The Concept of Soul and Spirituality in Life and in Therapy
The Materialistic and Reductionistic framework that has dominated Western sciences since the 17th century denounces the concept of spirit in nature and in man, and by extension this includes the idea of a soul in mankind. As a consequence the human soul which was once the province of religions, has largely been denounced and ignored by contemporary society.
We now live in a secular society where science is the new religion, or where New Age ideas and philosophies dominate. In our scientific communities, the spirit and soul does not get a mention. Traditionally psychology treated belief in the soul, spirit and faith in a god as harmless neurotic superstitions, which had no place in therapy. Humans were treated by all psychologies and medicine as a machine, where you were either reductionistically reduced to a part of you that was broken or ill, and which was treated, cut-out or altered (Stein:1990).
When you go to the doctor, you are more likely to take home a pill or a medicine to treat some diseased part of you. Rarely it was thought your illness was caused by your emotions (psychosomatic), or the mind (psychogenic), and never was it professional to consider that your depression may have a spiritual cause in that what you are suffering from is a loss of soul.
The decline of the church as a guiding institution in Western society has not helped to cultivate an ongoing faith or interest in spiritual matters, faith and beliefs. A massive loss of faith and confidence in the established religions and their churches has ensued from the widespread scandals and child-abuse allegations that have surfaced worldwide since the 1980’s. This disillusionment has also fed the neglect or loss of soul that has led to a vast increase in what is now termed soul sickness.
Spiritual leaders, Shamans, Mystics and some sections of Psychology and Medicine are now linking a loss of spirituality and a loss of soul to the plethora of mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, stress and suicide that pervades society today in epidemic proportions (Kornfield:2000). The loss of connection to a sense of a Higher Power, or an inner spiritual life, is stated and restated by the religious and mystical doctrines of all cultures and all ages as being the primary cause of unhappiness, illnesses, and the pursuit of false gods of greed, wealth, avarice and indulgence (Harvey:2009).
Most people have a reasonable concept of spirit and spirituality. The idea that a human has a non-physical, non-mind aspect of their reality, that is impossible to point to, or quantify, but exists, is tenable to most people. Some call this an energetic aspect of self. However when this goes beyond energy to a form of consciousness that is not our own self, but more a universal consciousness that connects us to everyone and everything, some start to waver. The idea of an omnipresent, omniscient mind or entity or reality can threaten some, and make some switch-off, shutdown, or try to raise themself up to this level of reality themself.
This question leaves everyone faced with the dilemma of do I have a Higher Power or other consciousness to which I am accountable or linked or created from, or am I the only reality beyond other beings and humans, and so this life is really the sum of all of me? Everyone must face this critical question about themself time and time again throughout their life, and each must arise at their own answer to this basic question of our place in life and the universe.
For those who accept that there is a reality outside of themself that involves some other order of reality and higher consciousness, that may or may not involve the concepts of multiple lives (reincarnation) and other tenets of the bigger picture of life, you are now in what is broadly termed spirituality. From here there are a whole range of belief systems, organised religions, sects, followings and philosophies that one can explore and follow in order to get both a conceptual framework of such spiritually ordering principles, and to practically and experientially develop one’s own spiritual identity along these lines.
What is clear is that those who have found and follow to some degree such an authentic spiritual path, have been shown by numerous psychological studies to have better states of happiness, peace, health and relationships with others. What is clear is that those who either have none, or those who fall into some cult or abusive narcissistic based following, which also may have some form of extremism, suffer across these same measures.
The concept of a soul is a more personal and historically Western notion within the wider framework of spirituality. What Catholics call the soul is often termed the spirit by traditional societies and shamans, and the “most subtle mind” is the closest concept in eastern Buddhist thought. Regardless of name there is basically a concept of a pure, divine, undamaged part of us, which has a personal connection to an ultimate state, reality, divine entity or consciousness. There are many ways of describing this non-material aspect of a person.
