Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis and Couple Work
“The spirit needs spring and winter, beauty and terror, meeting and parting, needs every experience and every energy to achieve wholeness. Milarepa said, ‘Contemplate all energies without fear or disgust; find their essence, for that is the stone that turns everything to gold.’"
Thuksey Rinpoche (1916-1983)
in Andrew Harvey's A Journey in Ladakh
The way of life is not difficult for someone without preferences... for the rest of us there is doubt, angst, fear and a cornucopia of events and feelings that let us know how fragile we are. Both psychotherapy and psychoanalysis aim at enhancing a person's ability to feel the energy and engagement needed to be a creative problem solver, someone who is satisfied with life and with themselves. In this is the truest quest toward what we refer to as living an authentic life.
There are many causes that interfere with experiences of fulfillment in a person’s history, some based in the culture of the here and now and some in the experiences of trauma and conflict. To lift out a few I encounter regularly with people seeking inner work are things like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, persistent problems with anger, difficulties with relationships-marital or otherwise, sexual conflicts or obsessive-compulsive behavior.
In my practice I have found that as such issues are recognized and explored, individuals experience life on a deeper, more meaningful level with a better sense of trust and understanding toward themselves and others. Someone once wrote that with great understanding comes great love, meaning the love of oneself and the love of others. To authentically love oneself is not a rite of passage or a gift from those we love but an achievement that flows from a conscious and honest approach to our own inner life. It is not a quest for certainty about ourselves that propels us into psychoanalytic process; it is uncertainty that is the very condition, which impels us to evolve and grow in ways not yet known through our experiences of beliefs and knowledge.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
C. G. Jung (1875-1961) in Alchemical Studies
Psychoanalysis is a more intensive exploration of life, unfulfilled wishes, dreams and desires. Understanding oneself is deeply rooted in human experience and evidenced in the pictographs and cave paintings of early civilization. When Jung wrote his autobiography entitled Memories, Dreams and Reflections, he not only understood the issues of making the unconscious conscious but the drive toward a sense of authenticity that creates a new ethic, the ethic to know. Whether this understanding comes from experiences of defeat and loss or success and achievement, the emphasis is to be curious; to roll the dice and to risk, to share in what is one’s allotted sense of evil as well as good. In this is the acquisition of courage and what Jung so often spoke of as moral fortitude.
…To me there is no liberation a tout prix. I cannot be liberated from anything I do not possess, have not done or experienced. Real liberation becomes possible for me only when I have done all that I was able to do, when I have completely devoted myself to a thing and participated in it to the utmost. If I withdraw from participation, I am virtually amputating the corresponding part of my psyche.
Naturally, there may be good reasons for my not immersing myself in a given experience. But then I am forced to confess my inability, and must know that I may have neglected to do something of vital importance. In this way I make amends for the lack of a positive act by the clear knowledge of my incompetence. One who has not passed through the inferno of their own passions, has never overcome them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to their own house. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force.
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
in Memories, Dreams, Reflections
The result of inner work whether it be psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, is for an individual to feel more real with less turmoil and ambivalence. To those who find this compelling, it nourishes the capacities to love, work and be creatively engaged with the world, while holding to core values which help us feel authentic and integrated rather than pragmatic and chaotic. When we are able to accept the painful as well as the joyful experiences that life brings, we can achieve a depth that enriches us. Therapy builds on personal honesty; a willingness to talk about one’s internal as well as external conflicts.
The aim of couple work is to offer a place where change is possible, solutions can be realized, and transgressions understood in a way that breaks the compulsion to repeat the same injurious behavior. When couples create the space through inner work to express their conflicts and desires, they have a chance to deepen or rebuild an ethic of care in a calm and loving family system.
Couples therapy is not about judgmental pronouncements but informed listening. Learning to tolerate views of ourselves that are unfamiliar helps us to think outside of our conventional ways of knowing and being. There is a sense of unknowing that comes with the therapeutic territory of inner work that can be accompanied by feelings of vulnerability. Counseling entails an honest, even if at times painful, expression of feelings and life experiences which takes courage and a commitment.
As one comes to know oneself better, there is an ability to also know one’s partner better. In order to get to such a place we must start at home, some exploration of each partner’s history is often helpful, since in order to know where one is, one has to know where one has come from. As issues of anger and/or misconceptions lessen, so also do the sexual conflicts based on entrenched patterns of resentment and estrangement. Power becomes more fluid when understood with Jung’s notions of typology and how personality styles operate. Utilizing the themes above, a couple can gain the tools necessary to redefine and rekindle the energy of their commitment to a common life path.