Journeying Toward Wholeness

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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

© 2020 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

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Facing Loneliness and Depression in the COVID-19 Experience

March 30th, 2020 · loneliness and depression

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

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

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

How COVID-19 Isolation Affects Us

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

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

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

Loneliness & Depression Need to be Addressed

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

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

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

Connecting with Others; Preserving Your Inner Life

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you peace, resilience and good connections,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Coping with Uncertainty & Fear in Times of Disruption

March 23rd, 2020 · coping with uncertainty

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

Sign of the times…

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

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

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

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

Beatles, “Penny Lane”

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

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

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

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

Steps We Can Take to Address Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Coronavirus: Coping with COVID 19 Uncertainty and Anxiety

March 16th, 2020 · coronavirus, COVID 19

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

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

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

Psychological Impact of Coronavirus

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

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

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

Avoiding Panic and Herd Mentality

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

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

Finding Personal Power and Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

With best wishes to all during this demanding period,

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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

March 9th, 2020 · do humans have instincts

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

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

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

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

Near to Both Body and Instinct

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

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

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

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

Denying Our Instinct

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

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

Living in Our Instinct

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

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Want Effective, Supportive Psychotherapy? Choose Long Term

March 2nd, 2020 · supportive psychotherapy

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

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

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

What Should Good Therapy Be Like?

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

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

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

Effective Psychotherapy for Major Life Issues?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support to Engage with My Life

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Life Changes: How Can We Face Major Life Transitions?

February 24th, 2020 · life changes

Life changes are growing in size and frequency in our lives, as we move further into the twenty-first century.

The question of how we will deal with these major life transitions is becoming more and more important for us as individuals as we each confront the challenges of our particular life journey. How will change come to you? And how will you cope with it? Perhaps the reality of big life changes is something you’re dealing with even now.

Traumatic Transition

Life changes can be raw, even violent events that strip away the certainties in our lives, leaving us without much defense against the impacts of life. The raw force of unmitigated change can be devastating.

Michael Enright, the host of the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition gave a powerful example of this on the show’s February 21 episode. In the feature item “Can Canada find a housing solution for its homeless?”, he quoted a shocking statistic: of the approximately 35,000 homeless people in Canada, between 3,000 and 5,000 are veterans of the Canadian military, many of them with operational experience in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the experience that a significant proportion of veterans have with return to civilian life is pretty emblematic of how not to deal with major life changes. Many are given very little preparation or assistance with the return to “civvy street”, and find themselves basically thrown into an environment that can seem very daunting and unfamiliar after living a military life for an extended period. As one veteran, Philip Kitchen, put it,

I love the military, the way it worked, the leadership, the opportunities. I was keen on my job…. The transition to civilian life is so hard, I can’t describe it. I had never been a civilian in adult life.

The consensus of a great many service and government agencies is that veterans are given very little preparation for undergoing the major life transition they will face.

Discharged veterans are a powerful example of what often happens around major life changes in our fast-paced, rapidly emerging society. Individuals are often ripped out of stable situations, and plunged into new, unfamiliar circumstances without any prior preparation or support. It can cost the individual a great deal, psychologically, to have to deal with change in this manner.

Beyond A Naive Approach to Life Changes

Many people in our time attempt a kind of “heroic” approach to life changes, whether it’s shifting careers, leaving a marriage, retiring, losing s spouse, re-marrying, moving to a new city, or any of a range of other major changes. In our era, people frequently just wade right in, often without really acknowledging what is involved emotionally in making a truly life-altering change. This can be very difficult and painful.

Our ancestors actually did a better job of this kind of thing than we do. Many indigenous cultures, and by no means least, Canada’s own First Nations, embody awareness of the need for processes of initiation when individuals went through major life changes.

If an individual in an indigenous culture was to go through a major life change, such as the transition from childhood to adulthood, his or her journey would likely be recognized through a rite of passage. Such a ceremonial process of initiation might span a considerable amount of time. In its complete form, as outlined by the famous scholar Arnold van Gennep, such a process of initiation would have three parts:

  • Separation, in which the individual goes through a withdrawal from his or her old status, and prepares to move to something new;
  • Transitional Phase, an ambiguous state, in which the individual has left the old identity behind, but has not yet taken on the new identity; and,
  • Incorporation of New Identity, in which the individual completes the rite, assumes his or her new identity, and moves forward into life with that new identity. This part of the rite is often symbolized by some sort of outward representation or recognition of adopting the new identity.

