Journeying Toward Wholeness

Vibrant Jung Thing Blog

The Gift: Its Meaning in Life & Individual Therapy

December 23rd, 2013 · individual, individual therapy, therapy

In our culture, the Holidays are powerfully associated with receiving gifts: what does the experience of “gift” actually mean, in our lives — and in individual therapy?

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You may be sceptical whether there is any significant link between receiving gifts and individual therapy: bear with me, reader, bear with me!  First, let’s ask: what do gifts mean in human life?

The Spiritual and Material Power of the Gift

Anthropology, the study of human roots, emphasizes that gift-giving is a near universal human characteristic, appearing among the vast majority of human cultures world-wide.  What is it that makes gift-giving so important, so special?

Marcel Mauss, the French anthropologist/sociologist observed that gifts are never truly free.  In the vast majority of cultural situations, giving of gifts is reciprocal.  Mauss became preoccupied with the question: “What power resides in the object given that causes its recipient to pay it back?” He concluded that the gift is more than it seems; that it is endowed with “spiritual mechanisms”, engaging the honour of both giver and receiver.

Gift-giving in most cultures is both a powerful spiritual and material act, because the giver does not merely give an object but also part of her- or himself.  As Mauss puts it “the objects are never completely separated from the persons who exchange them”, and the bond between giver and gift creates an obligation to reciprocate on part of the recipient. To not reciprocate means to lose honour and status, certainly, but in many cultures, failure to reciprocate would means to lose mana, one’s very spiritual power or essence.

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In our own culture and time, we can see the enormous importance and power of reciprocal gift-giving — especially during the holiday season.

Great Gifts that Cannot be Reciprocated

But what do we do with those great gifts that are not given to us by another person, in any normal sense of that word?

The season that we know as Christmas has been associated since the stone age with the return of the sun after the winter solstice.  Today, we can explain the fact that the days start to get longer again as a result of the operation of the laws of physics.  That was not apparent to the primal human societies of the stone age.  It must have been an incredible experience of wonder to those people to see the days gradually grow longer, and to realize that the world was not going to be plunged into an ever greater abyss of endless darkness.  To see the sun return in winter — even though the weather itself would still grow colder for a season — must have been an incredible source of hope for our ancestors.

What does one do, in response to that kind of gift, to the things that life just gives, that cannot be reciprocated?

Individual Therapy, Life and the Gift

We know a whole lot more about physics and astronomy now, but the essential nature of human life has not changed.  Whether I’m explicitly religious or not, I still stand before the great mysteries of life, and the many things that are inexplicable.  Human life still has the same fundamental character of an enormous gift.  To have my life and to be consciously aware: these are realities that I did not create, and even today, it’s awe-inspiring to receive these incredible gifts.

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How can I reciprocate?  How can I give back to Life, the Gods, the Universe, the Ground of Being — however I conceive it?  Only by truly receiving the gift, by living to the full, by becoming as conscious as I possibly can.  To both be, and to receive, the gift of myself, and my individual unique life: this is the journey of life, and the journey of individual therapy.


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

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Individual Therapy & Ordinary Life as Remarkable

August 9th, 2013 · individual, individual therapy, therapy

Individual therapy is a contradiction: a simultaneous journey into life as both ordinary and miraculous.

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Last week, I had the opportunity to again visit one of the world’s great art museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  While I was there, I spent a great deal of time with the paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Renoir and “Everyday Eternity”

As in his 1877 “Portrait of Eugène Murer”, shown above, there is a particular quality of immediacy and life to Renoir’s paintings.  There is something about the way he paints that imbues his paintings with an incredible vitality, lifelikeness and significance.  We care about the people he portrays, we’re fascinated by them, and we wish that we could talk to them, engage them — and, in a way, we find that we do, as we engage with his paintings.

Renoir actively sought to convey this quality of immediacy, life and deep significance in his painting.  As he said:

“I like painting best when it looks eternal without boasting about it: an everyday eternity, revealed on the street corner; a servant-girl pausing a moment as she scours a saucepan, and becoming a Juno on Olympus…”

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Renoir’s art reveals the eternity in so-called ordinary life.

