Foundations: The Ericksonian Legacy and Self-relations Psychotherapy

Body/mind Orientation

In self-relations, as with Ericksonian hypnotherapy, any significant shift in psychological experience inevitably is marked by subtle or not so subtle shifts in somatic experience. Erickson was a master at tracking and working with a wide variety of body changes in the course of trance experiences. Much of the core practice that Erickson embodied and taught, as is well-known, emerged from his personal struggles with polio, dyslexia, tone deafness, and color blindness, all of which were phenomena taking place within his body. Erickson’s life was a wonderful demonstration that such “problems” with proper sponsorship can become opportunities for unique learning and growth.

As we pointed out above, learning to “dance” with various symptomatic states is a hallmark of Ericksonian hypnotherapy and became a part of the core practice of self-relations. Above all, this entails an acquired sensitivity to the subtle languages of the body. Becoming sensitized to the body and its myriad ways of expressing itself unconsciously is one of the ways self-relations has built on Erickson’s legacy. Self-relations involves extensive training in learning to track such changes as they develop, dancing with them while working across the somatic and experiential complements. As such changes unfold, we may note that clients may feel greater association with and/or greater dissociation from the body. For example, in trance a person may feel well “oriented” within the body or experience him or herself observing the body from a distance (dissociated). These alterations may well be accompanied by shifts in physical expression and patterns of breathing, movement, eye focus, pulse rate, etc. Within the Ericksonian tradition, as well as within self-relations, observation of such developments is a good indication of the initiation or deepening of trance. Self-relations has simply added the observation that behavioral patterns involved in therapeutic trances are clearly distinguishable from those accompanying symptomatic trances and attempt more rigorously and self-consciously to develop approaches that artfully transform one into the other.

Our ability to note and to work across the somatic states associated with human distress and symptom states, transforming them into self-valuing resources, is what training in self-relations is all about. The variety and variability of somatic experiences awakened during trance is amazingly wide. The self-relations therapist often uses spontaneous bodily changes in therapy as naturalistic opportunities to invite, awaken, and amplify desirable changes without ever formally using a trance induction. When employed, formal trance inductions are often used to invite a widening or deepening of experience hinted at earlier in spontaneous or symptomatic trances but with an eye to placing them in a new more open, self-valuing context. In eye-open trance states, for example, vision may spontaneously become highly focal or blurry, light patterns may change, “tunnel vision” phenomena may occur. In association with such perceptual phenomena the face may distort or be associated with “hallucinatory” (both negative and positive) phenomena. In an eyes-closed trance, whether spontaneous or formally induced, the inner imaginal world may become more involved in experience–unusual images may develop, void-like spaces, dream images, screen memories, archetypal energy states, mythic figures, spirit-guides, etc. The central question becomes, how might these imaginal or somatic experiences that show up spontaneously or in formal trance be used so that a subject’s life opens up to wonder, play and new possibilities in experience? Making the body/mind a vessel within which joy, flexibility, curiosity and play are experienced as increasingly possible becomes the overall objective of the work.

It is important that we be clear about what self-relations has contributed to Erickson’s legacy here. I have come to think of the shift as in some ways analogous to the difference between classical music and jazz improvisation. There has been a dangerous trend in the Ericksonian community leading to movement away from the latter’s stress on the uniqueness of each person and situation and his sensitivity to context in addressing symptoms. Self-relations has sought to correct this fundamental misinterpretation of Erickson’s legacy and return to its roots where fixed invariant meanings were transformed into context-sensitive approaches, rooted in the vibrancy of the present moment and sensitive to the uniqueness of each person and situation. Gilligan repeatedly has shown that descriptions disconnected from context and the unique qualities of person and moment, tend to become “fundamentalist texts that reject what is for what should be, thereby creating suffering”. As he has said (2002:2234-235) the “repoetization of descriptions” characteristic of self-relations approaches seeks to shift the focus from the content of the text to the relationship of the reader to the text. “Thus, the magic is not in the story or its cleverly constructed details, but in the reengagement of consciousness to a story such that new meanings and experiences are unfolding. This is the primary goal in experiential-symbolic communication: not to cleverly deceive but to experientially revive the client’s consciousness.” The therapeutic meaning that emerges is something that is constructed and arises relationally from the ongoing connection between therapist and client.

