Jungian psychology and psychotherapy is about taking the symbolic back road. Recently, I was thinking about taking the back roads on a drive across part of the country. As I was reflecting upon this idea, I thought about how taking the back road seems a perfect metaphor for Jungian psychotherapy and the process of individuation.
When we talk about going on a road trip and taking back roads, we are generally hoping to see the details of a land and people or region. We hope to find a good surprise. Maybe we also hope that the feeling of the passage of time will slow down a bit. To allow for seeing these details and playing with perceptions of time, we want to avoid the common road or thoroughfare that the masses drive upon. The back road is the road that passes through the mountain peaks and valleys, the deserts and prairies, and the forests and swamps. As any traveler knows, the back road is also more likely to contain the unknown, hidden gems.
Jungian psychotherapy is a lot like taking the back roads. Traveling the back road lends itself well to stories and myth. In the trilogy The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo and friends often traveled the back roads in part because they were safer. His group had a better chance of surviving by staying off the main routes. But they also traveled these same back roads to find allies for the journey. The hero on his or her journey, like that which Frodo and his friends were on, will need the support from within and support from allies without, for success.
By choosing Jungian psychotherapy and its inherent process of individuation, you are choosing to take the back road, at least for most of the time. The back road is the way of the psyche and the symbolic life, as well as your own unique destiny. The imagery and symbols from within have a custom path for you, and this is the bare-boned process of individuation and Jungian psychotherapy—helping you to become what you were meant to become.
Many of the different modes and schools of thought regarding psychotherapy are geared toward helping an individual return to a “baseline” or deemed “normal” level of functioning and mental health. These methods sometimes work in helping to alleviate suffering and returning the individual to a more “normal” mental state. But often when using only these methods, there is a cost to the soul and to a greater purpose that the unconscious and symptoms may be trying to communicate.
This is where Jungian psychotherapy and taking the symbolic back road can help. Its methods also strive to help with the alleviation of emotional pain and suffering. But there is a different focus as compared to most of the other psychotherapy methods and schools of thought. With Jungian psychotherapy, for many problems (but not all), there is a focus on the intent of the symptom, the pain and suffering. Like taking the back road, with Jungian psychotherapy there is more willingness to explore your mountain peaks and valleys, and those times that you may be crossing a symbolic desert or trudging through a swamp, while helping you to find the value, meaning and potential direction contained within these experiences.
Carl Jung discovered through his work and mapping of the psyche that there can be hidden and unknown gems in these back road places. He also discovered that you are more likely to learn about yourself and to discover life-changing ideas by being open to exploring the “back road” or even the “off road” places on your life’s journey. In a well-known quote about this idea, Jung said, “The signposts have fallen, unblazed trails lie before us.”
Working on yourself and your life with a Jungian psychotherapist is generally not for those who want a quick fix. Overall, therapy from a Jungian perspective is more apt to proceed slowly, like travel on the back roads. There must be time for both the therapist and the client to have a good look around so as not to miss anything important that the psyche is trying to communicate. Like finding a hidden gem, a special spot on your back road travels, leaving time for this discovery and the memories that you make while there, may stay with you for a lifetime.
A young woman who was overcome with extreme and paralyzing anxiety ultimately discovered the hidden gems to her personality after she chose to take her own symbolic back road through her life. She literally could not walk the “main road.” In fact, the anxiety seemed to urge her down an individual path and when she followed it willingly, her severe anxiety disappeared. For this woman, the very important decision to take the back road, guided her to a whole new life and inner transformation.
You may find that at some points in your life, the decision to take the back road vs. the main road will not seem to be that important. But it is. There will be many times, especially at times of suffering, big change and transition, that taking the back road makes all of the difference. Especially at these times, you will be choosing between a back road life of meaning, vitality and soul, or the opposite; a life of meaninglessness and a loss of soul. On this journey through your life, consider choosing the back road and opening yourself to discovering the hidden gems of your unique personality and life.
© 2012, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.