In Carl Jung’s book “Modern Man In Search Of A Soul”, there is a chapter called aims of psychotherapy that caught my eye. I was always interested in the practice of psychotherapy and decided to read how he approached the problems of his patients.
Carl Jung had an interesting way of helping people understand their neuroses. He said that he learned and grew as much as his patients did throughout his conversations and interactions with them.
One of his methods was to help the patients interpret their dreams. There’s a lot of controversy around dream interpretation as a method of psychotherapy. There’s no way to collect empirical evidence to suggest that dream interpretations actually help. Dream interpretations are subjective and can be explained in many ways.
Carl Jung does address this point, however. If you think about it, anything in this world can be interpreted in a number of ways. Something can mean anything or nothing at all — it depends on how you want to look at it, what it means to you, how it will serve you in the goals you are trying to reach. What matters about interpretation is what kind of effect it produces within you. If the interpretation changes your attitude and helps you overcome a hurdle in your life, it was the right one.
“Looked at from the side of theory, a dream-image can mean anything or nothing. For that matter, does a thing or a fact ever mean anything in and of itself? We can only be sure that it is always the human being who interprets, that is, gives meaning to a fact. And that is the gist of the matter for psychology…
For the dreamer this thought contained a criticism, and through it a certain change in attitude was brought about. By such slight changes, which one could never think out rationally, things begin to move and the dead point is overcome.”
Another issue I can think about is for the therapist to plant their own theories and ideas into the patient’s mind through persuasion or perhaps authority bias.
Carl Jung actually addresses this fact by saying that the psychotherapist does not force or persuade someone to take their ideas — if the patient decides to accept the idea, then the patient was secretly onboard with it already.
If the idea is not truly what the patient needed to change and recover from his neuroses, then their psyche will naturally reject the “suggestion” and return to their suffering state.
“I not only give the patient an opportunity to see what occurs to him in connection with his dream, but I allow myself to do the same. I give him the benefit of my guesses and opinions. If, in doing this I should open the door to so-called “suggestion,” I see no occasion for regret; it is well known that we are susceptible only to those suggestions with which we are already secretly in accord.
No harm is done if now and then one goes astray in this riddle-reading. Sooner or later the psyche rejects the mistake, much as an organism does a foreign body. I need not try to prove that my dream interpretation is correct, which would be a somewhat hopeless undertaking, but must simply help the patient to find what it is that activates him — I was almost betrayed into saying what is actual.”
Carl Jung’s aim is not to prove how smart he is to himself and other people by interpreting his patients’ dreams. His aim is not to become a savior for the lost.
His aim is to strengthen the individual and help them walk again on their own two feet when they’re struck down by life and have no idea how to stand up again. His aim is to work together with the patient — he has no idea where he wants to go but allows himself and his patient to be guided through honest communication and freedom of psychological expression.
I found it interesting that he also advised psychotherapists to refrain from being too fixated on a clear goal, as it can impede the recovery of the individual.
At first I thought — “but shouldn’t a psychotherapist have a goal or be able to lead the patient to a better state of mind? If the psychotherapist doesn’t know where they’re going, both individuals might be going around in circles and all their efforts might produce nothing of significance.”
But it seems that Carl Jung applied Freud’s idea of free association to his therapeutic practices and found it useful and effective for clients to bring forth memories and insights from their psyches that were unable to manifest themselves until certain psychological criteria were met.
I’m going to guess that some of the criteria would be:
- the patient would have to trust the psychotherapist
- be comfortable in being emotionally vulnerable and radically honest
- (this probably should be first) have the ability to explore their psyche to contemplate the repressed or hidden memories and experiences that might be the root of their problem.
Another thing is, most times as a psychotherapist, you probably won’t know what is deemed a “successful recovery”. Neither does the patient. They might not even know what their problem is, which makes it hard for you and for them to conjure up a solution. What can we make of this situation? Which direction is the way forward? How do we know which way is up or down if we both don’t know where we’re supposed to go?
Sometimes, we don’t even know why we want the things we want, and it is beyond our current understanding to find out what exactly the reason is.
We try to resort to reason and try to make sense of everything, but it is often futile since we cannot hope to understand the psyche and its motives and desires.
“As far as possible, I let pure experience decide the therapeutic aims. This may perhaps seem strange, because it is usually assumed that the therapist should have an aim. But it seems to me that in psychotherapy esepecially it is advisable for the phsyician not to have too fixed a goal. He can scarcely know what is wanted better than do nature and the will-to-live of the sick person.
The great decisions of human life have as a rule far more to do with the instincts and other mysterious unconscious factors than with conscious will and well-meaning reasonableness. The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. Each of us carries his own life-form — an indeterminable form which cannot be superseded by any other.”
