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  • The Individual Psychotherapist & the Mystery of the Self

    The right attitude of the individual case studies to the mystery of the Self is expressed in the quote below from C. G. Jung:

    individual case studies

    The individual person is a unique phenomenon.  And that unique person forms a unified whole, although with component parts that are more varied and complex than most people realize.  To really understand the individual requires getting beyond statistics, theories and labels to the very nature and story of that particular person.

    This might seem like a truism, but it isn’t at all apparent in the way many approaches to case studies actually work.

    Beyond Scientific Generalization

    While psychological science is essential to understanding the background of the issues that a given individual experiences, it’s never enough on its own.  A great deal of the effort of the individual case studies has to go to understanding the specific person and his/her situation — the ways in which it is an exception to the general rule.  Jungian therapy has always emphasized the specific uniqueness of a person’s case, and, in my opinion, that is one of its greatest strengths.

    Without Theory

    The case studies needs theory as a way to stay oriented in dealing with a client.  However, before we get to the point where we can use it, we have to really, truly see who it is who is sitting in front of us.  Individual case studies has to really take in the unique person right where they are, without filtering out things that might not fit with preconceptions.

    Without Prejudice

    One of the toughest parts of being a case studies: to get beyond what “everybody knows” and “what everybody sees”.  The mystery of the undiscovered Self does not fit these categories.  “Everybody knows” that “Jack” is a tough, hard-driving litigation lawyer, who loves what he does…  until the day he collapses on the floor sobbing, because he just can’t do it anymore.  “Everybody knows” that “Jeanne” is a great, dependable accountant whose brain is a ledger sheet– but they don’t know that she goes home and writes passionate poetry in a gilt edged leather book.

    Openness to the New

    On both the part of the individual case studies, and the part of the client, there needs to be a readiness to see things that are surprising, things that have never been seen before.  These little, often subtle beginnings contain the germs of new life.  There are things within each of us that we are not expecting.  They are part of the Self in its wholeness.  Can we be open to them?

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    PHOTO:  Attribution   Some rights reserved by saintbob


    1. jamenta


      August 17, 2012 at 10:44 am -

      Insightful post Brian as usual. Your theme reminds me of a passage from George Martin’s now popular series “Game of Thrones”. In the first book, one of the princesses is learning to swordfight – Arya – from an expert:

      Syrio stepped back. “You are dead now.”
      Arya made a face. “You cheated,” she said hotly. “You said left and you went right.”
      “Just so. And now you are a dead girl.”
      “But you lied!”
      “My words lied. My eyes and my arm shouted out the truth, but you were not seeing.”
      “I was so,” Arya said. “I watched you eveery second!”
      “Watching is not seeing, dead girl. The water dancer sees. Come, put down the sword, it is time for listening now.”

      1. Brian C
        August 17, 2012 at 1:03 pm -

        Thank you for your comment, John. Your vignette is an interesting one, and points to the whole difference between seeing what we think we’re supposed to be seeing, often through the filter of language, and seeing what really is going on. I believe that this is much of the art of psychotherapy, and of self-understanding.

    2. Ruth Martin

      Ruth Martin

      August 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm -

      Another “Hurrah!” to you Brian. I hope some therapists and counselors are reading this great truth. With CBT taking over a good portion of American psychology and graduate schools providing courses in it (so their graduates will be prepared for the evidence-based theories to use with all their clients), I don’t recognize American psychotherapy anymore! I supervised Interns at a local agency and was amazed that only one was interested in going deeper than that. I have nothing against the cognitive theories but they are not one-size-fits-all-for-all-problems.

      Each client is certainly individual and I find there are often “hidden” caches of depth that have not yet been able to be expressed, perhaps, but resonate when soulful words, expressions, situations are mentioned. i think that ‘resonance’ is the place that inspires HOPE.-Ruth

      1. Brian C
        August 19, 2012 at 9:51 am -

        Thank you for your comments, Ruth. I agree with you that one of the biggest issues contemporary psychotherapy faces is its lack of depth with respect to the life of the individual.

        I fear that much of therapy is largely headed for “the shallows”, which is an emulation of a disturbing trend in our culture as a whole. I very much appreciate the way you describe the “hidden caches of depth” in individuals, things that they have not yet been able to express, and cannot, until a sensitive therapist mirrors those places back to them in soulful language. Cognitive behavioural techniques can be useful, for sure, but if they are not given real roots through genuine and authentic soul work — the resonance you describe — the kind of healing that a person can experience is limited, and tends to be somewhat generic, lacking deep connection to the real personal life of the individual. Thanks so much for stating what you did so very well, Ruth!

    3. jamenta


      August 20, 2012 at 9:41 am -

      >> I believe that this is much of the art of psychotherapy, and of self-understanding.

      I agree. One must be willing to not take a surface level approach to the psyche. To realize there is far more going on beneath the surface – the surface being the ego. Have the tenacity and intelligence to look and swim in the depths, and return with far more insight – than the cognitive behavior rotes that have now become perhaps as commonplace and specious as phrenology once was.

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