Here’s how much of a fiend for the HBO series In Treatment I am: I watched the entire series when the show first aired about a decade ago. Then every few months, I kept looking to see if there was a new season. When it didn’t come, I just watched the old series over again. Four times. So imagine my surprise and delight when, out of habit, I looked up In Treatment online, to find that there is a new season out, with Uzo Aduba as psychologist Dr Brooke Taylor. I was ecstatic. A smart Black woman in the therapist’s chair, holding it down professionally while battling her personal demons. Irresistible.
In Treatment Seasons 1-3
In the first three seasons of In Treatment, Irish actor Gabriel Byrne was spectacular as Dr Paul Weston, a psychologist with a private practice from his home (which allowed us to see him fumble around in his family relationships). He was brilliant as a psychologist but deliciously flawed and vulnerable in his personal life, as seen in his interactions with his wife, his therapist Gina, and – spoiler alert – a patient he falls in love with. Dr Weston’s Irish lilt, penetrating insights, wry sense of humor, deep commitment to his vocation, and poetic melancholy reminded me of my first therapist, also an Irishman, when I was in Kenya in my twenties – I’ll call him Frank.
The Irish therapist
I ended up as Frank’s patient through a frustrating comedy of errors that is a story for another day. But we connected as soon as he invited me to sit in his office, and I instantly knew that he was the perfect therapist for me. He made a deep impression on me and inspired me to become a therapist, which is how I ended up leaving my teaching job in Nairobi to come to America to study psychology. He signed off on my hours of personal therapy, a prerequisite for my graduate program.
Frank introduced me to the ideas of, among others, Irish poet John O’Donohue, humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, and psychiatrist Carl Jung. He prescribed Anam Cara to me as bibliotherapy, which I couldn’t find in the local bookstores in Kenya at that time. But in an uncanny display of synchronicity similar to the one that led me to Frank, the book fell off the shelf of a bookstore I visited in Johannesburg a few months later, landing at my feet. Later, Frank and I shared a moment of laughter and awe when I described the encounter in session. I brought that book to America with me when I was accepted into my counseling psychology program. It still sits on my shelf today, two decades later.
There are so many things I love about this new In Treatment season: a formidable Black woman therapist who, like her predecessor, is brilliant yet flawed, making her at once inspiring and relatable. A fantastic cast of ethnically and culturally diverse patients, resulting in rich explorations of race, class, culture, gender, language, and sexual orientation. We learn about clinical stuff like maternal and erotic transference and alcoholism. Carl Jung is quoted a couple of times, and there are references to dreams and the unconscious. There are raw and real conversations about topical matters such as the stigma of mental illness and trauma in Black communities, racism and Black Lives Matter, environmental and LGBTQ issues, politics and white privilege.
We drop in on telehealth video sessions with Dr Taylor’s patients and see them navigate the challenges of COVID-19. We hold our breaths listening to Dr Taylor’s eloquent and unstinting views on white entitlement and misogyny, marvel at her political activism, and cringe every time she falls into self-imposed traps and dysfunctional behavior. Actor Liza Colon-Zayas is outstanding as Rita, Dr Taylor’s friend and AA sponsor, whose piercing insights and fierce love will move you to tears.
I am delighted that In Treatment is back in this superb iteration. I adored Dr Paul Weston, and now I get to revel in Dr Brooke Taylor’s life and foibles, and those of her patients. In Treatment Season 4 is a deeply satisfying and refreshing portrayal of the broad range of people and messy issues that make up today’s America (and show up on therapists’ couches near you).
OK then. Time for me to get back to eavesdropping on Eladio, Laila, and Colin’s juicy sessions.
The enormous challenges of the past year, particularly the COVID-19 outbreak and racial justice protests, highlighted what people in minority communities have long known: that there is an urgent need for mental health services in our communities, and that we must dismantle barriers that prevent folks from accessing these resources. Barriers include cultural stigma, racial biases and disparities, mistrust in medical personnel and programs, economic hardship and socio-political factors, all of which lead to high levels of undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses in communities of color. These in turn result in increased hospitalizations and ER visits, loss of income, legal involvement, poor quality of life, and preventable deaths.
Positive Growth, Inc. (PGI) is a non-profit in Clarkston, GA, that has been working since 1994 to overcome these barriers by making mental health accessible to a wide range of people, from individuals and families in our local neighborhoods to refugees from many countries across the globe. Part of PGI’s mission is to facilitate and encourage conversations about mental health.
