Sunday, January 3, 2010

Essays - Analytical Psychology, Science and Religion - Part II

Part II:

Analytical Psychology, Science and Religion:

Archetypal Field Theory and the Confluence of Psyche and Matter

This essay reviews the literature on cross-disciplinary influences on the genesis and development of Jung’s psychology, with particular emphasis on current researches by the Assisi Conferences into archetypal fields and field-directed phenomena. This multidisciplinary investigation into the dynamics of psychic-physical phenomena builds upon and expands Jung’s initial investigations into the interconnectedness of psyche and matter.

The methodology of archetypal field theory, focused as it is on pattern recognition, has great utility in the psychotherapeutic situation. Conforti (1999) has laid out a blueprint, if you will, for working with the patient’s psychic material based on research into the new sciences as they relate to the psycho-physical reality of psyche. Conforti builds upon Jung’s original conception of the archetype as an autonomous ordering principle underlying and supporting all phenomena; it is out of this larger and pre-existent archetypal field, which is itself not accessible to direct experience, that individual form emerges. Conforti (1999) extends Jung’s theory of archetypes by suggesting that individuals are embedded in specific archetypal fields, which become represented by and embodied in matter over time. What is manifested is highly consistent behavior structured by an archetypal pattern. The behavior is field-specific, with responses that are field-generated. In other words, we can infer the archetypal field (field meaning the energetic component of the archetype) through its effect on matter, i.e., the strength of its manifestation in behavior.

When applied to the psychotherapy relationship, archetypal field theory is used to understand the field that influences the therapy situation and effects the course of treatment. There are at least eight. They are as follows: 1) the morphogenic field out of which form emerges; 2) the archetypal field in which the patient is embedded; 3) that of the therapist; 4) the archetypal configuration of the therapist-patient coupling; 5) the therapy situation; 6) the field of the collective or larger world outside of therapy; 7) the field of the collective unconscious, and 8) the Self-field which envelops all of these.

An understanding of these interacting archetypal fields and their influence on the treatment process enlarges and deepens the therapy process by explicitly including the dimension of archetypal interactional dynamics operating in different spheres simultaneously. The archetypal configuration of the therapist-patient coupling is of particular importance, since the individual archetypally-charged psychic processes of each interact to a specific purpose that is manifested in the dyadic relationship. Within the stable environment of the bounded container of the therapy (Jung’s vas bene clausum or well-sealed vessel mentioned earlier) the therapist reads the pattern of the patient’s field - his or her manifest behaviors and latent communications - as well as the alignment of the patient to the archetype. All the information impacting the therapy field - the archetypal field of the patient; the archetypal field in which the therapist is situated; the coupling of these two archetypally energized fields; the field of the therapy itself, which is a manifestation of the archetype of Self; the archetype of the collective field, and lastly the autonomous and universal field of the objective unconscious - is sought. All of this must be taken into account, for it is the network of information that provides the material for an accurate interpretation of the patient’s drama. Because behavior is by its nature highly consistent, the patient’s archetypal pattern can be inferred from the life story or theme around which his or her behaviors cluster. In this way, archetypal patterning is analogous (up to a point) to the medical-model classification system, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - IV which organizes mental disorders based on the clustering of characteristics. Firmly based in the synthetic approach of analytical psychology, it is an integrative approach, not a causal one as has been discussed earlier in this document.

A central aspect of archetypal field theory is the evaluation of the correspondence between the archetypal dominant (essence) influencing the patient and his or her complexed associations to it. The interpretation, however, must be grounded in the reality of the objective unconscious, for this is the guiding psychic realm of “absolute knowledge.” When the therapist interprets presenting material in this manner, the interpretation becomes an “exquisite attunement” of the unconscious psyche with consciousness (Kaufmann, 1999), and represents the “just-so” message of psyche (Jung, 1968, p. 17). A dream motif will illustrate this point. A patient presents a dream image of sailing alone on the ocean. The archetypal dominant of sailing is individuation, potentially a positive image in therapy. However, before the therapist can confidently make this interpretation, he or she must seek the patient’s associations to this image. If the patient makes associations to this universal image of voyage across the ocean of psyche other than what is expressed by this symbol of movement toward Self, or if the mandates of this dream image are not fulfilled in reality (can the patient in fact sail, and is he or she confident on the water?) then, rather than being an affirmation of his or her present psychic situation, the dream image becomes a diagnostic and prognostic warning sign, indicating not only the archetypal field in which the patient is embedded, but his or her alignment to the archetype as well. The dream image also represents in hidden form the archetypal influence of the other fields, such as the therapist’s own psychic condition and its influence on both the patient and the work of the therapy, as well as the influence of the outer collective field.

