Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

Finding Meaning and Resilience in Life (and During COVID-19)

April 20th, 2020 · meaning and resilience

In recent years, Jungian depth psychotherapists have become more aware of how finding meaning and resilience are connected in our lives.

Psychologists have studied the question of resilience in great depth over the last few decades. Although the term “resilience” gets thrown around rather loosely in the popular media, what psychology has learned is extremely important in its implications for our lives.

Among the great names in resilience psychology, one of the greatest is developmental psychologist Emmy Werner of UC Davis. She studied resilience across the lifespan, and was involved in a 32 year long study that followed 698 children in Kauai, Hawaii. As a result of this work, she identified characteristics that enabled some of these children to cope with adverse family situations or great life stressors in ways that some of their peers could not.

Meaning and Resilience Fit Together

Werner found that this particularly resilient group of kids had an “internal locus of control”. In other words, these kids believed on some level that they had the capacity to create their own achievements and to determine the direction of their lives, in important ways. These resilient kids saw themselves as creating their own outcomes by their life choices.

In addition, Werner found that, as they journeyed through their lives, the group of resilient children very often had sources of spiritual, philosophical or religious support that allowed them to make meaning out of events in life, including events that we might call traumatic. This doesn’t mean that they were necessarily “religious” in a conventional sense, but they were able to fit things that happened in their lives into a greater context that enabled them to feel that their lives had direction, purpose and meaning.

Werner’s work focused initially on children. However, the question of meaning and resilience is one that has great importance in the context of our adult journey towards wholeness also. It matters to our lives whether we are able to find a sense of meaning in what we are doing. It makes life much more sustainable, bearable, if we can feel that there is positive value in our actions. Humans need the sustaining sense that life is moving in a direction that has value to us. We also need to feel that we are empowered agents who can make a valuable contribution to some degree in making that occur.

Jung stressed the centrality of this point when he famously stated:

The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.

Finding Resilience and Meaning in Our Time

In 21st century life, it can be difficult to feel that our individual lives matter. We live in a world where big impersonal forces seem to strongly influence the shape of our lives, and where large organizations like governments and corporations determine much of the shape of our personal worlds, and make decisions about vital interests like employment, education and the natural environment that the individual can often seem powerless to influence.

This COVID-19 period, and the current lockdown, can easily enhance this sense of powerlessness. Confined to home, with very limited interaction with others, individuals can very easily feel that they are disempowered and at the mercy of external events in the world. Many people are currently experiencing a sense of anxiety at this isolation, and quite a number are experiencing some level of depression.

It could be very easy to deny that this is what we’re experiencing, and to try to carry on in a business-as-usual kind of way, as if everything is “just fine”. However, conversations I’ve had with quite a number of people show clearly that this approach is frequently leading to people having unpredictable, out-of-nowhere angry eruptions, bouts of sadness, and periods of despondency. There’s a need to honestly face the particular difficulties of this major life transition.

Finding and Serving Your Meaning

Despite the hardships of the COVID period, this may be an important time in our individual lives. Whatever else this period signifies, it may be a very important moment to think deeply and carefully about what truly brings meaning and value into your life. This may also relate powerfully to the key story that you tell yourself about your life, your purpose and your meaning — what Jung would call your “personal myth”.

It’s true that we’re living in a time of limitation and constraint. There are definite limitations on the things that we can do in the outer world, without a doubt. Yet it may be very important to ask ourselves what we can do that allows us to exercise our power, to have an effect on ourselves, on those close to us, and / or on the outer world that, in some way or other, creates more of “the good stuff” in the world that we really value. To the extent that we can do that, and can contribute to a value that’s greater than ourselves, we are using our power, and contributing to the sense of meaning and value in our lives.

Depth psychotherapy can contribute a great deal to the development of the sense of meaning and resilience in our lives. Particularly now, as we deal with the COVID-19 situation, it may be a source of genuine support, as we look for sustaining depth in our lives.

Wishing you and all of those close to you all the very best during these demanding days,

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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Finding Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty and Isolation

April 12th, 2020 · finding hope

For those of the Christian faith, this weekend is the festival of Easter, which, above all, is associated with finding hope, and also with the spring season.

Yet, this year, Easter is falling in the midst of the COVID-19 situation, with all the isolation, uncertainty and anxiety that all of us, of every faith and none, are experiencing. What does hope mean in our present context, and where do we go about finding hope?

Well, one key source of hope may be finding ways to connect with other people in the midst of the current isolation. This may well be a time when it’s particularly important for us to find ways to reach out and be with others, even if we can’t be physically present. It may be a time to celebrate the value that others bring into our lives, and to explicitly tell them that we cherish the connection with them.

This may also be a time when we want and need to think about the future, after COVID-19. We need to envisage what we want from the future when the season of COVID ends, and to actively hope for it. Finding hope will mean actively take steps to make that future happen. At such times of major life transition, as the author Rebecca Solnit tells us in her book Hope in the Dark,

Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future…. To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.

