Magical Moments in Therapy

Sometimes in therapy there are moments of intense magic. A state of flow is achieved and pervades the entire group space; the collective unconscious is tapped into resulting in a transcendental state of heightened awareness, bordering on a peak experience or; a client steps into a pool of insight which changes their entire viewpoint and we witness this shift. These moments of magic need to be celebrated, acknowledged, and honoured for what they are, as they occur. It truly is an honour to be witness to these moments of magic, just as it is an honour to be a part of any therapy.

In art therapy, we are offered an additional avenue from which these moments of magic can occur, and often, I have found, the creation of art motivates and energizes magic moments. I will illustrate a potent example of magic occurring within the group art therapy space.

I introduced an intervention which I have given the moniker of strengths beads. This directive invites clients to create a list of strengths, thinking about: strengths they currently have; strengths they would like to develop and; strengths they see in others which they admire. Once the list has been generated, clients are then invited to create either a bracelet or key-chain (in some cases clients opt to create a necklace, or merely choose beads to keep). While they are creating their bracelet, they are invited to mindfully think about their strengths, and to be mindful of which beads they are choosing and why. I invite clients to think about their strengths as they choose their beads, intentionally imbuing the beads with the energy, or felt sense of their strengths. This bracelet acts as a wearable badge of sorts, a reminder of their strengths. Additionally, the tactile and visual sensations provided by the bracelet can act as a grounding activity for clients in times of stress and high anxiety.

Once clients have created their bracelet, they are then invited to focus on one or two of their strengths from the list they have generated, and to represent this strength visually. Clients are provided with paper, ink, pencil, water-colours, acrylics, and pencil crayons. The reason I invite clients to visualize one of their strengths is to entrench their belief in the strength they choose – inviting them to mindfully attend to one of their strengths encourages them to acknowledge and identify the strength as a core part of their self.

While facilitating group art therapy with a group of youth with varying mental health concerns, I invited this directive into the group space, and as clients created their bracelets a state of collective flow was achieved. The noises generated by the beads, paired with the meditative practice found in the repetitive focused attention of choosing a bead, placing a bead, and creating a pattern, created a calming and meditative silence which permeated the entire group space. As clients shared their bracelets with the group, a number of insights were uncovered and celebrated – by the speaker and by other group members. It came across as common knowledge, when a client identified x as their strength, the entire group responded in turn with “but of course, you exude that strength.” It was an incredible moment of collective identification and acknowledgement of each others strengths, not only supporting individual clients efficacy and belief in their strength, but also strengthening group dynamics and encouraging clients who normally would not share, to share with the group. An environment of acceptance was fostered, encouraging a weakening of inhibitions and an increased likelihood that group members would contribute to the group experience.

Once clients moved on to the second stage of the directive, this state of flow continued, and each client in turn appeared to unconsciously know how to illustrate their strength without any forethought needed. One client illustrated her strength by a mandala coloured in with purple and blue, black stars on the outside of the mandala, and words written across the top and bottom encouraging her to follow her dreams. As she shared with the group she mentioned how she had made a number of mistakes while creating the image – she smudged paint on one side of the paper where she did not want anything to be drawn. She automatically integrated this smudge into her painting, by applying more water-colour over top. She created a mirrored image of this smudge on the other side of the page, creating two nearly symmetrical smudges on either side of the mandala. I was transcended as she shared this image with the group, noticing her use of the mandala in the center of the page, and how she included two smudges – one on either side of the mandala, and two lines of text – one above, one below. This created an entirely equal and symmetrical image: interestingly, the mandala is a representation of the totality of the self, or wholeness, and Jung suggests is divided into a quaternity, the spontaneous creation of which can indicate the ego’s capacity to assimilate unconscious material, an anticipation of wholeness, which is just beyond our reach (Jung, 2013). Her ability and willingness to integrate her perceived mistakes into the complete image portrayed a mindful intention to her final image, and played on her strengths to be open and accepting. Her use of the mandala and vying for wholeness mirrored my recently uncovered insights through my own self-analysis – and mirrored another clients use of multiple mandalas in her own work. The client seated directly across from her created a piece depicting a brain, half of which (the left side) was visualized as the brain itself, and the right half depicted as a series of growing flowers. She suggested that it represented her open-mindedness and willingness to grow: this being a verbalization of the previous clients visual representation of wholeness and growth exhibited by the mandala. Both images mirrored each other, as did the intention behind the images. It was as if the collective unconscious opened like a rift in the sky above us, allowing us to collectively access our state of flow, and access these archetypes for visualization, and self-understanding. Jung would acknowledge this series of events as synchronistic – I finished reading Jung’s synchronicity a week ago. If we mindfully attend to the events we see: client 1 creates a mandala and a quaternity on the page; client 2 illustrates a visual representation of her own strengths as a brain and flowers, mirroring client 1’s felt sense and intentions, client 3 draws a series of mandalas; and lastly, the mirroring of my recently uncovered insights. Four events, four equal divisions in a mandala – we collectively embodied a mandala within the group space, each event contributing one portion of the wholeness of the mandala.