Everyday Eternity and the Art of Individual Therapy

In a surprising way, the search for the eternal in the ordinary, which is the heart of Renoir’s art, is not all that different from the quest that forms the basis of individual therapy and depth psychotherapy. Individual therapy is certainly an exploration of the validity, importance and plain reality of everyday, ordinary, individual life. Situations that we find ourselves in, that seem mundane and ordinary are often archetypal.  In the conflicts, transitions, losses and gains of our lives, we share in patterns that have characterized human life right from its distant beginnings. In moments of insight in individual therapy, we can experience both an awareness of our own unique individuality, and a deep sense of connection to the age old experience of the broader human race. individual therapy

Profound Ordinariness

It may sound trite, but sometimes the awareness that “I’m real; my life matters” can be a profound realization.  To feel my own uniqueness, and experience that I’m truly alive, that I truly exist — not as a matter of intellectual awareness, but genuinely to feel it —  can be a deeply changing awareness. Jung describes a particular experience of coming to self-awareness:

Suddenly for a single moment I had the overwhelming impression of having emerged from a dense cloud.  I knew all at once: now I am myself!  Previously I had existed, too, but everything had merely happened to me.  Now I happened to myself.  ~C.G. Jung  [italics mine]

To genuinely feel and accept my own uniqueness is to find myself in a singular experiment in the history of the universe — my own real life.

Eternity / You

The process of individual therapy is a journey into seeing the profundity and importance of my own everyday life.  To feel my own life — and its importance — is a key part of the journey to wholeness. [cta]

PAINTINGS: © Auguste Renoir, “Eugène Murer”; “By the Seashore”; “Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children”, all from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y. 

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


A Midlife Grad? Individual Therapy & Rites of Passage 1

July 2nd, 2013 · individual, individual therapy, therapy

Doing individual therapy with many through their life journey often makes me wonder why society doesn’t have a proper graduation ceremony for people passing into midlife.

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This might seem like a wonky idea — so let me make it even wonkier!  Shouldn’t our society have many more true rights of  passage for people moving from one life stage or situation to another?

At this time of year, high school, college and university grads celebrate their particular passages, leading all of us to reflect on the key passages in our own lives.

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Life is Many Passages

Many events in an individual’s life are really life passages.

Going through major life transitions actually changes our identity in fundamental ways.  We often feel that we are different, and experience life differently as a result.

Other cultures have often done a much better job of recognizing the psychological significance of such life transitions.  Indigenous peoples, for instance, often recognize major life transitions by giving the individual a new name.

A Death; A Transitional State; a Resurrection

The famous French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep identified three key stages in rites of passage:

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1. Separation: Death to a Former State.  Clear recognition that a former way of life, or former status is now dead.  Often the rite involves mourning the death of the former individual, as in indigenous cultures, where, in the rite of passage to adulthood, the “death of the child” may be mourned.

2. Transition or “Liminal State”.  For a time, the individual lives between the old state and the new state, in transition.  It is of psychological importance for the individual to experience this state of “between-ness”.  Often this is a time when the individual undergoes trials or ordeals associated with the life transition.

3. Incorporation or Re-Birth.  In this third stage, the individual actively takes on the state of new life or identity.  As this National Geographic video clip shows, this might be recognized by the community, but fundamentally reflects a key transition within the individual.

We can see these stages in many contexts.   At midlife transition , for instance, individuals often experience the death of a more conventional identity; a time of disorientation and uncertainty; and, the gradual birth of a new, much more individual, path in the individual’s life.

Why the Passages Matter

Rites of passage are important for many reasons.  In particular, they provide:

1. A context for a major life transition, showing that the event is not chaotic or random, but is a common, natural part of human life; and,

2.  Meaning to the life change that is occurring.

If the rite of passage could speak, it might say:

“This is not an isolated event that occurs to you, in a random or haphazard manner.  This is a human thing.  A deeply significant thing.  Perhaps even, in the best sense of the word, a sacred thing.”

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 Individual Therapy as Passage, & Aid to Passage

For many, individual therapy serves as an aid to major life transitions or passages.  It may even turn out to be a kind of rite of passage itself, as a part of the journey towards wholeness.


PHOTOS: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved AlishaV ; puliarf   VIDEO: © 2007 National Geographic 
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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4 Ways to Identify Good Individual Therapy

May 21st, 2013 · individual, individual therapy, therapy

Individual therapy can potentially be one of the most important undertakings in an individual’s life; so, how can a person find good therapy?


Here are 4 good ways to tell whether individual therapy will offer what you really need.

