Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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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Jung Freud Individual Therapy & Major Life Transitions 2

February 6th, 2012 · individual therapy, life transitions, major life transitions, therapy

individual therapy
My first post on “A Dangerous Method” looked into the depths of the film to see what it could teach us both about the nature of individual therapy and the psychological character of major life transitions.  This post looks at two other insights that the film offers about major life transitions and the nature of the individuation process.  Both are in the latter part of the film, where, for a time, Jung the healer becomes one who is himself in need of healing.

Here are two further important aspects of Jung’s psychological development portrayed in the film.

3.  Often Growth is Preceded by Depression

At the end of the film, in his last encounter with Sabina Spielrein, we become aware that Jung is suffering from acute depression.  What the film only explores in a cursory way, though, is the way in which this experience of depression and going into the depths of the “night sea journey” eventually leads Jung to a closer and different relationship to himself, the discovery of hitherto unknown parts of his psyche, and eventually to the development of what we know today as his unique psychological perspective.

Jung’s experience highlights an important truth.  Depression involves a submergence of the person into his or her unconscious depths.  But if we can have the courage to go into our depression as Jung did, we often find that it contains within it the very things that the soul needs for its renewal.

4. Everyone Needs an Individual Way Forward

The film ends at the very beginning of a vital stage in Jung’s personal journey.  He has broken with Freud, and ended the relationship with Spielrein.  Implied, but not stated, is that the next few years of Jung’s life will involve an inward journey of the most profound kind, that will ultimately be chronicled in his great Red Book, and, later in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections.

individual therapy


This aspect of Jung’s journey sheds much light on each of our individual journeys.  For when we are confronted with the profoundest types of crisis in our lives, only an individual answer will suffice, as Jung came to know well.  There is a definite type of crisis that is only resolved by a very individual encounter with the unconscious, and within it, the as yet undiscovered aspects of the self.

Wishing you every good thing on your own individual journey to wholeness,

PHOTOS: ©  All rights reserved Sony Pictures Classics 2011

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


Jung Freud Individual Therapy & Major Life Transitions 1

February 2nd, 2012 · individual therapy, life transitions, major life transitions, therapy

individual therapy

The relationship between Freud, Jung and Sabina Spielrein portrayed in the film “A Dangerous Method” provides great insights into effective individual therapy and the psychological impact of major life transitions.  But, both in the media and in the film, these insights are often eclipsed behind the drama of the relationship between Spielrein and Jung.

The film faces a big challenge to convey the nature of the break between Jung and his older mentor/colleague Freud, together with the relationship with Spielrein, a brilliant, forceful and complex personality in her own right.  The film also seeks to convey the immense struggles and conflicts undergone by Jung at this time.

In my next two blog posts, I want to look briefly at 4 major insights into individual therapy and major life transitions portrayed by “A Dangerous Method”.

1.  The Power of Acceptance and Listening

Spielrein came to the Burgholzli, where Jung was a psychiatrist, in grave crisis.   As the film portrays, she may not have been psychotic, but she wasn’t far off.  In using Freud’s novel “talking cure”, Jung took Spielrein seriously as an individual person and engaged with her in a very accepting and affirming way, even affirming her desire to be a medical doctor.  Whatever the weaknesses of Freud’s method, one key aspect of “the talking cure”, embodied in Jung’s deep acceptance of Spielrein — listening, engaging her and entering into her experience — had a profoundly positive effect on her life.  This is essential in good individual therapy to this day.

individual therapy

2.  Even Brilliant People Hit Impasses During Major Life Transitions

This movie is set prior to the beginning of the single greatest crisis in Jung’s life.  This took place in 1913 – 1918.  Looking forward, we know that he will emerge from this time transformed, and with his own developed psychology.  However, just at the time of this movie, Jung is really struggling.  It is characteristic of major life transitions, and especially those that come near midlife, that they can make incredible demands on people, and can often only be resolved by a fundamental change in outlook, and encounter with the hitherto undiscovered parts of the self.

This is not pathology. People with real difficulties at these points in life are not mentally ill.  These are the kinds of challenges that people — even brilliant, very successful people — often experience at times of major life transition.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll look at insights from the film pertaining to growth, depression and individuality.

PHOTOS: ©  All rights reserved Sony Pictures Classics 2011
© 2011 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)

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Jungian Therapy, Loneliness and Life Transitions

January 11th, 2012 · Jungian, Jungian therapy, life transitions, loneliness, Transitions

Jungian therapy

Loneliness is often the frequent companion of major life transitions; Jungian therapy recognizes that finding ways to cope with it can be essential at key turning points in life.

Recently, I’ve been struck by the number of clients who have come to see me in the course of undergoing very significant life transitions.  The situations of these clients bring home to me a lot of significant truths about the loneliness experienced at such times.

