Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Mandela, Hope & Lasting Help for Depression

December 9th, 2013 · depression, help for depression

Lasting help for depression is closely tied to hope, and symbols of hope are among our greatest treasures.

help for depression

This week saw the passing of Nelson Mandela, who was an incredible symbol of hope for much of the human race.  The unbelievable intensity of the gratitude to Mandela as a figure of reconciliation is a living testament of the power and vital necessity of hope for the human psyche.

Real Hope Is Not A Pep Talk

The world is full of voices telling us that positive thinking  can create life-changing results such as increased wealth, health, and happiness. Such messages abound.  But are they really sustaining?

Nelsen Mandela spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island and elsewhere.  Viktor Frankl, the famous existential psychiatrist endured the Dachau camp while virtually all of his family were murdered at Auschwitz.  Can we possibly think that mere positive thinking and the “law of attraction” allowed such individuals to endure?  Here is something much deeper in the person than mere positive thinking, or indeed, than thinking at all.

The Tune Without the Words

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
-Emily Dickenson

Dickenson’s words point us toward the true nature of hope, as that which “perches in the soul”, beyond the reach of reasoning, beyond the reach of language.  But if we are to experience help for depression from hope of this deep type, which comes from our depths — we have to know our own soul.


In Jung’s words, hope is one of

…[those] highest achievements of human endeavour… [which] are neither to be taught nor learned, neither given nor taken, neither withheld nor earned, since they come through experience….  Experiences cannot be made.  They happen — yet fortunately… we can draw closer to them….  

The way to experience… is anything but a clever trick: it is rather a venture which requires us to commit ourselves with our whole being.

Jung urges us to find hope by drawing closer to, and accepting our fundamental experiences, and, with them, our own nature and identity.

help for depression

Often the roots of depression can be found in our inability to accept our own experience, and our true selves.  Whether in childhood, or later life, the individual may internalize the message that his or her experience is unimportant, and that, in fact, he or she is really not important.  Such experience can lead to the death of hope.

Conversely genuine self acceptance is linked to the individual fostering basic trust in his or her life, to hope, and to our awareness of the existence of possibility.  As the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard put it:

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.  

Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating… as possibility!

 Hope and Lasting Help for Depression

help for depression

From a Jungian perspective, individual depth psychotherapy assists in the recovery of the natural and instinctive self, which is the natural source of our most basic sense of hope.   The journey of individual therapy toward this hope can be fundamental in bringing lasting help for depression.

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Key Factors in Lasting Help for Depression: #1 – Depth

October 27th, 2013 · depression, help for depression

“Where can I find lasting help for depression?”  This is a question on the minds of many.

help for depression

It is a matter of great importance for those who are active in their seeking to obtain help for depression.  Individuals don’t want to receive help that will make a difference just in the short term.  They are seeking help for depression that is going to make a fundamental change through the course of their lives.

Lasting Benefit

Studies of groups are certainly not the last word in the search for individual healing and wholeness.  Neither can any one study’s results be seen as definitive. Nonetheless, a recent study by Prof. Dorothea Huber of the Technische Universität München and her colleagues on the benefits of help for depression is quite striking.  That study showed that the benefits from psychodynamic psychotherapy persisted and were experienced 3 or more years out from the time of the therapy.

Psychodynamic therapy, also known as depth psychotherapy, refers to those forms of therapy that concern themselves with the unconscious mind of the individual and its processes–what’s going on deep in the mind of the individual.  And that’s part of the reason why, for many individuals, the benefits from psychodynamic therapy persist.

A Shift at a Fundamental Level

In forms of depth psychotherapy like Jungian therapy, there is an emphasis in focusing on what is going on in the individual at quite a deep level.  In this kind of approach, a great deal rests on what may be going on at the deepest levels of the individual, which are often in the unconscious mind.

In the Jungian approach in particular, the individual, and the unique characteristics of his or her life are given particular significance.  In the following video, I read a passage from Jungian analyst June Singer that expresses this with great clarity:



Depression and the Unconscious Self

For the depth psychotherapist, help for depression is inextricably bound up with a person’s unique individuality and the reality of the unconscious mind.  From this perspective, depression is fundamentally related to the ways in which an individual’s vitality and spontaneity become locked inside them, as a result of the various wounds that are experienced in life, and also as a result of dilemmas in the present that may appear as insoluble to  the  person from a conscious perspective.  As James Hollis states,

Depression can feel like a well with no bottom, but from a Jungian perspective

intrapsychic depression is a well with a bottom,

although we may have to dive very deeply to find it.

help for depression

Diving Deep

From a Jungian perspective, lasting help for depression is to be found in the inward journey, and in bringing into contact with consciousness those energies within us which, for whatever reason, have become walled off.  Individual psychotherapy from a depth perspective can often be a powerful factor in the recovery of the natural and instinctive self, and in opening up an understanding of the meaning of my depression.  This type of change can be a fundamental element in lasting help for depression.


