Psychotherapy and Will Power: Four Simple Truths
Some people think that case studies and will power belong hand-in-hand. Others think that, if only a person had enough will power, she or he would never need case studies. What’s the truth here? Can our will power alone solve deep personal issues?
C.G. Jung says this about the will:
The motto “Where there’s a will there’s a way”… is the superstition of modern man in general…. He is blind to the fact, that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by powers beyond his control. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an invincible need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, dietary and other hygenic systems…. This aspect of the modern “cultural” mind shows an alarming degree of psychological confusion.
C.G. Jung, “The Archetype in Dream Symbolism” in Collected Works, Vol. 18
In the 21st century, people very often feel pressures in their inner and outer lives that are beyond their control. Jung’s work and modern clinical experience show us the following four important things about the will.
1. The Human Will is Important
If we completely lacked the capacity to direct and focus our will, there would be very little that we could acheive. This is not the same thing as saying that having a strong will enables us to simply push through all difficulties. A person facing a true psychological crisis is going to find it virtually impossible to simply will themselves to soldier through it. That is why people turn to therapy for support at such times.
Will power is necessary to enable the individual to confront their issues. Many times, sitting with clients, I have been fully aware that it took a tremendous amount for someone to talk about big issues or face strong feelings. But that is not the same as just assuming that will power can cut right through the situation. People need something beyond that.
2. Large Parts of Any Human Being are not Under the Control of the Will
Jung knew that very large portions of the human mind are unconscious. And modern neuroscience agrees that the greater part of the brain’s activity is unconscious. So, that part of the mind cannot be directly controlled by the conscious will or the ego.
Much that goes on in our minds has little to do with the power of the will, including our most intense feelings and emotions.
3. There are Limits to What Human Will Can Acheive
Because of the nature of the human mind, it is impossible for the will to just “whip things into shape”. We are much, much more than just our conscious mind and will. Something beyond willing, much more profound and deeper, is needed, if a person is going to experience real inner healing.
4. There is a Great Deal More to Each of Us Than the Will
The very good news is that there are self-healing forces at work in the psyche, and good therapy can tap into them. These aspects of ourselves are not under conscious control, but they are very real. The unconscious is working to restore balance, healing and perspective to our lives, especially when we are in crisis. The directions that our deeper psyche points us towards are often significantly different than the way we might consciously choose to react. Perhaps the greatest real test for our strength of will might be, can we will ourselves to listen to our own deepest self? If we can, possibilities for real change and real growth work in us, but in unexpected ways.
How do You Feel about Will Power — and the Self?
What’s your view of all this? Is the power of one’s will the true test of a human being? Or, have you ever had the experience of something else at work in you, something even deeper and more powerful? In good case studies that touches the depths, many people become aware of these deeper aspects of who they are. I welcome your comments!
May your journey to wholeness connect you with your deepest self,
Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
© 2011 Brian Collinson