1.  Relationship with the Therapist

The most important factor in ensuring good individual therapy is the quality of relationship with the therapist.

Do I feel a good level of comfort with the therapist?

Does the therapist seem genuinely interested in my life?  My story?  Are they on my side?

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2. Therapist Integrity

Integrity is fundamental in a therapist.  If the therapist isn’t honest or forthright, then the therapeutic relationship is not likely going to be very healing.

Here are some key ways to determine whether a therapist is acting with demonstrable integrity.

    • Can he or she admit when they don’t know something?  No one knows everything.  A responsible professional therapist will admit when they do not know or understand something.
    • Can he or she admit when they have made a mistake?  No one is perfect, as a therapist, or as a person.  A therapeutic relationship should be about enabling individuals to move beyond perfectionism to self-acceptance.  If a therapist cannot acknowledge mistakes, how can he or she create an appropriate climate for self-acceptance?
    • Does the therapist hide behind his or her authority?  A therapist should be an open and vulnerable person, rather than an inaccessible or closed-off authority figure.
    • Can the therapist confront you with hard truths?  Not everything in therapy is easy.  Sometimes a therapist has to say things the client doesn’t want to hear.  Does a potential therapist have the ability to do this?  That’s a key attribute.

3. Personal Work

Has the therapist done enough personal therapy to have a reasonable level of self-understanding?  Unless a therapist has insight into her- or himself, it’s less likely that they will have the capacity to have insight into you.

Theory-Driven, Or Person-Driven?

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This matters a lot.  The key question here is whether the therapist can really take in who you are, as a unique individual, or is he or she desperately clinging to a theory, and feeling a compulsive need to shoehorn you into it?  As C.G. Jung puts it,

“The analyst will be assailed by secret doubts [if he is] confronting the human wholeness of the analysand with a theory or technique, instead of with his own living human wholeness.

It cannot be assumed that the analyst is a superman because he possesses a theory and a corresponding technique.  He can only imagine himself to be superior if he assumes that his theory and technique are absolute truths, capable of embracing the whole of the psyche.”

“The Problem of Types in Dream Interpretation”

Jung is asking therapists to take a truly scientific stance: to let in the full reality of the client, rather than viewing the person through dogmatic blinders.

This spirit of openness to the individual reality of the client is essential to good depth psychotherapy, and to good individual therapy in general.


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


4 Advantages of Individual Therapy Over Self Help Books

March 25th, 2013 · individual, individual therapy

Self-help books are unbelievably popular, but they don’t meet many of the needs that individual therapy can meet.

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It’s not that self-help books aren’t good or useful.  But there are some key, bedrock things that we need in our lives that we can get from individual therapy, particularly depth psychotherapy, that we can’t get from books or videos.

Four key advantages of one-on-one therapy are …

1. An Empathic Witness

A very important thing about individual therapy: you’re not alone with whatever you’re carrying or trying to sort out

The reality is that many people in our world have never really been truly witnessed, or seen in their own right, as who they really are.  It can make a profound difference when, in individual therapy, a person actually gains consciousness of this.

To sit with a therapist committed to a non-judgmental, unconditionally accepting stance, who helps me to move towards full acceptance of who I am can be powerfully transforming. It can humanize my experience — help me to feel that, even the things that I have the greatest difficulty revealing or talking are all comprehensible and essentially human.

Hand in hand with this experience comes another…

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2. Recognition of Individuality

Through telling the story of my life with a truly listening witness, I become aware of the dimensions of my story that I share in common with others, but also of the ways my own story is unique to me and defines me as an individual.

Often only the acceptance of a non-judgmental other, who helps me discern the patterns in my life, can help me gain real understanding of my own character and unique identity.

3. Therapist’s Insight & Experience

A self-help book, published for the masses, will necessarily deals in generalities, and only speaks to my life insofar as I can extract meaning from its generalizations.

But an individual therapist can take in, and respond to my individual reality, providing meaningful insight and specific interpretations of my situation and what I’m going through.

Work with an individual therapist reveals aspects of my situation where I have “blind spots”, or where I don’t understand my own reactions, or make meaningful connections.

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4. Awareness of the Unconscious Personality

Depth psychotherapy , as defined by Eugen Bleuler, affirms the self healing nature of the psyche.