In his book “Care of the Soul”, Thomas Moore (2000) declares that the soul is impossible to define. I would agree. Serious mystics argue it is by its nature unknowable but is experiential. New Agers will claim to not only know and define it, but to access it, work with it, and live from it with effortless ease!! Thomas Merton (1975) who was a renowned Catholic mystic, and the more contemporary Thomas Moore (2000), both state that “Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine”. Thomas Moore (2000) adds “ We know intuitively that the soul has to do with genuineness and depth…”
The soul is best seen by pointing at it in terms of its effect on us as it is an unknowable mystery (Merton:1975), and “the indwelling spirit” states the catholic mystics such as St John of the Cross who pursue the “Great Cloud of Unknowing”. Many traditions promote a healthy way of cultivating this soulful part of oneself by creating the concept and reality in oneself of having 4 bodies. In this way of caring for ourself we learn to see ourself from a place where we envisage having 4 bodies:
- Physical body
- Emotional body
- Mental body
- Spiritual body
The first of these is our physical self, and the other 3 are more or less our non-physical and energetic related self. Regardless of your spiritual tradition or beliefs one can use this concept to remind ourself that we are more than our physical self, and that we should care and tend to our needs at the other 3 levels on a daily basis. How you care for yourself can come from the physical regimes you use to care for yourself now, and then the energetic self as seen through the other 3 levels can come through your spiritual nurturance, therapy, relationships and work on your energetic self.
We typically invest considerable time in grooming and caring for the physical body. An authentic spiritual path is concerned with a healthy relationship with all 4 bodies as each of the first 3 bodies is both the temple or container for, and the expression of our 4th body, the spiritual body. The first body is the most energetically gross, it being particle energy, and then the others are increasingly more subtle wave energy forms that are in and around our physical body. They help comprise what esoteric spirituality calls our aura, chakras, subtle body, energy field etc.
Our spiritual body which includes the concept of the soul is considered to infuse our other bodies with spirit, grace and soul essence. We cannot force this via our will according to sages and prophets, it is a grace, a gift from whatever divine source term or god you would use. We receive grace and feel the soul connection. Soulful people have worked on themselves and do not block or corrupt spirit or soul from flowing down into their other 3 bodies, and their body, speech and mind reflect soul integrity. Their spiritual body is highly evolved and integrated into their other bodies and these people are value and purpose driven from a place of solid spiritual ethics.
People are often wilful (Ego/head driven) rather than soulful. Many people with spiritual or soul sickness tend to live in a distorted polarity of living more-or-less from either their physical body at one end of the scale, whilst others live in extremism at the spiritual body end of the scale. Neither is healthy or correct (Kornfield:2000). As the Buddha stated, walk the middle path in life and be moderate in all things. This is a great rule of thumb, and means we need to live across the spectrum of our 4 levels of embodiment to be in health and in connection with both ourself (ego) and our spiritual inheritance (Stone:2004).
Traditional Western Psychology dismissed the spiritual body as a fallacy, minimised the role of the emotional body, and left man with a body-mind split of the physical self and the mental self. Allopathic medicine led to a path where we pour drugs into the physical self, or cut it up and replace parts when it doesn’t work or gets diseased, and do a drug solution for mental Personality Disorders. We also use psychology to compartmentalise the mental self with dry reductionistic mental strategies for correcting cognitive distortions when we hit a crisis. It’s not surprising there is a societal crisis about the place.
The recent psychologies and the New-Agers have flooded bookstores with thousands of self-help books and trademarked programs for mental and spiritual realisation, but many ignore either the physical or emotional self, and the past history of a person. Some of this group often run under the banner of the “Transformation Movement” who offers to change a person and create some new image.
They remind me of one aspect of the Monopoly game I played as a child. When you play Monopoly you get to the middle stage of the board where you can land on either a Community Chest or a nearby Chance square. Looking up the board you are faced with ever increasingly priced properties, and the prospect of going to jail. Many people hope to land on the Community Chest or Chance squares, and pull a card that states “Go Straight to Go and collect $200!!”, or a “Get out of Jail Free!!” card, and bypass all the dangers along the way.
Some New-Ager philosophies and The Transformation Movement is based on this same premise. Come and do our great transformational program, bypass all your physical and emotional (body) pains and wounds from your past, and go straight to enlightenment and collect $200 of spiritual merit plus unlimited wealth manifesting powers and the woman of your dreams!!
The Chance card in the Monopoly set well defines this group of charlatans, as you would get more by spending your money on a lottery ticket than trying to bypass your ego, your wounded self, your previous negative actions, and your imprisoning embodied patterns, and denials. This stuff is the spiritual quick fix equivalent of taking a pill in Western medicine to heal the symptoms of disease.
Any authentic spiritual guide or teacher will tell you there is no “Get out of Jail Free” card, or “Go straight to Go and collect a reward” card in life. This is the conman’s game to lure the lazy and ignorant into a false belief that they can transform without doing the painful hard work of healing the past. Authentic spiritual paths all include a process like “The Dark Night of the Soul” which explains our journey into our shadow self that must be undertaken at all 4 levels of self for us to authentically heal and evolve into a true spiritual self.
