Dreaming personality theory forward: Creating pedagogical change from the ground up

Matthew Silverstein, Ph.D.
Antioch University, Los Angeles
Core Faculty, Masters of Clinical Psychology Program
Director, Spiritual and Depth Psychology Specialization
© 2013

The education of psychotherapists is moving more and more in the direction of training in evidence based, short-term, manualized protocols. While many novel and important therapeutic strategies have been devised that conform to this trend, strikingly absent is a regard for the utility of the subjectivity of the therapist as well as the non-rational, non-quantifiable, non-linear aspects of a normal psychotherapeutic process. While some significant brief dynamic models of therapy have also been developed, by and large psychodynamic therapy is increasingly deemed excessive and ineffective, despite research to the contrary. It is therefore falling out of favor in clinical training programs and certainly within most community mental health settings. In this light the need is great for those within the depth psychological communities to respond, innovate, and foster educational initiatives that preserve the revolutionary vision of depth psychology and its timely applications in both psychotherapeutic and community settings. This paper discusses one such educational initiative begun at Antioch University, Los Angeles in which a specialization called Spiritual and Depth Psychology housed within a graduate psychology program was recently launched that marries Jungian-informed depth psychology with classical mindfulness studies. The specialization encountered an initial challenge of revising a long standing course introducing psychodynamic personality theories. A desire to teach the psychoanalytic canon was offset by growing frustrations over limitations embedded in the early theories such as unnamed Eurocentric, White, 3 heteronormative, male biases. This dilemma was brought to the Antioch community to literally dream upon. The author and colleague, Dr. George Bermudez, used the process of social dreaming (based on Gordon Lawrence’s (2003) model) to hear what was on the community’s mind vis a vis dream sharing and reflection. The paper discusses the results of this community research and subsequent developments directly informed by the social dreaming. It is the position of this paper that the social dreaming process could serve as a technique to ongoingly advance the teaching of personality theory as well as provide a vector for future applications of psychoanalysis for the betterment of community life.


Given the generational inheritances of feminism, the civil rights movement, LGBT liberation and affirmative psychology, multiculturalism, postmodernism, eco-psychology, the wave of mindfulness informed clinical practices, and other developments in Western collective consciousness we are left with a pressing need for proactive measures to continually advance our understanding of personality theory and its relevance clinically and to our world today. For various reasons psychodynamic theories and therapy have fallen out of favor. Perhaps at one level this is a deserved rebuke to a reactionary trend that has dominated the field of psychoanalysis particularly since World War II, where psychoanalysis has become synonymous with an indulgence for the privileged elite. Furthermore, market driven forces, shaped by the rationing of mental health care through insurance companies, deem psychodynamic therapy as excessive and ineffective, despite promising recent research to the contrary (Shedler, 2010). This view has necessarily contracted the breadth and depth of inquiry into personality as the sine non qua of psychotherapy, and instead highly researched solution focused strategies, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aimed at quickly ameliorating symptoms have become the new norm and gold standard. All this has led to a widely 4 circulated view within the mental health field that psychodynamic theories and practices are arcane, expensive to implement, and unproven. A psychodynamic view is therefore falling out of favor in clinical training programs and certainly within most community mental health settings.1

Some may feel that this is a necessary evolution within the field, and that depth psychology is  coming to its natural end. Others like myself, whose lives have been transformed through receiving  psychodynamic therapy, training in it, and providing it to others, feel passionately otherwise. In fact, as I will discuss, the current social climate may itself be a collective symptom formation and a hidden terror of our own unconscious life societally, which carries with it so much unresolved traumatic material (as the various rounds of social dreaming made clear). In this light the need is great for those within the depth psychological communities to respond, innovate, and foster educational initiatives that preserve the revolutionary vision of depth psychology and its timely applications in both psychotherapeutic and community settings. This paper discusses one such educational initiative begun at Antioch University, Los Angeles in which a specialization within a graduate psychology program was launched that marries Jungian-informed depth psychology with classical mindfulness studies and diversity consciousness–called Spiritual and Depth Psychology (SDP).

The entry level class for SDP is an introduction to psychodynamic personality theories, normally orienting students to the works of Freud, Jung and others. However, the curriculum of the course is in need of revision, as the theories clearly demonstrate limitations such as Eurocentric, White, heteronormative, male biases. Rather than trying to tackle this concern from the top down, as it were, by having the faculty rework the curriculum, we thought instead, as a first step, in the spirit of psychoanalysis that we would bring this dilemma to the community to literally dream upon. The authors used the process of social dreaming (based on Gordon Lawrence’s model (Lawrence, 2003) to hear what was on the community’s mind and to allow unconscious themes to emerge from the ground up vis a vis dream sharing. The paper discusses the results of this community research and subsequent developments directly informed by the social dreaming. It is the position of this paper that the social dreaming process could serve as a technique to ongoingly advance the teaching of personality theory as well as provide a vector for future applications of psychoanalysis for the betterment of community life.

