The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: If there is any reaction, both are transformed.
Something profound occurs in the initial stages of Jungian psychoanalysis when patients recognize that the Unconscious is a reality, a guiding factor in their lives that is of equal importance to that of consciousness, and one which often acts counter to their intentions and will. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is not about finding solutions and understanding to help one adapt better or to gain more control in life. While deeper capacities for awareness and reflection do emerge in the analytic process, they do so only after the encounter of the unconscious with consciousness has both challenged and broken down the barriers erected by our "false selves." These are the old attachments we have to emotional patterns and attitudes that maintain both our security and our separation from a deeper experience of authentic life and relationship, rife with uncertainty.
The Shared Analytic Field
A patient asked me recently if I could talk about what it was like for me in our analytic process. I reflected a moment and thought about those times when he’d be struggling in sessions with emotions or intense dreams or seemingly insoluble problems. I would try to take in the words he was saying and the feelings he was expressing in that moment. I would pay close attention not only to his experience and its impact but to feelings or images emerging spontaneously in me in that moment, as if in response to his problem. In bringing these contents into the room, my unconscious might be giving voice to what was not accessible to the conscious minds either of me or my patient. But it would allow us to explore these contents. On almost every occasion, something meaningful would arise out of our discourse, bringing new possibilities and greater consciousness to us both.
In such cases I believe that our psyches form a kind of “shared field” through the analytic process, like Jung’s idea of the two chemical substances that combine and transform each other. Contemporary psychology describes this process as intersubjectivity. In this field between analyst and patient the space opens for something new to come forward in our work—new ideas, creativity, transcendent possibilities bringing resolution to the problem. Jung called this “third or unknown thing” the Transcendent Function. This process becomes apparent in the work with dreams.
Dreams express through images and emotions all the things that consciousness keeps in the shadows. Working on dreams in analysis can bring awareness to the deadening attitudes and false perceptions of the ego, whose primary aim is to maintain security and keep the world unchanged. By facing the Shadow arising from dreams the fixed ego becomes “decentered” and the horizons of consciousness widen. In Shadow work, whether in dream or waking life, we encounter what the ego cannot bear and has therefore repressed in the past or avoids in the present. These may include painful memories or recent experiences of grief, loss, tragedy, trauma, illness, or misfortune. Over time, the inner work of analysis brings about the gradual integration of those things that we fear, as the self slowly develops greater resilience and cohesiveness needed to bear the difficulties of life.
In my thirty years in practice and twenty years as Director of the Pacific Northwest Center for Dream Studies, I have worked with well over twenty-five thousand dreams of clients. I would never assume to know their true meaning. Answers that propose to reveal The Truth from some authority, be it a clergyman or analyst seeks to bypass life’s difficulties or its mysteries and to foreclose on personal truth. Like dreamwork, analysis does not look for the answer or solutions to problems that will help the patient adapt better to life, but rather looks to help the patient deepen their inner understanding and relationships to others, while finding meaning in their lives.
Analytic psychotherapy, on the one hand, views traumatic experiences as a cause of often needless suffering. But on the other hand, it views the encounter with trauma as a source from which a greater depth of humanity, understanding and meaning might arise within us. As long as the ego does not find a clever way to stay one step ahead, these encounters may humble our egotism, open us up to deep emotional life, or help us to transcend the patterns that deaden our lives. Jung described these fixed, emotional patterns as complexes, whereby unconscious affects rise up from the psyche and take possession of the ego, distorting our consciousness, as a means of maintaining habitual reactions to keep the status quo. Our complexes have always been with us and great effort is required to transcend their spell.
While these are but a few of the areas that one may experience while in Jungian analysis, each analysis is individual, unique and a mystery unfolding over time. Change takes time.