection, for rootedness, and for a life of balance that respects our natural rhythms.

Getting in touch with our instinctual selves requires paying careful attention to ourselves, to both our feeling reactions to experiences in our lives, and to what is going on in our body. Often we can learn a great deal about our instincts by watching the ways in which we experience pain and discomfort in our bodies, and what that might be telling us. To use a common example, if someone is experiencing stomach pain and upset on a regular basis, that person might want to check out the sources of stress in his or her life and how that might relate to overwork or to stressful relationships.

Effective depth psychotherapy, built around a therapeutic relationship of trust, affirmation and support can greatly assist in listening to what instinct has to say to us about our personal journey.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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Want Effective, Supportive Psychotherapy? Choose Long Term

March 2nd, 2020 · supportive psychotherapy

The best, most supportive psychotherapy occurs within a highly affirming therapy relationship that lasts over time.

Potential clients are always trying to identify the right therapy approach and the right therapist, as they seek to deal with the issues in their lives. They want to feel certain and secure that they will get effective therapy.

There are a considerable number of factors involved in assessing whether something is supportive therapy. However, there is one thing that a great deal of research by guiding lights such as Simon Fraser’s Prof. Adam Horvath consistently highlights. It’s that the quality of the connection or alliance between the client and the therapist is the most important factor in effective, supportive therapy.

What Should Good Therapy Be Like?

A quality relationship with a therapist evolves over time. It’s not something that gets produced on an instant basis. There’s more and more appreciation in the therapy world of how important this evolution is, and how trust, understanding and acceptance take time to develop.

Yet we’ve also seen an emphasis in the therapy world on so-called “brief therapies”, which promise to deliver results in a very short period of time. In the context of cognitive-behavioural therapy, dialectical-behavioural or solution-focused therapy, it’s not uncommon for therapists to speak of therapy that only goes on for 6 or 4 or even 3 sessions.

In my experience, such “short-term” therapy can be effective, but only where there is a very discrete, very well-defined issue that the individual is bringing to the therapy work. For issues that are more complex, or where there is need for a truly transforming experience in therapy, it’s almost always therapy that endures for a substantial period of time, and that occurs regularly and with a fairly high frequency, such as weekly, that is required.

Effective Psychotherapy for Major Life Issues?

Sometimes people come to psychotherapy expecting very quick results when that is just not feasible. Often when this happens, it’s because people want to change the way that they feel about a situation in their lives. The person has a circumstance in their work life, or family life or love life. This is creating a certain emotional or feeling response, and she or he just wants to make it better by stopping the feelings that they have, and feeling something different.

Consider, for instance, “Client A”, who’s dealing with a great deal of anxiety about the business that she owns. She finds herself very anxious and ill-at-ease whenever she thinks about her firm, and she really wants to stop feeling this way around family, in particular. At your first meeting she indicates that she is throwing a major social event for family members in two weeks, and she wants to be anxiety and worry-free so that she can convince the family members (who, it turns out are also investors in the business) that everything is going well.

This might seem like a straightforward request, but then, as the meeting progresses, the following factors come out:

  • client has a lifelong history of financial trauma stemming from a series of bankruptcies and other financial crises in her family of origin;
  • client is currently very unhappy in her marriage, and wondering whether to stay in it; and,
  • client is facing deep questions about her involvement in the business, that relate to larger questions about meaning, direction and purpose, and what she wants for her life

As is often the case when individuals just want to “change the feeling”, there is a lot going on here under the surface. These deep issues “look backward and forward”, as we say, meaning that they reach back into her early life, and also forward into the future she envisages for herself, and into issues of meaning and purpose for her whole life.

Such a client can certainly be given discrete, helpful things to do to reduce her anxiety — and they will help, to some extent. However the underlying issues are going to take some sustained exploration. This is best done in the “container” of ongoing, regular therapy with an affirming therapist whom Client A trusts, and with whom she can explore these important matters.

As in Client A’s case, most clients face issues where a sustained regular course of depth psychotherapy promises to bring the best results for well-being and an enhanced perspective.

Support to Engage with My Life

Supportive psychotherapy often contributes a great deal to an individual’s journey towards wholeness. The best, most life-changing results are obtained if the therapy is in-depth, long term and regular, and (speaking as a Jungian), attentive to both the conscious and unconscious parts of the individual.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional

Certified Telemental Health Practitioner

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

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