Background: Creating SDP as a refuge for wild psyche in graduate psychology training

Antioch University, Los Angeles’ clinical psychology program was founded in 1972. Its psychology faculty and students have had a long standing interest in transpersonal and depth psychology with a progressive, humanistic, social justice slant. Psychoanalysts from numerous local analytic institutes have served on the faculty and psychodynamic therapy has been generally highly esteemed. However, increasingly as the field of clinical psychology has diversified, and in response to the previously mentioned changing trends in the field, a psychodynamic view and particularly a Jungian approach are often thought of as interesting perhaps but non-essential to the nuts and bolts training of becoming a therapist. In part as a response to this trend in 2010 SDP was launched. Its aim is to provide a venue within graduate training that explicitly emphasizes the value of Jungian based psychodynamic theory and practice as well as the need for an integrative model of psychotherapy utilizing principles of Eastern classical mindfulness and Western depth psychology alongside of solution focused modalities. In other words we are encouraging students to become bilingual with theoretical perspectives, learning a depth oriented model as a native tongue, yet also becoming proficient in other modes, whether it be CBT, narrative therapy, or others. We are parting with the prior attitude of exclusivity that can come with a psychodynamic perspective (or any other) and exploring the development of hybrid models of practice that can be well utilized in the market place today. For example, a student may learn to conceptualize a case psychodynamically, knowing how to work with transference dynamics, yet also can deploy mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral strategies, as needed. This is an integrative model that seems inevitably to be to the future of depth informed clinical practice. Furthermore, SDP intends to ground any depth oriented practice in an underlying value of social justice. Through recognizing the role of the unconscious, particularly processes of projection, in hampering intercultural understanding and perpetuating intergenerational trauma, we can contribute to discourses on the furthering of socio-cultural diversity consciousness.

Jung’s emphasis on the education of the personality (Jung C. , The development of personality, 1954) are particularly timely as a counterpoint to the alarming shifts in the mental health field (as a subset of a wider cultural trend) toward minimizing or erasing the value of internal, intangible, subtle processes of change. Jung (1968) identified the archetype of the Self as the nonegoic spiritual center of the personality. It is through coming into relation with this centralizing principle—the core of oneself—that one’s vocation as a spiritual calling, comes to be known. From a Jungian view the entire educational process ought to serve the student’s growing relation to this center, i.e. the relationship between the ego and Self, which leads to both a greater sense of wholeness for the individual, and yet also puts this individual in touch with her or his purpose and role in community life.

Does this value seem any less relevant today than when it was written? It would seem so since our system of educating psychotherapists is largely and increasingly organized around the extraverted goals of professional skill development, which however useful, do not necessarily engender a better relationship to one’s own inner life. Arguably, a student who is left without proper encouragement to take seriously the matters of their own psychology including one’s spiritual dimension as the center, rather than the outcast periphery, of their educational process, has been utterly failed by the  educational system. And worse yet, what we end up producing potentially are further self-alienated troubled souls who mistake “parrot like book learning and mechanical use of methods” (p. 168) with the practice of psychotherapy. This may work well, if not splendidly, within a managed health care context, where efficiency of delivery and cost reduction are considerably more valued and more expedient than the messiness and sheer unpredictability of personality development with only one real goal, namely striving toward the ideal of becoming psychically whole, abounding in energy (p. 169).

SDP attempts within an educational milieu, then, to become, a wildlife refuge for psyche, like other refuges dotting the map, pitching into our vitally needed wider community conversation about ecological sustainability. As we pave over the last remains of wild earth, fracking out last gulps of oil, destroying untold numbers of species of plant and animal life in the process, so too are we sealing ourselves off further and further from our own true nature and laying the seeds of an inevitable and gargantuan return of the repressed-in-nature. We see premonitions of this cataclysmic process in our newly arisen wrathful deities like Katrina, Sandy, and Fukushima.

How can those of us in the depth psychological community avoid colluding in this collective course toward self-destruction? Is it possible that when we research, remember, and direct awareness to the infinitely diverse aspects of psychic reality arising each moment in each of us that we are also honoring the foolishly forgotten gods of Nature? Is it feasible that we are building a bridge to another future outcome when we direct our attention lovingly to better fathom and know the extraordinary range of symptoms, dreams, and visionary ideas that tumble forward from the unconscious? There is an old Zen expression: do not underestimate the power of a single monk revolving the sutras on a mountainside. Perhaps this is what we do when we help to validate and shed some little insight into the usefulness and even sacred purpose of the often neglected or even demonized spectrum of intelligence that is inwardly and experientially derived.

SDP Curricular Elements

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Briefly the curriculum for the specialization became organized around three main domains:
(1) Jungian based Depth Psychology, (2) Classical Mindfulness based Clinical Skills, and (3) Diversity Consciousness. Each of these domains coalesces around the central organizing principle of integrative (holistic) psychotherapy (the center) and the broader vision of community service (the circumference). In this light Jungian theory is used as a framework for approaching the study of the unconscious within the context of studying one’s own relationship to it (subjectivity) and the relationship of one’s own subjectivity to others (intersubjectivity). From a Jungian (1964) view a reasonable approach toward educating the personality requires first of all facing one’s own shadow side—the hidden, disowned, often problematic (including problematically positive) aspects of oneself at the personal, cultural and transpersonal levels that tend to be projected when not related to consciously. Whereas the class work is not a substitute for psychotherapy the classroom is meant to augment extracurricular psychotherapy and other endeavors of self inquiry and self care with the intention of applying this knowledge toward clinical practice, e.g. in uses of countertransference.

The Classical Mindfulness curriculum is based on Buddhist informed principles of attention and awareness training that are virtually absent in a Western educational paradigm. This includes specifically learning how to identify different forms of attention (e.g. focal and peripheral) and how to sustain attention over time (e.g. by continuously attending to one’s breath). These skills are directly applicable to the process of skilled self observation which can then naturally enhance a range of clinical skills such as active listening, self/other differentiation, distress tolerance, equanimity, analysis of countertransference, and enhancing critical perspective. Furthermore, classical mindfulness is the basis for a range of contemporary mindfulness-based clinical strategies (e.g., Segal, Teasedale, & Williams, M., 2002).

