This morning I read a lovely piece, an interview that was on CBS Sunday Morning -- The evolution of the psychoanalyst's office. Mark Gerald, a photographer and psychoanalyst has for some time been photographing psychoanalysts and their offices. You can see some of his photos here. A wonderful variety of consulting rooms, some visually busy, others with a zen-like spareness.
In the interview Gerald says, sounding almost Jungian,
a very central thing, I think, in my project and in the interest of psychoanalytic offices, in that all of the objects in the analyst's office, whether they're intentionally designed or brought in, or created, have meaning. 'Cause psychoanalysis is a practice of looking at and trying to understand the meaning of experience, and not only the surface meaning, but the more underlying meaning.
I have long been interested in the spaces therapists create in which to do their work. A therapist I saw long ago had his office in the basement of his home -- the room was very small and dark and cluttered. He filled most of the space with his big body and even bigger personality. I did supervision with an analyst whose office was in a professional building and the space was devoid of anything that seemed personal -- the art and plant and even the furniture seemed neutral and indeed, adhering as he did to Robert Lang's ideas about what an therapy office should be, it was intentionally impersonal.
In a community where I participate I posted this quote from Jung the other day:
“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering”
― C.G. Jung
And a friend responded, "Yes, I've always thought that was a stunning statement, Cheryl. Could you unpack it a bit? (Especially the "legitimate" thing?) "
Here is a post I wrote about this a year or so ago:
I have been thinking about the following from Jung for a number of years.
"... the principal aim of psychotherapy is not to transport the patient to an impossible state of happiness, but to help him acquire steadfastness and philosophic patience in face of suffering. Life demands for its completion and fulfillment a balance between joy and sorrow." Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 16, p.81
This is not a message most people want to hear. It is tough to accept that suffering is part of life, that it is meaningful and unavoidable. It is hard for patients and often hard for therapists as well to stay with what is painful, to resist the urge to dart away into what is more comfortable, soothing, or easy. This way of understanding therapy also flies in the face of a feel-good orientation which seems to dominate American culture. We want to medicate, meditate or otherwise eliminate suffering, not face into it, sit in it and explore its meaning.
We are fortunate to live within reach of an excellent community radio station, WERU, which first broadcast from studios in Noel Paul Stookey's converted chicken house building. Once a month my friend Ellie O'Leary hosts Writer's Forum.
This past week I guested on her show. And because I know you are dying to hear me, listen to me read from the intro to my work-in-progress here.
These days I am reading and reflecting on several books, among them Barbara Stevens Sullivan's The Mystery of Analytical Work: Weavings from Jung and Bion and Natalie Boero's Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic". This week these thoughts from them came together for me:
most of the people to whom I spoke talked about a desire to lose weight to be normal, to be able to wear a smaller size, to blend in, and to avoid the stigma and discrimination faced by fat people. This pattern held not only for people like Tina, who had undergone surgery in order to lose weight, but also for people engaged in less invasive weight-loss attempts.
Natalie Boero. Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic" (Kindle Locations 49-51). Kindle Edition.
Patients typically seek a “cure” for their wounds, their anxiety, their obsessions and addictions. Jung denies that “perfection” – which may be thought of as a synonym for “cure” – is possible. My own experience, on both sides of the couch, suggests that even “healing” may be a problematic word. In some sense, a person is her wounds. A sapling, planted beside a supportive stake that the gardener neglects to remove, will grow around the stake. The stake’s presence will injure the growing tree; the tree will adapt by distorting its “natural” shape to accommodate the stake. But the mature tree will be the shape it has taken; it cannot be “cured” of the injury, the injury is an intrinsic aspect of its nature.
Sullivan, Barbara Stevens (2009-10-03). The Mystery of Analytical Work: Weavings from Jung and Bion (p. 175). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.
I think of the futility in both instances. There is no way to become the person I might have been had the circumstances of my life not led to the wounds I carry. I can become freer of their negative effects. I can become conscious of the wounds, how they came to be and how I might respond differently going forward. But I cannot be "cured" because I am my wounds, just as the tree in Sullivan's example cannot become other than the way it is. Normal for me is who and how I am.
Now consider the fat person who wants to be "normal". Her chances of reaching that mythic place are somewhere like 5%. She may lose weight, lose a lot of weight even but she is quite likely to regain it and there goes that chance at "normal". If the tree in Sullivan's example is its own normal, because it is the shape it has taken and that shape reflects the conditions of its growth, then is that also true of the fat person. There are so many causes for and reasons for being fat. But in essence do they not all come down to the conditions in which that fat body has grown and developed? A complex stew of genetic, biologic, emotional, social, familial factors that as the container in which that person develops shape that body. How is we cannot, collectively, acknowledge that there is no cure for this body, that the fat body is its own normal?
Sort of cross-posted from The Fat Chronicles:
I think sometimes that ambivalence might be my middle name. I started The Fat Chronicles two and a half years ago but I have been sporadic in posting to it. There are a lot of blogs in the fat acceptance and fat activism communities, or so it seems to me anyway, and this one falls fully into neither one. I started it because I wanted to put some of my thoughts on this issue out there and because at the time I was ambivalent -- there is that word again -- about including these thoughts in with my main blog, Jung At Heart. Right there was my growing edge, my fears about what my readers would think about me if I started including posts about fat stigma and similar issues that I think about and am writing about and hope to write a book about with my thoughts about psychotherapy.