To summarize, since symptom phenomena and hypnotic phenomena share so many characteristics, learning to work with symptomatic states requires, above all, that we become extremely curious about the body and all the amazing ways it gives us our experience. The second level of experience — the psychological, i.e., how a person thinks about or relates to their experience — is continuously factored into the relational dance. Learning how to build experiential bridges to work across these levels of phenomena is extremely important and is one hallmark of what self-relations has done with the Ericksonian legacy.

The Question of Identity

Now we come to the core concepts and practices of self-relations that most clearly distinguish it from Ericksonian hypnotherapy. In the late 1980s and early 1990s those of us who participated in residential supervision groups with Stephen Gilligan began to notice some subtle changes in the structure and dynamics of the groups and the experiences we were having in them. More of work in the groups focused on our own struggles as therapists and attempts to internalize and apply what we were learning to our own lives and relationships and less focused on supervision in the work we were doing with clients. Perhaps it was a natural evolution that would be expected as many of the supervision groups “matured” and developed stable core membership and distinct cultures. Perhaps it was a natural evolution of Steve’s thinking as he himself matured, systematized much of his thinking about Erickson, and found his own voice. Perhaps it was our own realization that the best way we could relate the experience of self-relations to our clients was to experience the model working in our own lives.

Which ever of the above is most applicable, you can see Steve’s struggle to find his own voice even as he sought to elucidate Erickson’s thought in a few key pieces of writing he did during this time period. The first is an essay entitled “Generative Autonomy: Principles for an Ericksonian Hypnotherapy” (Cf., Zeig, Ed., 1985a). Here you see Steve in his glory as a systematizer and commentator on Erickson’s thought. This article is quite paradoxical. It is both the most dense and systematic piece of writing Steve ever did in attempting to elucidate Erickson’s thought and the most concerted attempt to work out the general shape of his own approach. In it you see foreshadowed the basic structure of his model that would later be more clearly articulated in “A River Runs Through it: The Relational Self in Psychotherapy” (Cf., Gilligan, 1996b), in “The Relational Self: The Expanding of Love Beyond Desire” (Cf., Hoyt, Ed., 1996a) and in his first book on self-relations, The Courage to Love: Principles and Practices of Self-Relations Psychotherapy, (Gilligan, 1997.)2 These four pieces of writing in my view are the most important attempts on Gilligan’s part to lay out the core concepts and practices of self-relations psychotherapy. They should be read in conjunction with this chapter if the reader is to fully appreciate the connections between self-relations and its Ericksonian foundations.

To begin this inquiry, I direct the reader’s attention back to the story Steve related about an early encounter he had with Erickson in which he asked, “So, Dr. Erickson, what is psychotherapy?” and Erickson replied, “I don’t know!” Erickson’s answer to that question suggested that psychotherapy fundamentally is about what people want and their basic questions about life. Now, I would like to direct your attention to another important story that Steve frequently told in his residential workshops, a story that he related in “The Relational Self: the Expanding of Love Beyond Desire.” Steve said (Cf., Gilligan, 2002: 254):

Growing up in an Irish Catholic family in San Francisco, I used to get into big trouble. Such rascality would typically earn me a face-to-face encounter with my drunken father who would demand to know, “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?” The question arrested my attention, so it is not surprising that I have continued to ponder it over the years. How we ask and answer this question of psychological identity seems crucial to how we experience and express ourselves in the world.

If we think about these two stories for a moment, it becomes clear that one of the questions that came more and more to the fore in the evolution of self-relations was the question of identity. As we shall see, the core concepts and practices of self-relations all in various ways sought to address this question of identity and place such questioning in a context where client’s relationship to the myriad manifestations of being became central questions addressed in the therapeutic dance. This, in turn, opened up inquiry to how being is related to becoming and belonging and how all these processes may be framed so that the question of identity becomes central in the inquiry. The prototype or model of self-relations is well known and clearly articulated in several of the sources discussed above. However, it might be useful to briefly summarize it here and show how it builds on the Erickson’s legacy.

