Please go and see this movie > adangerousmethod ~ It is a good one. I know I will see this film more than once. There is such a richness to it. It takes us back to when it all began. It takes us back to the old world of Victorian Vienna and Zurich, a period of suffocating moral constraints, yet also a period that brought forth new manifestations of a changing consciousness. It takes us back to a time before Jung was Jung, when Freud was the enfant terrible of Viennese’ medical world and that mysterious, and yes, most dangerous method of what eventually became the talking cure of Freud’s psychoanalysis and Jung’s analytical psychology were still a bloody mess. David Cronenberg, the movie’s director, provides us with a glimpse into the labor pangs of one of the most important cultural events of the 20th century, the birth of the therapeutic, analytic relationship, albeit an endangered species today.
Freud, Spielrein and Jung, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen, Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender
The film introduces us to these three players of this birthing process. While Freud and Jung are household names in psychological circles, very few are aware of how Sabina Spielrein contributed to the formulation of psychoanalytic theory. After all, she was not only a woman, but also a sick and troubled patient. It is much less known that she eventually became one of the first female psychoanalysts and that as muse for both men, she not only inspired significant ideas in their theories, but may have in fact verbalized important concepts for the first time, without ever being credited for any of them.
I attended a screening of this film. David Cronenberg was present for a Q & A. In one of his comments he remarked on how he was primarily interested in showing that new relational territory Jung had entered with his patient/most likely lover Sabina Spielrein. Cronenberg was not interested in elevating or demonizing any of the players of that curious love triangle. It seemed he rather payed homage to Jung’s and Spielrein’s courage as they stumbled and fell into their desires and fears lurking out of the recesses of their psyches.
They did not yet know what they were getting into as Jung put Freud’s theory into practice. Boundaries were not yet clearly delineated of what was to become the sacred, precocious and highly dangerous space of the analyst/patient relationship. May we withhold all judgment for now, as Cronenberg did so beautifully in his film, and simply honor the courage and tricksterish folly as Jung and Spielrein ventured deeper into new territory of their inner landscape.
A unique relationship develops as patients dare to find words for the images sent forth from their psyches’ secret chambers. The analyst must follow and relate without judgment. The process of following and relating in earnest will take the analyst to unknown, possibly frightening and dangerous places within himself. This is the nature of the work. It is its excitement and its danger.
This openness towards another is erotic in its truest sense. Yet we must remember that Eros is a god, an archetypal force, that can and often does wreak havoc with our minds and personas, especially if they are built on the shaky grounds of collective values.
The psychoanalytic relationship has become much more refined but has also lost much zest and verve since its early inception. We do know now that sexual contact with patients causes tremendous, sometimes irreparable harm to their psyches and is to be resisted at all cost, even if desired and initiated by the patient. (I believe this to be true not only for psychoanalysts, therapists, but for most teachers, mentors, practitioners and “gurus” of all creeds). Yet while the concrete enactment must be denied, the often heart and gut wrenching power of eros, which may or may not manifest in a sexual way, needs to be consciously held, sometimes even suffered in any analysis worth its salt. But without love there is not much chance for transformation. Yet the shadow of authentic eros is power driven predation and the field of psychotherapy has seen its fair share of it, and still does in many ways.
There is much to learn from the courage and mistakes of our analytic ancestors. It takes courage to see and be seen and to relate and accept what is within ourselves and the other. Mistakes will happen in all our relational lives, inside and outside the consultation room. It takes even more courage to acknowledge them as such.
Salute to the bravery of all the seekers, patients and analysts, analysts and patients as they subject themselves to mutual scrutiny.
The film is based on John Kerr‘s scholarly and carefully researched book with (almost) the same title ~ A Most Dangerous Method ~ an excellent book, I highly recommend it.
For those who wish to dive deeper into the history of psychoanalysis I suggest, The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri Ellenberger.
