Exploring the resonances between psychodynamic therapy and the Judaeo-Christian faith 5

Some of the posts on this subject might have felt a bit one-sided from the point of view of the therapist being the one who in some way ‘knows’, or as in the last post in some way ‘redeems’ through love. In psychodynamic work this is very much a two-way process when the unconscious dynamics between the person being seen and the therapist are used as ways of bringing into consciousness and speaking about feelings that may have been repressed.

Carl Jung was very insistent that both therapist and person being seen are affected by the relationship – both develop and change as a result of the encounters. Revd Chris MacKenna – also a Jungian analyst called this ‘the way of exchange’. Jung, himself writes that the personalities of the therapist and person being seen are often more important for the work than what is said or thought: ‘For two personalities to meet is like mixing two different chemical substances: if there is any combination at all, both are transformed.’ So, there is mutual risk and mutual possibility.

The idea of exchange is very much part of the Judaeo-Christian tradition – though often in a paradoxical form. Salvation is a free gift and anyone can have it, but it will cost us not less than everything. 2 Corinthians 8 v. 9 describes this way of exchange: ‘You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’

The Judaeo-Christian tradition is mostly now dismissed in the west partly because of its endless moralising and hypocritical judgements about how others ‘should’ live, there doesn’t seem much to replace it beyond a vague idea that people should do what they want so long as they don’t interfere too much with others. There is a sense of uncertainty and values are relative.

In psychodynamic work and in spiritual practices we seek for something of real value. And these can sometimes be experienced in luminous moments of insight or awareness. In both the therapy and in religion there is a searching for truth – truth that can be discovered and known, felt and integrated – and that adds deep meaning to life. Psychodynamic therapy is not a religion but there is a distinctive spirit to the work which resonates with many aspects of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.