Minority Mental Health Virtual Symposium, July 30th, 2021
Positive Growth invites you to its 4th Minority Mental Health Symposium on July 30th, a virtual forum where workshops and discussions on mental health in our minority communities will be presented. Topics include: trauma and the brain, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the Community Resilience Model (CRM), cultural competence and humility, suicide prevention, and parenting. We will also provide resources for mental health and social programs.
Come join in our conversations, where I will be a panelist in a discussion about the mental health issues that impact our communities. Free CEUs are available. I hope to see you there!
Remember how these words enchanted you as a child? If you’re lucky enough to still be connected with your inner child, they probably still do. Fairy tales inform, delight, guide, and inspire us. They come in various forms but are universal and present in all cultures. Jungian Analyst James Hollis describes humans as homo narrans; we are natural story tellers and love to share our ideas and experiences through stories. Hollis goes as far as to say: “The purpose of life is to realize your life is an interesting story.”
Jung Society lecture, 7/17/21 with Steve Buser, MD
Join us at the Jung Society of Atlanta on Saturday July 17th for a virtual lecture with psychiatrist Steve Buser, who will guide us through an exploration of the first three volumes of Marie-Louise von Franz’s recently released 28-volume magnum opus, The Collected Works of Marie-Louise von Franz. Von Franz was a highly respected early student of psychiatrist Carl Jung and is considered the foremost authority on fairy tales. Dr Buser will discuss fairy tale motifs, archetypal symbols, and the socio-cultural, magical, and transformational power of fairy tales.
The verdict has been passed. George Floyd’s killer has been found guilty of charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. It’s hardly been a year since we saw the horrific images of Floyd’s murder all over the news and social media, and now we see Derek Chauvin being led away in handcuffs. Many people feel relieved that justice has been served, that a white man does not go home scot free for taking yet another Black life. Others say this will never bring George back, that there have been and will continue to be more George Floyds, that justice will finally be served when we no longer have these killings. Many just feel numb, hollow, and exhausted with the recognition that this struggle for racial justice continues indefinitely.
How do we come to terms with the racial reckoning that is a part of America’s past, present, and future? Psychiatrist Carl Jung said that the journey to wholeness, or what he called individuation, is an opus contra naturam, a work against nature. I take this to mean that this kind of work often goes against our natural human inclination towards apathy, passivity, and unconsciousness in the face of a lifelong, ongoing process towards completion. We yearn for something easy that we can do with little or no effort, something that has an end in sight. Yet the opus must be engaged with consciously, vigorously, endlessly. There is no other way.
It may be an opus contra naturam for some sections of white America to acknowledge the worth and dignity of the Black and Brown people who are their coworkers, neighbors, and fellow humans. Yet it must be done. Or for conservative governors to allow Black voters equal access to the vote (see Georgia’s new voter suppression bill) and to laws that uphold their humanity. But this is what is called for. It may be an opus contra naturam for conservative legislators to support diversity, equality, and inclusion at all levels of society for BIPOC, LGBTQ, Dreamers, refugees, and other minority communities, when it’s so much easier to cling to the status quo and remain opposed to whatever “the other side” proposes. Yet our conscience and our humanity hinges upon it.
Rest in peace, George Floyd. You helped America start to acknowledge that Black lives do matter.
Onward, America, we have work to do.
This month’s speaker at the Jung Society of Atlanta is Jungian Analyst Susan Olson, who will be presenting a lecture titled When Things Fall Apart – Holding our Center in a Broken World. She will be sharing with us a Jungian perspective on how to develop the psychological attitude required to hold our center as the world around us falls to pieces, a timely message for these extraordinary times.
The African Trilogy
It got me thinking about one of my favorite books from high school, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which is part one of the African Trilogy that includes Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease. I remember growing up with these books and seeing them, and others from writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Meja Mwangi, and Alex Haley, in our family bookcase (my father was and still is an avid reader), but I never got to read them until I was in high school. Come to think of it, I don’t know anyone from my generation who didn’t read Things Fall Apart as a “set book” in high school in Kenya. It was also in high school that I got to know of other authors in the “African Writers Series”, including Francis Imbuga, Ali Mazrui, and Shaaban Robert (remember Kusadikika?).
Recently, I was thrilled to learn from my friend’s daughter that American high schoolers today are reading Achebe in their African literature classes. It is inspiring that so many generations across the world continue to enjoy Achebe’s storytelling, just like I did decades ago. Here is what some of my favorite people have said about Achebe’s work:
Toni Morrison: “His courage and generosity are made manifest in the work”.
Nelson Mandela: “The writer in whose company the prison walls fell down”.
