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The Healing Function of Psyche

As we watch television, we are bombarded with advertisements that claim to cure such ailments as anxiety, sleeplessness and depression. At times, we may opt for pain-relief medication to aid a headache. What are we really trying to cure?

From a medical perspective, to cure means that a patient no longer has the ailment. On the other hand, healing does not necessarily eliminate the disease; instead, it reflects a change in our attitude towards the complaint. This shift in perception may even extend to attitudes regarding other situations and people.

Depth psychology regards the psyche as the primary healer. Carl Jung used the term metanoia, from the Greek word, metanoein, meaning “to change one’s mind” and “spiritual conversion,” to denote psyche’s attempt to heal itself. This may appear as a sudden ‘nervous breakdown’ or more slowly through chronic symptoms such as anxiety, depression, addictions and body symptoms.

Concerning neurosis, addiction or a symptom, Jung stated, “We do not cure it—it cures us.” From this “purposive view,” symptoms are not to be eliminated but are to be explored for their deeper meaning, as they “contain the true gold we should never have found elsewhere.” If symptoms are treasures, they should not to be avoided or masked with medications. Underlying issues need to be explored and resolved rather than strengthened by existing coping mechanisms. Symptoms offer an opportunity for ego to ask, “What is psychically wrong or off?”

Jung valued not only the reality of the psyche, but also its wisdom and self-regulating function. He advised, “We must be able to let things happen in the psyche. Consciousness is forever interfering, helping, correcting, and negating, never leaving the single growth of the psychic processes in peace.” Our egos, indeed, often act in opposition to what our souls desire by refusing to face our necessary shadow traits. Ego would rather rationalize and quick-fix its way out of symptoms; however, psyche will not give up its efforts towards wholeness and will not be silenced.

The word heal is rooted in haelen which means “to make whole or well,” which is what psyche is seeking. Psyche interacts with ego in a compensatory way, striving for intrapsychic balance or homeostasis. Dreams and symptoms show inflations and deflations in opposition to the ego’s one-sidedness. The intent of this psychic material is for us to adjust our egos’ misguided beliefs in a compensatory and healing manner, leading us in an ongoing way towards the realization of our potential.

The principle purpose of psyche’s self-regulation is changing our focus, attitude and values from an external locus to an internal one. In healing our symptoms, the implied responsibility is ours rather than solely the practitioner’s. Start the process of healing by observing your body symptoms, patterns of moods, emotional triggers, projections, dreams and relationship issues.

Healing does not mean we reach an end-point where all will be perfect or fixed; rather, we achieve a better understanding of our inner conflicts, angst and suffering. We will continue to experience ailments and losses but will be better able to encounter them.

Eventually, as Jung suggested, we will consider a symptom with gratitude: “We should even learn to be thankful for it, otherwise we pass it by and miss the opportunity of getting to know ourselves as we really are.” 

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.