In “Re-Visioning Psychology,” James Hillman describes a new way of looking at psychological symptoms and pathology. He views them as giving one an opportunity to do “soul making.” Interestingly, the original Greek term “psyche” means “soul.” Thus, psychology should be the study of the soul, as psychological healing only begins when we focus on what an individual’s soul needs and wants (not simply what the ego wants.)
The psyche may upset or disturb us with symptoms such as depression, outbursts, sleeplessness, eating disorders, harmful relationships or worse, in order to get our attention. We are right to start with the symptom, but we are under the spell of the medical myth when we believe that psychological symptoms are something to be removed or “cured.”
Psychological symptoms can be transformed when they are “re-visioned” as multi-faceted, human pathways of soul.
Pathologies are the means by which the soul gets our attention when we are missing the soul’s intended journey. We must therefore investigate the meaning behind the symptom.
Rather than simply trying to get rid of a symptom, one should ask, “What does this symptom want to say? Why has it arrived at this time? What kind of life am I leading that it needs this disturbance? What does soul want?” We learn that soul heals by telling itself a better story—a healing fiction that can dissolve the belief system, which keeps the soul locked in misery.
This is not to say that we don’t want to change risky behavior or remove dangerous symptoms. However, the symptoms are more likely to truly transform when you look at the meaning behind them. For instance, in the case of over-eating, one might ask, “Why am I never satisfied? What nourishment is my soul seeking that would satisfy it?” Seeking to be filled up by food may be a metaphor or substitute for the nourishment the soul is seeking.
Hillman’s “archetypal psychology” requires a re-directing of psychology away from logical analysis into the inner empathic meanderings of the heart. Soul-work is grounded in an aesthetic, poetic basis of the mind. The “crazy artist,” and the “mad scientist” are metaphors for the intimate relation between pathology and imagination.
Soul speaks the language of imagination—through image, music, and metaphor. Thus, paying attention to what the soul wants through an imaginative consciousness is what makes the difference between feeling “damaged” and learning to live “soulfully.”
Archetypal psychology…claims that it is mainly through the wounds in human life that the Gods enter…because pathology is the most palpable manner of bearing witness to the powers beyond ego control and the insufficiency of the ego perspective.
~James Hillman in “Archetypal Psychology”
By Alison Poulsen, PhD