What is Soul Psychology?

The cooking vessel of the soul takes in everything, everything can become soul;
and by taking into its imagination any and all events, psychic space grows.

— James Hillman

The world is too much with us, as the poet says. We are overwhelmed by information, flooded from all sides by messages and prescriptions about how to be happy, healthy, and successful. The din and distraction drown out the deeper self and cause us to lose connection with our souls. Cut off from that part of us that knows our reason for being here and that can steer us onto the right path, we become anxious, depressed, lonely, obsessed, alienated, addicted, numb.

In Jungian psychotherapy, we clear a space to hear from the forgotten soul. Soul often speaks through what is painful or problematic in our lives. It makes its presence felt in all those situations where outer events and inner unconscious patterns conspire to thwart our plans for a high-functioning life. The soul is the part of us that can’t get with the program.

Soul doesn’t respond to rational strategies or to the ego’s heroic efforts to make it do its will. It is neither physical nor spiritual but a third thing existing between those two realms and partaking of both: psyche. As such, psyche has its own logic – psychology — which is closer to the organic processes of nature and the symbolic images found in myths and dreams than to the mechanistic solutions of science or the transpersonal truths of spirituality.

Soul is the place where our humanity lives, where we feel ourselves to be the protagonists of our own stories. It is the part of us that feels love and attachment, longs for beauty and justice, and possesses a sense of history and destiny. Soul is the faculty in us that creates and perceives meaning.

In the vessel of Jungian psychotherapy, the struggles and dilemmas of our everyday lives become ingredients for the soul’s cooking. Into the pot go our illnesses and crises, our relationship conflicts, our defensive patterns and dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Also serving as prima materia for soul’s alchemical stew are family complexes inherited from parents and ancestors and collective programs imposed on us by culture.

In psychotherapy, soul works over these experiences using its preferred functions of feeling, imagination, dreams, reflection, memory, and understanding. The process is one of mental and emotional metabolizing, through which our sense of interiority expands and psychic space grows.

At the center of our complexes we often find an archetype, a kind of psychological deep structure that holds particular power over us. We invite these invisible intelligences into dialogue in an attempt to learn what they are seeking from us. As we sort through our complexes, we separate out the old programs that we have unconsciously taken on through misplaced loyalty and traumatized self-defense. We address wounds and injustices from the past and lay unquiet ghosts to rest.

The goal of the work is not a trouble-free existence but a more fully incarnated one. Soul helps us to enter more deeply into our lives as they are, with all their joys and challenges. This deepening brings transformation and renewal through contact with the archetypal wellsprings of life. In the process our neurotic suffering is replaced by the more purposeful struggle of individuation – the task of becoming the person we were meant to become.

Individuation is not a selfish project but a process of psychological maturation. As we listen to our soul’s authentic callings we become aware as well of our true responsibilities and our relationship to forces older and larger than ourselves. In this way, the  therapeutic effects of our work extend beyond our individual souls to the Anima Mundi or soul of the world.

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