The Prototype for Self-relations Work

When Steve laid out the “core premises of self relations” in The Courage to Love and the articles mentioned above he was adamant that the prototype of self-relations was not the be thought of as a fixed model of how to do therapy. Far from an “invariant prescription” or “miracle question” to be used in an formulaic or rigid way, the self-relations prototype is a highly adaptable set of principles designed to complement the wide variability in the ways clients present themselves in therapy and the wide variability in styles of work that distinguish different therapists. As one seeks to learn and apply this model, it is important to remember that the aesthetics underlying the dance and the intentionality that supports the relationship between therapist and client must always be paramount in whatever happens in therapy. As Steve himself said (1996a:227):

“This is not a model to be explored without a felt sense of ongoing connectedness; to put it bluntly, if you can’t get it, don’t use the model. This is difficult to convey in writing, but crucial to understand in practice. . . The main focus of the method is on gently opening mind-body circuits, to move language from an “in-the-head” intellectual analysis to an “in-the-body” felt sense that evokes multiple levels. It should be used in a soft rather than a hard intensity, with rational grounding and nonverbal pacing.”

The steps in implementing the model are pretty straightforward and easy to describe.

Step 1: Identifying the problem

It is an obvious place to start, as in any therapeutic approach. However, even here there is a particular kind of art or aesthetic that is employed in doing so. How one frames the problem—how one begins the process of questioning—of course, is directly implicated in the quality and depth of the answers one is ultimately able to receive. The tendency to move prematurely into describing the problem in diagnostic terms, the most common mistake therapists make in problem formulation, is to be avoided at all cost.3Rather, in self-relations one slows the process down and attempts to get a moment-by-moment, frame-by-frame description of the problem. The underlying purpose of the questioning is to identify the underlying sequence of disconnection from vital self-relational processes, in short, the times and places when clients abandon themselves.4 As Steve describes it (2002: 272):

Clients will frequently rush through frames, so the therapist must try gently to get the details of both external behaviors (“And then he did that”) and internal experiences (“And then I felt angry” or “Then I thought I was wrong”). The basic idea guiding the therapist is that circumstances at some point trigger the activated of the neglected self, which prompts the person to “leave time” (i.e., successive moments of now”). This dissociation sticks the person in a loop; since he or she has left time, life moves from “one damn thing after the next.” to “the same damn thing over and over” [to paraphrase Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch’s (1974) classic definition of a clinical problem]. This is the “break in belongingness” and well as the “break in relatedness” that moves a difficult event to a symptom-producing clinical problem.”

When fully comprehended and practiced with skill, the art of problem formulation in self-relations becomes a way to compassionately and gently guide clients away from many of the unaware ways they hold and describe their identity in terms that freeze internal process and turn human beings into “things.” In so doing self-relations embodies one of the essential practices of Ericksonian hypnotherapy, described above, namely, where before there were frozen ideas, cut off from the body’s own underlying language and experience, now there shall be fluid dynamic processes that allow us to begin to sense how life moves through us as we move through life. Questions are asked in such a way that experience is revivified in the very description of the problem sequence. Emotional, imaginal and psychological processes are evoked and named in such a way that transformational possibilities are seeded in the very description of the problem.

Step 2: Identify and Somatically Locate the Neglected Self

This step flows out of the very process of problem formulation. The “neglected self” is a core concept in self-relations –a short-hand way of describing the myriad ways people learn over a lifetime to abandon, neglect or do violence to themselves. The “neglected self” describes those processes where clients learn unconsciously to experience, “embody” and “take over” the ways they were harmed, neglected, abandoned by others in the course of their lives. These forms of violence are marked by the very spot in the problem description where one notices that it is necessary for the client to leave their experience or dissociate. This is the spot where one most readily can see “breaks in relatedness” that clients experience—the places where symptoms most likely will show up and you can get a clearer somatic “reading” of what they are all about. The process of locating the “neglected self’ typically follows a sequence where one first gets a sense of the somatic center or location of the neglected self by actually physically locating it in one’s body.5 Then one seeks to identify a specific chronological age that best is associated with the “felt sense” and somatic location of the neglected self. The therapists literally asks his or her client, “If you were to let a number come to mind that represents an age for that experience in your [identified somatic location], what number do you become aware of?”6 Finally, once the age and location of the neglected self is clearly identified, there is a subtle shift in the language used to address this specific, historically real-ized, embodiment of the neglected self. One begins to talk about “It” as if it were a “He” or “She:” As Steve points out (2002:275):

A crucial question in psychological relationship, either internal or external, is whether the other is regarded as an “it” or a “thou.” Self-relations looks to move the neglected self from an “it” that needs to be controlled or otherwise disregarded to a “thou” that can be accepted. For example, say the client responds to the question regarding age with the number “Three.” The therapist may continue: “So [‘seeing’ and sensing the person at three] . . . she is three.” A number of clients will respond to such a comment, when it is delivered with appropriate emphatic qualities and soft attentional focus, with gentle tears or other emotional softenings. Such a response will usually be experienced as coming from someplace other than one’s intellectual ‘in control’ normal self.”

