Transpersonal Psychotherapy – Jungian Approaches to Imaging and Symptoms as Symbols

Jung and Symbolic Language

We are now returning to the more transpersonal focused material on the course.  We had  a strong taster in the first year during a week of creative imagination, which I personally found very powerful and transformative. Perhaps that week, upon reflection, was the foundation of the whole course for we had learned the fundamentals about working with the imagination. 

I have enjoyed the psychoanalytical theory thus far on the course and the existentialist lectures that formed a bridge from psychoanalysis to the transpersonal.  Now we are about to embark on the work of transpersonal authors such as Ken Wilber, and work with the Chakras, the planes of consciousness and the alchemical journey.   But first,  we had a lecture on Jungian approaches to imaging and symptoms as symbols

Symbolic language is the language of the soul. Remember that the shadow is not always negative.  The shadow contains all that is unconscious and might contain a positive quality.  For instance, being able to receive and acknowledge praise from others could be in the shadow as that person might not be able to easily receive compliments.

What does an image stir in you?  This is where advertising agencies have traditionally been particularly clever in targeting consumers with advertisements to sell expensive goods and services. Once you become conscious and discover what the symbol is all about it then will leave your psyche. A repetitive dream means we are not getting the message which our unconscious is sending us. In that case the image or symbol will continue to bang on the door.

Symbols and images can lead us into active imagination. Active imagination is a massive landscape containing all collective unconscious, where archetypes live and it is where Maslow referred to peak experiences.  What defines transpersonal psychotherapy is the defining orientation of the therapist namely that the client is a spiritual being.  Transpersonal psychotherapists share a lot of common ground with therapists from other schools in the way they will reflect back material to the client, mirror to the client, engage in active listening, holding and containing and so on. But the defining difference in transpersonal psychotherapy is the active seeking for the spiritual dimension.

you should be guided by the client.

It is dangerous to interpret symbols and images particularly from dreams.  You should be guided by the client. What do the presenting images and symbols mean to the client? Our job, however, as therapist is to help decode the symbols and messages from the inner world that are manifesting in the physical world. How can I help a particular client secure meaning for a particular symbol or image at this particular stage of their life? Reading a dictionary of images might inform your knowledge on the subject but might also produce the risk that you jump to conclusions.

How to work with the active imagination?

We can explore initially through association and interpretation as clients need insight. We can explore what is happening in the body. The aim is to associate where energies are getting tied up with particular symbols. Can we help clients to reclaim energy that is stifled elsewhere?

Here is an exercise on working with the active imagination. Take some mindful steps to becoming receptive by deep breathing.

1. What is your current main stressors?

2. How does it affect your body?

3. It is like ……?

4. Is there a memory where you felt like this before?

5. If this symptom was a friend what might it say about your life?

Then work with the images that come up. This exercise might help to bypass the defences with a client. Obviously one needs to tread carefully here when dealing with clients who might be experiencing psychotic symptoms.

Additional resources:

Some interesting quotes from the lecture:

Seyyed Hossein Nasr Man does not make symbols, he is transformed by them.

Myth consists of symbols that have not been invented consciously, they have just happened.  Jung

Erich Fromm  All myths have one thing in common; they are all written in same language namely symbolic language.  Symbolic language is a language in which inner experiences, feelings, and thoughts are expressed as if they were sensory experiences. It is a language which has a different logic to the one we speak in the day time. It is a logic in which time and space are not the ruling categories but intensity and association are.