It has been awhile. I could think of numerous reasons why I had not been writing. At least one of them pertains to the subject matter stirring in me. How does one communicate what happens in the sanctum of psychotherapy? By definition we therapists are in the background, from the Freudian notion of the therapist as a “blank screen” to modern day issues of confidentiality, therapists have become accustomed to not talking about their experience, of what they “see” while they sit there, hour after hour, in their consultation rooms, which more often than not turn into battlefields of forces and energies larger than any individual. Welcome to my world.
If alchemy is the art of seeing, then Jungian analysts are the alchemists among the practicing scientists of the soul. The best ones of us “see” energy. It is a kind of imaginal seeing, that can take various forms, depending on typology and personality of the practitioner. Even a subtle physical, bodily sensation can be experienced as a psychic image with meaning. From this perspective, an image can be a thought or a sound, a memory, any kind or perceptive experience, which is felt and entered into with the purpose of extracting its essence in that very moment.
Jungian analysts go through a rigorous training for many years to train their bodies and minds to become finely tuned instruments, which can translate vibrational energy into felt psychic images. And thus the weaving of a new story begins….
Each person is its own universe. We are all fundamentally the same while also entirely unique. Unless pathologically stuck, our personal psyche reflects the movements and dynamics of the larger, cosmic, archetypal psyche. The constellations and dynamics of our inner world, which manifest in our moods, thoughts, perceptions and images reflect the movement of this larger autonomous psyche at any particular moment in time. Wake up ~ for we are indeed participants in a cosmic and divine drama.
Jung said “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed”. In the course of a day’s work, I may consult with anywhere between four to eight people. That is four to eight unique psychic constellations. It is as if I were taken to a different universe each time a new patient walks into the room. Initially our main task as therapists is to be open and perceptive to the energies entering the space. We observe the images and their feeling tone as they emerge in us triggered by any new person in the room. I remain truthful to classical analytical tradition when I borrow the analogy of the analyst as the vagina, open, receptive and permeable.
But the scene changes with every hour, with every new patient. The analyst is a hitchhiker on a zigzag ride within the great autonomous psyche.
Whenever a new patient walks into the room, it is as if I am invited to step into an imaginal cab, which takes me to a different spot in the vast landscape of psyche. A spot where the personal and the archetypal psyche meet and which reflects a snapshot of the process towards consciousness of this particular person at that very specific point in time. We may think of Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic field and resonance”, which postulates that there is a mode of transmission of shared informational aka archetypal patterns.What initially begins as an account of a very personal struggle and cause of suffering reveals itself as an aspect of a cosmic drama hidden behind the facade of mundane problems. In this scenario I am invited to observe and participate with the entirety my being in a story that enfolds in the form of images, feelings and bodily sensations. At the end of the day, all we are left with is our own process of making sense of and participating in life. Those of us psychotherapists, Jungian or otherwise, who understand that we are stewards of psyche appreciate the privilege of being allowed into the process of another individual.
Nietzsche noted in “Beyond Good and Evil” that “he who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.” I think Jung would have agreed. Both, Freud and Jung, were very much aware of the destructive forces in psyche and nature. There is an innate inertia, an inborn pull which wants to prevent consciousness at all cost. This force is the hero’s enemy and sometime nemesis. This is the battle the hero has to fight. We all have to fight this battle, day in and day out. The road towards consciousness is not only full of twists and detours, it is paved with often seemingly insurmountable obstacles. These are the monsters and knife wielding intruders of our dreams. Many of these images represent psychic contents which can be integrated, battles which the ego can win, but there may also be an archetypal treacherous anti-life force which is beyond integration, at least at this stage of our psychic evolution.
Here we can add another descriptor to what the depth-psychologist is ~ a hitchhiker, a steward, but also a warrior. For battle we do, with and for our patients. Not with advice and not with smart (if we are lucky) interpretations, but by joining our patient in the abyss of their experience, by confronting the monstrous mirror-images in our own psyche and by tending to, the sometimes viciously attacking, energies constellated in the field. Winning a battle here usually means not being sucked into its devouring vortex. Heroically staying two steps ahead of a flood that threatens to drown consciousness.