It is important to remember that such a way of relating to the symptom is clearly right there and anticipated in Erickson’s way of addressing the unconscious. The myriad manifestations of the symptom in the autonomous language of the body require that we develop specific ways of joining symptomatic trances with the resource of trance-like experiences. This is done through language and presence. When the therapist addresses this “other” being in a deeply experiential, absorbing manner, the client cannot help but have a hypnotic-like response of feeling another part of his or her self is activated and listening. As Gilligan (2002: 270) points out, “a symptomatic self occurs when one or more influential others invade the boundaries of the self, leading to a break in relatedness between the cognitive and archetypal selves, as well as a break in belonging of the self to its larger field. These breaks are what allow alienating ideas (‘curses’) to be internalized. If processing of the traumatic event is inhibited, the alienating ideas are mistaken for one’s own voice, and the traumatic relationship is mistaken for one’s identity.” The ability to return consciousness to a felt sense of the relational field, to its environment and to an intelligence and power great than the isolated ego is first step in restoring the fluid and open processes that characterize the relational self.

Step 3: Activate and Locate the Normal or Cognitive Self

The shift to addressing the “normal” or “cognitive” self is marked by a distinct shift in communicational style and intent. Here the therapist attempts to lay out relational pathways that model and help clients experience the fluid and open processes that characterize the relational self. The therapist’s communication is less hypnotic, more straightforward, but clearly focused on building an experiential bridge connecting the felt sense of the neglected self with a resource anchored in a larger more field-based identity and in the present time. Steve describes this shift thus (2002:276):

The shift to addressing the normal self should generally be accompanied by a shift in nonverbal communication to a less hypnotic, more straightforward, but still engaging and gentle tone:

Therapist: So she’s three . . . and, by the way, how old are you, in reality?

Client: [Makes a nonverbal shift, coming out of light trance] I’m 43.

Therapist: Yes, I can see that you’re 43. And can you tell me, what’s the best thing about being this age as compared to three?

It is important to stress again the artistry that guides these shifts in language and presence. This is not a formula or technique that can be followed prescriptively or in an invariant way. The intent is to guide clients to a place where they can learn comfortably to hold both the presence of the neglected self and their own normal cognitive/social self at the same time. Steve has likened this process to systematic desensitization—where the aversive stimuli of the neglected self are progressively pared with the positive experiences, images, and thoughts of the “normal” or “cognitive” self.7 Therapeutic conversations stay in this liminal place as long as it takes to firmly establish the link between the neglected self and the cognitive self. The therapist stays open and responsive to a natural tendency for clients to regress back into the neglected self if they feel unsafe, exposed or shamed in the process. At the same time communication can become more hypnotic and playful if the client loses contact with the neglected self or escapes prematurely into “heady” talk about the neglected self but without a “felt sense” of its presence.

Step 4: Identify and Differentiate Alienating Sponsors

Experiences that typically are associated with such shifts in language and experience are accompanied by the invading presence of alienating ideas, ego states, or contact with negative sponsors. The presence of “aliens” is seen in these shifts when clients lose their contact with their “center” and their ability to stay connected with their relational-selves in the present. We are influenced by many experiences over our lifetimes that either bless and awaken our ability to connect to belly, heart, or spirit, staying present in the stream of our lives, or other experiences that curse, numb, or destroy our very ability to maintain such connections. Abuse and trauma, as well as all the various forms of “benign” and not-so-benign neglect, set up the person to be highly susceptible to the continuation of these alien-ating influences. As we take on the curses they ultimately develop into identity defining ideas and behaviors. Terms, such as, “you’re stupid,” “you will never succeed,” “you are evil,” “you don’t deserve to be happy or alive” become motifs that increasing shape our experiences and expectations. Each time such feelings or beliefs show up, they become more deeply imprinted in the psyche and crowd out the capacity to see exceptions, alternative “realities,” solutions, or more benign possibilities in experience.

When alienating influences are present in the relational field, clients withdraw and disconnect from themselves and the healing presence of the therapist in a multitude of different ways. A client may without warning disappear, become “frozen” in self-judgment and criticism, be overwhelmed with fear, or pick a fight to attain “needed” distance. Such “breaks in relatedness” indicate that the alienating ideas and experiences have taken over the person and his or her ability to stay present in the relational field.