I am comfortable with being outside the mainstream in psychotherapy but to bring in my embodied outsider status made me a bit anxious and so I separated these interests. I somehow imagined that I could separate myself into these two identities and keep any negative responses that might come here out of my other life, my life as Cheryl the Jungian psychotherapist. I have written elsewhere -
I saw this on someecards.com earlier this week and it just stuck in my mind.
I know that feeling, no doubt most of us do. But stop and think about it. This is really a story about being at war with one's body and never feeling just okay or at home within the body that is, whether fat or thin. It is a terrible thing we do to ourselves and the kind of looking back that this image so perfectly captures is just one of many ways we torment ourselves and persist in feeling shame and loathing for the body we live in.
I think of Lot's wife, turned to a pillar of salt because she looks back. The kind of wishing that our woman is doing isn't grieving for something lost but a kind denial and turning away from what is. And holding onto that keeps her out of fully inhabiting her body and her life.
I wish this were not a scenario that I see every week in my office.
Leaping Into the Void
By Jean Benedict Raffa, Ed.D.
“Crisis and pain often catalyze a genuine, heart-felt attempt to reach toward the mysteries. In the grip of pain, we more readily reach through the veils of forgetfulness and wiles of the shadow attitudes that block the heart path.” ~Jungian Analyst Monika Wikman
In my mid-thirties, despite having a loving family, comfortable home, and inspiring religious community, I was deeply unhappy with myself and tormented with questions. What’s wrong with me? Why am I not satisfied with my life? Who am I, really? There’s got to be more to life than trying to be June Cleaver, doesn’t there? One night, ashamed to the core that I couldn’t seem to love God, others, myself, or my life in the ways I believed I should, I prayed the most fervent prayer of my life. “Please God! Teach me to love. I don’t care what it takes. Do whatever you want with me. Just teach me to love.” As one who had always lived in my head and played it safe, this was a big leap for me.
A few weeks ago I was asked if I would be interested in having a guest blogger make a post here. Now I have not done this in the past, but there is a book involved and when I read the book, I decided she would be a good fit, for those who are interested in Jung and spirituality. So Monday, watch for a post from Jean Benedict Raffa. And then let me know how you feel about my hosting occasional guests. BTW, I am enjoying the book, which I will include in my booklist later next week.
That was an unplanned little break. Things have been very busy here -- I wrote and submitted a chapter for an anthology on Fat Politics, my piece being about the fat body and therapy. And a long awaited financial settlement came my way. My husband and I bought a new car. There was a snow storm. New patients beginning, old patients ending. And a new course to prepare for our local Senior College. So somehow writing here fell to the bottom of the list for a bit. But the busiest time is over for now and I am happily back.
While we waited for the snow to melt -- and it has here on the coast -- I have had spring here on my windowsills.
A friend and I have begin reading together my favorite recent Jungian book, The Mystery of Analytical Work by Barbara Stevens Sullivan. This is at least my third time through this book and still I find new gems to savor and reflect on. From this morning's reading:
Clinical training may tell us what the therapeutic relationship should be like, but in practice the transference relationship develops between two people who are both present and fully participating, even when they are trying to withhold themselves or to block each other out. We can never leave our depths at home. They always muddy the waters, communicating things we do not know we know to people who do not know what they are learning even as their deeper selves store away these new understandings in parts of themselves they know nothing or little about. Furthermore, a relationship, even between a mother and a newborn or a therapist and patient, is an interdependent experience, although one person may be much more helpless and out-of-control than the other. After all, the analyst needs the patient if she is to be an analyst and the patient needs the analyst if he is to be a patient. A relationship can never be fully dissected; it branches out in infinite directions into the unknowable inner reaches of each participant’s soul. Like the growth process, a relationship will always include some mystery, highlighting our vulnerability to the inner or outer realities that we can never be sure we understand.
Sullivan, Barbara Stevens (2009-10-03). The Mystery of Analytical Work: Weavings from Jung and Bion (pp. 4-5). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.
I will add to and update this post as I find more gems. This is a book I wish were required reading for depth therapists and would-be depth therapists. It is that good.
It has been noted that people rarely say that their analyst’s brilliant interpretations are what mattered to them in their analyses; the patient’s focus is usually on the quality of the emotional relationship, and when a patient considers his therapy successful, the biggest element in that assessment is almost always the feeling of having been cared for and accepted in all his messy imperfection. Psychotherapy outcome studies consistently fail to find a correlation between the therapist’s theoretical perspective and the impact of the therapy; what does affect whether the work prospers or founders is the quality of the relationship (Blatt, 2007). There is nothing surprising about this. In every other situation a person’s growth depends on the way he is being held by the other. The parent who tells her children to do as she says, not as she does, will never find her attempts successful. The child may not do as she does – he may even do the opposite of what she does – but he will certainly not do as she says. Most measures of emotional “health” attend to the per-son’s ability to establish successful relationships – at work, but most especially at home. Does it not seem strange that the analytic literature hardly mentions the importance of the quality of the therapeutic bond? A great deal of attention is devoted to interpreting the transference but nourishing the relationship goes largely unmentioned.6
Sullivan, Barbara Stevens (2009-10-03). The Mystery of Analytical Work: Weavings from Jung and Bion (p. 12). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.