Lastly diversity consciousness is embedded in each aspect of the curriculum. It refers bilaterally to both diverse nature of psyche (referred to above) and the inherent diversity amongst individuals and socio-cultural groups. Psychoanalytically informed psychotherapy offers an understanding of the role of the unconscious in the formation of impressions of otherness, and the projection process that often makes those perceived as other demonic, terrifying, and dangerous.

Additionally, advances in Jungian theory have led to a greater appreciation of cultural symptom formation, or cultural complexes (Singer & Kimbles, 2004), which like personal complexes behave as autonomous factors within the cultural personality allowing a culture to become subsumed with its own unconscious material (e.g. intergenerational traumatic racial memory) which mobilizes many forms of overwhelming collective anxiety and consequent defensiveness which can be understood as root causes of social psychopathology such as racism, homophobia, misogyny, and more generally xenophobia.

Gateway course: Personality Theory 1

As a gateway to SDP, students are required to take and pass a course called Personality Theory 1. This course (or earlier iterations of it) has been a bedrock of Antioch’s graduate psychology program since its inception in Los Angeles in 1972. At that time psychoanalytic theory was still considered by most, at least at Antioch, as the consummate view of the psychotherapeutic process. CBT was developing its own reputation as an alternative to and reaction against psychoanalysis, but the prevailing view was certainly that a skilled psychotherapist needed to understand the basics of psychodynamic theory including drive theory, transference and countertransference, unconscious defenses at a minimum. Jung, a favorite of one of the founders of Antioch LA, was taught as well, though his work was generally considered too fantastic in mainstream psychology. Notably Jung was popular amongst the burgeoning New Age movement, the Hippie Generation, as well as those interested in Eastern mysticism, and the science of non-duality— a subculture that helped Antioch Los Angeles’ very progressive home grown psychology program get its start.

The course description for Personality Theory 1 is as follows:

This course will introduce students to the fundamental principles of depth psychology, which is arguably the basis of current Western theories of personality. The course prepares students to pursue further theoretical understandings of contemporary theories of personality in a variety of modalities…

Focus will be on the following: The Freudian school of psychoanalytic theory and practice; the object relations school including the work of Melanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott; the Jungian school of analytical psychology; and the school of self psychology begun by Heinz Kohut. Other contemporary psychodynamic perspecives will also be considered such as relational/intersubjective and attachment theories. The course will consider a depth psychological view of trauma, including intergenerational trauma and the potential value of psychoanalytically informed treatment strategies. The course also provides an opportunity to examine the socio-political relevance of a depth psychological perspective, namely as an agency of social transformation through providing a vehicle for addressing unconscious processes in groups, communities, and nations that can lead to the perpetuation of personal and collective oppression. (Silverstein, 2012)

I would point out the last sentence. It highlights a direct connection to the social activist agenda espoused by the founders of psychoanalysis , so frequently diluted or lost in current presentations of psychodynamic theory. Whether psychoanalysis can legitimately carry this mantle or not may bear on its future relevance, so I would like to delve more deeply here.

The spirit of psychoanalysis ushered in by Freud, Jung, and others was meant as much as an activist movement to intervene on societal violence and collective unconsciousness as it was a novel modality of psychotherapy. In the haze of the recent generation’s skepticism of psychoanalysis and frustration with its appeal to the elite few who can afford expensive treatment, we have forgotten Freud and the early psychoanalytic movement’s work establishing a free clinic system throughout Europe. Speaking on behalf of the establishment of the first psychoanalytic free clinic Freud implores:

It is possible to see that the conscience of society will awaken and remind it that the poor man should have just as much assistance for his mind as he now has to the life-saving help offered by surgery… Then institutions and outpatient clinics will be started to which analytically trained physicians will be appointed…Such treatments will be free… (Danto, 1998, p. 287)

Remarkably for a brief while between 1922 and 1936 the free clinic system was established and served anyone seeking assistance.

Even homosexuality, though poorly understood by the founders of psychoanalysis, was attempted to be thought about in a relatively scientific, non-judgmental, non-criminalizing, progressive manner (for the day). Freud testified courageously against the criminalization of homosexuality (Crompton, 2003), and his famous letter to an American mother reflects perhaps his clearest attitude toward homosexuality. Freud writes:

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you, why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis (Freud, 1951, p. 787).

The most prominent platform in the early psychoanalytic progressive agenda rests with the social analysis of the unchecked and poorly understood forces of human aggression that seized Europe during the turn of the twentieth century. Freud helped to shed light on the neurosis inherent in the civilizing process itself, where instinct is seemingly at war with morality, leading to a relatively reasonable compromise formation called ego and culture.

Jung, following faithfully in his own way after Freud, was also consumed with dread at the prospects of a European psyche that seemed to be entirely possessed by a collective psychosis in the various World Wars. Jung felt that the collective refusal to attend to its own hidden problems amounted to an incapacity to tolerate the idea of the unknown. As Jung (1964) states:

There are historical reasons for this resistance to the idea of the unknown part of the
human psyche. Consciousness is a very recent acquisition of nature, and it is still in an “experimental” state. It is frail, menaced by specific dangers, and easily injured…Even in what we call a high level of civilization, human consciousness has not yet achieved a reasonable degree of continuity [integrity] It is still vulnerable and liable to fragmentation (pp. 7-8).