And then the day ends and my last patient is leaving the office. I emerge out of the shared spaces. It takes some time to develop a sense of my own psychic contours again. I reflect on the day and all the places I was taken to in that familiar yet different universe of the other person. And yes, viewed from the outside, I was just sitting there.
What did happen to psychotherapy? The word alone can send unpleasant shivers down the spine of some and evoke images of state regulated symptom control in order to increase “evidenced based” productivity in the workforce and compliance with societal norms. It sounds sickening, but is true. We have created a narrow path of what is considered “good mental health” and in the process marginalized large numbers of people who do not fit the established criteria. Is psychotherapy supposed to be that? It is certainly not what I had in mind when I entered the field. And I would like to believe that the founders of modern psychotherapy from Freud to Jung, would be, maybe not surprised, but still abhorred by what psychotherapy has become nowadays, particular in institutional settings.
Psyche means soul and psychology is the science of the soul, while our word therapy derives from the Greek therapeia, which means healing. The Greek myth of Psyche talks about her suffering, not because she is “ill” but her suffering being an unavoidable “symptom” of her journey towards union with her love Eros and ultimately on her journey towards immortality. By learning to love and by enduring the pain associated with it we transcend our physical limitations.
Looked at from this perspective we are all in need of healing and guidance. It removes the prevalent and stigmatizing divide between the “healthy” and the “ill”. Our current definition of “mental health” causes more harm than help. It terrorizes the soul. The truth is we are all in the same boat. We may have different life stories and we may be at different stages of psychic development, but we all participate in the same divine drama of becoming conscious of who we are, which may be just another way of stating our movement towards immortality.
Therapists of the Jungian persuasion appreciate the soul. We are stewards for psyche. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve the collective and psyche at the same time. When Jung developed his idea of “individuation”, he understood that an individual following his true calling may be taken far from collective values and expectations. To walk one’s own path may at times take one even far from what is considered “good mental health”. If you have not ventured into the darkest recesses of your soul, no treasure shall ever be yours.
But we therapists must not fall into the deadly trap of believing that we facilitate a healing or that we have the capacity to guide a patient’s psyche. That would be a fatal inflation. What we can, in fact, what we must do is twofold. For one, we must provide a safe space, a container for the work to occur and we must develop eyes to see the energetic shifts and battles fought out in this space. We can hope, maybe even pray that the true guide of souls, Hermes, shows up and guides the work.
This necessary safe space is not unlike the alchemical vessel. It is both an actual physical location, as well as an imaginal space. It is the field created between therapist and patient. We can imagine this field as a crucible, an open vessel. This kind of soul work is not counceling. We do not give advice. On the imaginal level it is a relationship between two equals. The sparks and darts (transference) will fly back and forth. It will get heated. The imaginal vessel needs an opening for toxic vapors (emotions) to be released. A therapist will begin to “see” the circulating energy as old contents are broken down, bottomless despair is mutually suffered and only then, with grace, a new content in the form of an unexpected thought, an image, a dream will present itself.
At other times the vessel of soul work needs to be imagined as hermetically sealed. When new life needs to be protected. This could be when the therapist senses, “sees” the shimmer of a newly emerging attitude in the patient. Often before the patient has any awareness of it or is unwilling to imbue it with any energy. Just like a plant needs water and light, a barely present new psychic attitude needs to be watered with feeling and fed with the energy of intent.
All too often have the inner workings of the therapy vessel been forgotten. What has survived are the outer manifestations of confidentiality and the code of ethics to protect the patient. Both are crucial aspects of therapeutic work, but without an eye for the drama lived out in the imaginal space of therapeutic work, soul is abandoned one more time again. So you psychotherapists out there, in whose service are you?