Once an individual passes early adulthood, our society doesn’t seem to do that well at providing rites of passage to acknowledge major life transitions. That may be part of the reason that there often seems to be so much anxiety and depression associated with life changes in the lives of individuals in our culture.

Life Changes and Rites of Passage

It’s essential that people give themselves compassion as they confront major life changes. It’s vital that they give themselves the psychological room to acknowledge everything that is happening to them — the losses, the disorientation, and the joys and pains of coming into a new lived reality and a new identity.

This acknowledgment can be a very demanding task in our fast-paced, impersonal, “aren’t-you-over-that-yet?” society. One important support and resource in doing this crucial work can be a solid alliance with a Jungian depth psychotherapist, as we move through all the life changes that are part of the journey to wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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Healing Shame about Aging

February 10th, 2020 · healing shame

People become much more conscious of the fact of aging through midlife and into the later years. This awareness often comes with a sense of shame. How can we begin healing shame like this?

I remember in my own case one particular moment when I began to feel this type of emotion, when I noticed a simple change in my hands that made them appear more venous, and well, …older. A very small thing, and yet very uncomfortable. Certainly many people past the age of even 35 can relate some experience of this type.

Is there any way that we can move forward through our various life transitions, that would allow us to begin healing shame about aging?

How Did Getting Older Become a Stigma?

Dr. Barry S. Anton, former President of the American Psychological Association relates a story which will resonate with many of us.

At a recent dinner party, a friend asked, “How old do you feel you are when you think of yourself?” To my amazement, everyone at the table answered that they felt at least 25 years younger than they actually were. Were my friends in denial? Were they yearning for the fountain of youth? …. Were we ashamed of our seniority? In our culture, youth is celebrated and old age dreaded. [Italics mine]

Barry S. Anton, “No Shame in Being Older”

Dr. Anton is surely right: we live in a culture that worships youth. Billions of dollars are spent on advertising products designed to make people feel younger, and, above all else to help them look younger. Looking older is considered a very bad thing. This is especially true for women, but each passing year finds increasing pressure applied to men to present themselves as more youthful, too.

In our culture a particularly powerful form of shame is body shame. If we don’t have the body we are “supposed” to have, we experience intense shame. In this sense, one powerful aspect of shame associated with aging is bodily shame.

Silence Around the Shame of Aging

Shame leads to silence. Evolutionary psychology shows that the emotion of shame evolved to prevent us from doing things that would lead to us being outcast from the our group or tribe, which in prehistoric times could mean the difference between life and death. Shame prevents group members from doing things that are taboo, and it also keeps group members from talking or thinking about things which are taboo to the group. As U. Montreal Professor Daniel Sznycer states,

The feeling of shame is an internal signal that pulls us away from acts that would jeopardize how much other people value [us].

Shame is fundamentally tied to social interaction and the norms of the group. In our age and time, people who are getting older feel pressure to be silent about their aging — because speaking about the challenges of getting older, and perhaps even celebrating parts of the aging process, would tend to challenge the norms of our social group, which include the idea that “younger is just better”.

But is younger better? While our culture seems to be convinced it’s true, many cultures have had very different values. To see a very powerful example of that, we need look no further than our own Canadian First Nations. As the First Nations Pedagogy Online website clearly states:

Elders have been the Gatekeepers of First Nations wisdom, knowledge, and history. Elders traditionally hold crucial roles in supporting…First Nations communities. They impart tradition, knowledge, culture, [and] values.

We might feel that “Well, that’s all fine for First Nations — we’re different.” Yet the fact is that it’s not all that long ago that elders held a similar place in our own cultures, and European societies also greatly valued people as they grew older. Perhaps an important part of healing shame about aging consists of re-connecting with this stream in human culture — and re-affirming the experience and fruit of living in ourselves.

