Donald Kalsched II

Healing Trauma: The Lost and Recovered Soul in Depth Psychotherapy

Donald Kalsched

According to C. G. Jung, the human personality embodies a divine ”spark” or animating essence, often described as the human soul or spirit. Under normal circumstances, this core of selfhood incarnates in the individual and evolves into a unique personality through a process of tolerable suffering that Jung called individuation.

However when severe trauma strikes the developing psyche of a child, this sacred core of the person cannot embody and is split off from the developing personality, retreating into “God’s world,” i.e., into a deep layer of the unconscious for safe keeping. There it continues to exist as a lost soul in suspended animation under a spell cast by the powers of the psyche’s survival system.

With the self thus divided, the trauma survivor feels “broken” or “unreal” and may even lose sight of the lost parts of the self, living a joyless, one-dimensional outer existence concerned more with survival than with true-self living. Clinical depression is often the result.

In this weekend’s lecture and workshop, we will see how Depth Psychotherapy offers the opportunity for renewed contact with the lost core of the self, and hence for renewed feeling-life, creativity, and relatedness. We will also see how the forces of repression resist this healing and are ready to wage a fierce battle for possession of the soul (as seen in Blake's image of the Good and Evil Angels fighting for possession of a child). How this dramatic struggle between life-and anti-life forces comes out in the end often depends on the strength of connection between the analytic partners and whether their relationship can weather the many storms and stresses that threaten to de-rail the therapy venture or end it prematurely.

In this slide-illustrated lecture, Dr. Kalsched will describe a series of dramatic moments in the psychotherapy of trauma survivors where a breakthrough occurred in the client’s access to dissociated feelings. These moments were accompanied by vivid dreams in which a lost or abandoned “child” appeared– often menaced by the psyche’s repressive powers. The speaker will then show the parallels between these dreams and those ancient myths that describe the birth and trials of the archetypal Hero– the one who always carries a dual destiny– part human, part divine, and whose ”purpose” is to renew the community. More details.

Trauma survivors often report that their lives are a “living Hell.” This pathological situation is created by the psyche’s archetypal defenses and their depressive power over what one psychoanalyst called “the lost heart of the self,” with its desire for love and intimate relationship. Psychotherapy of this condition involves what the medieval theologians called a “Descendit ad Inferos“–a harrowing descent into all the hellish un-remembered pain of the patient’s early life. Dante’s Divine Comedy gives us a beautiful literary example of such a companioned descent, as Virgil and Dante descend into the nether regions in order to heal the poet’s mid-life depression. Following Dante and his guide down to their confrontation with the “dark Lord” of Hades, Dr. Kalsched will show in this slide-illustrated lecture how depth psychotherapy in conjunction with affective neuro-science, and the findings of attachment theory and relational theory all lead toward answers of the central question posed by both the clinical and literary material, vis. how can the otherwise sealed crypt of Hell be opened and its occupants liberated? More details.

Donald Kalsched, Ph.D., is a Jungian analyst and clinical psychologist who practices in Santa Fe New Mexico. He is a member of the C. G. Jung Institute of Santa Fe, a senior faculty member and supervisor with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and lectures nationally and internationally on the subject of trauma and its treatment. His celebrated book The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit (Routledge 1996) explores the interface between contemporary psychoanalytic theory and Jungian thought as it relates to practical clinical work with the survivors of early childhood trauma. His new book, Trauma and the Soul: A Psycho-spiritual Approach to Human Development and its Interruption (Routledge, 2013) explores the “spiritual” dimensions of clinical work with trauma-survivors. He and his wife Robin live in Santa Fe, during the winter, and summer in Newfoundland, Canada.