A well-known psychotherapist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, spent his life delving into the overlapping waters of spirituality and psychotherapy. Jung was interested in the way human beings experience the ethereal and divine in every day life. He taught that symbols, whether in dreams or in the waking state, represent ideas and concepts that can’t be captured in words or pinned down indefinitely by any culture.
As a psychotherapist, Jung studied the psychological process of coming to terms with these existential and spiritual concepts. He sought to understand the relationship of spiritual symbols and archetypes to the human psyche or soul. In his commentary on, The Secret of the Golden Flower, Jung compares modern day psychological symptoms to our primitive reactions to the gods.
“…we imagine we have left such phantoms of gods far behind. But what we have outgrown are only the word – ghosts, not the psychic facts which were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as possessed by our autonomous psychic contents as if they were gods. Today they are called phobias, compulsions, and so forth, or in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the solar plexus, and creates specimens for the physician’s consulting room, or disturbs the brain of the politicians and journalists who then unwittingly unleash mental epidemics.”
In therapy, clients often describe their behaviors as uncharacteristic of themselves and difficult to control, as if an outside force were propelling their actions. It’s not difficult to see how the Greeks could have believed that circumstances and reactions were influenced by unseen, powerful deities. Today, a similar relationship is found when people feel like slaves to their own mental health symptoms and, either willingly or not, submit to their influences.
In days past, the remedy was to appeal to the gods for help and pity; to respect them and attempt to understand their nature. Yet, this same remedy is not applied to neurosis. What is it that makes neurosis and symptoms so less approachable than powerful and unpredictable gods? Perhaps the idea of gods allowed people to explore depths within themselves from a safer vantage point; places that one would not willingly venture into. Perhaps resolution with the psyche today comes by approaching our phobias, compulsions and symptoms with the same respect, reverence, curiosity and acceptance that men and women used to make peace with the gods, and consequently, with themselves.
The Spirit of Therapy
Where psychotherapy interacts with our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and relational wellbeing.