But unless a person understands how those dynamics are at work in their specific case, he or she will likely not be able to connect with and cooperate with that healing.  To do this may mean confronting the part of myself that I don’t know — what Freud, Jung, Adler and others call the unconscious.

To understand this, we generally need help to discern where the unacknowledged parts of ourselves are appearing: actions and motivations that we don’t understand; unique anxieties and obsessions; our dreams.

It’s nearly impossible to get this kind of deep insight in a way that is anything like specific enough from a book.  Such insights are key, valuable parts of the journey of individual therapy.


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





Individual Therapy, Men & Male Individuation, 2

July 23rd, 2012 · individual, individual therapy, Individuation, men, therapy

This is the second post in my series on men and male individuation, and how that all relates to individual therapy.

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Being Male: Not As Simple as It Looks

The women’s movement, over the last 45 years, has strongly — and rightly — made the point that traditional male-dominated structures in society tend to keep women from being individual selves.  What isn’t as well appreciated is that, often, those same old patterns keep men from individuation, just as effectively.  These stereotypes even contaminate certain types of individual therapy.

The Last Thing Men Need is Another Stereotype

There is a stereotype waiting in the wings in our society, ready to fill the vacuum for individual men, but not in a helpful way.  The archetypal pattern of dominance and submission, or, as you often hear it put today, the “Alpha Male / Beta Male” image,  is rooted in the archaic instinctual division between competent, capable males who lead, and supposedly incompetent, clueless men who need to get led by Alphas.  Often, our culture holds out the image of these Beta Males — the majority, according to this view — as hopeless big kids, or even more toxically, stereotypical “failures” or “losers”.  Examples of this Beta Male stereotype abound in our culture:

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  • Al Bundy from the sitcom Married with Children;

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  • Raymond from Everybody Loves Raymond; and,

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  • last, but oh-so-far from least, Homer Simpson.

Not surprisingly, the only alternative that the culture holds up is to be the invulnerable, all-conquering Alpha Male:

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…like, say, “The Donald”…  Is this really all that there is for men?  If so, God help us.

Pressures Within; Pressures Without

The pressure is on, inner and outer, for men to either strive to embody the unassailable success of the Alpha Male, or else to accept the subtle but definite sense of failure with which our culture taints men who are not perceived as Alphas, and accept that humiliation by fleeing into the various distractions and anaesthetics our society offers.  Isn’t there any other possibility?

Individual Maleness

There is.  It involves creatively opening up and exploring who I am as an individual male person.  It entails going into my depths, and coming to accept and embrace who and what I am as a unique individual.  It requires accepting my woundedness, and being open to the healing that acceptance can bring.  It entails a new kind of awareness, stemming from what it is to uniquely be me.  Individual therapy can be key to this process of male individuation.


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Individual Therapy, Men & Male Individuation, 1

July 17th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, male, men

Male individuation is a man’s uniquely individual path; it’s the goal of individual therapy for men.

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Often, discussions about “therapy for men” lapse into really regrettable stereotypes that would be completely unacceptable in discussions about therapy for women.  Is there a way beyond this?

Here are four profoundly worthwhile questions relating to men in individual therapy.

Can You be a Male and be an Individual?

Looking at the shallow and stereotypical images of men that abound in our culture, it may seem that the answer to that question is “No”.  However, when men closely examine their individual lives and stories, they often realize that they actually have been walking a highly unique path.  They have things in common with other men, but much that is truly their own.

What is it that our culture does to us that makes us think that this isn’t true?

Is It OK for a Male to Have Problems or Weaknesses?

Our culture socializes men to be intensely competitive with each other, about nearly everything.  As a result, even in 2012, it’s easy for a man to interpret any weakness — on his part, or other men’s — as losing, with all that implies in terms of shame and failure.   So, many men work extremely hard to avoid any evidence of “loser behaviour” — a.k.a. being human.

Can You be a Male and Have a Life Journey?

Males are supposed to be strong.  That image of being strong is supposed to include being — and staying — in control.  So, it isn’t surprising that men feel strong pressure to appear in control — to others, and especially to themselves.  Men are supposed to have it all together, and to have everything more or less figured out.  That sometimes makes it hard for them to acknowledge that they need to grow and become as part of the natural personal journey of life, and of becoming themselves.

What Does Male Individuation Really Mean?

