Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Extroverts and Coronavirus: Coping with “Shelter in Place”

May 11th, 2020 · extroverts and coronavirus

We started to look at issues around COVID-19 and personality type last week; this week’s post explores extroverts and coronavirus.

There are significant differences between introverts and extroverts when it comes to their experience of the coronavirus lockdown. Granted, it’s true that even strong introverts can have too much social isolation in similar ways to extroverts, and also that both introverts and extroverts struggle with the mixing of private home space and work space. Yet the strong extrovert runs into some issues that are quite unique to her or his personality type.

What exactly do we actually mean when we say that someone is an “extrovert”? It’s not widely known that C.G. Jung actually developed the concept of extroversion. As he described it, an extrovert is someone who seeks to be involved with other people and the external world with “a desire to influence and be influenced by events.” He was referring to the person who is brought to life by social interaction, quite possibly in groups and who is often “the life of the party”, the “people person”. Jung also defines an extrovert as someone who is energized by social interactions.

What Happens When You Lock Down an Extrovert?

If you’re an extrovert, you thrive on engagement with other people and with the wider world. Socializing with others gives you energy and makes you feel good. As an extrovert, you likely value being around different people, socializing with them, and doing a variety of activities.

Unfortunately, being around people, face-to-face socialization, and getting the chance to switch from activity to activity are just the things that the current COVID-19 lockdown situation makes difficult. If we abide with the lockdown restrictions, we can’t mix with people other than our immediate family. Social distancing at 2 metres apart is not the same thing as face-to-face interaction and the brain knows it. In addition, if you have each person in a conversation wearing a protective face mask — well, let’s just say, party’s over.

Extroverts and Coronavirus — and Denial!

One important way in which we see extroverts attempting to get the social connection that they need is by using various technologies to get it virtually. We’re all aware of the advent of online happy hours, Netflix viewing parties, Zoom group meetings, virtual yoga, Tai Ch’i and exercise classes and all the other varieties of virtual interaction which have arisen — including the true heyday of online therapy.

These virtual techniques can offer assistance with the effects of social isolation. They can actually help extroverted individuals to feel a little more at ease and more positive about their life situation during the lockdown period. However, they are probably not providing enough gratification to truly be sustaining throughout an extended lockdown.

The danger might be that outer-directed individuals might not notice the emotional effects of the lockdown. In fact, one of the features of the lockdown that seems very prevalent is a sort persistent tiredness and lack of energy that many people are experiencing. This seems like it might well be rooted in a kind of low-grade depression.

Expressing Extroverted Energy During Lockdown

If as an individual, you are experiencing this, it’s very important to acknowledge this feeling, as it may well be one of the accompaniments of extroversion and coronavirus lockdown. The Washington Post quotes human resources research scientist Dr. Michael Wilmot:

being active, engaging in activities that are new and exciting, and experiencing positive emotions are [all] important for extroverts.

While opportunities to do these things may be more limited during the lockdown than previously, they do still exist. Staying active is something of great importance to extroverts, so, if you live in a place where it’s still permitted, like Ontario, walking, hiking, running and biking are all great ways to do this. It may be, too, that there’s joy and life in dancing or playing “air guitar” while listening to loud music, and if you can do this with someone else over Facetime or another app, so much the better!

Another thing that might have meaning for extroverts in the course of lockdown is doing things that have a positive or valuable effect on the outer world, such as:

  • contributing in some way to your favourite cause or charity;
  • being active in some way such as letter writing for some political or social cause that is important to you; or,
  • expressing thanks in some meaningful way to first-line responders or essential workers.

Finally, it may be valuable and meaningful to extroverts to consider therapy such as Jungian depth psychotherapy to help explore their own feelings, and to discover particular things that each person can do to express their own feelings and to allow themselves to feel truly connected with others and with the world.

With very best wishes to each of you as we make our way through this period towards its hopefully rapid conclusion, and as you move on your journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


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Inner Life and the Lockdown: COVID 19 and Introverts

May 4th, 2020 · covid 19 and introverts

I’m looking at COVID-19 and introverts this week as part of a two-part series on personality type and the lockdown.

Understanding the ways in which the lockdown situation impacts different personality types is important As introverts and extroverts, it’s essential for us to understand how this strange situation is impacting us. It’s also vital for us to know how we can take care of ourselves, hopefully grow, and possibly flourish, under the present conditions.

