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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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Therapy as an Alchemical Process: Fermentatio

Paul Kiritsis - Sunday, November 25, 2012

  Fermentatio: the second stage of the therapeutic process focused upon the extirmination of unwanted thoughts

The nigredo phase in the therapeutic process is usually followed by the fermentatio. In alchemical terms the latter involves a conjunction of the masculine and feminine formative forces–Sol and Luna or Philosophical Sulphur and Philosophical Mercury–in the hermetically sealed alembic. Fermentatio is one and the same with sowing seeds in fertile fields that will confer good fortune and prosperity upon those who have elected to spend their time labouring industriously and patiently. Just like the corroborating elements of the alchemical hermaphrodite interpenetrate one another and gradually change the inner configuration of its entire form, so too do the temperaments of counsellor and client mingle in the counselling room by means of transference and countertransference. Any vital effort expended at this stage through psychological synergy is bound to facilitate favourable outcomes.

There’s a lot of mental noise going on during this all-important phase of psychotherapy; things are in the process of being worked out. Memories pertaining to the psychological disturbance or problem mysteriously funnel their way back from the confines of the client’s personal unconscious into the present and archetypal dream content pours forth at a much faster rate than the perceived norm. Now is where it all starts to get interesting! On the whole, some of the more proactive clients seem to be better at making decisive inroads into the psychic anatomy of their Gordian knot than others. Those with lesser acumen needn’t worry though because therapeutic cues and techniques utilized by the counsellor are always orientated towards the cultivation of the client’s imagination and intuition. Of course the client’s intrinsic and extrinsic situation takes a back seat to therapeutic approach and counsellor-client dynamics simply because the whole point of any psychotherapy is always going to be personal empowerment; the counsellor is there to emphasize a call to action, to assist in the proper utilization of natural resources, and to appeal to the kernel of innately held knowledge. In this way the process gains traction without inverting, hampering, or impeding evolutionary pathways that have been elected by the client’s own Self as the most fitting and appropriate for its intrinsic natural potentialities.  Usually remarks like “It all makes sense now” and “What you said yesterday reminded me of something that occurred weeks ago” can be taken as a sign that the psychic airwaves between the client’s conscious and unconscious have aligned and are in communion. Insights garnered during the fermentatio stage are bittersweet; some are genuine by-products of the ego’s espousal of transpersonal energies that promote honourable, moral loyalties and love but others are collective and individual transferences or premature identifications with more comprehensive standpoints that feed contaminated instinctual desirousness for personal wealth and glory. If the counsellor doesn’t take the necessary actions to ensure that projections of this type are swiftly transmuted into conscious understanding, the client can quickly slip into a regressive state where the boundaries between imaginal and real become blurred if not non-existent.

At this point we should remember that the most compelling therapeutic methods incorporate the regressive, the existential, and the transpersonal. The first area, the regressive, is characterized by a necessary withdrawal from the outside world into the inner terrain encasing the luminous gems and detritus of personal experience. Once inwardly turned the client can browse his or her memory bank, relive experiences and by doing so correctly identify choices that have co-conspired in paving a detrimental or less-than-flattering path. On the other hand the existential attempts to shuffle key events and turning points of the client’s past into the present and works backward to identify conduits of causation using his or her existing circumstances as a guide.  Of particular interest here is that the existential tends to emphasize contingencies of the here and now and carefully examines relationships and affiliations enrolled in mental intercourse with the client’s inner life. The third and final modulation involves the transpersonal, that is the propensity to detach from personal circumstances and rise to a place above the dynamics of mentation from whence operations and processes are perceived to be evolutionary mechanisms deployed by higher spiritual or esoteric archons and entities for the sake of realizing the transcend divine. Counsellors would probably do well to temporarily imagine themselves as the corroborating aspect of a tricolour scheme which blends modalities indigenous to all three modes, thereby creating unique shades of counselling. To do this he or she might combine psychoanalysis and bioenergetics (regressive therapy), two-chair or Gestalt-style therapy (existential therapy), and psychosynthesis or a conventional stream of Jungian analysis (transpersonal therapy). The possibilities are boundless!       

From the aforementioned it should also be clear that fermentatio entails a distillation of unsolicited and self-destructive thoughts from the present, self-conscious personality, thereby inflicting a necessary modification to cognitive and affective aspects that underlie the mechanism of projection. The latter tend to mimic their material constituents in synaptic connections; just as later-life modifications to synaptic connections in the cerebral cortex will enable or disable learning and the formation of new memories, so too can slight changes in psychological projection shift the centre of the ego-self by a mile. To concretize this specific point I’ll proceed with a more tangible example. After suffering a series of failed relationships in which he was rudely ditched for another lover or outright cheated upon, a sensitive, reserved man is forced into psychotherapy with a sympathetic and competent transpersonal counsellor. Initially, the attitude permeating the counselling room isn’t constructive or reasonable in any way, shape or form. On the contrary it’s a poisonous, self-punishing, and self-sabotaging one that doesn’t really do him any favours. Uppermost in his mind is an authentic nagging feeling that he isn’t good enough; that he isn’t worthy to be loved; and that he’s a master of unrequited love.

These sentiments are echoed rather vociferously by what is a disconcertingly accurate unconscious tendency to choosing promiscuous and deceitful woman as possible life partners, making his persisting problem a self-fulfilling prophecy. He has been blinded by the spiritual sun of one specific elemental, a specific thought-desire that has blunted the projections coming from a great many other spiritual suns whose sum comprises a much more precise and consensual measure of objective truth. If the transpersonal counsellor plays his or her roll correctly in dismantling and scrutinizing the current myth which accounts for the fundamental attitude, the man will begin to awaken to a very different reality. The counsellor might draw the man’s attention to the esoteric law of sympathies and antipathies which decrees that like attracts like, stating that perhaps he set himself up to suffer that kind of lamentable fate by presenting to the world a cold, steel-hearted, detached, and phlegmatic temperament. That’s what he projected out into the universe and that universe responded by sending something of equivalent psychic substance in return. Did the handsome Greek youth Narcissus not fall in love with his own reflection? Subsequently the insight generated spurs a gradual shift in attitude where feelings of self-pity and worthlessness detrimental to his harmonious existence become a newfound source of revelation and hope. I’m not worthy to be loved undergoes a constructive shift towards I’ve been attracting to myself the wrong sort of women which then undergoes further evolution and becomes I’m just as deserving of love and companionship as every other human being on this planet. Transformations of this sort are spontaneous and can occur after a short, succinct session or a sequence of long, drawn-out sessions of fermentatio that last weeks or months.

The example demonstrates the nature and beauty of the unfathomable human mystery. You never quite know what you’re going to get, how the client is going to behave, or how the therapeutic process is going to unfold.                

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