I have always been drawn to depth psychology and instinctively understood the Jungian concepts and principles that draw on something happening deep within the structures of the psyche. It is my belief that without this deeper understanding therapists often misunderstand what is happening with the patient or are confined to the necessarily limited perspective of the narrow confines of their own training. Like doctors, we are blinkered by our training no matter how ‘good’ it may be. In fact, the better a training is the harder it is for us ‘to see outside the box’.
What I have found again and again is that I attract clients of two basic types: those, like myself, who experienced severe intra-uterine or childhood trauma and cannot seem to find a way out of their suffering through conventional therapy; and those who cannot find reason or explanation for their symptoms in anything that has happened in this life. Both groups, I believe, are suffering from wounds to the soul that have happened in other lifetimes: research would indicate the clients who experience trauma in early life are in a sense starting where they left off in another life and quickly find themselves entangled once more in the same old drama. The second group are more unconscious and have fewer clues to help them from the life they are actually in.
Both feel stuck, desperate and hopeless, unaware the problems lie deep within the soul’s long experience and that they are endlessly incarnating into lives where their particular complex (samskaras to use the Hindu term) will intensify until they find resolution. Clients can be helped whether they believe in past lives or not. The unconscious and physical body stores the memory of trauma, which moves from lifetime to lifetime within the etheric body. Just like in conventional therapy the process of re-membering, recollection and reunion has to happen for a complete healing to occur.
Deep Memory Process, founded by the Jungian academic and therapist Dr Roger Woolger, synthesizes Jung’s active imagination, Reich’s bodywork, Moreno’s psychodrama and past life regression to focus on the timeless journey of the soul. It is the most comprehensive and multi-layered therapy I have ever encountered and reaches the parts that other therapies cannot reach, cannot comprehend or both. Only a remembered trauma can be let go of. If the trauma happened in another lifetime or has its roots there, which is always the case, then full healing is problematic if not impossible while doggedly looking in the wrong place. (Actually I exaggerate: we are not looking in the wrong place as each part contains the whole, the present holds the past and vice versa, only our vision is dimmed without consciousness of other ‘stories’.)
The therapist’s first task is to look at the patient’s history watching for the themes and breaks which will characterise that life – loss, abandonment, betrayal, suicide, addiction, the archetypal themes of human existence that resonate at our depths and shake us to the core. The ancient myths of the Greeks and Shakespeare’s plays point up the dilemmas and tragic nature of life and death where resolution is rare.
According to Dr Woolger, the most heard story of the soul is that of guilt. As Jung has it: ‘ A complex arises when we experience a defeat in life’. The client sabotages their current life because of deep and painful failures in other lives, most often failing to save family or loved ones in tribal battles or global wars. It seems that guilt, believing we are unworthy of either human or divine love, keeps us in a place of unforgiveness perpetuating our self-hatred lifetime after lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, most past lives are not spent as Cleopatra or Pharaoh, but as ordinary anonymous people caught up in often terrifying circumstances beyond their control.
It is a common view in spiritual circles that the soul needs to explore all facets of human life – victim, persecutor, rescuer – and in psychotherapy that we need own all aspects of the Self, letting go of our projections and facing the shadow, to use another Jungian term. DMP then is not a light or easy therapy but deeply soul-searching, often wrenching, but powerfully effective. It is, as suggested, deep work that aims at equanimity and balance but takes us through a painful journey as we act out the conflicting aspects of our own complicated nature.
F Scott Fitzgerald said it is the hallmark of genius to hold two totally opposite ideas in the mind and work with them. The ancient science of alchemy wrestles with the union of opposites, not least aiming to bring together those most fundamental of forces, the masculine and the feminine. DMP recognises this schism and the revolving nature of the Self, identifying with one aspect, then another, over and over until satiated. For it is another Jungian principle that a pattern has to be exhausted before it can be given up.
Where DMP differs even more radically from conventional therapy is that it works to achieve resolution in the after-death states, what the Tibetans call the Bardo realms, where powerful healing work can be achieved as the soul is freed from the limitations of bodily existence. Although clients are not hypnotised as with other regression therapies, he/she does embody the Past Life Character. The therapist encourages the client to suspend disbelief and follow the thread of the story that will come to the mind, or the charge in the body, often starting with a piece of artwork.
As the client finds himself in another world the therapist encourages the client to trust imagination and go with what arises. The therapist then becomes an attendant to the soul, following the client, bringing them face to face with painful experiences and through the story to its end, usually death, before moving to the bardo realms. Often the therapist uses props: a rope around the client’s neck; a prod with a wooden ‘spear’ etc to facilitate the story and the healing. There is often powerful somatic release, crying, shaking, screaming, trembling as the body lets go its hold on the old.
The tabla rasa theory then is discarded, utterly and completely in this practice: all the major complexes of our lives and the psychic structures that drive us to repeat, wretchedly, our past sins, are seen as laid down before birth. As Plato suggested millennia ago, the soul chooses both circumstances and tasks and we are doomed to repeat the task until we learn the lesson. Stubbornness, pride, the desire for vengeance, what AA calls our character defects ensure that in the main we don’t. Some of us are particularly stubborn about that.
Resolution and the relief of unhealed physical ailments are remarkable. Unfertile, hopeless women become pregnant, physical symptoms disappear, guilt evaporates when understood and success descends on a life after years of abject failure unhelped by conventional means. It is one of the great ironies that psychotherapy, which originally meant study of the soul, does not attend any more to the part of us that it names as needing healing. The soul is missing from modern therapy, which is why I despair when I hear about the perpetuation and popularity of the CBTs etc. We continue looking in the wrong place with a limited view and we fail through a lack of vision that is not our own but a culture’s that has ditched meaning for meaninglessness replacing soul with sound bites.
This article was first published in the Jan/Feb 2010 edition of Kindred Spirit magazine