Jungian Therapy: Trusting the Process

“…we are committed to the dream process as it is guided by the Self quite independent of our personal hopes.”(p.70-71) Marion Woodman, The Ravaged Bridegroom.

People often seek out therapy because of a particular problem or crisis that has arisen. Confronted with some difficulty, there is usually a degree of suffering for which the individual feels unequipped to cope. They present in therapy saying they need to fix something: their relationship, marriage, a bad work situation, communication problems. Maybe it is their grief, or their child, or their grief over their child. Sometimes they believe that they have narrowed it down and even diagnosed themselves “I have social phobia” or “I suffer from depression”. Regardless of the reason for approaching therapy, usually there is a request to get things done, solved, today (and preferably), yesterday.

This quick-fix fixation can be traced to many sources. In part, we as therapists play into it by developing our specialties our niches and our expertise. There is, of course, a richness implied and lived within a specialization, but the shadow side, can lead to compartmentalization. This promotes or identifies with the idea of being able to isolate a problem, work on and fix it in isolation of the comprehensive totality of the psyche and individual. A Jungian approach, in my way of thinking, precludes the luxury of a specialty, unless of course you consider the Jungian approach in and of itself as the specialty, which I certainly do. Jungian therapists can in fact almost be more accurately described as linguists, and detectives, attuned to interpreting and decoding the language of the psyche. The expectations related to idiosyncratic problems with idiosyncratic solutions can in part also be traced to trends in psychotherapy driven by research for ‘best practice’ (read also cost effective), those limited, short-term, therapies that target a specific problem. Like a mechanic, we are often expected to diagnose the problem of the day, get in there with our wrench, or blow torch or whatever tool has been designated as the best tool for the job and get the ol’ jalopy back to being road worthy.

Many a depth oriented therapist cringes inwardly at expectant individuals who arrive to spend good money in order to be fixed quickly, efficiently, cost effectively and ideally, painlessly. To be provided with formulas and step by step instructions similar to the ones that arrive with their toddlers toys on Christmas morning. Connect part A with part B until you hear a click and voila! Ce’est fini.
Before I digress into countless metaphors though, let’s return to the ol’ jalopy. Here is my guilty admission: Whenever I take my car in for a service, a bumper to bumper look over, inevitably there is a long list of things that the mechanic has found on his or her search to fix that ONE problem that I, or sometimes my car’s computer malfunction light indicator, identified as needing fixing. I often say to the mechanic “tell me the top three things that if I don’t let you do today, will result in my car blowing up in the next month or so. Let’s do the rest later.”

Many people would (rightfully) argue that this is not the best way to get the most mileage out of your vehicle; that you are potentially setting yourself up for more expensive repairs down the road. Now if we take this same approach to our psyche then the true costs really do outweigh the short term benefits. Time and money are also factors for a person’s desire to get their problems fixed quickly. Who wants to endure what might seem to be protracted suffering? Who wants to spend what can seem to be lots of money on therapy? Who wants to open a Pandora’s Box into god only knows what?

Certainly when we turn our attention to the unconscious, a problem that is happening with an individual will often be making headline news in the contents of the unconscious, for example, dreams. However, often what are being presented are the pieces of a puzzle that will require time and attention. Additionally, the “problem” could be presented as something that neither the therapist nor the individual had considered. There can be instructions for the person engaging in therapy to be sure, including writing down dreams, engaging in active imagination, spending time with the body and in nature, as well as instructions that arise directly from the individuals unconscious. These types of instructions can often strike the novice as nebulous, whimsical and well, not very…active.
The irony being of course, that being an active participant in a Jungian process is a time commitment that involves often grueling work. This work also opens vistas and rewards that cannot often be found in 5-8 sessions of cognitive restructuring, deep breathing training, or education about the fight or flight response. To be sure, these are all valid and useful techniques, however in my experience these are often simply tools that might be helpful depending on the individual. Often a more intense process is being called for. One that is custom made for the individual.

The opening quote by Marion Woodman aptly summarizes and reminds us that the best way to “get results” is to turn the process over to the unconscious. This requires a certain amount of surrender and trust on both the part of the therapist and the individual in therapy. There is a lot of pressure on both to be ego driven; to get things done efficiently, logically and painlessly. Giving over to the unconscious may seem paradoxically simplistic, as though there is not enough “Doingness” going on. It often takes a leap of faith and an intuitive sense of the importance of the work and method to go along with this, at times, deceptively nebulous work; work that takes direction from the land of dreams, myths and fairy tales. It takes patience to understand that this work truly is the rock to build a solid foundation for a house that can withstand the huffs and puffs of the big bad world. Or, to stick with the ol’ jalopy metaphor, to keep a car running optimally in order to last for the long haul, to get us over the bumps and though the mountain passes along the journey.

Woodman, M. (1990). The Ravaged Bridegroom. Toronto, Ontario: Inner City Books.

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