The therapist’s ability to observe, understand, and interpret phenomena in the field - including the primary archetype around which the therapist and patient are coupled - is dependent on skill and training as well as a secure and stable frame; when all the conditions of therapy are met and managed, the archetypal configuration of the patient-therapist dyad is able to emerge and take identifiable shape. A secure frame of static ground rules and set limits provides the therapist with the necessary context for accurately identifying the dynamic interplay occurring between himself or herself and the patient. When the therapist is unable to hold the patient appropriately in this therapeutic container, manifested by the therapist’s deviations from the conditions of therapy, the frame remains open, thereby contaminating the therapist’s reading of the field as well as making the therapy situation unsafe for the unfolding of the patient’s intrapsychic material.

Within the interactional field of the therapist-patient dyad, that which has not been metabolized by each is manifested in the therapy, and the past is replicated in the present now of the relationship. Jung’s understanding of archetypes as the organizers of psychic energy which reveal themselves in ideas, affects, images, and behavior explains this highly specific phenomenon of the encapsulation of experience and time within the therapy situation. The therapist’s responsibility is to identify, understand, and interpret that which is being enacted. Fortunately, the therapist is not alone in this work. The psyche is a self-regulating system that is purposeful and directed toward increasing consciousness and individuation, a lifelong process of growth towards Self.

With his evolving theory of archetypal fields, Conforti advances Jung’s theory of archetypes in at least one striking way: archetypal field theory is a theory about archetypal interaction and archetypal influence. This means that boundaries between individuals, all the things that separate us from each other, are really only intangible barriers when it comes to the archetypal underpinnings, or patterns of acausal orderedness, that support our lives. What this means is that we can no longer think in terms of human behavior as being shaped in the end only by the individual but, rather, must take seriously the reality of archetypal interactive dynamics and influences.

Jung (1969b) was especially concerned with archetypal influence on the collective psyche and believed that psychic disturbances were far more dangerous than physical conditions. To understand the phenomena of mass archetypal possession today, we need only turn on the television news or read the newspaper for stories of political demonstrations morphing into mob violence, and of deadly actions such as the recent anthrax mailings being followed by innumerable hoaxes. What these incidents show is that it takes only one person under the possession of an archetype or in the grip of an autonomous complex to infect others, just as cancer destroys neighboring cells and virus spreads its contagion from one person to another (Jung, 1969b).

We lessen our chance of becoming infected by archetypal possession or gripped by an autonomous complex when we become more conscious of ourselves and our actions, or as Mindell (1971) puts it, through “the realization of our role in the larger drama taking place” (p. 129). Just as the initial ripple of a pebble tossed into a pond will replicate itself in ever-widening waves until finally integrated into the pattern of the larger body of water, our every thought, feeling, and behavior has an impact. In this way, who we are at the most fundamental level effects not only ourselves, but also the world as a whole. Jung expressed this wholistic truth when he replied to a query concerning how one could make things better in a dangerous world situation, when he stated “help yourself and you help the world” (cited, McLynn, 1996, p. 528). Jung knew that each person must take back his or her disowned projections and deal with them, rejecting the security that comes from disowning one’s own psychic contents and displacing them onto another. One must reassess this habitual behavior of displacement, and move consciously across the threshold of consciousness into the unfamiliar ground of full responsibility for working with one’s psychic contents (Hollis, 1995).

One way to understand the shift in consciousness that is required is to think of it in terms of the “degree of independence” between two things. Bohm (1988) explains it this way:

The boundaries of any two things can only be established where there is a loose connection. When the ego is identified with another system it loses objectivity and independence. The observer is not sufficiently independent from the observed so they are one rather than two systems. When this occurs and they are treated as one rather than two, there is confusion…which is the ordinary state of consciousness.

This is the paradox of unitary reality. Although all is one at the most fundamental level, the development of ever-greater consciousness demands the differentiation of consciousness from the unconscious, a process of growth which Jung called individuation. There is thus a moral dimension to making conscious that which was formerly unconscious and living life responsibly based on what is now known. We live our destiny when we do so; when we do not, we live our fate (Conforti, personal communication).

Conforti’s application of new science to the study of psychology takes up where Jung, and later Neumann (1989) and von Franz (1988), left off in the attempt to explain psyche using the discoveries of new physics as analogies for psychic phenomena. New physics’ theories about the dynamic processes at work in the subatomic realm, as well as other ideas about biophysics and replicative systems, form a unified whole (Marshall, & Zohar, 1997) and serve as correlates for archetypally-generated processes within the therapeutic relationship and beyond (Conforti, 1999; Mindell, 1971). We know that the “royal road to the unconscious” can be traveled not only by way of the dream or the complex, as Freud and Jung believed respectively, but also by way of matter. In other words, matter, at the subatomic level of elementary particles and the even more basic level of fields, has in common with psychic phenomena (archetypes and synchronistic events) similar “irrepresentable” features. Thus new science’s evolving understanding of matter sheds light on the study of consciousness and the still dark world of the objective psyche and its contents, the archetypes. All is connected. Within a unitary reality, psyche and matter are complementary aspects of the same fundamental wholeness and must be studied together to achieve a deeper understanding of consciousness and of psyche as a totality (Jung, 1969c; Peat, 1998).