President Barack Obama: “A true classic of world literature….A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.”
Reading Achebe’s masterpiece in Form 1 was for me pure joy, and made for some memorable memories from my high school days (shout out to Mrs Linge and Mrs Gathenji). We took turns to read aloud, discussed the story and characters, laughed at their foibles, memorized and recited parts of the book that we loved, and learned Igbo phrases and proverbs. A class favorite was: “The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said it would praise itself if no one else did”, which I translate as permission for me to highlight my own achievements, whether or not the world acknowledges them.
Achebe’s title for his novel was inspired by W.B. Yeats’s poem The Second Coming:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
In the novel, Achebe describes the fate that befalls our tragic hero, Okonkwo, and his community in Umuofia, as they reckon with the forces of colonialism that descend upon them, creating and exacerbating divisions among the people, testing their values, identity, traditions, and their vision for their future. Achebe writes that although Okwonkwo was young, “he was clearly cut out for great things….As the elders said, if a child washed his hands, he could eat with kings.” (Achebe, 1958, p. 9).
What I love about Achebe’s writing is his ownership and command of language and use of African expressions in such a natural and vivid style that he takes us right into the village with Okonkwo, sitting with the elders, eating kola nut, watching the wrestling matches, gossiping with the wives, contemplating the fate of the people.
Lately I’ve been feeling inspired by the novels of my youth, which keep showing up unexpectedly in my conversations and readings. So I decided to buy Achebe’s African Trilogy and reread it. I can’t wait to immerse myself in Achebe’s masterful writing and rediscover the words and stories that delighted me so many years ago. (And brush up on my Igbo proverbs.)
Achebe, Chinua. (1958). Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann.
W. B. Yeats’s poem The Second Coming from the Poetry Foundation.
On an online chat with my former schoolmates a couple of days ago, we talked about our high school motto “servire est regnare”, Latin for “to serve is to reign”. We waxed nostalgic about our high school days and how we loved to belt out this phrase from our school song in assemblies and speech days. It got me thinking about what servire est regnare really means to me: that by serving others, we uphold our humanity, exercise our agency, and reign over our lives.
This Black History month, I’m contemplating the many ways in which Black people around the world have served and reigned, by uplifting their communities and inspiring the world with their incredible vision, humanity, and courage.
Starting (of course!) with our Vice President Kamala Harris, an inspiration to Americans, to women of color, and to people all around the world. By electing this Phenomenal Woman to serve our country, we affirm our values as a nation and demonstrate that we firmly believe in The Truths we Hold. As I reflect on Harris’s monumental achievement, I remember the visionary leadership and sacrifice of other exceptional leaders, from Dr Wangari Maathai, Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Barack and Michelle Obama, to Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Malcolm X (and so many others that I’m unable to mention here).
I’m soaking up the deep wisdom, insights, and creativity from the words of young Black women writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tomi Adeyemi, and Amanda Gorman. They follow in the footsteps of other great women like Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, and iconic African writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, and Chinua Achebe, all of whom dare to write in human and relatable ways about the ordinary lives, ideas, and experiences of Black people.
As a proud Atlantan, I’m deeply indebted to the extraordinary legacy of renowned Atlantans like Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. , John Lewis, and a long line of Black mayors who have served this historic city, from civil rights icons Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson, to phenomenal women Shirley Franklin and current mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. I’m inspired by the racial justice advocacy and activism in this multicultural city, spurred by Stacy Abrams, Killer Mike, and the Black Lives Movement, founded by activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. These outstanding people have all contributed to the freedoms, privileges, and opportunities that I enjoy today as an African immigrant living in America.
In my personal life, I’m filled with gratitude for the fierce support and encouragement of my parents, the sacrifices that they and their parents made to make this life that I live first a possibility, and now a reality. And to my friends and siblings who, whenever I have bouts of self-doubt, remind me and reflect to me, through their own successes and resilience, who I really am. Everywhere I look, I see the remarkable legacy of Black achievement and pride surround and embrace me.
Servire est regnare. By our service, we reign over our lives and our circumstances; we challenge the ignorance and prejudices that we encounter; we create joy, hope, and opportunities, and leave enduring legacies to those who come after us. This Black History month, I’m celebrating the incredible ways in which so many Black people have embodied this dictum with their acts of service and their towering human achievements. Together, we rise. Together, we reign.
