In this post I want to explore the connection between the idea of meeting within the communion of saints and the meeting between analyst and patient in the setting of long term analytical work. Clearly there are the different contexts with the different explicit aims – meeting in the communion of saints is in the context of Christian belief with an explicit aim of worshipping or being in the presence of God. In the consulting room the aim is for connection between analyst and patient – though the explicit aim of treatment is for understanding rather than necessarily for cure, though both may happen.
Louis Massignon, an Orientalist and Catholic theologian with great interest and involvement in Islam and relations between Christians and Muslims wrote about the religious values of ‘substitution’ and ‘compassion’ and how these functioned for him and reading this brought to my mind the analytic idea of counter transference and projective identification.
Massignon is describing deep personal relations – whether with those who are dead or who are alive. A primary figure for him was Abraham; and Massignon strongly felt that he was assisted in his own encounter with God and in his dramatic conversion by the intercession of living and deceased friends, among them Abraham and Charles de Foucauld, who had also experienced God in a Muslim context. So for Massignon the idea of ‘substitution’ is deeply personal and requires meeting someone from the communion of saints and involves carrying one another’s burdens, putting oneself in another’s place, accepting another’s help – and so when the person is a part of the immortal communion of saints (i.e. described as dead) then this personal encounter is a mystical experience. Similarly ‘compassion’ is feeling the other’s predicament to the point that one is provoked to action.
Perhaps the analytic idea that correlates most closely is that of ‘participation mystique’ – a ‘mystical participation’. Carl Jung used this term deriving his use of it from the ethnologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl. Jung (who retained the phrase in its French translation) summed up ‘participation mystique’ in this way: ‘It is a well-known psychological fact that an individual may have an unconscious identity with some other person or object’. It describes a peculiar kind of psychological connection where the person cannot clearly distinguish themselves from the other person – so it is a sort of partial identity. In other words there is a benign and helpful merging in the context of therapy where the analyst gleans something about the patient’s inner world through in/direct experience.
Jung gives an example not between analyst and patient but of something that occurred in one of his pateint’s:
I am reminded of another mental case who was neither a poet nor anything very outstanding, just a naturally quiet and rather sentimental youth. He had fallen in love with a girl and, as so often happens, had failed to ascertain whether his love was requited. His primitive participation mystique took it for granted that his agitations were plainly the agitations of the other, which on the lower levels of human psychology is naturally very often the case. Thus he built up a sentimental love-fantasy which precipitately collapsed when he discovered that the girl would have none of him.
Our connections with others can step over the boundaries of separate identities in both contexts and as Jung shows in the everyday encounters as well.