Archetypal field theory, like all theories, is a metaphysic, a postulate of something which can never be actually known in its fullness, in this case the archetypes of the objective psyche, but which exists nonetheless as psychic reality because we can experience their influence and observe their configuration in matter. Nowhere is archetypal influence and its underlying pattern more evident than within the contained space of psychotherapy. Within the controlled psychotherapeutic relationship, the pattern of the stable morphology of the patient’s (and therapist’s) archetypal field can be discerned in the interactional field of the dyadic coupling “whose properties and dynamics stands as a recapitulation and new edition of this personal and archetypal constellation” (Conforti, 1999, p. 62). Conforti (1999) continues:

…the psyche tends to draw and entrain both the client and therapist into a synchronized pattern where their behavior reveals the nature of the activated archetype…one can read the field in reverse…the details of the relationship provide a picture of the constellated archetype…the stabilization of form within these archetypal configurations, and the fidelity with which the client-therapist dyad reenacts the tenets of both the personal past and the archetypal field within which each are embedded (p. 63).

The goal of therapy is to make conscious the patient’s unconscious processes. The therapist does this by reading the pattern of the patient’s constellated archetype, and then, through the interpretation, breaking the patient’s repetitive pattern by shifting the alignment to the dominant archetype in which he or she is embedded (Conforti, 1999). This pattern recognition and subsequent interpretation of the patient’s dream material and derivative communications demand a high degree of specificity akin to a “lock-and-key” fit; in order to change the archetypal alignment, the therapist must first “find the archetype from which the behavior originates” (Conforti, 2001). However, although the archetype shows the way to healing, the patient’s fate rests squarely in his or her hands, not the therapist’s (Jung, 1965). The therapist is responsible for bringing the patient to the bifurcation point, the threshold of change where a new perspective is made possible through the strength of the interpretation (perturbation) which gives meaning to the patient’s formerly “meaningless” behavior (Conforti, 2001). Always it is the patient alone who must make the crossing to change and transformation. The therapist is only the patient’s guide to the oftentimes long and torturous passage (Jung, 1968), not the worker of magic with special concoctions and elixirs to a quick fix (Conforti, 2001; Jung, 1954).

In this way, therapy as the threshold to transformation and growth is the patient’s entryway to communion with Self and active conscious participation in his or her healing process. The axis of every turning point in therapy rests on a threshold, the place of change where the patient is presented with a choice between continuing within the safety of the familiar or risking the discomfort of following the path that psyche presents. As the place of opportunity, threshold is the place where the potential for change occurs, and where the therapist’s well-tuned intervention enables the patient to step across his or her limiting behavior and over to a change in attitude. Threshold is thus a choice point where the reconciliation of unconscious behavior with conscious reflection is made possible. Threshold is the liminal point of therapy, the transitional moment of change and transformation when the patient is presented with the therapist’s meaning-making interpretation.

The symbol of “threshold” represents the metaphorical line that separates the conscious mind from the unconscious. The conscious mind, which Singer (1990) refers to as the “visible world,” is a finite and limited sphere. The unconscious mind or “invisible world,” on the other hand, is an infinite and unbounded realm. It is a “secret world” wherein “the darker powers… lie hidden in the deepest inner recesses of psyche beyond the range of discrimination and judgement” (Singer, 1990, xx). When we risk stepping over the threshold from what is known into the unknown, we push back ever further the limitless boundaries of the invisible world before us (Singer, 1997). In so doing, we widen our consciousness, and are changed in the process.

“Everything that is interesting in nature happens at the boundaries: the surface of the earth, the membrane of a cell, the moment of catastrophe, the start and finish of a life” (Humphrey, 1992, p. 23). And at every boundary is a threshold where the potential for change exists, a place of becoming, where the order and regularity of life is disrupted (Marshall & Zohar, 1997) so that something new can unfold and come into being. The threshold will be different for each organism and every system, but in both cases, it is the point of opportunity.


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Conforti, M. (2001, April). Form, field, and fate: Patterns in mind, psyche and nature. Clinical presentation given at The Assisi Conference, Archetypes, Patterns, and Destiny: The Unfolding of Ordering Processes in the Psyche, Woodstock, VT

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- Submitted by Stephanie Buck

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