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Invoking The Gods

"Many therapies are monotheistic. They acknowledge only one truth, one value system, one version of reality, and frame both their successes and their failures in terms of this reality..."

- Bernie Neville

Neville's views on the importance of polytheistic approach in psychotherapy and Rollo May's on conducting transpersonal work in the therapy room within a mythologically-informed framework has guided my own work in the therapy room.

When counselling clients, I've noticed a postmodern, Hermetic consciousness manifests in my approach. Hermes is not only the god of exchange, dialogue and process but also the facilitator, the god who makes things smooth and easy. This Hermetic energy can transform people's lives. When Carl Rogers (notable humanistic psychologist) pointed out that the task of the therapist is primarily to be a companion on the client's journey - he was perhaps placing the approach within the image of Hermes - companion and protector of travellers. However, therapists need to be secure enough in themselves that they know they will not get lost in the sometimes-bizarre world of the other, and that they can comfortably return to their own world if they wish (Rogers, 1951).

It is worth drawing the distinction between companionship and facilitation. There are many therapists who will happily facilitate a client's journey to their personal underworld but many of these therapists, like travel agents, facilitate only the client's journey without going there themselves. I prefer to invoke Hermes - the messenger god and guide to the underworld and go all the way into the client's underworld at their side and be prepared just like the clients - to be permanently changed by the experience.

Another image in Hermes mythology is that of untying knots. The client begins the process stuck, tied up, knotted and, in thoroughly experiencing and examining the knots, finds a way to untie them, so as to continue on his or her way without this hindrance. Consider the particular myth of Hermes - where he negotiates the release of Persephone from the underworld and Odysseus from Calypso's island - shares the title of 'loosener' with Dionysus, another god of transformation. But the patient work of the therapist is in contrast with the Dionysian fantasy of liberation through catharsis and ecstasy. It is Hermes who is more present in my therapy room where the focus is on dialogue rather than on emotional ventilation.

However, speaking in the language of archetypal psychology - can there also be a threat of pathology when invoking the gods in a polytheistic approach? Consider when excessive Eros and Dionysian energy is elicited in clients - indiscriminate intimacy, an absolute priority of feeling over thought, narcissistic self-indulgence, total absence of social awareness, general permissiveness and romantic soft-headedness. But this can be rectified by using Eros energy to cultivate a healing relationship with suffering clients in which we desire what is good for them and they feel genuinely cared for; while the Dionysus-charged approach can foster actualising tendency, the drive towards growth, towards emergence of the true, vital, free, spontaneous self from the sterility of introjected values and incongruent behaviour.

This approach is a postmodern way of perceiving a predominantly Hermetic consciousness. It is more about exploring an image than propounding a truth.

Reference: Work by Bernie Neville and Rollo May

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