I would qualify this group therapy session as one which was riddled with magical moments. The magic began as soon as we sat down to begin art therapy, and continued through our accessing a collective state of flow, mirroring each others felt senses and intentions, and embodying the mandala inside the group space. I felt honoured to be witness to this series of magical moments, which was strengthened by the groups response to the entire group process: one of complete and total mindful acceptance for what had just transpired. As group ended, there was a collective sigh of relief – not that it was over, but rather, that it had occurred in the first place.


Jung, C.G. (2013). The Psychology of the Transference. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. (Originally published 1983).

On Termination and Grief

Grief is a naturally occurring reaction in therapy. It may present itself throughout the therapeutic process: forming and strengthening the bond between therapist and client, through the transference and countertransference, as a response to what initially led the client to therapy, or as a response to termination. Grief and sadness can be incredibly difficult to navigate, and at times can feel overwhelming – for both the individual client and the therapist. Regardless of how difficult these emotions can be to address, it is still imperative that they be dealt with appropriately and that the client is provided with a sufficient container inside the therapy space with which they can healthily process and re-integrate these feelings into their daily experience.

Termination is an inevitable moment all clients will eventually have to face in therapy, and it should be treated with dignity and respect. It is the therapists duty to provide the client with an appropriate avenue for expression. I have discussed a few therapeutic aspects before, and their presentation inside the therapy space including containment, mirroring and empathy. These aspects are just as important at the point of termination as they are throughout the entire therapeutic process. In this paper I will delineate the importance of these aspects at the point of termination, and ways in which they can be accurately enacted in art therapy to provide the client with a sufficient lens from which to explore their grief response.

First, I would like to introduce a client I met a few weeks ago who motivated me to look at the termination process more closely. To protect her privacy I have changed her name, and will be referring to her as Darlene.


Darlene is a geriatric woman with cerebral palsy living in a long term care facility for the past ten years. In my first session with Darlene I used my third hand to assist with the acquisition of art materials, and with guiding her around the page. She started to worry out loud that her art was too childish, and that even though she enjoyed creating art-work she rarely did because she feared that she wasn’t any good at it. Later, when we sat together to discuss goals for treatment, she became teary-eyed and whispered: “to get better at art, and maybe sell some pieces.” We agreed that hosting an exhibition of completed works in the courtyard might be a good idea and something that we could plan together. It would be up to her if she would want to sell any pieces.

As the session came to a close, Darlene became unable to control her emotions and began crying uncontrollably. I wondered out loud what had triggered the onslaught of tears, and she responded to my question with another question: when are you leaving? I clarified if she meant when would I be leaving the facility on that day, or if she meant in the future, when would I stop providing art therapy services? She confirmed she meant the latter. I told her that I was unsure when I would be leaving permanently, but that we would be working closely together for the next month and a half, and when we got closer to the end of the 6 week period, we could start to discuss our future together: we would re-assess our goals and discuss if further treatment was required.

This alleviated some of the stress Darlene was experiencing. She then told me about an art student whom she had worked closely with many years ago, who left unexpectedly, leaving Darlene without the ability to say a proper goodbye, and without any way to properly reconcile her attachment to the student, or process her potential grief response. I wondered if she had worked on these feelings since the student left, and I was told that she had not had the opportunity to express or experience her grief. She informed me that she worked very hard at keeping her emotions locked inside, especially when it came to this particular individual, and that when she expressed herself emotionally, most people simply walked away from her to let her cry by herself.