It is a long and painful journey for most. Any spiritual work recognises and accepts this aspect of our humanity must be confronted and worked on for creating true grace within oneself. There are no short cuts to healing or authentic spiritual realisation. Many people who say they are soulful are in fact wilful. They will tell you that they have done this and that but their experience is not embodied, it is purely intellectual, and now is infused with pride of the ego, and is part of a rationalisation defence about why they do not need to look any deeper at themself (Kornfield:2000).
The narcissistic self help and spiritual gurus who have popped up in society over the last 20 years or so attempt to insert themself between a person and their god-head or divine source (Tucker:1999). By this the narcissistic guru claims to be god himself as he or she actually deludes themself in their ungrounded and grandiose reality they are divine, special, have divine connection with angels, spirits or are enlightened (Tucker:1999). The problem is this also has been the claim of every spiritual cult leader who has been exposed as a fraud or arrested on criminal charges (Cawthorne:2000).
From this place of special knowledge, vast experience, special gifts, the all-knowing one, we are special and lucky to be “chosen” to attend the next healing, the next workshop, the next retreat, the next prayer group. You will be promised to be “released”, “healed”, “energised”, “spiritually awakened”, “cleared”, made “at cause”, “beyond effects”, “exalted”, “transformed” or a hundred other terms of quick-fix terminology that is often never measurable, properly defined or confirmed. You wallet may be “enlightened” of a few hundred dollars or more, your belief systems may be reworked into a compliant alignment with your new master, and you may get that euphoric endorphin fuelled emotional “rush” that emotionally charged group processes do tend to elicit.
You may also have the Community Chest or Chance cards waved at you tantalisingly. If you sign up for the next event, the next retreat, the next training, the next prayer session, the next healing or group study session, you too can be a step closer, and a few more hundred dollars lighter, but closer to enlightenment!! Vague esoteric spiritual dogmas sprinkled with quantum physics and a dollop of psychology is a common but tasty recipe in these places.
The reason we as a society have forgotten authentic spirituality or strayed from this into a void now filled with unfulfilling psychological treatments and Narcissistic guru types flogging quick fix programmes is summarised as follows.
Carl Jung (Storr:1973) recognized, that man must rediscover a deeper source of his own spiritual life. To do this we must struggle with our lower or shadow self, confront it, make it conscious so that we can integrate it and re-own it safely. We do not seek to kill it or eliminate it as we cannot, and also we just create another split in ourself when we try to hide it or eliminate it (Pascal:1992). We also cannot avoid it or deny it as it will act out through our unconscious (Storr:1973). Jung saw many trying to escape or bypass their shadow selves via superficial means and quick fixes.
Psychology and the various forms of Transformational programmes have become the vehicle in life for modern man to search for his cosmic unity and his life purpose, which man had before the onset of the Industrial Revolution via his unified mind and body expressing itself in his religions and via myths and symbols (Pascal:1992). Typically the Narcissist guru types who run transformation programs deny and disown their shadow life as they act from a god-like mask of a false self and portray god to their followers (Harvey:2009).
Meanwhile classical psychology also asks the therapist to disown and eliminate the Shadow self when acting as the therapist, and so split the role model of the therapist who is supposed to present healing and wholeness to the client (Stein:1990).
Western modern medicine and Psychology have always had an uneasy relationship with religion and spirituality at best, and mostly dismiss anything this non-empirical or religious as to be distrusted. Only “matter matters” in Newtonian based sciences that still dominate our societal thinking. A therapist willing to work with an energy/spirit belief system has to have a framework in which to deal with religious and spiritual implications. Traditional psychology does not train therapists how to contain this aspect of a person in the current transference/counter-transference model of work with clients (Stein:1990).
Briefly we need to understand the basis for the concept of transference and counter-transference in Western psychology. Freud’s model of the human condition distilled much of the causes of neurosis in man back to infantile sexual frustrations. In the 1900’s the sexual mores of society were more restricted than present day, and Psychology was still an emerging science, still differentiating itself from medical science (Sharf:2008). Freud had numerous female clients who came to him with hysterical symptoms which were traced back to sexual repression in the women, who by and large were sexually repressed in wider society at that time (Sharf:2008).