This week the focus will be on introverts. Next week, we’ll take a closer look at the impact on extroverts.

Is Lockdown “Introvert Heaven”?

In speaking with quite a number of clients, it’s striking to hear the kind of messages that people recall receiving from the media and other sources back at the start of the COVID-19 period, when we were all just starting to think about lockdown. Many of us wondered, “How are people going to manage all the spare time they will have on their hands?” Often, observers and experts like therapists and psychologists also observed that introverts would probably have less anxiety and an easier time managing a stay-at-home environment than would extroverts.

It seems intuitive that introverts would have an easier time than extroverts with lockdown conditions. With more focus on the inner life, and less need for outer social interaction, wouldn’t a stay-at-home world be better for introverts?

Well, it may be that the lockdown is “better” for introverts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “good”. There are things that introverts are finding very hard about being locked down.

For an introvert, “home” has typically been a sanctuary from the outside world, a place to get away from all the external social interaction. Yet now, home has become something different. As Abby Ohlheiser recently wrote in the MIT Technology Review, for many people, “[l]iving rooms that were once a sanctuary from people-filled offices, gyms, bars, and coffee shops became all those things at once.” As she goes on to say, people are attempting to virtually re-create what lockdown has taken away, but,

…[t]he new version, however, only vaguely resembles what we left behind. Everything is flattened and pressed to fit into the confines of chats and video-conference apps like Zoom, which was never designed to host our work and social lives all at once. The result for introverts, extroverts and everyone in between, is the bizarre feeling of being socially overwhelmed despite the fact that we’re staying as far away from each other as we can. [Italics mine]

So, it seems as if, under lockdown conditions, introverts may not be getting what they really want or need. So then, what do introverts actually need?

COVID-19 and Introverts: Awareness Needed

Pretty clearly, the capacity to get away from social contact and to relate to one’s inner thoughts and feelings, is fundamental to what it means to be an introvert. Whether you’re out in the busy entertainment district of a huge city, or on your own in the wilderness, the ability to connect with your inner self is the hallmark of an introvert. So, even if we’re in our homes on our own, and ostensibly “in private”, an introvert is going to need self-connection.

What is startling about the COVID-19 situation is the ways in which it can interrupt self-connection. In the midst of “social self-isolation”, the introvert can find him- or herself in the midst of his or her own home, surrounded by technologies that intrude on personal space, together with kids who can’t go to school, dealing with an endless flow of work. As one such introvert working from home put it, “I used to use two hours a day commuting. Now I don’t do that, but that two hours has just become part of the endless flow of work.” In this boundariless space, in the midst of the “privacy” or one’s own home, it’s easy for the personal dimension to get completely lost.

In the midst of lockdown, there is a great need for an introvert to be aware of the things that intrude on the space inside of her or him, and to safeguard that space. It’s a time when, for themselves, and for the people to whom they are connected, introverts have to be aware of, and faithful to, their innermost voices.

COVID-19 and Introverts: Staying Faithful

The challenge for introverts in the midst of lockdown is to connect with their inner life, to stay in touch with it, and to increasingly express that reality in the way they live their lives. This is really the same challenge that introverts face every day of their lives, if they wish to a satisfying life with integrity, that is a reflection of who they uniquely are.

These formidable challenges can also provide an opportunity, despite the fact that this particular period is so demanding. Never has the need been as great for introverts to accept, listen to, and live out who they most fundamentally are. To be faithful to oneself in this period may form the basis of a very significant major life transition.

Psychotherapy in the context of trusting and secure depth psychotherapy can assist the introvert greatly in his or her personal journey towards wholeness.

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


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

April 20th, 2020 · meaning and resilience

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

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

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

Meaning and Resilience Fit Together

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Resilience and Meaning in Our Time

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

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

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

Finding and Serving Your Meaning

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

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

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

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


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Finding Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty and Isolation

April 12th, 2020 · finding hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst

© 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)


Photo by Nenad Stojkovic on (Creative Commons Licence)

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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)


Photo by Nenad Stojkovic on (Creative Commons Licence)

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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)


Photo by Nenad Stojkovic on (Creative Commons Licence)

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