I recognized in this moment that Darlene was missing key aspects for processing her grief, and for reconciling her attachment to this individual. I wanted to provide her with the opportunity to process her grief reaction, and to ensure that in our work together, I provide the necessary components throughout therapy and especially during the termination process, for her to access and explore her grief in a concrete and accessible way.

Aspects of therapy

The aspects of therapy I believe are most important for processing the grief reaction during termination are: mirroring, empathy and containment. Darlene expressed that often when she begins to express herself emotionally, most people become overwhelmed and walk away, leaving her to fend for herself and navigate these potentially complex emotions on her own. I believe that all aspects of therapy are intertwined and should be presented and understood as a gestalt. Therefore, in this instance, where Darlene is crying and seeking to make sense of her emotions, it is important that the therapist act as her empathic container. It is essential that the therapist offer Darlene with an appropriate space to safely hold her emotions. Once the emotions are safely contained – whether that be in the between space of therapist and client, or through a containing piece of art-work – Darlene can then process and re-integrate these emotions by the therapist mirroring these emotions. The art-work simultaneously acts as a container and a mirror for Darlene’s emotional expression: the emotions have found a safe haven where they can remain and be re-accessed later on; and they reflect back to her how others see these emotions, and add an objective viewpoint by which she can analyze her emotions.

When it comes to the therapist enlisting these aspects as a way to facilitate processing and integration in the client, empathy will be the current on which everything else rests and is carried on. Without empathic understanding the client can feel left out in the cold and unable to re-process their feelings. It is imperative that the therapist try their best to understand the client’s subjective world without changing or influencing a change in their world. By mirroring the client’s feelings back to them, and mirroring a healthful way of processing such feelings, the client is provided with a sense of being understood and heard. Further, the client can see their emotions reflected back to them, and in turn will be able to gain a better understanding of their own emotions, which will lead to a greater likelihood that they will be processed appropriately. Once a client understands where the emotions are coming from, and how their emotions present themselves and impact their lives (relationships, attachments, and self), they can work towards re-integrating them into their self.

Processing grief in Art Therapy

Grief is such a potent emotional reaction, inextricably linked to our attachment to a person, object, or even memory. When we experience a loss, our attachment needs to change, because our relationship to that previously present and very real person has changed. The underlying fear and anxiety that pervades our grief experiences are important components that need to be addressed properly. Art therapy is an excellent avenue for exploring our grief experiences, and the secondary emotions that accompany our grief.

I have thought about ways in which grief can be addressed in art therapy, taking into account the aspects of containment, mirroring and empathy. Although Darlene presents with an unprocessed grief reaction from many years prior to our meeting, and it is important for her to work through this, I will not be discussing this specific grief response1. I will be focusing primarily on the grief experienced through termination.

Letter to future self & therapist

Once termination occurs, there is no further therapeutic contact between therapist and client. This letter writing process to the future self and to the therapist can help the client to think back on their time together, and to think ahead to the future. Things that can be addressed in this letter include: a recap of things that have been learned in therapy; a reminder of coping strategies and the client’s potential triggers; a self-care plan in the case of emergencies; and anything the client feels imperative to include to tell their future self. This letter can help act as a grounding tool in times of stress when the client no longer has immediate access to therapy, and can help make the transition easier. The second letter is an invitation for the client to express all of their feelings about their therapist, that they wish to convey to the therapist. This letter acts as a way for the client to express anything that might otherwise be left unsaid. I would encourage the client to include whatever they feel necessary to express in their letter to the therapist, and would not give specific guidelines for completing this letter.

Creating a comic book

The comic book or visual novel is similar to the letter in that it is meant to address things that have been learned in therapy, and it acts as a transitional object for the client. The comic book creates a visual story for both the client and therapist to keep as a way to remember the course of therapy: what important things were learned, were there difficult times that occurred, and how did the client deal with these difficult times? This could be completed as a collaborative project between client and therapist: both through the story and the art-work created. This visual reminder can help the client transition from being in relation with the therapist to being without the therapist. It helps if the therapist is involved in this process: acknowledging the excellent work that has been accomplished throughout therapy together, and reminding the client of their strengths and potentialities that they can tap into outside of therapy. The essence of both the therapist and client will be contained inside the completed book, and can be called upon at any point to remind the client of the work they have accomplished. This book will act as an appropriate mirror for all that the client has experienced throughout therapy.