The concept of transference originated with Freud and is commonly used in psychology and psychotherapy. Freud noticed that some patients reacted to him as though he were a parent and that female patients often tended to “fall in love” with him (McGuire:1974). Freud concluded that, during therapy sessions, patients were unconsciously transferring the feelings and attitudes they had had toward early significant figures in their lives onto the analyst (Sharf:2008). Initially, he just noted the phenomenon but did not comment on it within the therapy session. Later, he concluded that addressing the transferential relationship between analyst and patient was the curative factor in psychoanalysis, and made interpreting the transference one of the cornerstones of the theory and practice of psychoanalysis (Sharf:2008).
Transference is commonly seen to occur when a person is triggered into an unresolved traumatic incident (Sharf:2008). For example, a husband and wife are having an argument about the house. The wife has an unresolved traumatic incident in which she was beaten by her father for leaving her clothing on the floor. The husband begins to shout about her clothing and thus stimulates this past traumatic incident. She curls up in a foetal position, crying: “Please don’t hit me!” In this situation, it is clear that she is reacting to her husband as though he were her father. Freud deduced that “Transference reactions occur in all patients undergoing psychotherapy” and “Transference occurs in analysis and outside of analysis, in neurotics, psychotics, and in healthy people. All human relations contain a mixture of realistic and transference reactions.” (McGuire:1974).
Freud also developed the concept of having the client lying down on the therapy couch, facing away from the therapist, and then the therapist added to the defences by sitting behind a physical screen which shielded client and therapist (Sharf:2008). The aim was to prevent the sexual transference of the client being triggered towards the therapist, and created a power in balance in favour of the therapist, as well as a sterile environment in which therapy took place (Storr:1973). Freud’s colleague, Adler, later wrote the mechanism was designed as much as to protect the therapist from the client as the other way round (Elysnck:1971). In other words the heart and spiritual soul connection of eros had to be eliminated to make therapy safe. The only problem is that to humanize clients, most require modelling and experience of that same heart and spiritual love (Eros), as most have had childhoods and adult relationships devoid of this very vital life force (Pascal:1992) and (Stein:1972).
In an example of an extreme form of transference, you may conclude that someone is an awful or evil person when in fact what is objectively happening is that person’s favourite food and television show reminds you for example, of an emotionally abusive mother and a sexually abusive brother you have been trying to forget since childhood. That’s an example of negative transference (Storr:1973).
Alternatively a warm, supportive and kind person could remind you of what you are missing and wanting in their life. You might then idealize that person and begin to see him or her as wonderful beyond belief. The idea is that you will react to your therapist based on your experience with another person (Sharf:2008). This is usually a parent that the patient has an unresolved conflict with.
In extreme cases a patient will become overly attached to their therapist or they will enter into and create conflicts without realizing how. The transferential model is designed to deal with the arising of these distorted projections of early life unresolved material (Sharf:2008). The current model worked in its day to prevent idealisation spilling into sexual acting out, or from hostility towards the client being converted into actual physical force (Pascal:1992). Also the therapists reactions to these implied or attempted actions were also hidden from the client in turn (Sharf:2008). All this is valid and needed to make therapy safe for both client and therapist, but the approach is what Jung (Storr:1973) and others such as Stein (1990) see as dehumanising in the process.
It should be also noted that all the key grandfathers of psychology had their own personal set of unresolved issues. Freud, Jung and Reich all had problematic childhoods and adult lives, which meant that they had their own issues to deal with as therapists (Conger:1988). Freud had a difficult father, Jung had a remote and unapproving father, and Reich often witnessed his mother having sex with a lover when the father was absent, and his confession to the father of this fact triggered the tragic destruction of his father and mothers life (Conger:1988). Each carried their own baggage into therapy as therapists.
Freud fought and fell out with both Jung and Reich, while Jung appears to have lost his way at some point by his own admission of having had sex with at least one of his clients, and Reich went through several wives and mistresses in his life (Conger:1988). Each had their wounds and each adopted the early model of transference/counter-transference in their work, and stayed aloof to deal with their impulses. Reich did work closer with his clients out of need to work with the body musculature, and to observe the body and the breath, and so he dropped the aloofness via the therapist screen separation model as his Body Psychotherapy model evolved (Boadella:1973).
