The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy: Spiritual Practice, the Apophatic Way and Bion

Judith Pickering, Routledge, 2019

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Book Cover - The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy: Spiritual Practice, the Apophatic Way and Bion - Judith Pickering, Routledge, 2019

The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy: Spiritual Practice, the Apophatic Way and Bion – Judith Pickering, Routledge, 2019

If, when a patient enters therapy, there is an underlying yearning to discover a deeper sense of meaning or purpose, how might the therapist rise to such a challenge? As both Carl Jung and Wilfred Bion observed, the patient may be asking something of the therapist that is intrinsically spiritual as well as psychotherapeutic. Presented in two parts, The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy is a profound inquiry into the contemplative, mystical and apophatic dimensions of psychoanalysis.

What transformative qualities might a therapist emanate which may inspire processes of healing, growth and realisation in a patient? Part One, The Listening Cure: Psychotherapy as Spiritual Practice, considers the confluence between psychotherapy, spirituality, mysticism, meditation and contemplation. The book explores qualities such as presence, awareness, attention, mindfulness, calm abiding, reverie, patience, compassion, insight and wisdom, as well as showing how they may be enhanced by meditative and spiritual practice.

Part Two, A Ray of Divine Darkness: Psychotherapy and the Apophatic Way, explores the relevance of apophatic mysticism to psychoanalysis, particularly showing its inspiration through the work of Wilfred Bion. Paradoxically using language to unsay itself, the apophatic points towards absolute reality as ineffable and unnameable. So too, Bion observed, psychoanalysis requires the ability to dwell in mystery awaiting intimations of ultimate truth, O, which cannot be known, only realised. Pickering reflects on the works of key Christian mystics including Dionysius, Meister Eckhart and St John of the Cross, Buddhist teachings on meditation, Śūnyatā and Dzogchen, and Levinas’ ethics of alterity.

The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy will be of great interest to both trainees and accomplished practitioners in psychoanalysis, analytical psychology, psychotherapy and counselling, as well as scholars of religious studies, those in religious orders, spiritual directors, priests and meditation teachers.

Psychotherapy, spirituality, meditation

One Day Event

The Sense of Spirit in Psychotherapy

GARVAN INSTITUTE

384 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst

(entry from Bourke Street opposite the side of St Vincent’s Public Hospital)

Saturday 25th May 2013, 9.30 AM – 4.30 PM

More Information click here Psychotherapy and Spirituality Workshop

Dr Judith Pickering: Psychotherapy, Meditation and Contemplation
In this talk I will describe a state of mind on the part of the therapist that serves to create a suitable container to receive the patient’s true being. It is a state of mind that is open hearted, receptive, free of stale and distorted memories, acquisitive desires, concepts, false (mis)understanding. It is akin to what certain mystics call the state of contemplation and Bion calls reverie. I will draw on spiritual practices involving ‘listening with the ear of your heart (St Benedict) self-emptying, loving kindness and compassion, bare attention and mindfulness. I will draw comparison between Bion’s advice that the analyst should renounce erroneous forms of memory desire and understanding and St John of the Cross, the Author of the Cloud of Unknowing and other writers from the Apophatic tradition of mysticism.
I shall argue that the psychotherapist’s role is to form an empty vessel ready to receive the patient into our hearts and minds: to be there for them as they are, according to their own unique destiny and path: which may or may not have an explicitly spiritual dimension but will have a human one. At times we find ourselves functioning like a spiritual friend on their journey to realization of their true nature underneath all that obscures and obstructs them.

Dr Judith Pickering: Psychotherapy, Meditation and ContemplationIn this talk I will describe a state of mind on the part of the therapist that serves to create a suitable container to receive the patient’s true being. It is a state of mind that is open hearted, receptive, free of stale and distorted memories, acquisitive desires, concepts, false (mis)understanding. It is akin to what certain mystics call the state of contemplation and Bion calls reverie. I will draw on spiritual practices involving ‘listening with the ear of your heart (St Benedict) self-emptying, loving kindness and compassion, bare attention and mindfulness. I will draw comparison between Bion’s advice that the analyst should renounce erroneous forms of memory desire and understanding and St John of the Cross, the Author of the Cloud of Unknowing and other writers from the Apophatic tradition of mysticism.I shall argue that the psychotherapist’s role is to form an empty vessel ready to receive the patient into our hearts and minds: to be there for them as they are, according to their own unique destiny and path: which may or may not have an explicitly spiritual dimension but will have a human one. At times we find ourselves functioning like a spiritual friend on their journey to realization of their true nature underneath all that obscures and obstructs them.

24th – 28th August 2011: The Current Place of Dreaming in Psychotherapy

Judith Pickering will be speaking alongside Deidre Barrett and Robert Bosnak at the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) Symposium. The areas of focus will be Dreams as Sources of Creativity and Inspiration, Dream Incubation, Dreams and Physical Illness, Analytic Reverie, Deep Listening and the Intersubjective Dream Space.

The symposium will form part of the 6th World Congress for Psychotherapy, running from 24-28th August 2011.

