The Courage to Find Soul: A Call for More ‘Psyche’ in Psychology

The word “psyche” is also the word for soul; accordingly, psychology could be considered to be the art and science of healing and nourishing the soul. But what if healing and nourishing our souls means to take a path that is less pretty than we want? What if the soul is like an inner activist — disrupting our status quo, creating imbalance, finding nourishment in illness that unsettles our usual lives, moving us not only into the light but also into the darkness, and rendering us unsure of even our most cherished beliefs? Would you still follow her?

Consider the following cases:

Case 1: Brad, a multi-millionaire, retired in his early 50s. He worried about money all the time. He was almost obsessed with counting it and reviewing his budget; he was afraid to spend too much, limiting himself to spending only a portion of the interest he made each month while his net worth grew. Therapists and friends told him to spend more, worry less, go on the vacations he fantasized, buy the luxury car he eyed, and send his lower-income friends plane tickets to visit him. But he couldn’t.

“Maybe I’ll never get over this worry. Maybe it’s the legacy of my father, who was incredibly frugal and anxious about money.” Instead of trying to relieve him of his worry, I assumed that his worry was meaningful taking him in a new direction in his life about money and more. I asked him to tell me what it was like to worry about money. He became vulnerable, sensitive, and even fragile. As he spoke, I noticed that we were growing more intimate than we had been before, and our conversation wandered onto new topics, including his desire to help build homes for people who couldn’t afford one and his deep love for animals. His worry about money was a doorway giving him access to his more tender feelings and care for others — his connection with humanity. His worry was an invitation, a teaching, not an illness to be relieved.

Case 2: Sue regularly fought with her father; she became angry whenever she thought of him. She worked to let go of her anger, but it always returned. I asked Sue to show me the anger with her hand. She made a fist and her jaw began to protrude. I asked this angry part of her, “What kind of person are you?” She replied, “I do what I want, go for what I want. I don’t take sh-t from anyone.”

As she learned to be more like this in many areas of her life, not just with her father, her resentment with him began to fade. Her anger gave her access to her power — a power that was meant to be used, not meditated away.

Case 3: Sally suffered bouts of depression and was afraid to get pulled down again. She had been there before; it wasn’t pretty. I said, “Let’s go down together; let me be your eyes and ears and see what we can find.”

We sunk together, first into a low mood, then into tears and sadness. I asked, “Dear sadness, why have you come?” She replied, “I miss the hopes and dreams I had when I was a child; somehow they got lost along the way.” Thank goodness for her depressed state; without it she would never have remembered the life that she really wanted.

We naturally seek to rid ourselves of anything that interferes with our goals and sense of wellness. We fight against depression — we “anti” depress. We meditate hoping to make our anger go away or practice mindfulness to stop ourselves from being so damn hungry. We learn communication skills in order to listen better, speak more directly, and avoid hurtful conflicts. We try to muster sufficient resolve to free ourselves from bad habits and addictions. As men, we treat our softness, especially if it shows up in our penises, as something to be ashamed of and corrected (making Viagra one of the largest selling drugs on the planet). As women, we obsess about our body shapes and sizes (making the diet industry a $60 billion gold mine). In short, we look at everything that disturbs us as an enemy to overcome or a disease to be treated, fixed, removed, and made to go away.

But what if treating and overcoming our symptoms takes us away from our deeper healing? What if those things that disturb us the most are keys to our authentic selves? What if the “medicine” we really long for can be found cooking, alchemically, right in the center of what we think of as illness? What if bringing an attitude of love and awareness to our problems instead of treating and fixing them is what really nourishes our souls? Would you take that path — would you follow your soul?

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