Ever been in a situation where you had to make a choice between one thing or another, but for the life of you, you couldn’t decide – one part of you wanted to go one way and the other the opposite way? (And for the sake of argument: no, you can’t choose both). Our language expresses this dilemma. We may say, “Part of me wants to stay, the other wants to go”, or, “My mind says no but my heart says yes”, or, “I have half a mind to accept the offer, but…”, or, “I’m torn between this and that”. Or, or, or.
A non-pathological approach
Psychologist Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS), says we all have multiple personalities, which he simply calls “parts”. Different parts, such as managers/protectors, firefighters, and exiles, have different interests, agendas, and motives, and devise clever methods of achieving their goals. It may be a simple (but sometimes agonizing) case of deciding between pizza or Chinese take-out; between working out or skipping it and feeling awful all day. Or it can be more ominous: a harsh inner critic part may be abusive, exacting, and judgmental, constantly putting you down and fighting with the part of you that feels vulnerable and scared. Finally, there is the part known as the Self, which Schwartz describes as the “compassionate leader”, the “seat of consciousness”, “the ‘I’ in the storm”, which balances and connects all parts to form a whole.
Many of us can recognize these parts in ourselves. But parts are not always what they appear to be. For instance, we may get to know a persecutory part (through journaling, therapy, meditation, reflection), and discover to our surprise that it actually wants to protect us from being ridiculed or attacked by others, a strategy that it may have developed when, for example, a person got abused, molested, or traumatized as a child. If we do not acknowledge and negotiate with this part, it may fight with other parts and blend with the Self, resulting in a crisis: having failed to consciously undertake the task of engaging and negotiating with all the parts, this rogue part simply goes ahead and acts through subterfuge in a way that alienates the other parts and hijacks the Self. In extreme cases, a persecutory part can cause a person to take their own life.
Although our various parts can wreak havoc in our lives, they can also be a source of deep insight into ourselves, our patterns of behavior, our relationships, and our psyche, which can lead to creativity and psychological healing from trauma and emotional wounds. Rather than pathologizing these different parts, Schwartz emphasizes the need for all parts to be valued, acknowledged, and allowed to play their “natural” roles in service to the whole or Self. For instance, Schwartz states that the goal isn’t to go to war with or get rid of a harsh inner critic part; it is to dialogue with it and eventually transform it by “unburdening” it from its extreme beliefs and emotions that got attached to it through some traumatic experience or emotional injury. Having done that, this part can play a more supportive role, e.g. it can allow a person to access courage and confidence.
Collective and individual parts
Writers and poets have captured this human condition, both on a collective and individual level. In works like Goethe’s Faust and Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the characters fought it out between their moral and virtuous parts (Carl Jung would call this their persona) and their more impulsive, selfish, and insatiable parts (their shadow). On a collective level, in Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece, Things Fall Apart, the inhabitants of an African precolonial community have to decide who they are as a people by either continuing their traditional way of life, or accepting the religion, education, and culture of the white man, with dire consequences either way.
Most recently, Amanda Gorman’s heart wrenching description of the challenges America faces in her stirring inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb, depicts the struggle between the part of America that strives towards lofty democratic human ideals on the one hand, and on the other “a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it/ Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.” We have witnessed America’s ugly parts, parts that every now and then get exposed when they erupt from their hiding place in the collective unconscious, take possession of people, and take root in our communities. Can we as a nation bring together our warring parts to become a coherent whole? We must actively engage this question as we usher in a new year and a new administration.
Psychologically, we bear the responsibility to become aware of opposing personalities within ourselves and learn how to manage and balance all our parts: the good, the bad, and the ugly, or else suffer the consequences of having them knock us about or worse, annihilate us. We could ask ourselves: when and where do our parts come out to play or to wreak havoc: in relationships, at work, in the way we sabotage our health, or avoid making decisions?
If you feel ready to explore and dialogue with your parts, it is a good idea to have a guide and witness to accompany you through these inner realms of your psyche. It may be helpful to seek out a therapist, particularly one trained in Schwartz’s IFS model.
But for now, I would just go for the pizza.
The Jung Society of Atlanta is honored to host a lecture on C. G. Jung’s Black Books on January 31, by renowned Jungian scholar, Sonu Shamdasani, PhD, Professor of Jung History at the School of European Languages, Culture and Society (German) at University College London.
Jung’s Red Book
Jung’s eagerly anticipated Red Book created much buzz and excitement when it was published in 2009. Many people in Jungian communities around the world rushed to buy their copies of this exquisite book. I remember spending around $300 for my copy, my largest book expense ever. I opened the red hardcover and jacket, marveling at the book’s size and Jung’s spectacular calligraphy and paintings. The Red Book is the largest book I own, more suited for display at a museum than in a bookcase in my house; we had to shift the height of the shelves to place it in its new home on the bottom shelf.