Grief ceremony

A grief ceremony should occur around the time of termination, and this should unfold the way the individual client wishes it to. The client’s culture and religion should be considered while enacting the grief ceremony. Some examples of a grief ceremony could include: some type of pyre; building an effigy of the essence of the therapeutic relationship; creating a ritual to enact annually and continue said ritual as long as is necessary; or create a transitional object which can be imbued with both the client and therapist’s essence.


The idea behind experiencing and navigating grief about the termination process is not to instill a reliance on the therapeutic relationship, rather, it is to motivate the client to healthily address and welcome their grief response as a common and normal reaction. The grief needs to be understood and worked through before it can be re-integrated. The hope is that through creating grieving rituals, and addressing the grief head on, the client will not repress these natural feelings and eventually will be able to integrate what they have learned in therapy into their self. Eventually, the grief ritual, letter writing, or journaling will no longer need to occur as a knee-jerk reaction for the client, because they will have moved through their grief and come out the other side a more whole, content individual. They will be able to look back on their time in therapy fondly, without feeling an overwhelming sense of grief over having lost that relationship.

1 Darlene’s grief is being addressed in our individual therapy sessions, but I will not be sharing about this here.

Therapeutic Presence: Mirroring

The second aspect to be discussed is mirroring. Mirroring is a therapeutic technique used to validate the client’s experience, and reflect their self: affect, behaviour and memories back to them. This aspect, unlike empathy, is more tangible and therefore more easily understood. However, it still requires practice and exploration. Carpendale provides us with a number of probing questions that open the gates for reflection (Carpendale, 2006).

What does mirroring have to do with presence?

Presence is the being with an other inside a therapeutic context. Being aware of your own feelings, cognitions and affects, and how these might influence the therapy session. Being aware of time and space, the environment in which the therapy is unfolding, and being mindful of an individual client’s needs. Presence is essential in forming the therapeutic alliance – if the client does not feel that they are heard, seen, or understood, the therapeutic alliance, which is built primarily out of trust, will not flourish.

Mirroring is a core component of presence. When we mirror a client’s affect they recognize that we are not only present in the moment, focusing solely on them, but we also demonstrate a reaching towards understanding. This translates into validation. There are no judgements with mirroring. Mirroring is a verbatim reflection of the client’s experience in the moment, or of a remembered experience. When we mirror we are not adding our own thoughts or interpretations, we are merely reiterating the client’s feelings and experience.

I believe when we mirror it is appropriate to seek clarification. In this way too, the client is offered another way to approach the situation. If we seek clarification, this validates the client’s experience as being entirely their own, with a nod to the empathic response that should be experienced throughout therapy. When we discuss these aspects of therapeutic presence it is difficult to pull them apart and investigate them individually because they are not intended to be isolated – they work together. The whole of our therapeutic presence is comprised of these six aspects.

How do we communicate with mirroring?

We communicate effectively with our reflections of the clients experience. These reflections are not mere repetitions – but they are also not infused with our own thoughts or interpretations. Upon reflection it appears a simple technique, but it is one that requires focus and practice. It is essential to find the balance between merely repeating and adding our own self to the reflection.

The mirroring technique acts in such a way that the client sees themselves reflected in a new light, so that they can infuse meaning, and draw out new interpretations. With our reflections we are holding up a mirror for which they can look into and better understand their self, and their situation.

When words fail and I am grasping clumsily for some understanding, I put the pen down and pick up the paint brush. When expression is contrived or strained through words, art can be my saviour to express what I am hinting at.

I painted “Mirror, Mirror” in response to Carpendale’s question “how do we communicate with mirroring?” IMG_6913

The characteristic mandala is the focus of this image, used in this context as a mirror. Blue, purple and black highlight the mandala, emphasizing its contours with the repetitive strokes. Inside the mirror sits my reflection, with a larger eye seated to the left of my image. In place of the pupil of this larger eye is a koi fish, which extends beyond the eye. Water droplets fill the spaces between this eye and my image, and act as a replacement for my missing eye.