It was not until Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos came on the scene in the 1950’s did Body Psychotherapy get the client to stand on their feet and face the therapist (Lowen:1976). Traditional Psychology eventually dropped the physical screen and the couch, but the model of transference/counter-transference was kept as a pillar in both camps, and instead both modalities replaced the physical barriers with psychic equivalents which carry through to today (Stein:1990). Psychology and Psychotherapy still today brings this transference dynamic into the work. This has been required and shown to also be a tool to surface and work on issues with clients, but at what cost to the overall goal of humanizing the client?
If one considers the 4 bodies of man, then another way of looking at man is to consider 3 driving forces that constitute the bodymind reality. Stein (1990) considers these to be:
- The rational ego and intellect which modern man lives from. (the Ego Head self)
- The elemental forces of our instinctual animal self which modern man disowns. (the Emotional & Instinctual Body self)
- The Spiritual Self that unifies and contains 1) and 2) which is lost to modern man.
Jung (Storr:1973) stated that man traditionally creates his culture via the spiritual self which contains or is the architect that creates art, literature and the sciences via the Ego Head and Emotional Body harnessed or contained under the Spiritual Self. What occurred in the Industrial Revolution was that western man collectively put the Ego Head self on the altar as the new deity and worshipped it (Storr:1973).
At the same time he denied and disowned the Emotional and Spiritual selves, and split them into dualistic opposites within himself, as the lower or shadow self (Emotional &Instinctual), and as the higher or Spiritual self (Stein:1990). Both the Emotional & Instinctual Self as well as the Spiritual Self became the duality of the unconscious and in doing so we lost the safe container of our Spiritual Self which guided our Ego/Head and our Emotional & Instinctual selves safely in their expression (Storr:1973).
This is exactly the problem of the modern therapist, and exactly why Psychology originally had to erect physical screens for therapists to sit behind, while their clients lay down and faced away from the therapist during a session (Stein:1990). These artificial walls of the therapist transference/counter-transference screen existed at firstly the material level, then later were recreated on the mental and emotional levels as psychology evolved to a point where therapist and client sat facing each other (Stein:1990). The use of the transference/counter-transference dynamic in therapy has to exist in the therapeutic process where man continues to disown their spiritual natures (Pascal:1992).
The problem is the Carl Jung clearly and quite rightly saw that the neurotic personality was that which had disowned the shadow self and was then acting the shadow self out in guilt, shame and secrecy (Storr:1973). So the problem is that the therapist has to become neurotic if they are to hide behind the current model of transference/counter-transference, for they too must hide and disown their Emotional & Instinctual selves as well as their Spiritual Self in the process (Stein:1990).
This split self was considered by Jung to be essentially unhealthy and he predicted a form of spiritual and emotional sickness would result from anyone attempting to live long term this way. Jung predicted an age of Narcissism would evolve in Western society from this place (Storr:1973). In the professional world of Psychology, a 2003 study found that Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and some medical specialists such as Dentists are over-represented in spiritual and/or emotional sickness in terms of depression, divorce, suicide, lack of purpose, drug abuse, and sexual abuse of clients. Jung saw these as the acting out of the disowned Emotional & Instinctual self no longer under the control of a Spiritual Self (Pascal:1992).
Jung also saw today’s Narcissistic gurus and Transformation gurus who had a deep psychic and spiritual in-balance within their spiritual life (Pascal:1992). Jung saw that these types have disowned their Eros (feminine spirituality) at the expense of an overcharged Logos (masculine spirituality )(Pascal:1992). These people are often involved in authoritarian, cruel and relentless power plays, with a need for power and control and acquisition (manifesting) (Pascal:1992). It is combative, focused but driven by self-needs (Narcissism), it disowns the Eros (compassion and other-consideration). (Pascal:1992).
It uses the Eros to its own end as a deception (masky false spirituality to seduce and betray others). The feminine is abused by being touted and used from the ego/head of the narcissist in lofty words, feigned alignment, feigned association and claimed integration of the feminine when it is actually the opposite, and is but a masky cloak of the predatory distorted Logos (Pascal:1992). A 2010 United Nations UN Population Fund report found that more than a third of all women on the planet had been forced into sex, beaten or abused by a partner or family member (United Nations:2010). It was nearly half of women once the same violence was measured against strangers as well.
From this place of abuse, whether it be seen symbolically via degradation of mother earth, or of women, the disowned “mother” and related Eros becomes a shadow quality that turns up as compulsive and enslaving materialism and addictive consumerism (Pascal:1992). At societal levels we have paternalistic cultures and in individuals we are seeing a trend towards masculine narcissism (Lasch:1979).
