The heart of the personal 2

If religion and spirituality is essentially about being alive then psychotherapy can help with that especially if our image of God has been damaged by our early experience of being mothered. It is true that everyone has some damage to a greater or lesser extent and this will also affect our attempts to find the love we missed out on through another person and that may include with a therapist.

Harry Guntrip details how some people coming for therapy saw him as a Christ-like figure in the sense of being someone who could save them – of course the danger here would be if the therapist also saw themselves in that role. The therapist is, as is the mother with their infant merely human with their strengths and limitations in their ability to love (a love they only have from their own experiences of being loved) and also journeying themselves through grace to become the person that God calls us to be – and in that sense more Christ-like.

In one of his papers Guntrip records the urgency and need of one person who came to see him and who, in one session, reported a dream:

‘I’m looking for Christ on the seashore. He rose up as if out of the sea and I admired His tall magnificent figure. Then I went with Him into a cave and became conscious of ghosts there and fled in stark terror. But He stayed there and I mustered up courage and went back in with Christ. Then the cave was a house and as He and I went upstairs He said, ‘You proved to have greater courage than I had’ and I felt I detected some weakness in Him.’

The patient associated the admired tall figure of Christ with that of his athletic father and then said to Guntrip:

‘I associate Him somehow with you, I’ve got the idea you may inveigle me into courage to face the ghosts and then let me down. Mother was the menacing figure. Father was weak, mute before her onslaughts. He once said it wasn’t a good thing to have one parent constantly dominating another in front of a child, but he never showed any anger at all.’

Here is the muddling of early parental relationships with the figures of Christ and God and the need as Guntrip says to bring into consciousness this person’s oscillating between the old fear of father letting him down if he tries to stand up to the violent-tempered mother, and the new wavering hope that the analyst will not let him down in facing up to the ghost within. ‘In this sense’ writes Guntrip, ‘the analyst is an exorcist who helps the patient cast out the ghosts and devils that haunt his inner world.’

Guntrip goes on to say that: ‘The analyst naturally does not seek to play the role of Christ or Saviour, but it is clear that the patient needs to regard him in this light, as one without whose help he can neither face nor give up his internal bad objects.’ By working through this the person can eventually see the analyst in a non-possessive way and out-grow the dependencies from childhood and so too the relationship with God and Christ can mature ideally freed from the most powerful of past projections.