In dialoguing with this image I am drawn to the potent imagery that I rely on, and that I find repeating itself over and over in my art-work. The eye is seen as the window to the soul, and in this way, our mirroring can be understood as something comprised of more than just our words. Mirroring is something that, like empathy, requires all parts of our self – our mind, body, and soul (psyche, spirit). The client can see and feel our mirroring responsiveness through our eyes, body language, and vocal tone. We must be attuned to this throughout the therapy session. The water, a symbol of strong significance which presents itself repeatedly, is representative of the collective unconscious, and the unconscious mind in general. Our mirroring then is opening a window into the client’s unconscious mind, in a similar way to our empathic response.

The koi is a personal symbol, which represents perseverance, ambition and courage. The koi is placed here to represent a direct mirroring of my self within a therapy session. In this instance then, I am the subject of therapy. However, when we think of the meaning behind the koi, we can still apply this to our aspect of mirroring. There is a story called The Yellow River at Hunan, which details the journey of koi fish through the waterfall, Dragon’s Gate. The koi fish who successfully complete the journey through Dragon’s Gate, transform from a koi fish into a dragon. This represents the koi’s ability for change and growth, and when we investigate the symbolic meaning behind the dragon we come to find that the dragon represents growth, luck and development. Therapy is an aim towards change, and furthering self-development. Our mirroring is a significant aspect of our therapeutic presence that provides the client with an opportunity for growth and change, through playing the role of their reflection. When they see their self in such an empathic, understanding way, they are provided with a new way to reflect upon their goals, current development, and life situation.

How were you seen as a child?

This is an important question for us to reflect on. Seen here does not refer to physical appearance, rather, it refers to your true self. We need to reflect on this to recognize our own potential countertransferences in future therapeutic relationships. If we never felt truly seen, understood, validated and so forth, how can we know how to embody it and provide it for a client?

I have led an incredibly privileged childhood, and both of my parents entered my world in an attempt to understand me. The best and most ready example I have of this is my interest in art. I am where I am today because my parents recognized my interest and ability in art, and nurtured this passion. The important thing to remember here is that how one was seen as a child might appear different for different people – it is the experience of being seen that matters. If I had interpreted my parents support and nurturing as a negative thing, I might not be able to reminisce on my childhood so positively, and I might conclude that I was in fact, not seen. However, this is not the case.

I was seen in all other areas of my childhood as well. Not only was I regarded as an artist, creative, energetic soul, whose passions were directed toward both visual and dramatic arts, I was seen as a whole, complete person. I felt understood as a person with a self, and I was supported in all ventures. How my parents interacted with me as a young child shaped who I am today, and informed my self-concept. This support is imperative to a developing self, something one will undoubtedly encounter in therapy, for we are always developing, always reaching for self-actualization.

At the end of this reflection, I was left with one probing question that had been ruminating in my mind.

What benefit does mirroring have on the therapeutic alliance, and process?

The therapeutic alliance is essential for successful therapy, without which there is no trust, and no relationship. Therapy happens in relation to an other. Mirroring demonstrates to the client that you can be trusted, in that, you will stave off judgements and interpretations in order to enter their world and attempt to fully understand them.

Mirroring encourages the therapeutic process, providing the client with freedom to explore their self in a safe, non-judgemental environment. Unconditional positive regard is an integral part of this aspect of mirroring. In order to mirror appropriately, we leave out personal reflections, interpretations and judgements. We recognize the client, and accept and appreciate them for who they are, in the moment. The change that occurs in therapy will happen at the client’s pace.


Mirroring is another aspect of the therapeutic presence that eludes us to a degree. It is nuanced and requires meditative practice. This is part of being present in therapy – always being attuned and aware of your self, body, and cognitions, and challenging them in the moment in an attempt to provide the client with the most beneficial environment wherein change can occur. One must practice each aspect of the therapeutic presence, which as mentioned before, will be a life-long process.