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3 Big Surprises about Help for Depression in Summer

July 6th, 2013 · depression, help for depression

It might seem very strange to focus on help for depression in summer, when summer itself is supposed to help lift depression.

help for depression

But here’s the thing: for many people–it doesn’t.

In our culture, we hold up the icon of summer as a time of playful hedonism, typified by this classic song by Mungo Jerry:


1. Summer Doesn’t Actually Make Everything O.K.

But for some who struggle with depression, the high summer can actually make things worse.  Season affective disorder, known as SAD, is common knowledge nowadays.  Canadians tend to associate it with the cold and short days of winter.  However, as the Mayo Clinic notes, and as research from India shows, SAD can be associated with oppressive summer heat.

That school is out can also contribute to depression for parental figures who find themselves at home with kids for whole days, day after day.  Also, teachers and college professors can find themselves subject to depression when, after a busy, demanding year, they suddenly find themselves at home with large expanses of time.

2.  The Symbol of the Burning Sun

For depth psychotherapy, another aspect of summer depression involves the symbolism of the summer sun at its most intense.  When the summer sun is at its most direct, and sweltering, it can make everything seem stark, bleak and lifeless.

The ancients used to refer to the experience of the sun in this bleak, piercing way as the “sol niger” — Latin for the “black sun”.  Below is an example of how they might typically have portrayed or symbolized it.

help for depression

Sometimes, for modern people, too, the hot sweltering high summer sun can symbolize or highlight experiences of bleakness, starkness or joylessness in our lives.

Could it be that the intensity of the sweltering sun symbolizes or highlights aspects of our lives that we might experience as bleak? Could it reveal our over-thinking, over-driveness, workaholism, excessive win-at-all costs intensity; or obsessiveness?

help for depression


3.  Other Summer Stressors

There are other stressors not directly related to the weather that can find us out in summer.

Summer can be a time of particular financial stress.  Activities such as vacations can take a great deal of money.  We can easily find ourselves in financial crunches related to summer plans — and sometimes, when we stop and ask ourselves, “Do I even really want to be doing this stuff?”,  a surprising answer may come back: “No!  I actually don’t!”

There’s a tide of collective sentiment that a certain way of spending the summer is what we really need to do if we want life to be fulfilling.  We may even end up saying  “I’m Supposed to be Having Fun, dammit!  What’s wrong with me?”

But it may well be that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me, and that, at the deepest level, I just want to live life in accord with my own nature.

Acceptance of the true self is a key part of the journey towards wholeness, and of genuine help for depression through meaningful individual therapy.

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


Five Ways Help for Depression Involves “the Real Me”

June 10th, 2013 · depression, help for depression

If I’m going to get help for depression that really makes a difference, I’m going to need to come to terms with the real me.

help for depression

Self understanding and self acceptance are often key elements in lasting, long-term help for depression.

1.  Personal Experience of Depression

Depression is an extremely varied and complex thing.  It manifests very differently in different people.

It’s essential for an individual to understand how depression has appeared in his or her unique life.

Truly effective long term help for depression begins with awareness of how this condition is rooted in the unique circumstances of the individual.


2.  Depression Has an Unconscious Aspect

Very often, there’s more than meets the eye in an individual’s depression.  Likely, we don’t know everything about how our depression affects us and where it comes from.  To uncover that often entails genuine exploration both of how it came to be in our lives, and also of the present situations where we feel “stuck” in the middle of insoluble dilemmas of which we are often only at best partially conscious.

help for depression


3.  Depression is Individual “Life Pressed Down”

James Hollis takes us back to the literal meaning of the word depression:

Think of what the word means literally, to de-press, to press down.  What is “pressed down”?  Life’s energy, life’s intentionality, life’s teleology is pressed down, thwarted, denied, violated… [S]omething in us colludes with it. Life is warring against life….

For “life’s energy, life’s intentionality, life’s teleology” to be pressed down or thwarted means for me in some fundamental sense to not be allowing who I really am to emerge.  I need to explore the unique situations and things in my individual story where that is occurring.  What in me is keeping me back?