But this doesn’t mean that it is impossible to treat patients who have unknown ailments and problems. Carl Jung had an interesting method of drawing out deep insights that I’d never really thought would be an effective way of treating people.
He’d ask them to draw what they saw in their dreams and fantasies.
He would ask them because when his patients had “colorful or curious dreams”, they would tell him that if they were a painter they would make a picture of what they saw.
When he would ask them to draw what they saw, he was almost always met with the objection: “I am not a painter.” He would then reply:
“neither are modern painters — for which very reason modern painting is absolutely free — and that is anyhow not a question of the beautiful, but merely of the trouble one takes with the picture.”
He didn’t want to evaluate the patients’ paintings based on how beautifully they could draw. He wasn’t trying to see how talented his patients were or if they could replicate exactly what they saw in their dream. He simply wanted to see the inner world of his patients — to see what they saw when they closed their eyes and allowed their psyche to communicate with them.
“To paint what we see before us is a different matter from painting what we see within.”
“It is not a question of art — or rather it should not be a question of art — but of something more, something other than mere art: namely the living effect upon the patient himself. The meaning of individual life, whose importance from the social standpoint is negligible, is here accorded the highest value, and for its sake the patient struggles to give form, however crude and childish to the inexpressible.”
Next, he answers the question of why he encouraged his patients to express themselves through drawing. He wanted to “produce an effect” in the individual. He wanted to have the individual engage with his psyche and engage in a creative endeavor.
By creating something and interacting with their inner world, the individual will find out that they have the ability to explore their own psyche and, rather than being dependent on the therapist to tell them what their dreams and fantasies mean, they will undertake that responsibility for themselves, thus taking a step towards psychological maturity and becoming independent.
“But why do I encourage patients to express themselves at a certain stage of development by means of brush, pencil or pen My purpose is the same here as in my handlings of dreams: I wish to produce an effect.
In the childish condition described above, the patient remains in a passive state; but now he begins to play an active part. At first he puts on paper what has come to him in fantasy, and thereby gives it the status of a deliberate act. He not only talks about it, but is actually doing something about it.
Psychologically speaking, it is one thing for a person to have an interesting conversation with his doctor twice a week — the results of which hang somewhere or other in mid-air — and quite another thing to struggle for hours at a time with refractory brush and colors, and to produce in the end something which, at its face value, is perfectly senseless.
Were his fantasy really senseless to him, the effort to paint it would be so irksome that he could scarcely be brought to perform this exercise a second time. But since his fantasy does not seem to him entirely senseless, his busying himself with it increases its effect upon him. Moreover, the effort to give visible form to the image enforces a study of it in all its parts, so that in this way its effects can be completely experienced. The discipline of drawing endows the fantasy with an element of reality, thus lending it greater weight and greater driving power. And actually these crude pictures do produce effects which, I must admit, are rather difficult to describe.
When a patient has seen once or twice how he is freed from a wretched state of mind by working at a symbolical picture, he will thenceforward turn to this means of release whenever things go badly with him. In this way something invaluable is won, namely a growth of independence, a step towards psychological maturity. The patient can make himself creatively independent by this method — if I may call it such.
He is no longer dependent on his dreams or on his doctor’s knowledge, but can give form to his own inner experience by painting it. For what he paints are active fantasies — it is that which activates him. And that which is active within is himself, but not in the sense of his previous error when he mistook his personal ego for the self; it is himself in a new sense, for his ego now appears as an object actuated by the life forces within.
Creation is to actualize something from potential chaos. Simply stated, it is to interact with the inner chaos of your psyche, organize and structure the potentiality of the chaos, and bring it forth into the material world. This process is extremely difficult and anyone who has tried to produce anything has experienced this.
Every time you click the “New Story” button on Medium and see the white space, you are engaging in a process to produce order out of chaos.
You write because it is therapeutic. But have you ever asked yourself why it feels so therapeutic? Perhaps it is because we are talking and interacting with our own psyche. We are basically following the practice that Carl Jung suggested his patients to start — drawing and mapping the world that we are living in. We should not be concerned about how it looks aesthetically, but pay more attention to how it activates us, or makes us feel.
Does writing make you feel happy? Does writing help you find peace in certain areas in your life? Does writing make you feel like you are growing as a person both intellectually and emotionally? Does writing tap into a part of our psyche that desperately calls for freedom, waiting to be manifested?
The world we see individually is unique from everyone else. We all have experiences and biological factors that make us seek out different things in life. We all experience the world in vastly different ways, and we are the only ones who can show others what the world looks like through our five senses.
If you’d like to go down the path of psychological maturity, I suggest you take Carl Jung’s advice and take up a creative endeavor. Explore your psyche and see what kind of images you can conjure up. Create pictures, portraits and stories of the world inside you, and show everyone a small piece of what you experience in every moment of your life.
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
— Carl Jung