As an answer to this vulnerability and forward development, Jung forcefully petitioned for a collective awareness of the psychic nature of the afflictions embroiling twentieth century Europe arguing loudly for the responsibility each individual and nation has to face the shadow problem with its often disowned forces of destructiveness and power seeking, As Jung (1954) points out (on the eve of World War II):

The gigantic catastrophes that threaten us today are not elemental happenings of a physical or biological order, but psychic events. To a quite terrifying degree we are threatened by wars and revolutions which are nothing other than psychic epidemics. (p. 177)

With astounding accuracy this reflection of the modern predicament has become only more apropos since the time it was written. We can surmise that even the natural disasters we are beginning to see more of and that frighten us collectively are intrinsically psychically driven. Nature is running amuck, but it is our violence toward Her (Nature) that is to blame in this instance. In other words from a Jungian perspective, the violence we see in and do to Nature reflects a collective violent attitude toward our own wild and unknowable unconscious mind.

Though Jung’s work and others’ proceeded and provided historic contributions post WWII, in general perhaps in part as a reaction to the enormous psychic shock of the war, the more visible social activist agenda so integral to psychoanalysis largely faded to the background or went underground in the latter half of the twentieth century. This perceived absence of social consciousness may be responsible in part for the cool reception to a psychodynamic perspective both in educational and clinical settings today. Psychodynamic theory is viewed by many as dated, reactionary, irrelevant, and unproven in its effectiveness. And a poll among people of color would probably reflect the tacit understanding that psychodynamic theory has never really been about anyone other than those of white/Euro-American descent. When I asked an African American colleague (with a doctorate in depth psychology) if depth psychology is white, he looked at me with a grin and said “Of course it is!” implying that I was the last one to find this out. I wonder now about this grin. Was it in part a grimace or a grunt of frustration, a momentary parting of the veil that conceals our systematic apartheid and the anguish this causes within our supposedly progressive curriculum and psychoanalytic communities? My colleague has also taken the opportunity to pioneer an understanding of a black archetypal psychology which has become a course taught through SDP—a needed step that hopefully augurs a truly multicultural psychoanalytic future.

Other cultural forces may be at work in the diminished interest in psychodynamic theory as well. Students are increasingly disenchanted by psychodynamic theories because their application within a contemporary clinical context is unclear, and their viability in the market place is uncertain. Given popular trends toward solution focused, CBT oriented, evidence based practices students naturally wonder why they must waste their time learning about theories they will not use (and that could even be seen as a liability in certain strictly solution focused clinical settings). The underlying historical link between psychoanalysis and say CBT has become an academic point, but practicing CBT does not require knowing psychodynamic theory, regardless of how beneficial this might be. To be viable in the workforce psychology students must know how to practice CBT, the dominant modality in community mental health settings, endorsed, if not in some instances mandated along with pharmacological treatment by managed care companies.

Perhaps seen from a depth psychological perspective the movement toward shorter term solution focused and medication based strategies of treatment reflects a growing split in collective consciousness between rationality and soul. Could it be that we are seeing a further process of spiritual self-alienation pointed out by Jung in which a cult of materialism with its prayers to money, behaviorally anchored strategies, operationalizing techniques, quantifiable outcomes, managed (i.e. rationed) care, leave in limbo a soul psychology forsaken with its nightmares, hot wet dreams, queer twists, sexual plurality, sudden deaths, miracles, excruciating initiations, flowering of divinely inspired wisdom, paradoxes, big Other, and the vast unknown? Yet where does all this disowned aspect of inner life go? Surely, 12 weeks of even decent CBT and the right anti-depressant cannot quench the thirst of the great twin deities, Thanatos and Eros, so where do these old brothers reside? 

Jung (1983) famously wrote: “The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious symptoms for the doctor’s consulting room. . . ” (para 54). Perhaps even the psychoanalytic movement has become encumbered by its own materialism, or at the very least has a public relations problem. Undeniably the practice of psychoanalysis has now become synonymous with upscale therapy in boutique private practices for the financially well-off. Furthermore old social dividing lines in early psychoanalysis are alive and well even within contemporary psychoanalytic institute gatherings, where people of color might dot a sea of whiteness and any presence of LGBT folks seems all but assimilated into the heteronormative community veneer. That this fact is rarely named or proactively debated is itself a symptom of a cultural complex, a blindness to the psychoanalytic culture’s shadows of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. And yet paradoxically the hatching of the term, cultural complex (Singer & Kimbles, 2004), represents a quantum leap forward in the meaningful discussion of cultural psychodynamics, not surprisingly produced by an interracial writing team. With this complex identified perhaps its unconscious possession of the analytic mindset can give way to a greater awareness of a vast array of intercultural depth psychologies, technologies of bridging the world of the seen and the unseen forces of psyche, articulated through diverse cultural lenses.

If we are to move toward a global psychoanalysis, then this collective discourse can only serve a forward momentum. It may be that cross pollination of other traditions may need to occur more intentionally, where the psychological medicine traditions from other cultures are held on equal footing (rather than seen as pre-developed, primitive, inferior, superstitious, and so on). This kind of discourse may need to build upon and replace Jung’s earnest attempts to understand non-Western views of psychic reality in his visits to Africa and Indian Country, U.S. However, one cannot help but see that Jung is bringing with him, an inescapable colonial white bias and violent prejudice, cautioning himself not to get “black under the skin” in Africa. (Jung, 1989, p. 245). In retrospect we can analyze this concern as Jung’s defense against his own shadow of racism, which in a sense hides under the skin, outside of the light of consciousness and his own keen analytic eye. This oversight occurs, we can surmise, because the racism does not belong to Jung alone, and no one in Jung’s circle, friends, colleagues, editors, are on record as taking issue with this aspect of his pedagogy at the time. To his credit Jung was willing to some degree to face this aspect of his own national shadow, and what today we would see as a complex that compels the kind of grandiosity, narcissism, greed, and exploitation that has plagued Euro-American consciousness, and is typical of any colonial power. Perhaps unfairly Jung has been targeted as being exceptionally racist (especially anti-Semitic and in cahoots with the Nazis). From what I can tell this attribution entirely misses the thrust of Jung’s work, which was radically anti-fascist. Jung was more transparent about his own shadow, and within the context of a general repression of shadow material, he might appear relatively more racist than others. What I am getting at is that we, in the psychoanalytic community, need to look harder at our own covert racist ideology, because we are all soaking in it! 