4.  Depression, Anxiety, Self-Awareness

Part of the help for depression that I may need is to become aware of the ways  which my depression may be related to my anxiety.

EXAMPLE:  “Lisa” is depressed, because her life dream to be an artist is slipping away.  However, to realize that dream would mean dealing with the anxiety created by disappointing her family, who point proudly to her career as an actuary.  She finds herself “stuck” between the anxiety and the depression.  Perhaps the only way forward for Lisa is to accept that she will never win the approval from her family that she has always sought, and to move into what she wants for her life.

5.  Hand in Hand with the Real Me

Help for depression that makes a real difference involves individual therapy that keeps bringing me back to myself, to my own story, and to my own unique being.  As Hollis again says, “It takes great courage to value depression, to respect it… to go down into the depression and find our soul’s greatest treasure.”

help for depression

Often, our own fundamental nature lies at the bottom of depression.  Only when we are prepared, like Orpheus, to venture to the bottom of that underworld, can we find our sense of real aliveness.

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3 Reasons to Seek More that Just “Help for Depression”

May 26th, 2013 · depression, help for depression

It’s essential for someone to seek help for depression but a person experiencing situational depression may well need more than treatment of depression symptoms.

help for depression

Here are 3 key reasons why this is true.

1. Human Beings are Not Modular

help for depression

In today’s world, we’re all too ready to use the metaphor of a computer to understand the human mind.  But it’s essential when considering depression to realize the ways in which the human individual is definitely not like a computer.

If something goes wrong with a computer — say, for instance, that the computer’s memory or hard drive fails — it’s a relatively easy matter to take out the particular component that has failed and replace it .

But humans are not modular!  When a human suffers from a situational depression, help for depression does not consist in removing a defective “module” and replacing it with a non-depressed element.  Similarly, an exclusive and laser-like focus on the symptoms of depression is not likely to take in the whole picture of what is going on with the individual.

Depression is connected in many important ways to the whole of the self.

2. Sometimes Depression Has to be Entered Into

To understand what is happening in the life of someone who is subject to situational depression, it’s often essential to actually listen to the depression–to genuinely understand where it’s coming from, what it means, and to clarify the feelings that underly it.

Metaphorically, we may speak of depression as representing a damming up of psychic energy, as Andrew Samuels tells us, which, when it is released, may take on a positive and life-giving direction.

3. “The Empty Stillness That Precedes Creative Work”

Depression can often be connected to a kind of regression and regeneration.  We have a tendency to think of regression as a bad thing, but sometimes the individual’s energy goes into the unconscious, because something profound is changing for the individual — if only he or she can become aware of it.

There are moments in human life when a new page is turned.  New interests and tendencies appear, which have hitherto received no attention, or there is a sudden change of personality.  During the incubation period of such a change, we can often observe a loss of conscious energy….  This lowering of energy can be seen most clearly… in the empty stillness that precedes creative work.

C.G. Jung, CW 16, para. 373

EXAMPLE: An IT consultant goes into a severe depression, and realizes that he simply can’t consult anymore.  He goes through a prolonged period of listlessness and introspection, after which he gives up the IT field and starts a business related to the fine arts, and divides his spare time evenly between socializing with his friends and writing.  His life is oriented in a whole new direction, but he could never have found it without confronting the feelings and longings at the heart of his depression.

True help for depression takes account of the symptoms, but looks at the meaning of the depression for the whole person.

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? #3

July 10th, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

What helps depression, in terms of concrete practical steps you can take, when you’re “stuck in the desert” during major life transitions?

what helps depression

Here are 5 concrete observations about what helps depression of the kind into which major life transitions can often bring us.

1.  The Best Way Out is Through

This may sound completely counterintuitive, but it’s essential to acknowledge the existence of depression, and to face it head on.  Very often, people try to avoid the reality of their depression, or to talk themselves out of it.  However, the only way to truly be able to come to terms with depression is to look straight into it, and to acknowledge, “Yes.  I really am depressed.”

2.  Work Concretely with the Depression

This extends point #1.  Rather than just passively enduring depression, it’s essential to actively enter into it, to dialogue with it, and to try and understand what is going on with it.  Journaling about what is going on, and about what one is feeling and thinking can be useful.  So can the active use of techniques like painting; working with clay, and even creating pictures with collage.  All of these techniques can yield important insight and awareness, although working with a good properly trained therapist to understand what is coming up or appearing in this work is essential.

