Depth psychotherapy began with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. These two psychology pioneers were intrigued by what they could not see, i.e. the unconscious. They each had their own opinions about the unconscious, not all of which resonate with me. However what does resonate for me is their acceptance of the power of the unconscious. Now what does that have to do with you? The short answer is plenty. For instance, perhaps you have been telling yourself for months (or years) that you are not going to eat any more chocolate. You have many valid, rational reasons for making this decision. But you keep eating chocolate and you keep beating yourself up for it. This is where looking at the issue through the lens of the unconscious may be helpful. We try to see through the issue, not accept the appearance of mere "facts". To start we might ask questions like:What are the unconscious defenses that demand you do not change? How is eating chocolate serving a part of you that is actually trying to protect you? Employing the unconscious opens up a dimension that is not governed by good and bad or should and should not. This dimension is much bigger than those concrete absolutes. It is a dimension that nurtures the untangling of your knotted up spirit.
Accessing the Unconscious
How does one access something that they don’t know? After all, if you think about it, by virtue of being unconscious we don’t know what it is. Well, there are a plethora of ways. Some of the most common are poetry, drawing or painting, music, somatic responses and awareness. One of my personal favorites is Shakespeare. As we pay attention to what intrigues us, allures us, or just won’t go away, we often find inroads to the unconscious. Often the therapeutic relationship opens windows into another dimension; as we gradually accept and trust each other, room is created for different kinds of awareness. And of course, dreams. Dreams are considered by some to be the motherlode of unconscious material.
The unconscious often speaks in symbols. Dreams love the language of symbols. They often give us images, or really strong emotions, or bizarre narratives that seem to make no sense at all. Sometimes our dreams can be very clear, quite explicit and didactic saying you need to do this now! In short, there are no rules to dreams. But within them there is a wealth of guidance asking to be heard. It behooves us to respect dreams and listen, be curious. If we accept the phenomena of dreams as real, and invite them into our consciousness, make them a part of our waking experience of life, we are opening ourselves to a wider and deeper expression of our true spirit.
Twelve Step Compatibility
I have found that depth psychology works really well for those suffering from addicitions who have found help in twelve step programs. These programs offer people a great structure, morality, and community. All of these componets contribute mightily to creating a sober and worthwhile life. For many of my clients, as hard as getting sober was, seeing the world through un-bloodshot eyes is even more difficult. Often seeing life clearly (or at least clearer) does not remove the deeply internalized demons that fed the addiction. So where the program gives solid advice and 24 your support (things I cannot offer), depth psychology explores the essence of one’s soul.
What are we really feeling? What are we deeply afraid of feeling? I have recently discovered that as a little girl I was too afraid to feel afraid. I was also too young and undeveloped to have the words for fear, so I unconsciously built up emotional armor to keep me safely detached from many scary emotions. I could smile and try and make everyone like me, but I couldn’t laugh too loudly or ever feel sad. This strategy allowed me to navigate a lonely childhood, but also kept my world pretty small. I was just too defensive (and scared) to let anyone see me. As adults, we have developed skills that we did not have as children. Our brains and bodies have grown. We have learned how to read, how to take care of ourselves, how to build independent relationships, maybe even acquire skills in critical thinking. But many of us still carry our old emotional wounds; which means we still see the world through the eyes of the terrified child. The therapeutic relationship offers a safe harbor in which to experience layers of denied emotions. And the maturity we have gained through living can give us strength we did not have as children to survive the experience. We can explore the profound sadness, accept the pain of being disappointed again and again, laugh and cry and shake with terror. As we open ourselves to emotional depth, we realize that we can survive feeling. In doing so, we exponentially expand our world because we are no longer defined by our fear.
All of this theory is marvelous, but it doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t directly work in your life. I liken it to the difference between a general and a soldier. The general needs the theory, education, and oversight to see the big picture and understand where the battles are. But it is the boots on the ground soldiers who actually experience the result of all the theory. The infantry are the ones who dodge real bullets, suffer from boredom, hopelessness, and terror; live the day to day war. Each individual experiences that war very differently (and, by the way, I am not suggesting that everyone experiences life as a war. I’m simply drawing an analogy). When we work together it is my responsibility to listen to you and hear what is important to you in your life. I need to meet you where you are, not where a theory says we should be. All of the work is about you and allowing your personal spirit to unfold.