Challenges, too, to the embedded sexism in psychoanalytic thinking have in a sense gone better and more clearly revolutionized the way women, the feminine, and gender generally are taken up in contemporary analytic thought (e.g. Berzoff, 1989; Gilligan, 1991; Dimen and Goldner, 2002). Women’s liberation (though also in need of re-energizing) has helped to transform the previously male dominated and sexist psychoanalytic boy’s club, and in fact the analytic community is heavily female, if not feminist, at this point. This advance has helped to generate greater emphasis on community, social justice, attachment (theory), valuing of mothers, sexual diversity, multiculturalism, and intersubjectivity—as facets of feminism (e.g. Jackson and Greene, 2000; Comas-Diaz and Greene, 1994). Thanks to feminist activism the hardship caused by circulating oppressive sexist and other oppressive ideologies within the context of psychoanalysis has become more proactively considered, easier to name, and of greater general interest to the community. 

Along with the rise of feminism are the relatively recent groundbreaking efforts of LGBT activists within psychoanalysis (e.g. , Isay, 2009; Walker, 1991; Friedman and Jennifer Downey, 2002; Jackson and Greene, 2000). At last homosexuality is being discussed from an gay affirming point of view and the funhouse mirror distortions of gayness typical of earlier psychoanalytic writing gives way to depictions of homosexual development that allows one to feel not only that gay is good and normal, but that it is also inherently profoundly meaningful and socially purposeful. Despite these advances homosexuality and the broader spectrum of LGBT identity is still barely visible within the general psychoanalytic canon. Yet in the last ten years clearly collective trends gradually have become more tolerant and favorable toward gender and sexual variance, as noted by the APA’s historic guidelines (American Psychological Association, 2011) which articulate the ethical importance of non-homophobic psychotherapy. Here are the first three (a similar set of guidelines affirming transgender identity is in progress):

Guideline 1. Psychologists strive to understand the effects of stigma (i.e., prejudice, discrimination, and violence) and its various contextual manifestations in the lives of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Guideline 2. Psychologists understand that lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not mental illnesses.

Guideline 3. Psychologists understand that same-sex attractions, feelings, and behavior are normal variants of human sexuality and that efforts to change sexual orientation have not been shown to be effective or safe.

At one level these guidelines are self-evident and one wonders at the need to petition health care providers not to be idiotically out of touch with current understanding of human sexuality and hardship gay, bisexual, and lesbian people have suffered under the hammer of homophobia. However, in reality just as a psychological apartheid continues to exist regarding race, so too does institutionalized homophobia (and transphobia) endure and help to shape cultural complex out of which we have barely begun to see clearly. Thus these guidelines necessarily name this aspect of the complex (i.e. persistent delusional perceptions of homosexuality as unnatural, sick, etc.), and the relatively primitive state of our collective consciousness in this respect. 

Thankfully these shifts in the field are being felt and written about for academic purposes. Berzoff, Flanagan, & Hertz (2011) have published an academic text which is geared toward introducing psychodynamic theory to social work students with a tremendously refreshing integration of socio-cultural issues throughout the discussion of each theory and related clinical material. Practically unheard of a generation prior, we hear a rallying cry for the importance of gender, culture, and sexual orientation, and socio-economic status as well as empirical validation in the teaching and practice of psychodynamic therapy. The text notably walks the tight rope between paying homage to the foremothers and forefathers of psychoanalysis, while continually framing the foundational ideas in contemporary terms succeeding most in discussions of gender and culture and perhaps least articulated in discussions of LGBT identities. I was delighted to find a text for Personality 1 that could be used without apology. Yet even this text only begins to poke at the edges of the cultural complex that hangs over our field like Los Angeles smog. How nice to feel the sunshine of a relatively more enlightened attitude toward diversity beginning to peek through the haze, but we are left to contend with the intergenerational inheritance of institutionalized inhumanity toward which many of us have grown accustomed. How do we seriously clear the air?

Social Dreaming 

Because the change we are investigating cannot occur from the top-down alone. This past year I had been learning about social dreaming from my colleague Dr. George Bermudez. (For a further discussion of Dr. Bermudez’s work on social dreaming see his paper in this issue). I asked Dr. Bermudez if he thought that applying social dreaming to our concern about developing Personality Theory 1 from the ground up would be constructive. Through our discussions we both became excited about a collaboration. It became increasingly evident to both of us that a significant change in an attitude toward the way we teach and learn personality theory might best come from the unconscious, and specifically from the unconscious of our learning community.