The Wise Old Woman / Man

Throughout the literature and cultures of the world, the image of the wise old woman or wise old man play prominent roles. From a Jungian perspective, they represent an inherent capacity within us to respond in a wise way, from the depths of our processed experience, and from the promptings of instinct.

We need to re-connect with that potential wise elder in ourselves as we grow older. The elder represents our own capacity to respond to the situations of life in a wise way. We need to recognize that this may be a unique wisdom, also. No one else has had exactly the life journey that you have had, and no one else can tell exactly the story that you can tell. The more we work on ourselves, the more we realize how this is profoundly true, precious and worthy of great respect.

Coming to a place of appreciating and affirming the elder in ourselves involves recognizing, affirming and reflecting on the unique parts of our own journey. This work of self-compassion and healing the shame of aging can often be greatly assisted through working with a skilled and genuinely supportive depth psychotherapist.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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What’s My Life Story? PART 2: Getting to the Real Story

February 3rd, 2020 · what's my life story

In the last post, we had a good look at the power of our stories, and we began to explore a key question: “What’s my life story?”

“What’s my life story?” might seem like a simple enough question, but appearances can be deceptive! There are any number of stories that might be told about your life, but the key question is, what’s the story that you tell yourself about your life?

Uncovering the subtleties and details of your life story may take some real effort, because important parts of the story may be in the unconscious, rather than in the conscious mind. It may be a real process to bring that story out into the open, but it’s vitally important to do it. As we uncover the parts of the story, here are two key questions to keep in front of us:

  • Is the story I’m discovering authentic? Does it correspond to the actual facts of my life, to what happened?
  • Is the story I’m telling self-compassionate? Is this story of mine based on self-acceptance, and is it kind to me?

Is the Story I Tell Myself Helpful, or Self-Defeating?

Lots of times, when we start to uncover the story that really runs our show, we start to realize that it has toxic elements. This is often particularly true with stories from early childhood, or stories that are traumatic in nature, some of which may even be outside the reach of the conscious mind.

It can be really valuable to try and get in contact with the story or stories that you are telling yourself. Here’s a few things to try, in terms of getting in touch with those stories:

  1. Identify and write out the stories that you tell yourself about your life. Think back to your powerful stories about early childhood life, and think about the stories that provide meaning to your current life.
  2. Ask yourself whether those stories are helpful, or whether they undermine your sense of worth, uniqueness and meaning.

When My Story Stays Unconscious

“What’s my life story? –I haven’t got a clue!” It’s common enough for people to find that they have limited or no awareness of what the story or stories are that truly structure their lives. The stories are in the unconscious mind, and have an immense effect on the individual’s response to various situations. Yet they remain partially or entirely unknown to the conscious mind, which is often convinced that it’s solely in charge, and really can’t answer the question of “What’s my life story?”

There are ways to become more fully aware of our stories, and to bring them into focus. One is to think about the situations and relationships in your life that are most important to you, and that affect you the most emotionally. Once you identify them, really examine them to see if there are any patterns or themes in the way that those important elements of your life play out. You may well see key elements of your dominant story in those common thematic motifs.

If you remember your dreams, it may be important to see if any prominent themes appear in their imagery as well. You may well see key themes in dreams, including archetypal themes, which is to say, those very big, very universal themes that have structured human life for as long as there have been humans. As Jungian Analyst Andrew Samuels tells us, archetypes “cluster around the basic and universal experiences of life” — things like birth, death, coming to adulthood, marriage, key life struggles,and many more.

It may well be that there are archetypes in your personal story that represent potential for connection to your true story, and point the way to how to live it out more fully. Often, when one is confronted with a true or fundamental element of one’s own story, there is a shock of recognition.

Living from a Healing Story

In the words of Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of myth,

If you’re going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all.

All of us need to get closer to the power of our own personal big, healing story. No human being ever makes it through the life journey without being disempowered at some point by stories that are small, inauthentic and self-punishing. So, like some character in a myth or a fairy tale, life invites us to go on a quest in search of the real story of ourselves.

The journey to our own real story is one we have to individually undertake. Yet, a solid relationship with a good depth psychotherapist can be of tremendous support as you seek out the true story of you.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 2020 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


Some rights reserved by Rab Lawrence (Creative Commons Licence)

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