Here are 4 ways in which people can find themselves alone in the midst of such life transitions.

Not Being Understood or Accepted

Individuals can experience great loneliness in the course of life transitions when a previously taken-for-granted level of acceptance, understanding or connection is no longer present in a relationship.  The individual may feel that he or she has been understood and accepted for who he or she is, only to discover that those who previously seemed to accept them now can no longer do so.  The spouse who follows the inclinations of the inner self, and finds themselves in a place to which their partner simply cannot relate, would be a prime example.

Isolating Events or Circumstances

Intense loneliness can result for individuals when a life altering event fundamentally alters perception or consciousness.  Such individuals can feel completely isolated from others, even though they may previously have been close to them.  Serious illness, injury, job loss, or other personal tragedy would all be prime examples.

Difficult & Profound Transformations

Life transitions can stem from situations where an individual realizes that “I can’t go on living like this anymore”.  Often this type of loneliness occurs when an individual feels that they can no longer live confined by a given social mask, or persona.  Changes in professional, sexual or gender identity would all be prime examples.

Faced with Difficult Choices

Often a deep loneliness can result from struggling with major moral choices.  The need to courageously make a decision that transcends black and white moral answers, such as whether to keep and raise a child suffering from serious developmental issues, or to give up the child for adoption,  would be a case in point.

Jungian therapy

Often connecting with someone empathetic skilled in depth psychotherapy or Jungian therapy, who understands the issues around the loneliness of life transitions, can be of great assistance.

PHOTOS: © Anke Van Wyk | ; © Jerryway |
© 2011 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)


Individuation, Our 40s & 50s, & Major Life Transitions

December 2nd, 2011 · Individuation, life transitions, major life transitions

major life transitions
At a time in our culture when people are focussed on the individuation process, in their 40s and 50s, major life transitions seem to now be occurring with ever greater frequency.  How can we cope?

At a stage in life that once would have been a time of consolidation and reflection — the essence of individuation — people are encountering circumstances that are impinging on their lives.  Workplaces are nowhere near as stable as they were even 30 years ago.  Neither are family units.  Major life transitions are often making people less willing to connect, and much more isolated and alone than in previous times.

Stress from Imposed Change and Demands

Greatly increased levels of stress are the result.  People are often feeling trapped in their situations.  For instance, they feel work related stress resulting from needing to continuously adapt to change.  They often feel, overall, that they are facing their lives with too few resources, and considerable economic uncertainty.

It’s Different than it was Even 20 Years Ago

The rapid pace of change in our lives means that many people in their 40s, 50s and 60s have no effective role model or mentor for a phase in their lives that is often of great importance for individuation.  Individuals often feel that they are dealing with situations for which they have no effective roadmap.   They feel that they confront more and more that is uncontrollable and unpredictable, and this can easily result in individuals making their lives smaller and smaller .

It’s the Same as it was 100,000 Years Ago

Yet for all of us, there are certain common elements to the human journey.  As for our distant ancestors, there is a need deep in us for meaning, and for a stable sense of self.  There is an overwhelming need for a sense of being rooted in the cosmos, and for a sense that the journey each of us is on in our lives is one that truly matters to us personally.  In our time, the search for this kind of meaning, the process of individuation, involves encounter with the depths of the self.

Often the best way to further that process is through entering into depth psychotherapy such as Jungian analysis.  The resilience needed to survive creatively through the major life transitions of our time stems from the awareness of the solidity and rootedness of the self, grounded in the truth and hope of our own personal myth.

PHOTO: © Alon Othnay |
© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga

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Jungian Psychotherapy & Major Life Transitions: 4 Truths

June 19th, 2011 · Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, life transitions, major life transitions

major life transitions

Major life transitions are a primary concern of Jungian psychotherapy and depth psychotherapy, because they matter so much to human beings.  Such transitions include: movement from one stage of life to another; major illnesses or injuries (great piece from Globe & Mail on this) ; career change or job loss; and, changes in key relationships.

There’s much to be learned about transitions from the archetypally based initiation rituals of aboriginal peoples.  From that perspective:

  • Life Transitions are Journeys

Life is a journey, composed of a series of journeys.  The journey is a fundamental human metaphor, but  life transitions have a particular character.  As in initiation rituals, there is a phase of disorientation, what anthropologists call the liminal phase.  In this stage, we don’t see the way forward, and we have to rely on something we don’t understand to pull us through.

  • Life Transitions Involve a Death

In a key transition in our lives, something must die.  Our old relationship to ourselves and the world must pass away, to make room for something new.  This is the pain in major transitions: something within us screams in protest that this can’t happen, that our old way of viewing our lives is the way.  We may deeply grieve its loss, yet the old way must and does die.