Social dreaming, advanced by Gordon Lawrence (2003) brings together an appreciation of the value of dreams as windows to the unconscious as espoused by Freud combined with a modeling after aboriginal community dream sharing practices. Lawrence took particular interest in Wilfred Bion’s (post-Freudian) view of dreams as “synthesizing fragmented emotional elements into a whole” (p. 610). Furthermore, Lawrence focused on Bion’s broadening of attention beyond the theory of individual wish fulfillment in dreams to include a theory that in dreams we see the development of thinking and knowledge itself. Bion named this vertex or strand of dream theory, the Sphinx, since it was involved with grappling with the eternal riddle between knowing and non-knowing, and the novel truths (solutions to life’s riddles) that emerge in this process (p. 610). Because the dream material in this vertex is understood as existing both in and beyond the individual realm, it is a ripe arena to tend to an intersubjective field within groups that Lawrence calls a matrix, and the space constellated during social dreaming is then a social dreaming matrix or (SDM).

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A brief consideration of social dreaming from a Jungian perspective can also help shed some light on intersections with Gordon’s approach to social dreaming. Particularly, I would like to return to the concern that has emerged here, namely that we identify and come to bette know the cultural complex(es) that bear on the way that we teach and apply personality theory. Considering Figure 3 we can see a Jungian conceptualization of various strata of psyche. Jung hypothesized the each psyche contains levels of psychic material spanning from individual consciousness (A), unique to each person; to the familial level (B), in which some discreet psychic material is shared between members; to tribal (C) in which more members participate in a shared psychic layer; on down to the central energy (H) which is shared by all (Jacobi, 1973). We can surmise that a cultural complex occurs at the shared level of that group, and consequently a cultural complex would be limited only to that culture, just as an individual complex would be limited to the individual. We can also guess that the vacuum of psychic activity between cultures (i.e. the psychic material that is not shared) creates conditions that are ripe for projection. And finally, we can also consider whether resolution of complexes through intercultural dialogue and capacity for mentalization, empathy, and mutual esteem may come from each respective culture’s capacity to access and value the shared (H) levels of consciousness available to them.

For the sake of illustration were we to consider column I and column II as cultural personalities, then a cultural complex between the two may occurs in the following manner. Culture I has a shared cultural personality (a conscious and unconscious aspect), which does not coincide with culture II’s personality (at the cultural level), even though there is shared deeper, collective unconscious material that both cultures may access. What is culture I to do with its own cultural shadow, the part of its cultural self that it does not consciously know and prefers not to know? Now the space between culture I and culture II also presents a problem, because it is unknowable but may be felt by each. Unless culture I has a very effective way of containing its own shadow material (through community ritual, art, spiritual practice, psychological work, and the like), it cannot help but project its shadow into the vacuum. I would suggest that this occurrence, which is a form of cultural projective identification, has culture I unconsciously confusing its shadow with the mere existence of culture II, so much so that all of culture II to culture I is indistinguishable from culture I’s own shadow. The resultant conundrum can be understood as a type of cultural complex, and as we can imagine this projective crossfire can ricochet back and forth between cultures. And if it temporarily stabilizes each culture’s wobbly personality, in the long run forward movement of libido, i.e. cultural progress, is stymied. Culture I in this instance remains fragmented and perhaps even increasingly destabilized by excessive projective identification and inability to relate more comprehensively to its cultural complex.

I think it is safe to say that Lawrence’s SDM constellates by design the cultural levels of the psyche, and therefore it is a natural intervention for cultural level psychopathology. The turning point in the illustration given hinges on Culture I’s ability to contain its anxiety of not knowing what is going on, what all the dangerous feelings its experiencing mean, who’s to blame, and so on (Lawrence (2003) lists among the working hypotheses of social dreaming that “the social dreaming matrix allows participants to have the experience of being in the unknown, to be in doubts, mysteries, an uncertainties” (p. 620). Theoretically, undergoing this procedure would free up vital resources which not only might discontinue a harmful spiral of intercultural psychic fusion, but also allow for an improved cultural access to transcultural levels of psychic life and thus appreciation of a shared humanity, and also provides resources (through more directly accessing the central energy) that can
invigorate the culture and community to advance its own spiritual and creative efforts more fruitfully.

SDM: Dreaming personality theory forward

On two separate occasions Dr. Bermudez and I invited Antioch community participation in day-long social dreaming processes in which approximately thirty people gathered. On the first occasion Dr. Bermudez and I co-led the group with an artist colleague, and on the second occasion Dr. Bermudez and I co-led alone, and the process was incorporated into a workshop on Jungian dream work. For each SDM participants sat in a spiral configuration, which loaned the event a somewhat intriguing quality from the outset. Interestingly, in this seated configuration direct eye contact is somewhat minimized between participants, however, peripheral attention and thus right brain activation was relatively more accentuated. From any position a good number of people could be seen, and one felt immediately a sense of journeying together. The seating communicates that normal, focused, attention on individuals, and linear thinking would give way to a wider, expansive attention on the group and non-linear process. Instructions offered from the beginning clarified that anyone was invited to share a dream, or freely associate to another person’s dream, but no individual analysis of dream material would occur. A few minutes of mindfulness meditation started off each session. The facilitators continually reminded the group to remain grounded, e.g. taking a breath, noticing one’s body, experiencing sensations coming up, etc. SDM’s lasted about an hour and were repeated. Afterward there was an opportunity to reflect on the process and apply the experience to the question put before the community: how do we best advance our approach toward teaching personality theory?

What emerged in each instance was remarkable to me in a number of ways. Firstly, I was so impressed by the quality of participation, the diversity of the group gathered, and a willingness as a community to dive into entirely unfamiliar territory together. This quality may reflect one of Antioch’s community traits, as many who find their way to our school are seekers, renegades, socially ostracized, creative, curious, and willing to be vulnerable. By turning our attention momentarily away from the grind of amassing facts, professional development, and performance evaluations, a different side of our ordinary community life came forward. Also, since the instructors in the rooms were also participant/leaders, the usual hierarchical structure was softened. Yet because of the unusualness of the entire situation, participants also noted palpable anxiety, fear of not knowing what was going on, where the process would lead, and how it would be managed. Yet, here, too, we can hypothesize that the cultural complex(es) of the community were surfacing, and the usual trajectories for projection/projective identification had been slightly altered. People described feelings of panic, and shortly thereafter dreams came forward.

