Friday, December 30, 2011

Verena Kast on the Clinical Use of Fairytales

"As an analyst who is convinced that the process of individuation is a most valuable theory (Jung, 1934b; Kast, 1992), I use fairy tales in my practice of therapy. This entails working with the tensions between the ego-complex and the personal and collective unconscious on one side and between the ego complex and the collective consciousness (roles, spirit of the times, current ideologies…) on another, and with the interactions between the collective unconscious and the collective conscious. This work occurs in the frame of an analytical relationship, in which transference/countertransference, the perception of symbols, and the formation of new symbols are of great importance. The therapy aims toward the constant restructuring of the identity of the analysand-more and more in accordance with him-or herself-and should be a most dynamic process, intending the development of the analysand toward more creativity in order to deal with life, to find meaning and some understanding of one's own life-in short to become more and more what he or she could be, to become more and more authentic. And that means becoming closer to emotions and intuitions and at the same time being more able to deal with them. Fairy tales are, at least in Europe, favorite stories of our childhood. Structurally, fairy tales begin with a typically problematic situation which can be easily transfered to everyday problems. Then they show how the situation might be dealt with by describing processes that have to be suffered through. A path of growth emerges that leads through and out of the problem that was described at the outset. The fairy tale's protagonist symbolizes a certain attitude in the face of a problematic situation. The fairy tale addresses universal human issues by means of the protagonist, whose difficulties, trials, and adventures can be compared with our own.

The fairy tale speaks to us in symbols and images. The symbol mixes experiences, psychic contents, and, especially, emotions into a sum total that can not be represented in any other form. Thus Bloch (1986) calls symbols "categories of condensation." Although we never give up trying to understand and to interpret symbols, each attempt can only bring a partial aspect to consciousness. The symbol has a surplus of meaning; it is "overdetermined." It reveals and opens up perspectives that gradually unfold before our eyes and stimulate our fantasy. In therapy there is an attempt to create an environment in which the tale can speak to us at the level of the imagination. Many of our inner images have become hardened and stereotyped. When they are softened in a therapeutic environment and become accessible to the imput of the fairy tale, there is a chance that our prejudices and fixations may stand some alteration. Maybe the power of fantasy can even be revived. Through the funnel of the inner image, the fairy tale can have a huge impact on the chemistry of our emotional transformations. Thus, listening to a fairy tale already has a therapeutic effect; if we are receptive, the story's images "work on us." Granted some motifs may strike us with greater immediate relevance than others. Those motifs that speak to us are quickly taken possession of. We become their proud and jealous owners because they seem to express the way we feel in a way that nothing else can substitute for. Unlike some feelings, the image is something that we can look at. In some respects, it is "my" image, but again it is triggered by a source outside myself-the fairy tale. This paradox often provides us with the closeness and, at the same time, the distance that is necessary to deal with the problem expressed in the image. The images in the fairy tales are in addition part of a narrative structure which draws a conflict to a creative solution. Therapeutic work with fairy tales refers and is dependent on this narrative process. We take our own images-evoked by the tale-and "enter" them into a developmental "program" that is encoded with the hope, characteristic of fairy tales, that difficulties can be overcome. According to Bloch, every living symbol-every symbol that speaks to us-contains the "hope that is encapsulated in the archetype" (1959, p. 187). Surely therapy should be about the business of making this power of the human psyche available."
(pp. 509-510)

"A symbolic process, such as expressed in a fairy tale, can take on the function of a transitional object in the sense of Winnicott (1986). The storehouse of the archetypal symbols experienced in fairy tales can be seen as a collective motherground, from which the personal symbols can be evoked in the psyche of the singular person with the goal of better overcoming all kind of anxieties and of becoming more creative. I see the supporting elements of the collective unconscious, which become accessible to us in fairy tales, in myths, in parts of stories or poems, addressing in slightly different manners the same topic. And they offer something we can provide to others so that the problem might be reworked. This, in turn, also has an effect on the structure of the ego-and thus of the creativity and the competence in dealing with everyday life. Only rarely do we copy the solution offered by the inner image. Fairy tales spark imaginative processes that are unique to each individual, alter deeply entrenched feelings, and accompany us in the practical business of restructuring our daily lives.

I like to see all the stories we human beings (and our culture in general) have collected as a transitional space, as the reservoir of the collected creativity of all human beings in the past and in the present. The more the used symbols are reformulations of archetypal structures and dynamics-of very basic structures and dynamics-the more they seem to trigger the personal fantasy and the fantasy of survival, the more it helps to work on actual and repressed problems, in a way that we don't get stuck in the past and in a way that life becomes more meaningful."
(pp. 522-523).

Verena Kast (1996). The Clinical Use of Fairy Tales by a "Classical" Jungian Analyst. Psychoanalytic Review, Vol. 83, pp. 509-523.

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