  • Something is Trying to be Born

In every life transition, no matter how painful, something is trying to be born in our consciousness.  There is a different understanding of life, self and others that is pressing forward.  It may be something we are extremely reluctant to let be born, yet it is pressing forward, wanting to exist in us.

  • Receiving A New Name

In initiation ceremonies among aboriginal peoples, the initiate will often receive a new name upon completing the transition of initiation.  This reflects what has occurred: the person who was has died; in his or her place, someone new exists.  So it is in our transitions: we are no longer who we were.  We have a new consciousness and new relationships.  We move forward into a new, unfamiliar world, with a new awareness.

One of my most profound transitions resulted from the birth of a child who was deaf.  It has taken me a very long time to understand how this has changed my whole approach to being myself and being alive.

What have been the profound transitions in your life?  I’d welcome your comments or emails.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst | Oakville and Mississauga Ontario


PHOTO: © Pavel Losevsky |
© 2011 Brian Collinson
2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario


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Twitter, Personal Growth, Self Discovery and Self Creation

January 7th, 2011 · Jungian, life transitions, personal growth, Psychotherapy

If you’re interested in quotations on Twitter that concern psychotherapy, Self and personal growth, as I tend to be, you start to notice a very interesting to-and-fro of ideas about what it is to grow as a person.  If you look closely, you can see that there is a deep division into two distinct camps on a very fundamental question concerning the nature of the Self.  We could call one school of thought the “Self Discovery” camp, and the other, the “Self Creation” camp.  They seem to have very contrasting ideas about the nature of growth and maturation as a person.

Self Discovery

One kind of Twitter person will emphasize the joys of the adventure of self discovery.  The implication here is that the self in some sense pre-exists, that the fundamental nature of an individual human being is there to be known, and that the business of a human is to explore and find what is already there.  “You can’t be something other than your true nature”, those who adhere to this view will tell you, “you must find out who you really are, and live in accord with that.”  For such people, any attempt to “create yourself” is doomed to failure.  A good example of this kind of approach was recently tweeted by OctavioTomas :

Self discovery is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Not easy facing the ‘man in the mirror’.

Self Creation

Another whole approach would emphasize that we actually create ourselves through the choices we make, the steps we take, and our will power.  A good example of this approach would be this quote tweeted recently by liveaquote:

We can change our lives. We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish..

For a person coming from this perspective, the self is pretty malleable, and it would certainly seem to be subject to the power of the will, to such an extent, in fact, that as individual persons we can “be exactly what we wish”.

These views don’t seem to be readily compatible.  So who’s right?  Well, as new developments in the emerging fields of neuroscience (as discussed by Lakoff and Johnson) and evolutionary psychology and psychiatry (as discussed by Stevens and Chance, among many others) are refuting the idea that human beings come into this world with no fundamental character.  Rather we have a nature that is already substantially determined.

This research supports what CG Jung continually stressed in his work in the first half of last century, that we do have a specific nature, and the task of psychological growth entails coming to the completest understanding that we can of what that nature imparted to us really is.  As Jung said vehemently on several occasions “man is not born a tabula rasa (blank slate)”.

So, does that settle it, that, as Popeye used to put it, “I yam what I yam“?

Detective and Gardener

Well, not exactly.  We do have a fixed nature with which we come into life, but that’s not the whole story.  For, once we get into our lives, we are continually confronted with all kinds of powerful influences on our development and our personality.  Our early experience in the family and in the institutions of early life can affect us profoundly.  We can find ourselves taken in directions deeply at odds with our true nature.  As an extreme example, consider what sometimes happens to extemely gifted, precocious children, where they are forced into molds or patterns that don’t represent who they really are.  There is a great deal of creativity and strength that is involved in finding our way back to our own true self nature, and bringing things out of the unconscious so that they no longer control us.  Much of this work is often done in the second half of life, and nowadays is often assisted by some form of depth psychotherapy, like Jungian analysis.

So there is both a process of self-discovery and a process of self-creation that is involved in personal growth.  There is also a third thing, which is perhaps the hardest for contemporary western people.  And that is the process of allowing our true selves to emerge, waiting on ourselves — almost tending ourselves.

What Is Growth Like for You?

Have you had experiences that you would describe as “experiences of self-discovery”?  Or, again as “experiences where I created or re-created (!) myself”?   How about experiences of watching yourself grow, and emerge?  I’d be very interested to hear from you about such experiences in your comments, either below, or via confidential email.

Wishing you the fullness of growth, and the depth of experience of yourself, on your personal journey to wholeness,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst


PHOTO CREDIT:  © Melissa King |

© 2011 Brian Collinson