To illustrate the process I will follow one (or many) dream threads: (a) “I’m on a gay and lesbian radio show, can’t find words to speak. I follow my breath.” (b) “I’m running after my nieces. They want to cross the street. I can’t scream. I wake up screaming.” (c) “I dream of a Two Spirit man, who points out a snake with no voice, but is poisonous. The snake asks, ‘where’s the raging dragon?’ I shout at the top of my lungs from a rooftop.” (d) “People on rooftops when a levee broke in New Orleans, water is rising, hope someone comes to help us escape.” (e) “There’s a boy somewhere in the house that needs protection from an older man that is with me. I have to protect the little boy from him, rescue him. I’m paralyzed with fear. I took action when I heard the little boy scream really, really loud.”

If we stop and consider this thread apart from any individual meanings, which are naturally important, as expressions of the community unconscious especially as it is activated around the pedagogy of personality theory, what can be seen? Group discussion reflecting on the dream sharing returned again and again to the anguish of feeling silenced, erased, disempowered, voiceless, invisible, scared, angry, and hurt along with a shared desire for a way out, someone who could genuinely help, and finally also a desire for action and change compelled by necessity both material and spiritual. What also emerges just from this strand alone is a symbolization of the trauma of feeling silenced as a gay person, stranded in dangerous waters as a person of color, endangered as a child, vigilant as a rape survivor, protective as a mother.

If we venture into an interpretation at the community level, we can guess that the endangered child is the community’s sense of its future, which is currently imperiled by a world that does not feel safe, hospitable, and responsive to our basic emotional and spiritual needs. We see the ravages of perhaps generations of oppression by the “older man,” which we could interpret as the dominant culture, the culture in power, our patriarchal father complex, our teachers, and in the psychoanalytic community this could mean the old guard, the old boy network, the canon. Yet there is the potential for community action when “the boy” screams loud enough. We could guess that here the community psyche is suggesting that the old school psychoanalytic doctrine can become transformed if we can mobilize our authentic needs for further progress. This progress appears to be contingent on a reenvisioning of ourselves as a community that includes the voiceless ones, e.g. gays and lesbians, people of color, silenced survivors, fierce women, indigenous perspectives, etc. No longer can these constituents serve as the receptacle for collective anxieties about security, worth, identity, power, health, and authenticity. Through greater tolerance and capacity to directly reflect upon the anxiety associated with the cultural complex bearing on the psychoanalytic community and the tremendous uncertainty and enervation this can engender, we also see a forward movement of creative life (a burst of energy to protect a children, homeopathically healing from the poisonous snake.) Of course many more meanings are possible and it may take time and further social dreaming to see how these themes develop on the ground.


However, out of these SDM events several significant follow up events did occur that bear mentioning.

Advances in Personality Theory

Based on discussions with the community following the SDM’s, next steps included a new course, which we immediately began to develop. This course became called Advances in Personality Theory, and it was described as follows:

Theories of personality, as seen from a Spiritual and Depth (SDP) psychological view, are continually, dynamically evolving. SDP—a field comprised of the intersections between psychoanalysis, Jungian/transpersonal psychology, Eastern classical mindfulness, and diversity consciousness—has as one of its chief concerns, a robust appreciation of the development of personality and its role in healthful individual, community, and intercultural wellness.

…This workshop provides a forum for the critical review and discussion of emerging perspectives and voices in the field of SDP personality theory. It is offered as a venue to openly dream personality theory forward as a learning community. The course will be taught in a “mini-conference” format, allowing for diverse methods of delivery appropriate to presentations. In addition to the lead instructor/facilitator, presenters may include other instructors, advanced graduate students, and other members of the community. (Silverstein, 2012a)

Presenters for this one day workshop included specifically perspectives that were not normally represented in the Personality Theory 1 curriculum. This included the following: (1) Multicultural women of color, (2) LGBT psychosexual stages of development from an LGBT affirmative perspective (3) Discussion of Jungian cultural complex theory (4) Discussion of community psychoanalysis and social dreaming.

Students found this workshop stimulating and quite refreshing, and we hear significantly more discussion around issues of diversity, culture, gender, and sexual orientation as central concerns of a psychodynamic view. However, several African American women attended the workshop and commented on their disappointment that they were not represented on the women of color panel. Their concern mirrored the ongoing tension in the community around the experience of inclusion and validation, which has impacted people of color and particularly African American women within the psychoanalytic community. That the women in the class could come forward and voice a concern was itself a step forward, even though it was also challenging not to become defensive. Learning to tolerate the shame of being in the role of oppressor is one of the growing edges within our community. Rather than assuming that none of us would dare oppress another, more realistically, we are each highly conditioned to perpetuate oppressive conditions, particularly toward marginalized groups (or aspects of self). This needs to be owned.

African American Women’s Circle.

After discussion with the women a new initiative was launched, which has become called, the African American Women’s Circle. This project entailed joining with an African American faculty member and an alumna to organize a meeting to call together any interested African American women and allies in the Antioch community. The women were invited to discuss what was on their mind with the intention of helping to shape our understanding (in SDP) of our own racism and sexism, and ways that we can more proactively empower and engage the African American women, and more generally people of color within our community.