Again, it is important to stress that the presentation of alienating influences is extremely varied and quite tricky to work with. “Aliens” can be quite clever, and are well versed in undermining healthy self-relational processes. As Gilligan has observed, (1997: 139-140): “The road to recovering the soul is landmined with aliens.” He continues:

As a person attends to his tender soft spot, he is met with threats that claim that if he really allows himself to know that feeling, something terrible will happen. In examining this issue, clients have discovered beliefs, for example, that if they really relaxed, they would go to bed and never get up; that if they attended to their own needs, nothing would ever get done; that if they ceased from compulsive doing, the whole world would pass them by and leave them ‘in the dust’; and that, if they didn’t perform extraordinarily, they would literally disappear from the face of the earth. A person may recognize such beliefs as irrational but still be dominated by them.

Working with and disarming aliens requires every conceivable skill in the therapist’s reparatory. In self-relations training groups, a great deal of attention is devoted to enhancing therapist’s skills in learning the language of aliens so that one can disarm and ultimately defeat the unconscious ways these alienating presences undermine a client’s relationship with themselves. Gilligan’s own style employs an artful combination of seriousness, mischievousness, and empathy—the balanced skills of the warrior, magician, and lover (Cf., Gilligan, 1997: 151-176).8 In training his students in expanding their ability to balance and blend these communicational and relational skills, it is important to note that he was once again tapping into a deep vein in the Ericksonian legacy. Though Erickson was the consummate “magician,” his underlying integrity and heart showed that he knew a great deal about and was extremely skilled at using these other highly important communicational skills as well.

Self-relations has made a significant contribution to the Ericksonian legacy in fine-tuning the therapist’s ability to recognize the relationship between his or her own self-relational process and that of the client. Noticing what is happening in one’s own “center” is critically important in sensing what is going in a client’s center. Paying attention to subtle shifts in one’s attention or energy is a critically important part in staying in tune with one’s client. If a therapist finds himself bored, angry, or frightened, without really knowing why, this is usually a clear indication that he or she has been absorbed in the same alien-possessed field as that of the client. Once again, developing skillful ways to engage these alien presences is not about technique, or rigidly defined formulas. It is the heart of the art of doing the work. The intent is not to “literalize” or give primary focus to the aliens. Rather, it is gradually to help the client learn to differentiate and externalize them from his or her own voice. This becomes the gateway for opening an experiential connection to the client’s relational self.

Step 5: Connect Cognitive Self and Neglected (Somatic) Self

This is not so much a step in a process as the overall thrust of all the previous steps in the process. The whole purpose of self-relations work is to bring the client’s neglected self in relation to the presence and resource of the cognitive self. Breaks in relatedness over time contribute to a situation where a person’s core experience is significantly if not completely severed from a clear sense of their identity. Connecting the cognitive self and neglected self constitute the core practice of sponsorship. It allows one slowly but perceptibly to help clients reconnect to that part of themselves that is experienced as wounded, abandoned, or neglected. It must be done artfully and with full awareness of the wide variety in the life situations that produce such brokenness.9 In early articulations of the model, Gilligan used scaling techniques to identify the intensity levels of the neglected self, the cognitive self and the vitality of the connection between them. Then the client was encouraged to go inside and “shift knobs on the intensity controls” to experience how small shifts in the relative values of the intensity of connection to the cognitive and neglected self can make a significant difference in the person’s experience of their particular situation and symptoms. Such scaling techniques are particularly useful in early stages of the work when the client is first internalizing the idea and experiencing the phenomenology of these two selves and their relationship. Palpable shifts can be seen in a person’s demeanor and self-presentation the first time a “telepathic” sense of connection is made. In later states of clinical work a more fluid and varied experience in playing with and examining the relationship between the two selves is possible. Again, the particular experience of building a vital connection between the cognitive self and the neglected self is part of the art and aesthetic value of self-relations work. It must be done with great sensitivity and openness to the many possibilities of being.

Step 6: Return to the Original Problem Sequence

Just as in any therapeutic approach at some point there must be a test of the quality of one’s work, so too it happens in self-relations. If we have been successful in restoring the flow in the relational self, it should follow that a person would be able to move through the problem sequence without becoming symptomatic. This is what this step is all about. The variety of ways of undertaking to test the work cannot be overestimated. It could start in imaginal recreations of the problem sequence and then move to “in vivo” tests of the work. It could involve a variety of homework assignments, rituals, or other enactments that are designed to give a direct experience of moving through the problem sequence while staying a-symptomatic. The final step in the prototype of self-relations detailed in The Courage to Love involves these kinds of activities.