Carpendale, M. (2006). Kutenai Art Therapy Institute Manual. (pp. 45-60).

Therapeutic Presence: Empathy

    Therapeutic presence is a way of being with another person, within a therapeutic context, that reflects the therapist’s full engagement with the client (Geller, 2013). Carpendale suggests there are a number of aspects of presence, that can be examined through different lenses, in order for us to gain a better understanding of what constitutes therapeutic presence, and what it is we should aim for (Carpendale,2006). These aspects are: centering, grounding, containment, empathy, mirroring, and boundaries (Carpendale,2006). The lenses Carpendale suggests are: self, other, metaphor, the manifestation in art, development in childhood and the therapeutic session (Carpendale,2006). Each lens will enliven our understanding of a particular aspect in a different way, and through our examinations we will be able to understand the aspects application in the different arenas in our life (self, other, metaphor and so forth).

    It is important to explore these aspects in relation to our therapeutic presence. We will find that we have strengths in some areas, and are lacking in others. This is significant information to be aware of, so that we can explore how to strengthen and enhance each aspect, integrating them into our therapeutic presence. The first aspect I will explore is empathy.

    Empathy is considered as a ‘being with’ the other person (Carpendale,2006) and from this viewpoint, we could almost consider empathy to constitute the entirety of the therapeutic presence. Rogers presented empathy as one of the core conditions of his person-centered therapy approach (Rogers, 1959, 1961). He defines empathy as a process rather than a state (Rogers,1975) which suggests that empathy is something a therapist can practice, and eventually hone as a skill. It is my assumption that as with any aspect of therapeutic presence, no therapist will ever have successfully honed or developed a skill to a point where growth can no longer occur. That is, empathy, containment, mirroring – any of the aspects of the therapeutic presence – require life-long practice and development. They will alter over time, from moment to moment, and from client to client.

Rogers says of empathy:

“It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it […]being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person […] moving about in it delicately without making judgments […] not trying to uncover feelings of which the person is totally unaware.” (Rogers,1975).

    Why is empathy so important to the therapeutic process, and in our case, the therapeutic presence? Empathy is related to positive outcome, and supplies a relationship that combats alienation (Rogers,1975). A client unable to express their innermost feelings for fear of being judged or rejected will feel isolated and alone. In a discourse rooted in empathy, the same client will feel an all too real human connection that is inexplicable in nature, and overwhelmingly restorative. There is no longer the fear of rejection, and there is no longer the result of alienation. Through empathic understanding, the therapist meets the client in their world, where they are at, and lays aside all judgements and interpretations. Rogers suggests that another significant reason empathy is so important is because it tells the client that they are valuable, and that someone cares (Rogers,1975). If we consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we see that empathy contributes to the satisfaction of all higher level needs: love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1962).

    Now that I have explored the meaning behind empathy as an aspect, I can explore personal meanings of empathy, how it presents in my art, in relation to others, and most importantly, in the therapeutic setting. The main questions I will be seeking to answer are: How does empathy present itself through my art-work? What metaphors come to mind when you think of empathy? How is empathy expressed and felt in relation to others? How is empathy expressed in the therapeutic setting?

Empathy in Art

    I explored the answer to this question using the paint-brush and my art journal, using a few simple directives: “What is empathy/what does empathy look like”? and “Think of an experience of empathy felt in therapy, or in relation with other. Draw or paint this experience. You can use metaphor to facilitate exploration.”

    In the first image, I very simply drew three circles, or mandalas, overlapping each other. This image is reminiscent of a Venn diagram, wherein the common elements of each set is represented in the overlapping areas. The mandala is a representation of the totality of the self (Jung, 1969), one which I identify with wholeheartedly. This image then directly represents the therapeutic relationship which is rooted in empathy. Each circle represents a separate entity – each circle has its own identity, represented by its own unique colour which emanates from it. In the centre of each circle we find the core of the self – the blue mass, shaped differently in each circle to represent different points of self-development and growth.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Mandalas

    Upon initial reflection I was inclined to suggest that these circles represent the therapeutic relationship itself – the therapist and client, represented in two circles, and the transference relationship embodied in the third. The areas of overlap are a direct representation of empathy as a process – the therapist reaches into the clients world, with their own personality, temperament and interpretations, and lays them aside, holds them at bay so to speak, while enacting empathy. In every relationship with another we bring our selves, there is no way that we can leave it behind. I also would not suggest it. When we enter the world of an other, we are there as visitor and witness, we do not make our permanent home in their world. Therefore I would suggest that if we left our selves behind, we would lose ourselves in the others world in our attempt to be fully empathetic.