A small group of women, most were African American, and also myself met for a dinner at a faculty person’s home. The discussion that took place that evening was staggering. Several of the women commented that much of what was shared that evening would not have felt safe to share in the context of their work or student experience at Antioch. The cultural complex that routinely silences, shuns, or devalues African American women was exposed, and the relief reported just in
having a space to be both at Antioch yet also relatively unencumbered by this complex was felt by all.

I do not wish to imply that Antioch is in any way unusually racist. As white institutions go, it is among the most progressive in its willingness to look at its own racism and to stand against social racism in general. However, even in this progressive environment, without a way to address the cultural complex possessing the community unconsciously, there are limits to the benefit of a
benignly progressive attitude, policies, and curriculum.

The theme of African American women’s spirituality surfaced through dinner conversation as the glue that has kept the community together through tremendous strife. Current questions within this community rest with changes in the way spirituality is expressed, especially amongst different generations of women. Follow up events are currently being planned: (1)
A community roundtable discussion that explores the rich interconnectedness between African American women and their spiritual and mental wellness. (2)
A new workshop that will serve to inform and educate mental health workers who service the growing population of African American women in need of mental health services on the importance of their spirituality as it relates to their mental wellness.

Faculty Roundtable

The faculty with an interest in developing the Personality Theory 1 course gathered to discuss changes to the curriculum in light of what we have been discovering through community dialogue. We considered what at root the course is meant to be at this point, particularly a need to clarify the relevance and value of psychodynamic therapy, which includes key skill sets such as: (1) how to understand what is hidden in self and other (2) how knowledge arises in a socio-cultural context (3) how to identify and work with transference/countertransference . (4) how to identify and interpret unconscious processes. These skills sets can be applied across the clinical spectrum (not exclusively private practice, long term, etc.)

We also discussed the challenges to changing the curriculum: (1) How do we address the canon: Freud, Jung, Klein, Winnicott, Kohut? (2) What needs to be added or dropped? (3) Given that depth psychological theory is white, straight, and male-leaning, how do we shift to an intercultural/diversity consciousness? As the meeting progressed it became clear that the process of discussing and evolving this curriculum would take time, there were no obvious fixes. While there is a greater awareness that psychoanalysis is housed in a Euro-centrically biased theoretically framework, for example, where we go from here is less clear. However, the development of the growing awareness of Eurocentrism is in and of itself significant. Change in this sense would need to occur organically. The following working recommendations arose out of our first meeting:

  1. Treat Psychoanalytic Theory/theorists as a family system. Maintain the canon for now (until we figure out how to not throw out the “baby with the bathwater.”
  2. Comprehensive orientation informed by cultural complexes (e.g. whiteness bias), can’t dissolve them, have to work through them
  3. When introducing multicultural issues be transparent about the biases in the material and in oneself
  4. Increase integration of knowledge of theory with procedural knowledge, e.g. role plays, experiential exercise (more practicing of psychodynamic skills as a way of teaching theory, learn by doing)
  5. Present an integrationist stance, i.e. include consideration of the way that psychodynamic theories work with others (e.g. CBT)
  6. People teaching Personality Theory 1 to have a conversation-study group/process group
  7. Focus on using a short term dynamic model (should be directly applicable to short term, community clinic treatment)
  8. Get excited about teaching it (as a way to keep it relevant)
  9. Include more mindfulness training, self observation skill training
  10. Have a community process where reflecting teams are formed, faculty discuss Personality dilemmas, community reflects.


The global psychoanalytic community is at an exciting moment in its development. The spirit of social activism that carried the early founders of psychoanalysis seems to be once again finding its way to the center of psychoanalytic discourse and education. However, this process of change comes slowly and first of all requires a period of community self analysis in which its own tone deafness to fully embracing and showing leadership with respect to understanding socio-cultural diversity can be better appreciated. Grassroots initiatives, such as the Spiritual and Depth Psychology Specialization at Antioch University Los Angeles, can help to mobilize needed efforts within a graduate psychology school setting to rejuvenate the vision of psychoanalysis as a vehicle for social transformation open to innovation. The technique of social dreaming advanced by Lawrence (2003) also serves as a process and container for the anxiety encountered as we, as a community, face the unknown together: we do not know how exactly we will leave our Eurocentric biases behind; how we will be more authentically inclusive of marginalized groups such as the LGBT community and people of color; we are not sure how psychoanalysis will need to transform in order to remain viable within the climate of short-term managed mental health care. However, what we do know is that the power of understanding unconscious processes and their role in healing both individuals and communities cannot be denied, and recent empirical studies (such as Shedler, 2010) as well as hopefully more to come help to validate what generations of psychodynamically oriented therapists have experienced over and over again—psychodynamic therapy works. In an industrialized world that is fiercely polarized with its own shadow (of greed, addiction, and consumerism) leading to the threat of ecological consequences that are just beginning to be felt globally, the need for the tools psychoanalysis has to offer facilitating a better and more wholesome relationship to unconscious life is sorely needed. How psychodynamic therapy can be applied more effectively, more affordably, and more universally remains a generational concern.


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If you would like to contact Matthew Silverstein, Ph.D., his email is msilverstein@antioch.edu

Footnote 1:
For the purposes of this discussion psychoanalysis is defined generally as the international movement founded by Freud this includes formally trained and certified psychoanalysts but also encompasses any practitioner of psychodynamic therapy including Jungian analytic psychology as well as educators within the field of depth psychology. Depth psychology is concerned with the study of psychodynamic theories, its widest reaching clinical and socio-cultural applications.

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