Step 7: Further Work

Specific tests of the quality of the work are built into the relational process of therapy. Decisions about how to set up such “tests” are an inevitable part of the style and strategies of different therapists and different client’s presenting problems. Usually the work will involve attempts to hook clients up with practices or changes in life-style where they find themselves “living” the model and making it more and more an integral part of their life. For example, meditation, or twelve-step groups may turn out to be wonderful “laboratories” were clients can test themselves in living the basic premises of the model. Others may find their work, their marriage, the trials of parenting, or some specific physical or creative practice the laboratory where they play with the protocol on an ongoing basis. The important thing is to build bridges between therapy and life-world challenges where client’s can awarely test their internalization of the model and grow in their understanding of its implications.

One final point needs to be made in considering “further work.” It is important to note that self-relations is a “practice” model. As in any art-form, the more you practice and grow and show your “chops” in working the model, the more aware you become of the more subtle meanings underlying the model. In other words, the model takes on “flesh.” It becomes something that has wider and wider applicability to life as a whole. A corollary to this observation is that any “practice” involves a committed dedication to a process of learning to fail “gracefully.” We must resign ourselves that we will fail, “check out” and leave ourselves again and again. That cannot be helped. What we do have control over, and hopefully more and more so over time, is the ability to keep coming back to ourselves and to realize more and more the value of the relational self in enriching our life as a whole. As Rainer Maria Rilke aptly observed in the conclusion of “A Man Watching” (Tr., Robert Bly, in Bly, Hillman & Mead, 1992: 298-299):

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape
Winning does not tempt that man..
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater beings.

Sponsorship and the Archetypal Self

Few of the core concepts of self-relations are more deeply rooted in the Erickson’s thought and practice than sponsorship and the archetypal self. The idea that the unconscious is not a thing but rather a being (or state of being), originating from the Erickson legacy, was instrumental in shaping much of the thinking in self-relations about experiences and imaginal figures that arise in the context of work with the relational self. There are few concepts more suited to linking the somatic self and cognitive processes to vital and energetic currents flowing in the relational field than the notion of archetype. The self-relations practice of deep listening and dancing awarely with deep currents flowing in the self, also found in the Erickson legacy, became fertile soil for curiosity about how these archetypal energies may be named, blessed, and utilized in sponsoring generative processes and awakening a vital connection to the world.

Regarding sponsorship, Gilligan points out that each of us have been touched by many sponsors, some negative and some positive, throughout the course of our lives. As he points out (Gilligan, 2002: 296) “A positive sponsor is one who (1) helps awaken awareness of the goodness and gifts of self, (2) helps awaken awareness of the goodness and gifts of the world, and (3) helps develop practices and understandings that connect the two domains.” A negative sponsor does just the opposite, i.e., turns awareness away from the goodness and gifts of the self and the world and “. . .promotes practices and traditions of neglect or abuse against self, others, and the world.”

When we begin working with the archetypes, very quickly we see the myriad ways the somatic self, neglected self, and archetypal self are connected. In psychotherapeutic work we learn to artfully work across these distinct but interpenetrating manifestations of being. In so doing we are always dealing with at least two histories, the history of the personal self (i.e., the narrative of our own particular life) and a history of the species or collective life. Jung (1916/1971) showed how the latter is organized around universal themes, images, and instinctive ways of responding to life. These general patterns are integral to the textures and shape of our daily lives: for example, giving and receiving love, protecting life, healing and nurturing, and connecting to the life of the community. Each generation has to deal with specific challenges related to the above. Basic “instincts,” response tendencies, psychic structures and human institutions spring up around these universal human needs and patterns of response. They lead to the development of psychological structures and images that are deeply imbedded in the human psyche. These are what Jung referred to as archetypes. As he observed (1916/1971:57):

Archetypes are typical modes of apprehension, and wherever we meet with uniform and regularly recurring modes of apprehension we are dealing with an archetype, no mater whether its mythological character is recognized or not. . . The collective unconscious consists of the sum of the instincts and their correlates, the archetypes. Just as everybody possesses instincts, so he also possesses a stock of archetypal images . . . The archetype (or primordial images). . . might suitably be described as the instinct’s perception of itself.