This shadow quality is then distorted into a desirable quality or attainment which then becomes the art and business of Manifesting as spruiked by Logos fuelled Transformation gurus who live from and sell to the world “Manifesting spirituality” packages. Logos over-identification keeps us in our heads and out of our bodies, and creates a hidden competiveness, self-focussed and desire to have power, and ungrounded grandiosity as we are no longer “in touch with mother earth” (Pascal:1992).
The Logos attempts to disown its own shadow as unacceptable to its own grandiose image (Pascal:1992). The dangers of ridding ourself of our own shadow via disowning it or driving it off is no better illustrated than in the Bible. Here in the New Testament (Bible: Gospels of Mark), Christ taught his simple followers a story which was meant to be about this very dynamic. In the story a man who is possessed by a devil is able to drive out that one solitary demon from him, but what happens is that devil then proceeds to go and tell 7 other devils of the vacancy in the man, and so 7 devils return to possess him instead.
The 7 deadly sins can be read into this parable instead of devils. This is a warning by Christ not to try and disown our shadow as we just make it worse. If one thinks of the financial and sex scandals that continually dog the Church, and the American phenomenon of Baptist preachers such as Jim and Tammy Baker and others, one can see how a spiritual mask can hide many of the 7 deadly sins in the righteous in western society.
Carl Jung saw that one of the important functions of the therapist is to stand in the clients shadow side in such a way that we grow familiar with and used to a dark figure who stands on our blind side without judgement (Pascal:1992). Our shadow always contains our least developed aspects of our personality as well as our blind spots. Our therapist must give us the eyes to see our blind spots without judgement, and to mentor our under-developed personality aspects without judgement (Stein:1990).
More so the therapist must be able to journey between light and dark, to take the journey from light into the land of darkness and be equally at home in each as they themselves have explored and integrated both within themself (Stein:1990). Mythically the therapist must become Mercury or Hermes, who is the messenger of the gods, the god of the borders of light and dark, a blend of integrated masculine and feminine body (Campbell:1980). This task calls on the client to reveal their own light and dark to the therapist, and for the therapist to know the landscape of the dark and take the client on a journey there, and to converse with the gods and pass the message onto man (the client) (Pascal:1992).
The modern therapist that does not have communion with their shadow and so with the gods will then have nothing to pass onto man (Storr:1973), and as the traditional psychologist and the Transformation Programme leaders must disown their darkness and so cannot take an authentic journey anywhere with the client except in the light. These leaders cannot hope to stand in the clients shadow if they disown their own, as the therapist and Transformation Leader stands in a bunker of self protection and denial.
The traditional psychologist via their training, would by standing in the clients shadow risk causing an eruption of counter-transference, as feeling another’s shadow will cause one’s own disowned shadow to activate and threaten to come up in an explosive fashion which is the very thing a classic therapist fears (Stein:1990). So the therapist cannot and will not go there in the current classic model.
Mythically, our New Age inspired Transformation Programme leaders, as well as classically trained psychologists, have turned themself or been turned into a Walt Disney Peter Pan, who frolics around in the light and innocence, and is a sad and pale imitation of the real archetypal Pan whose cloven footed, half man, half beast figure with a seductive flute and a leering eye, represent the disowned animal selves in all of us (Stein:1990).
Unfortunately the New Agers who disown the concept of evil existing at all, and their Transformational Programmes, just like Peter Pan, can take you to a fantasy Never Never Land, but will never never be able to take you to your shadow land, which is where the anyone wanting to heal or evolve their spirituality client must go with their therapist or spiritual guide at some point.
Unfortunately Tinkerbell, Peter Pan and Wendy run more Transformational Programmes, and Ego/Head dominated Psychology practices than does the archetypal Pan, Hermes or even the mildly shadow pirate figure that floundered around Never Never land. The failure to heal clients comes from the attempt to sanitise therapy into a cartoon rather than to allow the darkness of life to be explored and integrated without judgement.
The beauty of Bodymind Psychotherapy is that it offers the reunification of the Newtonian/Cartesian bodymind split, and it offers the client and therapist alike a place to rediscover his/her own deeper spiritual self, and it allows for that spiritual self to reassert its container around the essential dualistic but integrated rational intellect and animal instinct self components.
Traditionally we see this in terms of Spiritual Self as the Higher Self, The Animal Instinct as the Shadow or Lower self, and the intellect/ego as the Social Mask but the boundaries are not that rigid. All 3 forces show up across the Social Mask, Lower/Shadow Self, and the Higher Self in different aspects of their own essential energy/consciousness realities.
