What, if anything, can the psychoanalyst or psychotherapist do to contend with the shadow aspects of their professional persona? This is by no means a universal concern among psychotherapists for several reasons. Certainly there are many persons practicing forms of psychotherapy that do not regard the unconscious as their concern at all. Behavioral, cognitive, and solutions-oriented therapies, to name a few, have no need of the unconscious. I am reminded of one of my supervisors in residency who attempted to encourage me to face facts squarely about a certain repeated conflict I was experiencing.
He pointed out:
“It’s entirely up to you whether or not you choose to ignore reality; the question is, will reality ignore you?”.
Likewise, modern therapies that emphasize ego adaptation are free to ignore the unconscious; the question remains; however, will the unconscious ignore the therapy?
A psychotherapist in training is more likely to remain in contact with their unconscious. Formal supervision may provide a measure of scrutiny to the psychotherapist’s unconscious process. Ideally, supervision imparts to the psychotherapist a praxis and a habit for such examination. This may then develop into a continuing process of self-examination that will serve both therapist and clients in the future. This is, however, where reality frequently diverges from the ideal objectives of training.
There are no formal requirements that the psychotherapist remain in supervision. Instead, there is a tacit implication that a figure has arisen in the psychotherapist whose function becomes supervisor in absentia. It seems highly unlikely that if this figure ever really coalesced that it will be preserved. There are many reasons why such an interior figure is likely to atrophy or die. Chief among the reasons for this figure either never fully developing or atrophying is what I shall call the Croesus Syndrome.
Croesus was King of Lyda from 560 BC to 547 BC until his defeat by the Persians. He is credited with being the first to introduce gold coinage of a standard weight and purity. His wealth and power was vast and before setting out on his campaign against Cyrus of Persia, he consulted the Delphic Oracle.
The message provided by the Oracle took its usual cryptic form. Croesus was told that if he campaigned against Cyrus of Persia a great empire would fall and he was further advised to align himself with the most powerful Greek state. He struck alliances with Sparta among others and set off. As was the custom, Croesus disbanded his army when winter arrived. Cyrus did not and he attacked Croesus in Sardis. Croesus then understood the great empire that the oracle foretold would be destroyed was his own empire. Such is often the fate of the psychotherapist who endeavors to cultivate an interior figure that serve as supervisor in absentia.
Like Croesus, that psychotherapist seeks the oracle’s message but the psychotherapist’s dreams, associations, and active imagination yield their mysteries in cryptic form. And also like Croesus, the psychotherapist suffers a predictable inclination toward interpreting his or her unconscious material in accord with their conscious, more acceptable understanding. Notice that the psychotherapist’s shadow need not be included in this process. In fact, the shadow elements of the psychotherapist will further resemble Croesus’s tale in that its unacknowledged state may be credited with the failures of the campaign, the psychotherapy or psychoanalysis itself.
I have some ideas of what may be done about this predicament but I am interested in knowing what other therapists think about this dilemma and how others endeavor to address it.
Please share the methods you employ to not only remain in contact with your unconscious and also share the strategies you have found useful in engaging the inherent blind spots that Croesus so dramatically illustrated in antiquity.