Adina Davidson | Two Jungians’ Thoughts from the Quarantine

These are some notes from a conversation with Lisa Maechling Debbeler, JD, MA, LPCC about the nature of being a therapist/analyst in a time of quarantine. We began talking on Saturday March 21, 2020 at the beginning of the shut down and are continuing to talk weekly. We were both continuing to work and trying to see as many of our clients/analysands as possible through Zoom or other virtual methods. We were both finding this both unexpectedly and expectedly difficult and wanted to share our experiences with colleagues and friends that we respect.

First, we both were finding that conducting therapy/analysis virtually was shockingly exhausting and so were almost all of our colleagues. We had certain expectations of our ability to be productive between clients and found that both of us were staring vaguely into space or aimlessly snacking rather than taking a note, making a phone call, doing some writing, eating lunch etc.  We were interested in whether there might be a Jungian perspective that might help inform our understanding if not help rectify it.

My initial stab was that we were missing the “field” that exists between analyst and analysand and is the container for much of the therapy. Not only in the sense of the quasi-mystical field of collective unconscious and synchronicity but in the simple physiological data that we gather about each other unconsciously. The micro shifts in facial expression, the half-heard sighs or in breaths, the subtle changes in body language. All of this is missing or limited when we view each other through a computer screen. Our conscious egoic self must carry all the burden of the communication with no help from our instinctive or intuitive understanding of what the person is communicating non-verbally.

Lisa replied:

It occurred to me that because we normally gather a good bit information about what is happening with the patient, or between ourselves and the patient, from the physical presence of the person in the room with us – we may be in video situations searching for those cues, searching again, searching again…and not able to ascertain what we’re looking for. This would certainly consume both psychic and physical energy, and might be another reason we feel so tired at the end of an online session.

A possible metaphor for this is: when the computer code keeps sending out a search request and it keeps grinding and grinding away without delivering any search results. Maybe there is something actually enlivening about the physical field we are missing. We might be exerting the same effort but not getting any return flow of field energy. Also, words lie so heavy in the video format because there is little else. I feel a pressure in what I say because it feels more concrete in this environment. 

A third friend, who I’ll call Nancy (because that is her name), is a psychodynamic Buddhist psychologist suggested that at least part of the issue may be our and our clients’ resistance to change.

My first response to this was to think…. “Yeah, yeah you Freudians think everything is resistance and you Buddhists think we’ll all be freed from suffering when we have equanimity with the transient nature of everything.” My next thought was “Ok. You’re not wrong on either count.” My third thought is that there is an archetypal nature to resistance to change. Last night at our Passover Seder we were discussing which part of the Exodus myth felt particularly relevant in this year of our own plague. I quoted Rabbi Benay Lappe (the Rosh Yeshiva of Svara – a queer yeshiva in Chicago) who observed that the wilderness was worse then Egypt. This had never struck me before, but it is obvious in reading the myth. The Jews immediately after leaving Egypt and repeatedly for the rest of the story, want nothing more than to go back to slavery. They want to leave the uncertainty and terror of the wilderness and go back to the predictable degradation of life in Egypt. My daughter-in-law made the point that they wanted the time of fear and the unknown to be a “blip” so they could get back to being able to plan for next Tuesday (even if next Tuesday involved a 12 hour day mixing straw into bricks).

I realize that, like the Jews in Exodus, I desperately want this quarantine time to be a blip. I want to get back to normal. I don’t want to walk into an unknown unpredictable future. Even if normal and predictability are illusion, I want that illusion back. If I’m right and resistance to change is archetypal, my clients also want their illusion back. Working virtually is a constant, unpleasant reminder of the liminal state we are in.

This is not to say that all the problems with lack of field aren’t real. I think they are and have no intention of continuing to see people through a computer screen once I and they feel safe being physically present.  