3.  Don’t Fall Into the Trap of “Self Help Alone”

This point is related to point #2.  Many people adopt a “Lone Ranger” strategy, and rather than seeking out a good therapist, try to cope with the desert of depression during major life transitions using only self-help books.  This strategy has an awful success rate.  Recognizing that you’re human, and reaching out to someone who has the skills and compassion you need often makes all the difference in the world.

4.  Believe That the Depression Has Something to Give You

I know that this idea might seem bizarre, even scandalous.  However, it’s true: there’s something valuable at the heart of the depression.  If you can find it, it will help you on the journey to becoming more yourself.

5.  “If You’re Going Through Hell — Keep Going!” ~Winston Churchill

Churchill’s famous quote has a great deal to do with the realities of psychotherapy for depression.  If we can face the particular crisis and challenge created by major life transitions, and try to open each one up and engage creatively with it, it will not last forever.

Wishing all of us the strength and support to “keep going”,

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? #2

July 3rd, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

There are key elements of psychological and personal growth involved in getting to what helps depression of the type that occurs during major life transitions.  What helps depression starts very often with a deeper level of emotional honesty.

what helps depression

Dealing with What We Can’t Sort Out

Sometimes, major life transitions are just overwhelming.  We can have a certain image, idea or feeling of ourselves and our life situation, and then find out that it gets completely undone by some development or crisis in our lives.  Although we really need to find some new way to approach our lives in such a situation, our initial reaction can be to try and return to the past, and to simply pretend that the new situation doesn’t exist…

Regressive Restoration of the Persona

Jung used this term particularly with the major life transitions associated with the second half of life, but it also applies to quite a number of other, similar transitions.  It pertains to situations where we essentially try to go back and live in the persona, or the way we presented ourselves to the world, that we had prior to the commencement of amajor life transitions.  We strive to convince ourselves that we still are that very same person.

Yet, despite our very best efforts, we can often find that we are simply not able to pull it off.  We go through the motions of living as we once did, but we seem to be only a shell of who we once were.  We simply can’t go back.

Yet, in Our Depths…

We may be in a state of conscious denial of the emotional impact and life impact of major life transitions, or even in a state of conscious depression, blankness or feeling bereft.  However, this doesn’t mean that the unconscious mind is not engaged with the impact of major life transition in its own ways.

Changes in My Identity and My Way in the World

It may be extremely difficult to come to terms with the pain, grief and loss that we encounter in major life transitions.  Yet often, it is only through surfacing these feelings that we begin to move towards the deeper understanding or attitude emerging from the unconscious.  Often, only this will allow us to accept life as it is, to find what helps depression, and to move forward, perhaps even haltingly.

Who, then, am I now? How do I now think, feel and relate?  Often, only through exploring our inner reactions in a process such as Jungian therapy do we begin to accept, move forward and create our lives again.

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? 1

June 18th, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

what helps depression

Do we really know what helps depression during major life transitions?  The surprising answer is yes. It has a lot to do with giving attention to what the particular depression may be trying to tell us.

It may seem surprising to many to think of depression as even occurring at the time of major life transitions.  But, in fact, major life transitions often have a lot to do with its onset and, also with what helps depressed states.

What are Major Life Transitions?

A major life transition, simply put, is any event or series of events that substantially and durably changes a person’s subjective experience of his or her life.  It is any of those experiences in life that entail moving from one way of life or means of life to another.  Examples include, but aren’t confined to:

  • job loss or change of job (or these days, fundamental changes in the nature of a job);
  • marriage; divorce or marital breakdown;
  • migration to a new country, or, in a huge country like Canada, migration from one region to another;
  • midlife transition, which is often caricatured as “mid-life crisis”;
  • major illness;
  • loss or death of a loved one; or,
  • retirement.

Primal societies so respected major life transitions that they often changed an individual’s name when one occurred, as in the Bible (e.g., Jacob to Israel; Saul to Paul).

What Does Depression have to do with it?

Often the changes that occur in a major life transition can seem to consume us.  They can feel like they become the sole object of our attention.  We may find ourselves unable to escape extreme sadness, lack of motivation, or listlessness.  Or we just may not know how to respond.

What Goes on in Depression, from a Depth Psychotherapy Perspective?

One way to think of it is as Jung did: the withdrawal of “psychic energy” from the external world into the inner life, and, particularly, the unconscious.  When this occurs, the unconscious mind is seeking to come to terms with the new situation, and to find a new attitude and response to what is happening in life.  When this can occur, life can move again, and flow.

OK, but What Helps Depression?

If depression is associated with a major life transition, it’s essential to get to the heart of the depression — its very nature.  It’s often only when a person understands how depressed mood may relate to a major life transition that he or she can understand what helps depression in his or her particular circumstance.