6th October: Bion’s O and Buddhist Dharmakaya; A Clinical Investigation

AABCAP’s 12th Continuing Education Meeting

Wednesday, October 6th 6.30pm

The Buddhist Council of NSW
Level 1, 441 Pacific Hwy
Crows Nest

Cost: $20-$10 Student/Concession (Payment on Arrival)

RSVP: info@buddhismandpsychotherapy.org

Dr Judith Pickering is a Jungian Analyst, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist and Couple Therapist in private practice, senior faculty member, supervisor and lecturer for ANZAP. She is also a Training Analyst and Vice President of The Australian and New Zealand Association of Jungian Analysts and member of the International Association for Analytical Psychology.

Judith has studied Buddhism for over thirty years. She has published widely, giving papers, lectures and workshops in Australia, USA, and Europe. Her recent book, ‘Being in love: Therapeutic Pathways Through Psychological Obstacles to Love’, (Routledge2008) is described by James Grotstein as ‘sweeping, awe-inspiring, fulfilling, erudite’.

View Flier for More Details

4th and 5th September: Dreaming In The Psychotherapeutic Space

Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th State Library of NSW Macquarie Street, Sydney

In this paper I will discuss the clinical use of dreams in psychotherapy: including the initial dream, dream series, and recurrent images and symbols in dreams, and the analytic session as a form of dreaming activity.

I will discuss how Bion sees the intersubjective space of therapy as an analytic field in which the analyst and patient ‘dream’ together. Here I will draw on Bion’s use of reverie, how images, themes, narratives emerge in the analytic space.

Another vital concept is that of the initial dream, the ways in which the first dream a patient brings to therapy can indicate, in symbolic form, the heart of the issue bringing the patient into therapy. Dreams are multivalent, although often opaque, revealing layers of meaning only over time.

This theme will weave its way throughout a historical overview of the meaning of dreams, including Freud’s initial dream, ‘Irma’s needle’, Jung’s two seminal dreams, and Hobson’s understanding of the initial dream of a patient ‘Sam’. I will also draw on Jung’s Red Book.

26th September 2009: Seminar “Love and Couples” – Sydney

Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies

Seminar “Love and Couples” with Dr Judith Pickering (Sydney)

Saturday 26th September 2009
9.30am – 4.00pm (Registration at 9am)

In this workshop I will explore how Bion’s concept of container-contained can be applied to the area of couple therapy. A long-term couple relationship may be conceptualized as a container for the two partners.

The sense of security, continuity and trust afforded by a mutually made commitment to journey together in a partnership can allow such a relationship to function as a therapeutic space in which partners may re-encounter, confront and rework areas of developmental arrest and come to know and integrate the different parts of themselves more fully.

Couples often present for therapy because their marriage has failed to function as a safe space. Therapy may be able to provide a temporary alternative container, the sense of a bounded and safe environment with another caring mind in which thinking and reflection are shown to be possibilities again

This latter situation is very common when the issue is that of containment of unprocessed primitive anxieties or beta elements (Bion, 1962) which have never been worked through, but are split-off, disavowed and evacuated in fantasy into the other through processes of projective identification.

The mindless repetition and compulsive nature of many marital rows is symptomatic of the activation of interlocking systems of mutual projections of beta elements or undigested traumatic material. Each partner has been triggered into their respective unconscious complexes and is swamped by unconscious anxieties, memories of fear, hurt and misunderstanding. Each urgently attempts to lodge unconscious unprocessed beta material into the other in order to rid themselves of its incoherent, chaotic and anxiety-ridden nature.

Couples may experience difficulty when one partner feels him or herself called upon by the other to be a container for the other’s projections. As Colman points out, each will find it difficult to contain the other precisely in those areas where they themselves need most containment (Colman 1993, p. 88).

In couple therapy there are a number of foci: the two partners, the therapist, the therapeutic intersubjective space, the complex networks and dynamics of relations between them and the relationship itself which creates a fluid, interpenetrating and interactive field.

A second order interplay between the marital third exists between the two partners and the analytic third that may exist between the therapist and the couple. Transferences to the therapist, although including individual transferences, represent this thirdness: there is a marital transference. The way that each partner constructs the therapist can give telling information about how the partner feels about their relationship. There is an intricate interweaving between these various transferences and countertransferences.

In couple psychotherapy there are thus various transferential and countertransferential foci, different depths of field. There are the two partners, the complex networks and dynamics of relations between them and the relationship itself, which creates a fluid, interpenetrating and interactive field, the intersubjective marital third. This is revealed by the communications of the individuals, but controlled by neither. It is within this complex of interactions that the work of couple psychotherapy occurs.

Couple therapy from a Bionian perspective

This workshop/seminar will be liberally illustrated with clinical material. It will draw on material contained in Judith’s book Being in love: Therapeutic pathways through psychological obstacles to love, (Routledge, 2008) which suggests that transformations in O is inspired by true love. Becoming who we are is an inherently relational journey: we uncover our truest nature and become most authentically real through the difficult and fearful crucibles of our intimate relationships. Yet becoming in O is a journey of transformation obstructed by numerous psychological obstacles. Judith will outline the interlocking traumatic scene in the  couple, mutual projective identifications, shared  unconscious phantasies, and other projective processes and therapeutic ways to work with them.