Adina and Lisa Imagine a Dialogue between Two Great Thinkers and Put a Jungian Spin on it

Sullivan’s Essay:

“Nature does not make leaps,” said Rafinesque. We are a part of nature and synonymous with it. There is no magic rod that came down 300,000 years ago and divided our essence from the material world that produced us. 

The importance of that proposition becomes clear only when it’s reversed: What’s true of us is true of nature. If we are conscious, as our species seems to have become, then nature is conscious. That thing out there, with the black holes and the nebulae and whatnot, is conscious. Rafinesque said, “She lives her life not as men or birds, but as a world.” 

A related perspective from Albert Einstein:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

From Lisa:

My thought, taking off on Sullivan’s essay:

If we look in the inverse at what Einstein is saying about the “optical delusion” of being separate, then we can say that as we have consciousness of our small sliver selves within the universe, so perhaps does the universe have consciousness of itself as a whole. In effect, “she lives her life … as a world.”

How do we think of the Self, then, from this perspective? What do we make of the part that is our individual Self with which we hope our Ego is in relationship, and then of the part that is a larger Self which has its “world” consciousness? What does that imply about the Self and purposiveness or teleology? And are we speaking of the psychoid here?

I wonder if somehow physical presence either aids or is necessary in the unconscious intuitive capacity to suspend the optical delusion of separateness in the analytic field. Perhaps we are designed as a species for the intimacy of physical presence except at the most mystical moments of oneness with the All.  This unconscious suspension of the delusion of separateness is part of what makes up the “field” between analyst and analysand or therapist and client. When we are not physically present it is harder, slower or often impossible to suspend the false sense of separateness.

A poem that Bertolt Brecht wrote during World War II that I think sums up the role of artists, analysts and analysands in difficult times.

In the dark time

Will there be singing?

There will be singing.

Of the dark times.

So it is our job as analysts to find the creative response that arises out of the darkness. Not too pretend the darkness doesn’t exist or that it will be easily overcome. We have seen too many mental health articles that can be summed up as follows:

Here are 6 things you can do from quarantine:

1) Make a tasty homemade meal. Then do it again and again and again.

2) Zoom with friends

3) Exercise outside and 6 feet away from everyone or use YouTube videos!

4) Do a new craft

5) Watch Netflix, movies, podcasts etc

6)  Make a gratitude list everyday

None of these are wrong or bad and they maybe even helpful to people who are doing ok. But they are not particularly honest about the level of suffering that is prevalent and in that way they are invalidating. They leave people feeling like they should be ashamed of not being able to be “fine” in the face of what is happening personally and to the world. 

And at the same time we have the task of not drowning in the darkness. Somehow, in our fumbling explorations with our analysands we are seeking the true songs.

Adina Davidson, PhD is a Jungian Analyst in Cleveland, Ohio, and member of the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts.

Links: Dr. Davidson’s Website | Dr. Davidson on Jungianthology | Dr. Davidson’s page on the C. G. Jung Institute of Chicago Website | Lisa Maechling Debbeler’s Website

3 Responses

  1. hi. thanks for this perspective.
    two pedestrian questions:

    1, who is sullivan and what is the essay title?
    2. from what text is the einstein citation excerpted?

    i guess that’s three questions

    and thanks again

    in peace

    norman douglas

  2. Thank you for an interesting discussion. I am an analysand. There is no comparison for me between seeing my analyst in person and a mediated meeting on zoom. Such meetings lack the feeling that I have become used too. Under normal circumstances, when I see my analyst, an energy slowly grows in the room. Sometimes it is strong enough that I must wait a few minutes to re-orientate myself before leaving. On other occasions it is weak and fleeting. When my analyst held onto my distressing emotions from past traumas my burden was lifted. I can’t imagine that taking place during a computer call. It is like discussing a meal rather than eating it.

  3. i loved being able to learn from Adina and Lisa through this blog (thanks Ben) leading me to reflect on their insights into larger connections that we miss when doing therapy on line. I would also love to see a live conversation between them that could lead
    us to begin to sing during these dark times.

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