Thursday, August 12, 2010

Countertransference as Mystical Experience

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In these times, many of our clients suffer from deep anxieties.  Frequently, these anxieties reach into the psychic territory of unsymbolized experience: thoughts that cannot be thought, and feelings that cannot be felt. Use of countertransference as a clinical tool was developed so that psychotherapy could reach a broader range of people, to include the unsymbolized aspects of experience common for those who have suffered early relational trauma.

Even so, in the world of countertransference the therapist is always a beginner. The meaning of countertransference is not truly, definitively knowable. It is ephemeral—a momentary flicker from implicit realms. We can only seek to put fluid symbolic meaning onto the somatic or emotional points of light.

In doing so, we may come to think of countertransference as a form of mystical experience.  Jungian analyst Andrew Samuels explores the similarities between mystical experience and countertransference:

"First, mystical states are ineffable; that is, they cannot be fully described to one who has not experienced something similar.  Second, mystical states lead to knowledge and insight, often delivered with a tremendous sense of authority.  Third, mystical states are transient.  Fourth, mystical states happen to a person; even if he or she prepared him/herself, he or she is gripped by a power that feels quite foreign.  Fifth, there is a sense that everything is connected to everything else, an intimation of purpose.  Sixth, the mystical experience is timeless.  Finally, the familiar ego is sensed not to be the real ‘I.’"  (1989, p. 166)

Even “mundane,” ordinary countertransference  may be experienced as mystical as it delivers understanding in an ineffable, timeless way.

Samuels, A. (1989). The plural psyche: Personality, morality and the father. London: Routledge.

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