In Bodymind psychotherapy we are able to see the body of the client as its shadow in the physical plane insofar as it contains the tragic history of how the spontaneous surging of life energy is murdered and rejected in hundreds of ways until the body is a defended and deadened object. We can also see the victory first hand of the rational intellectualised force at the expense of the more primitive and more vital animal instinct forces. The shadow that is our body reveals what we dare not speak, owns what we try to disown, and expresses our past and current fears.
True shadow embracing spiritual paths and therapy can potentially restore Western man to his pre-industrial revolution era unified self but that would be an idealised flaw to do so (Wilber:2000). If we look back nostalgically to an era of innocence such as it was, we lose the evolution the Industrial Era gave us. We must forward into a post-industrial era of Self, and certainly that involves a bodymind reunification, but of the evolved self that exists right now (Wilber:2000).
This is what Ken Wilbur (2000) calls the Pre/Trans fallacy. In our post industrial era our healing approach must mean that the current model of transference/counter-transference must be recreated in terms of a safe boundary that supports the humanisation and reunification of the client with the Eros (soul/heart connection) within themself, and which allows for the healing of their split-off and disowned shadow selves.
So in post-industrial Western society, typically the client will have some childhood traumas, and parental wounds that make later intimate and creatively evolving human adult relationships difficult to establish and maintain, as the Eros function has been damaged or is under developed. In BodyMind centric therapies, a primary aim of therapy is the journey to take a client from being unconscious to being conscious of all aspects of themselves.
Transference by its nature is firstly an unconscious process that the therapist must make conscious with the client, then analyse the projection being made to see what disowned aspect of the client (typically a parental fixation) is being projected onto the therapist by the client (Sharf:2008). One of main problems with the transference model is that much of the transference remains unconscious or the aloof judgement or engagement with the client of the transference as the “client’s issue” drives the transference underground (Stein:1990).
Stein (1990) noted that transference that is either left unconscious or is driven underground by the approach of the therapist creates the following typical outcomes:
- Increases ego-intellect awareness only at expense of animal instinctual awareness/shadow self
- Increased mind/body split as focus stays on intellect at expense of unconscious body shadow
- Greater distrust of human relationships
- Archetype of the negative parent/child constellation created and accompanying negative expectations due to detachment by therapist which rewounds the client with a sense of disillusionment and betrayal that their critical parent is rejecting them again.
Sharf (2008) noted this process and these outcomes are common in the traditional psychological therapeutic relationship where the transference issues are not well handled by the therapist.
Jung (1973) and Stein (1990) stated that if however the transference comes from a conscious exploration between therapist and client via the integrated shadow and the Eros vehicle (heart/soul connection), the promise is that the outcome could be:
- Increases total client awareness and differentiation
- Breaks up whichever fixated archetypical constellation the client presents in therapy and allows a new dynamic constellation to be enacted with the therapist
- Internalise healthy images and archetypes presented by the therapist across all 3 forces (Ego/Head, Emotional/Instinctual, Spiritual) in client
- Mechanism to repair and develop warm and positive human feelings needed for the heart/soul connection to develop and be sustained
- The therapist’s heart/soul connection with the client, and desire to help, creates the basis for positive transference with the client
The problem that Jungian psychology recognised with respect to dealing with client transference is that part of the limitation of the human condition is to fall continually into archetypal constellations with others (Storr:1973). The traditional process of trying to resolve transference by the therapist pointing out the parental projection to the client, and having the client reclaim and internalise the projection, does not completely work (Stein:1990). The projection will arise again in some form.
The real issue becomes to develop the capacity of the client to internalise, to create an inner life, and to start to go inwards rather than project outwards and create constellations more and more (Pascal:1992). This is part of the spiritual life of a person. The transcendence by the client of outwardly projected archetypal constellation can only ever be temporary in the early to mid stages of therapy, and so this forces the therapist to be the carrier of the greater consciousness that can observe this occurring in the analytical relationship (Pascal:1992).
This dynamic in itself can become a stuck constellation if left to that status quo by the therapist who can see this occurring but it can get worse if done “from the head” of the therapist, and “lacks heart” or a spiritual container themself (Stein:1990).The internalisation process that the client must undertake in the resolution of transference will be a dry, hollow, intellectual affair if the spiritual or heart connection is not present between client and therapist.