Above all, it means that a man accepts everything that he is, and seeks, as much as he can, to integrate it all into wholeness.  It also means accepting himself in his identity as a man in his own way, whether or not that exactly accords with the images of men that have been held out to him by family, society and male peers.  It entails finding a freedom to affirm and rejoice in who or what he is, and to relate to others, male or female, out of that freedom.  The journey of individual therapy can affirm men, and greatly assist in the unfolding of that process.


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Jung on Individual Therapy & the Psychological Complex

July 7th, 2012 · complex, individual therapy, psychological complex, therapy

Individual therapy, as Jung reminds us in the quote below, has a great deal to do with working with the psychological complex, in all its forms.

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The term “psychological complex” used in a depth psychotherapy sense is now widespread in our culture.  For instance, just recently, a pundit was writing about “Canada’s superiority complex“.  But few realize that it was Jung who discovered the psychological complex, and first applied it to individual therapy.  He tells us here exactly what complexes are.

The Image of a Psychological Situation

There are certain very powerful emotional experiences of which we carry an inner image, in Jung’s terminology.  These can stem from early life, or from later times as well.  These “images” can involuntarily replay for us whenever we encounter a situation that is similar to the original experience(s) that created the psychological complex.

Strongly Emotionally Coloured

When a complex gets activated, it can bring up surprising emotions that might shock our non-complexed selves.  We can sometimes find that the emotional impact is so great that we can’t reason, or calm down.  You know the type of scenario: “Don’t mention Liberals to Uncle Frank; he goes wild!”

Incompatible with Consciousness

For Jung, complexes essentially have a “mind of their own”.  How we are when we’re in the grips of a complex can have little to do with how we might feel, think and deal with things when we aren’t in its grip.  Often, a psychological complex can be more or less in the driver’s seat [e.g., think “road rage”].

Fairly Autonomous and Only Partially Controlled by the Ego

The difficulty with complexes is that, more often than not, they are not totally under the control of the ego.  This means that, although we may wish to overcome them, or move them out of our lives, it is not a simple matter of “whupping up” the will power to do so.  No matter how much will power or concentration we may try to exert, it is likely not to be enough.

What Can We Do About Complexes?

To really start to resolve a complex, it is essential to explore its roots in the unconscious mind.  It’s only when we get to the conflict or the wound that is at the heart of a complex, and make that wound, and the feeling around it into consciousness, that we can begin to take the energy out of the complex, and begin to have an increased capacity to avoid being completely sidelined by it.


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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 3: Thin Mask

June 4th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, masks

In “Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2“, I dealt with the “overly thick” persona or social mask — but can the mask also be overly thin?

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Wearing a fragile glass mask?

A number of my readers have pointed out in responses to that earlier post that it most certainly can — and that’s an individuation issue!

Not Guarding Our Treasure

Many of us can relate to the experience of feeling overly open or overly exposed in social situations.  Sometimes, we can put ourselves “out there”, and have the clear sense that others either don’t understand, value, or respect the aspects of ourselves that we have shown to them.

Vulnerable and Unprotected

Especially with those with who are not intimates, social interactions can feel dangerous without an adequately protective social mask or persona.  We can feel genuinely vulnerable, or at risk, facing issues of identity and anxiety.  Individual therapy shows that sometimes the injury done through inappropriate self-disclosure or social interaction with others can lead to real and lasting wounds.  Often those coming from different cultural environments can feel particularly vulnerable, when the persona or social mask required in a different social milieu may be very different.

Believing the Fun House Mirror

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A danger of not adequately respecting or protecting our inner life or individuation process, is that we may end up accepting the evaluations that others place on us.  That’s the psychological equivalent of looking in the mirror in a fun house, and taking the distorted image to be our real face.  This can happen unconsciously before we are even aware of what has happened, and we can find ourselves now devaluing ourselves and dealing with shame on a deep and unwarranted level.

Sincerety AND Respect for the Inner Person

There’s a balance that we have to maintain when it comes to the social mask or persona.  A mask that is too thick hides us from the world, and keeps us trapped in an impersonal, unrelated place, where we cannot be ourselves in the social world.  A mask that is too thin threatens to allow others to see aspects of our inmost self and cherished inner life that can make social contact unbearable.  The crucial thing can be to find the appropriate balance, where we protect the treasures of the self, and are also able to be ourselves in the world with freedom.  Finding the freedom to do this is a key part of individuation, and individual therapy.


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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.

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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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