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What Helps Depression: Individual Therapy & Soul Work

May 28th, 2012 · depression, individual, individual therapy, soul, soul work, therapy, what helps depression

what helps depression

Individual therapy and careful, gradual soul work are often key elements in what helps depression.  “OK,” you’re saying, “other than a fancy buzzword or slogan, what is ‘soul work'”?

Saying anything about soul may seem strange in 2012.  “Isn’t it just an irrelevant step back into the Middle Ages?” you may ask.  Well, here’s why depth psychotherapists consider it important.

Doing Soul Work?

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, soul as used here has nothing to do with organized religion, astral projection or seances, but with connection with the deep images and experiences of inner life.  It concerns the deepest and most intimate levels of what is going on inside a person.

How Does It Occur in Individual Therapy?

In a recent “Facts and Arguments” piece  in the Globe and Mail newspaper, entitled “A psychiatrist’s double bind“, psychiatrist Gili Adler Nevo wrote of her experience of soul work in individual therapy:

 I entered the world of psychotherapy not knowing what to expect. How the hell could it help, just talking?

I’ve talked before…. Yet, gradually, in the privacy of this shrine for the individual soul that was the therapist’s office, in this sacred place free of malice, motives or moral judgment, I could set my soul loose.

It had been cooped up for so long, it didn’t even know it. And my soul, like anyone else’s, seemed complicated. Different layers protruded every time….

Letting it out into that attuned and understanding comfort enabled my soul to live in peace with all its parts.

 Nevo contrasts her own experience of therapy with a patient in a psychiatric setting, whom she efficiently diagnoses and prescribes Prozac.  She clearly finds this modern psychiatic care to be incomplete:

I could not afford to create that sacred place for the soul in which she could untangle her layers, understand the source of her depression and climb out of it. I did not have the time: It was no longer in the culture of my profession.

Does Soul Work Truly Help Depression?

I’m not suggesting that antidepressants are not necessary sometimes.  But they are often not sufficient.  Often people need to get in contact with their depths, and to experience acceptance and understanding.

Individual therapy

What Helps Depression

“Just talking” is sometimes disparaged.  Yet the journey of talking about the fundamental matters in personal life, and contacting the many aspects of the self is a key element of what helps depression.  It can free the life locked up in the individual.

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Psychotherapy for Depression: 5 Jungian Insights

September 30th, 2011 · depression, Jungian, Psychotherapy, psychotherapy for depression

psychotherapy for depressionDepression, and psychotherapy for depression are very big topics, and the following insights from a Jungian perspective certainly don’t exhaust them, but do show us some ways to begin.

1)  You are Not a Gadget

This is the title of a recent book by Jared Lanier, the basic point of which is that humans are quite dissimilar from computers.  Jungians would agree, emphasizing that dealing with depression in a way that takes human individuality seriously means that we can’t simply treat depression as faulty programming to be re-coded, or a faulty module to be replaced by a new one.  Depression requires us to take seriously the unique personality of the individual suffering from depression.  One-size fits-all “Cookie cutter” solutions don’t help.

2)  What Can’t I Acknowledge?

One thing that may be fundamental in addressing depression is the acknowledgement of the shadow, those aspects of our life and experience that we have been unable to accept.  This may concern past wounds, losses or the acceptance of my own nature.  We may even have learned at an early age to be fundamentally rejecting of basic aspects of who we are.

3)  Lost Vitality

A common aspect of depressive experience is a loss of vitality.  Jungians observe that frequently, when an individual is depressed, and has a sense of lost vitality in his or her waking, conscious life, the person’s vitality or energy has shifted into the unconscious part of the personality, where the person may be seeking to resolve conflicts, or come to some new insight or attitude.  An important part of healing may be to assist in this process, by finding ways to foster the emergence into consciousness of what is new.

4)  Lost Hope

A similar issue to 3) above is loss of hope.  Often, individuals can have experiences that “shut them down”, and can find themselves at a point in life where life lacks meaning, and thus hard to find any hope.  The recovery of hope can be vital, if the individual is not to turn into a shell of his or her former self.

5)  A Well with a Bottom

James Hollis tells us, “From a Jungian perspective, intrapsychic depression is a well with a bottom, though we may have to dive very deeply to find it.  In every case, one has to ask the fundamental question, what is the meaning of my depression?”  Jungian psychotherapy often provides the appropriate means to find a vibrant, vital and individual answer to that question.

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© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)