Our Jungian community here had an informal group to discuss the rich imagery and writings from Jung’s masterpiece, a collection of experiences, reflections, and paintings that Jung recorded during his “confrontation with the unconscious” that happened after his traumatic break with Freud. This was the period Jung described himself as suffering from his “creative illness”. He was terrified that he might “do a schizophrenia” and go over the edge like Nietzsche, whom he admired. One of the ways he coped with these powerful forces in his unconscious was to acknowledge their wisdom and record their insights in The Red Book.
We plunged into The Red Book and were inspired by Jung’s reflections, stories, dreams, and artwork. We laughed and cried as we broke bread and drank wine together, sharing experiences from our own encounters with our unconscious. Later, in February 2012, the Jung Society of Atlanta hosted an exhibition at the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art by Vicente de Moura, C.G. Jung Institute archivist and Jungian analyst, where we got a chance to see mandalas of Jung’s patients that were reminiscent of some of his own mandala paintings from the Red Book.
Jung’s Black Books
Now, we get to experience Jung’s Black Books, published last year, which provide deeper insights into the evolution of Jung’s intimate thoughts, creative process, and visionary ideas that formed the basis of his analytical psychology. Much of the material we have enjoyed in Jung’s Red Book was first captured and drafted in his Black Books.
We invite you to a stimulating and informative event with Professor Shamdasani. Be ready to be inspired by the rich and creative mind of one of the great thinkers of the 20th century.
Lecture (via Zoom) on Sunday, 1/31/2021, 2-4pm – Tickets and information
Buy your copy of Professor Shamdasani’s books at the Jung Society of Atlanta’s Bookshop affiliate site to help benefit independent bookstores and our organization.
Image from Carl Jung’s own paintings in his Red Book
The word trauma gets thrown around a lot these days. As a trauma therapist, many people come to me “to do trauma work”. Broadly speaking, psychological trauma happens when a person witnesses or experiences a negative event that is so overwhelming that they are unable to metabolize or make sense of it. Their brain and nervous system cannot cope with its emotional intensity, which can include fear, horror, guilt, shame, etc. People might say they feel “broken”, “devastated”, “stuck”, “flooded”, “numb”. If not dealt with over time, this unprocessed negative experience can remain in a “frozen” state in the brain, nervous system, and the physical body, months or years after the event. It can cause people to get “triggered” by stimuli like sounds, people, and situations that remind them of the original negative experience. When this happens, they relive the event as if it were happening here and now. This describes some of what we know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Trauma can negatively impact people’s relationships, work, thinking, emotional and physical well being, in some cases causing chronic pain and leading to physical illness. If left untreated, trauma can be debilitating and can drive people to suicide.
We all respond to life differently. Not everybody who undergoes a negative life event experiences trauma. This is why some survivors of extreme adversities like war, natural catastrophes, torture, domestic violence, etc. are later able to lead healthy, normal lives and have fulfilling relationships with others and the world at large. Why is this? There are several factors, including that of psychological resilience. People with “hardy personalities” are resilient and can bounce back after a traumatic life event. Others may be lucky enough to have loving and nurturing relationships, which provide emotional support and gradually help them heal. Conversely, research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) tells us that the higher one’s ACE score, the more susceptible one is to mental and physical health problems, which decrease one’s psychological resilience and ability to cope with life stressors. However, there are ways we can build up our psychological resilience so that we are able to withstand adversity and increase our flexibility in responding to unpleasant life situations.
Name it to tame it
Sometimes people are surprised to see a therapist and find out that the source of their anxiety, suicidal ideations, substance abuse, compulsive behaviors and other symptoms is unprocessed trauma. We do not always have the knowledge or language to understand our experiences or name things as they are. People may think they have moved past a difficult life event because after all they survived it, and have since adapted to their current circumstances. Yet they continue to suffer from underlying unease and dysfunctional behavior patterns, never realizing this is psychological trauma until they see a doctor or a mental health professional. Often they are relieved to find out because it allows them to begin to make sense of their symptoms and behavior.
So is it trauma or not? Everything is subjective and no two experiences are the same. It is important to see a licensed mental health professional for assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Some therapists specialize in trauma modalities like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR); Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Somatic Experiencing. Like many therapists, I offer a confidential 15-minute free consult where people can discuss what kind of treatment is right for them. It is possible to process and heal from trauma and learn adaptive coping skills and self-care to mitigate the impact of trauma in one’s life.
Contact me if you are interested in learning more.