Although it is difficult to specify exactly what Jung meant in describing an archetype as “the instinct’s perception of itself,” in self-relations archetypes are thought to be images and feelings that embody basic structures and their related energy states deeply embedded in the human psyche. These structures become particularly manifest in times of crisis or personal or social upheaval. In self-relations we are drawn to archetypes not so much as descriptions of basic psychic structures as we are to seeing them as universal processes or currents flowing in the psyche and relational field that are awakened during times of profound identity shifts in therapy.

Over the course of their development, a direct link between symptomatic experiences and the archetypes becomes more and more apparent. Symptoms point to ways the neglected self and archetypal self may be looked at relationally and how both are a part of the larger human experience. In a sense, then, an archetypal experience serves as a sort of sponsor for the person, awakening his or her awareness to a deeper field of relevance to what is experienced and invites a deeper awareness of the self as a relational process. The effect of such work is that clients are able to link the particularities of their situation to a larger context of meaning within which their suffering can become more interpretable. It allows them to see beyond the chaos and extreme suffering of the moment to a larger and more stable field of meaning and purpose holding their life. Seen in this way, archetypal work allows therapeutic relationships and outcomes to move from the realm of the “merely personal,” or individual, to the realm of what the poet Galway Kinnell termed the “truly personal”—individual experience reflected back into community and tradition (Norris, 1966:10). In other words, as we deliberately evoke, name, and touch these deep archetypal currents in our psychotherapeutic work, we are opening the relational process vertically to the gods and the transpersonal world and horizontally to a soulful connection found in our common human experience.

One of the distinct practices that developed in self-relations residential workshops and training groups was learning to work with archetypal entities and energies. Four great archetypal traditions, that of the King/Queen, Warrior, Lover and Magician were of particular interest.10 Steve Gilligan devoted a great deal of time in training groups both in learning how to recognize these archetypes and their respective energy states in the relational field and how to channel them in our work as therapists. Both of these foci are extremely important. It is one thing to use the archetypes in an exercise or as a topic of discussion in therapy. It is quite another to experience them and they relate directly to a client’s life. One of the central tasks in self-relations training is learning to talk explicitly with clients about the places where they will most directly experience the archetypal energies. In my experience such discussions are often necessary to bring the concept of archetype “home” and show its relevance in the immediacy of a client’s life. Below are a few of the things I have recognized about these archetypal energies as they touch my life. I find have found in general that clients know immediately what we are talking about when we share this information directly with them. Such discussions make any experience or exercise therapists use to awaken these energies in therapy more immediately relevant and real in client’s lives.

War and Boundaries / The Warrior

War is one of the great levelers in social life. In the face of war or natural disaster, the divisions of class, race, or circumstance tend to dissolve as people pull together against a common threat or enemy. Once the crisis is over, the same people will tend quickly to fall back into mutual separation, mistrust, and even hatred. The archetypal realm involved here is that of the Warrior. Powerful threats tend to pull people out of the mundane ordinariness of their lives and into contact with something they experience as greater than themselves. Driven by a great sense of urgency and necessity, people “lose” or “sacrifice” themselves to participate in a great historical drama. Paradoxically as they lose themselves in this drama, a deeper sense of connection to themselves, other people and history follows. People tend to look back on such times with a sense of nostalgia, longing, and regret, attempting to recapture the immediacy, vividness, and meaning of such experiences, even though they were filled with pain, sacrifice and personal suffering. These times give us a direct experience of the Warrior archetype and remind us that life still often requires that we channel this kind of archaic energy.11

Love, Passion and Sexuality / The Lover

Like war, the experience of love and sexuality can connect us to a timeless and universal order of experience within which we “lose” ourselves and find ourselves connected to a greater realm of being. The boundaries separating us from others tend to dissolve and we become lost in a physical experience of exquisite sensitivity and mutuality. As the expression goes, “the earth moves.” In this powerful juxtaposition of biological immediacy and mutuality, sensitivity, and intersubjectivity, we find the context where we are most likely to have direct contact with the archetype of the Lover. Love, like war, can transport us beyond the mundane into a greater, more universal, order of experience. This is why love and war are so often woven together, adding depth, drama and a sense of historical inevitability to many of the great love stories, myths, and dramas of history.12 The archetype of love in clinical settings is more directly related to the impulse to protect, nurture, bless, and welcome someone into the life of the community. Lover energies are devoted to awakening a client’s passion for life and their ability to connect with and nurture themselves and others.

Let us know your thoughts...