Soul and Psychotherapy

Recently a younger colleague wrote me about the agency in which she had previously been practicing. I was not surprised by what she said because her experience is, unfortunately, typical of a lot of places that offer “psychotherapy.” A couple of years ago, she wrote, she left a large therapy practice in part because of the rigid requirements driven by insurance company regulations. “I often felt apologetic about using the client’s valuable therapy time to complete a form, label someone with a diagnosis . . ., and introduce behavioral checklists that were often superficial at best and insulting at worst. If I dared to mention something like the nature of a client’s dreams in a quarterly review . . . my chart would get kicked back for ‘corrections.’ That environment did not foster transforming or even long-term results for my clients.” That approach based on the sickness model, behavioral change, and pharmaceutical intervention has little to do with the soul or with ultimate healing.

People seek psychotherapy for several reasons: they have suffered an emotional loss or wound; their life has lost its zest; they experience an anxiety and emptiness that nothing seems to fill. In a word, “soul” has disappeared from their life. The kind of treatment my younger colleague describes will not restore soul to their life.

What do I, as a psychologist, mean by “soul”?  The best definition I know of comes from Immanuel Kant:  the human soul, he writes, “dwells in an indissoluble communion with all the immaterial nature of the spirit world, alternately affecting these natures and receiving impressions from them.” 1 Everything I do in psychotherapy has to aim at restoring soul. This means becoming attuned to “inner guidance” as well as learning how to ask for “inner guidance.” When a person has lost contact with “inner guidance,” that person is adrift in a materialistic world without a compass. This is the condition known as “loss of soul.”

Another colleague, J.R, Haule 2, situates the experience of “loss of soul” in our cultural history: “In the past six or seven hundred years, we have undergone a consciousness-shift of 180 degrees. Formerly soul was our primary reality. Now we have only a body and a rational ego. The material conditions of our lives have improved immeasurably, but we’ve lost the . . . transcendent scope that belongs to the reality of soul. In a situation like this, it is often the depressives among us who are the most realistic regarding the impoverishment of our human existence.”

Haule eloquently discusses the experience of soul, as well as the “soul-less-ness” of depression and the necessity of soul-to-soul experience in therapy: ‘[S]oul has an affinity for communion with other souls. . . .  [The person in touch with soul] can “see” that the soul is missing from his patient only because, in his altered state of consciousness, he has “become” his own soul. And traveling as soul, he is able to find and restore the lost soul through establishing a soul-to-soul connection. . . .’

So very many people in our society have lost soul, but often they have not gained the world in exchange. The therapist’s task is to help clear away the debris of conditioning that blocks access to soul, to help the client revive the ability to “listen in” and get the message. This task takes persistent work over an extended period of time. The reward for the effort comes as one’s consciousness rests in the soul more and more often. With it comes less anxiety, less depression, and an experience of more joy in the world.  The experience of soul is evidence that one is living one’s authentic life.

Oct, 2016  Boris Matthews, PhD, LCSW practices Analytical Psychology (a.k.a. Jungian Analysis) at the Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine in Pewaukee, WI. He is a teaching and supervising faculty member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago, IL. To schedule an appointment, contact him at 608.217.5184.

Footnotes:

1 Immanuel Kant, Träume eines Geistessehers, cited in Jung (1897/1983). Some Thoughts in Psychotherapy, The Zofingia Lectures, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.34.

2 You can find J.R. Haule’s complete article by clicking on this link: http://www.jrhaule.net/depSoulLoss.html .)