To think about hope that “shoves us out the door” is very evocative in this time of isolation! And where will we find the resources and the inner joy and creative will that are the impetus we need for this? In my opinion there is something of great value to be found in another quote, a famous and beautiful paragraph from Albert Camus:

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back

This “something stronger” to which Camus refers is something beyond our regular ego. It is the greater whole of the personality, which Jungians and some others refer to as the Self. That is the reality which makes finding hope a living possibility.

Depth psychotherapy can be an important vehicle to enable contact with the living reality of this greater personality, and an important place to explore the embers of our own individual hope.

Wishing all of you all the good things of this season of hope and renewal,

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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Teletherapy: Online Psychotherapy Can Bring Great Benefits

April 6th, 2020 · online psychotherapy, teletherapy

Since March 16, I’ve written 3 posts on COVID-19. This post isn’t exactly on that topic, but the subject of teletherapy is surprisingly closely related — and important.

Why would anyone say that? Well, because one thing that COVID-19 has made clear is that teletherapy or online psychotherapy, if you prefer the latter term, is now an essential part of the way that therapy is delivered.

I’ve used online therapy for quite a long time in my practice, and I believe my clients have found it effective. Yet now, the COVID-19 situation has made it virtually impossible in many nations like Canada for therapists and clients to physically sit in the same room together. So therapists have suddenly found that it’s very important to find ways to connect and be present with clients that don’t entail being in the same room. That means that, for now at least, therapists are finding that teletherapy is the main means of delivering psychotherapy.

Experience has shown me that, for some potential clients, teletherapy seems like something that they could readily imagine themselves doing, and that they feel would be very effective. However, other potential clients might want to understand the whole process a great deal better before they were ready to try it.

Yes, Good Online Psychotherapy is Possible!

You can definitely have online psychotherapy that is actually good therapy. Under many circumstances, the therapeutic connection, and the quality of the actual analytic or therapeutic work can be just as high as it would be if the therapist and client were sitting in a room together.

There is now a strong body of evidence in support of the effectiveness of teletherapy. Nonetheless, there are still voices raised that sometimes call its use into question, or else see it as the “poor relation” of face-to-face therapy.

What about People who Need Psychotherapy, and Who Can’t be Physically Present?

In recent years, I can think of a number of people whom I’ve had as clients, who simply wouldn’t have been able to be physically present to do the work. Some examples of this are particularly striking.

One compelling case involves a client who started to work with me at a time when he was undergoing a major life transition. In fact, he was undergoing a midlife event that challenged just about every aspect of his life. He felt that he was confronted with the very real possibility of leaving both his marriage and his job, and was facing impacts on many major relationships in his life. (Facts have been changed to ensure client confidentiality.)

Exactly as this crisis came to a head, about a month and a half into his therapy, Client, who was a geological engineer, was required to return to northern Ontario to “sit” on an isolated mine site. The site was a “fly in” location, and Client was required to be there for an extended period.

There was no question of Client accessing a therapist in person in his isolated mining camp in the Canadian Shield. Yet there were very major life issues that were unfolding in an immediate way for Client, and he really needed to process fully, as there was a tremendous amount at stake for Client.

If Client had not been able to access therapy via online video, and experienced the kind of support, validation, and encouragement to really explore his feelings and thoughts, he could well have made some life choices that he would have regretted for the rest of his life. As it turned out, Client was able to make choices that really came from the deepest parts of himself, and that he continues to feel good about into the present.

Looking at Some Objections to Teletherapy

There are several objections that are often raised to online therapy. Here are a few of the more common ones.

Online therapy is cold and lacks intimacy. Many people who have not done teletherapy, or who have done it when the equipment has not been properly set up, are left with the impression that it is distant and impersonal. If the equipment is set up correctly, however, and if the therapist in particular knows how to create connection, online therapy can be just as powerful an experience of emotional connection as in-person.

Doing therapy through online technology makes people feel inhibited. This point is similar to the one above. The root objection seems to be that speaking through computers via online link can make people uptight, and less likely to engage in frank self-revelation of the type that is so essential to therapy. Yet, the simple fact is that people form trusting connections with their therapists over online video links every day

There are all sorts of non-verbal cues that get missed in teletherapy. There’s a measure of truth in this. With online psychotherapy, the therapist doesn’t usually see whole body of the client, so she or he may not get the benefit of certain types of non-verbal feedback. On the other hand, any therapist can learn a very great deal about the internal state of the client by asking the right questions about what is going on in their body.

Perhaps the ultimate objection to teletherapy from therapists is in the following paragraph.

Clients don’t value therapy if they don’t do it in person. This sentiment seems to be common among many who have been in the psychotherapy profession for some time. However, my observation would be that it just doesn’t seem to be true. I have spoken to a number of other therapists who have done extensive amounts of online therapy. We all can point to clients who have done work online who value their therapeutic work greatly, and who seem to have had great personal benefit from the work.

The mirror image of this “won’t value if they don’t do the work while physically present is the case described above. What about the people who really need therapy, but who can only access it online?

Teletherapy and the Journey to Wholeness

There are many examples like that of Client above that firmly convince me that good depth psychotherapy work can be done via teletherapy. Online psychotherapy has a key role to play in many peoples’ journey to wholeness. This is more true than ever in the COVID-19 era.

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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