I have been a psychotherapist for 6 years now, working in a community mental health, with a small private practice. I work with children, teens, single adults, couples and families, and I do that while complying with the clinical focus, or ‘evidenced based’ methods, mandated by government and third-party reimbursers…family systems, cognitive-behavioral methods, the neurobiology of trauma and it’s aftermath, along with developmental considerations. These all have their place in my work, as I seek to ease the suffering of people cut-off from a comfortable connection with life.
Hillman though, has always beckoned with is maverick, literary, imaginal, and mythopoetic approach. Along with Freud and C.G. Jung, and all those that have followed in the traditions of psychoanalysis, and Jungian analysis, Hillman has helped me navigate the deeper world of the Unconscious, the place of art, dreams, and imagination.
I last saw James Hillman at a conference at Pacifica Graduate Institute, near Santa Barbara, California. I had been attending a 3-day conference where he had lectured on topics energizing for him, among them, his essay on ‘Pink Madness’, a deeper, imaginal focus on the underpinnings of sex and pornography. Hillman saw the gods suppressed, Dionysus among them, in the post-enlightenment focus of the last 400 years. We don’t allow them to breath or live, so they manifest in our ‘mental illnesses.’
As I work with clients, for instance men, who clutch so terribly to sexual addiction, ruining partnerships with fixations on porn, I think of Hillman’s way of bringing these issues into focus, so different from the cold, machine-like ‘behavioral’ method, of conditioning them to abstain from the unwanted behavior with tricks of the mind.
I had a chance to speak with him briefly, one on one. We had both stayed an extra day, after the three day conference, and found ourselves both waiting for our breakfast toast to get done in the infamous slow toasters of Pacifica’s Ladera Lane cafe. I told Hillman that I had read his ‘Suicide and the Soul’ because I found myself struggling with some seriously suicidal clients in my recent experience. I told him that he had helped me understand ‘how not to be heroic’ how to ‘let the soulful experience of wanting to die… to return to the source, or to the womb….how to let that come into the witnessing that happens between the therapist and suffering client.’ Hillman thought I had that about right. Essential to him was the need to let the darkness in for witness, or at least the right god/goddess, not to slay with the heroic sword, so recklessly, that the essence of the experience, the soul’s imaging was thwarted and the two people away from each other, disconnected, leaving the suffering client alone in the world.
I wish to explore Hillman further in this Blog, and perhaps you can contribute. He would want us to keep having dialogue about depth, darkness, whole experiences, and soulful imaginings!