The client will start to feel wrong or judged in this aloof, detached process, rewounding them just as if the aloof, detached parents were making the child wrong again (Stein:1990). This has been a common experience of many people in the traditional analytic process of classical psychology where spirit and heart has been banished from the therapist by their training (Stein:1990). Only the Ego/Head energy or state is permitted under transference/counter-transference training techniques of classical psychology (Stein:1990).
This will normally trigger a reaction by the client directed towards the therapist, who is likely to react and trigger what classical theory calls counter-transference (Sharf:2008). In absence of a spiritual or heart container the therapist will normally constellate a “critical parent” and judge the client as being at fault (Stein:1990). The client will often resist and quit therapy at this point, feeling wrong, judged and rewounded (Sharf:2008).
If the spiritual and heart connection were to be present and held in place by the therapist then a different dynamic could evolve. The therapist creates the container for connection by being open hearted and compassionate, having removed the aloofness of the transference barriers, and creating positive expectations with the client that exist when therapy starts. All clients come to therapy with presenting issues and symptoms which must be worked through. Real therapy begins when the transference is engaged and worked through, but that is not meant to imply that it is made a “client issue” that must be controlled or dealt with in a detached and wounding way (Stein:1990).
The therapist recognises and explains to the client that the inner child of the client will distort the analyst as mother or father, god etc, but this is OK and to be expected (Mellody:1989). The therapist must be confident in the knowledge, and experienced in the fact that while the inner child will demand love, the deeper truth of the client is that the inner life via the soul and heart will desire love and union, and the inner life awakening can be activated at this point for the client to explore (Welwood:1990). We can do this by working with a psychotherapist or counsellor who treats the whole embodied person and not just the symptoms of that person from an Ego/Head based approach.
The spiritual container is the safe container that energises and releases from the psyche the projected archetype onto the therapist, and holds a space for the client to see this projection under the guidance of the therapist, reclaim it, and internalise the archetype, contained in love (Pascal:1990). The depth effect of spirit and heart ingrains the internalised image far deeper than what an intellectual approach can hope to achieve (Stein:1990). This requires the therapist to have activated and be in connection with their own spiritual path.
If one embraces the 4 body model outlined in this article then one can start to see that the soul is a very individual and personal experience that underlies our personality and character at the deepest level. The soul transcends the body, and our thoughts and feelings, which come and go. The soul is considered by mystics to inhabit the heart in the body in a mystical sense that allows people to get in touch with their souls via their body, emotions and mind. The soul becomes a catalyst to transcend one’s own limitations and suffering in these other bodies, and from our inter-connectedness to embrace all things.
Bede Griffiths was a 20th century mystic who embraced both east and western spiritual traditions. He wrote in his later years that “Soul is a feminine spiritual dimension within the self that helps us connect to aspects of the world that are greater than ourselves. It is something that enlivens and revitalises us. It reminds us of our spiritual heritage” (Griffiths:1988).
Psychology is now undergoing a timely transformation as the evidence becomes clear that the reductionistic medical approach to dealing with mental and emotional suffering is failing. Elio Frattaroli, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and author of the book “Healing the Soul in the Age of the brain” argues: “We need a science that acknowledges mental illness not merely as a chemical imbalance in the brain, but… as a wake-up call for the soul”.
Thomas Moore advises people to care for their soul in a number of ways. We need to attend to each of our 4 bodies on a daily basis in a way that nurtures and treats each body as a temple, a holy place that deserves love, reverence and time. Each body has its own needs that are unique. I deal with this subject in my article titled Embodied Spirituality – Compassion and Care of Oneself.
When we neglect our soul, just as when we neglect our body, we get sick. When the soul becomes sick it is not because the soul is ill, it is because the soul is blocked in being able to flow through and infuse us with its love. The soul is stainless, perfect and does not need fixing in and of itself. The soul will alert us or cry out in pain through a number of ways, across each of our other 3 bodies if it is not being recognised or its deepest needs are not being attended to.
In our Narcissistic age of materialistic consumption, power, status, wealth and image, these illusions and addictions and other temporary coping strategies will not silence the soul. It is an inward journey to wellness, balance and peace that will provide reconnection to the soul, our feminine Eros, and provide a cessation and healing of the sufferings seen in many that we see acted out in society today.
Becoming soul-conscious is a deep-seated experiencing, that we can choose to ignore – to our detriment, or we can work with it to find a source of wisdom and intuition that expands our consciousness, bringing with it an authenticity of self that in turn brings access to love, compassion and joy – the source of inner peace.
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