    This image denotes the tripartite system to which humans ascribe – we are mind, body and soul. Very simply then, empathy is a bodily experience wherein we enlist our mind, body and soul to be entirely present and open with an other. I would argue that we are not fully present, not fully empathic, if one of these is missing, or not active.

    The next image I drew was in direct response to the second art directive – “Think of an experience of empathy felt in therapy, or in relation with other. Draw or paint this experience. You can use metaphor to facilitate exploration.”

Figure 2

Figure 2. Through your eyes

    This image is an incomplete self-portrait. The breaks in the lines are representative of putting my self aside while interacting with a client, or other, from an empathic stance. The core of my being is present, but I am not, and do not need to be, the focus.

    When I thought of metaphor, I thought about seeing the world of the other, and seeing through their eyes. Again, my eyes are being overshadowed by the eyes of the other. My eyes still remain, my core self still remains while witnessing through the client’s eyes, but they are there to digest the contents of the client’s world so that I can better understand their situation. They are not interpretive, or judging eyes.

    The colour blue holds significant meaning for this understanding of empathy. It is suggestive of water, a clear reference to the unconscious (Jung, 1969). The water bleeds from the client’s eyes, wetting the page. Through my empathic response, I become witness to the unconscious content. In this way, I believe our empathy plays an important role in accessing and truly hearing the client’s unconscious in conscious dialogue.


    Metaphors are an excellent way to illustrate a deeper meaning or felt-sense that everyday language simply can’t achieve. We might find that words fail us at times, and metaphors can be used to express more wholly what we mean. For instance, someone who is angry might refer to themselves as a hot pot boiling over. This denotes a much more detailed, graphic image, and provides us with a valuation of the feeling of anger.

    In regards to empathy, there are a number of metaphors that access the core of what it means to be empathetic. For instance: seeing through someone’s eyes, or being in someone’s shoes. Dante provides us with some excellent allegorical language when it comes to empathy: Virgil acts as a companion to Dante in his journey through hell. This is akin to our idea of empathy as being witness to, being present to, or being a companion through the therapeutic process.

    The idea of worlds also provides a significant metaphor. We enter the other person’s world through the use of empathy, ensuring we make no changes, and remain as visitor, guest, or witness to their world. It is similar to visiting a country or city we have never been to before, and experiencing their unique culture and way of being.

Empathy in relation to other

    Empathy is a multi-faceted concept that I think is too often simplified to “understanding an others emotions” or “mirroring” an others emotions. Feeling entirely overwhelmed by an others emotions to the point where you become the focus rather than the client is dis-advantageous. You exhaust your energies and your focus and you are no longer a present and helpful witness.

    I will provide a brief account of an interaction with a client wherein I practised empathic witnessing, and the results were favourable.


    Rosie has been discussed before. She is a geriatric African Nova-Scotian living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her primary diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, and she exhibits OCD like behaviours. She becomes increasingly anxious when she is experiencing a hallucination, and she becomes engrossed in these – interacting with them both verbally and physically.

    One evening while Rosie was experiencing an intense hallucination, she became increasingly anxious and frightened. Instead of distracting her from the hallucination, or denying its existence (because for her the hallucination is very much a reality, regardless of whether we can see it or not), I was witness. I reminded her of my presence, through physically being near her (keeping in mind her need for personal space and respecting this). In the throes of her hallucination she was almost entirely non-verbal, other than in response to the hallucination itself. Therefore, my presence was all that I could offer her, as a sort of grounding mechanism to reality, without invalidating her current experience. In this way, I gently, and slowly entered her world.

    After, Rosie remarked how frightened she was, and I echoed her sentiment. Not that I was frightened – I can not lay claim to a sensation or feeling I have yet to experience. This too works to invalidate her experience. Rather, I expressed how she was frightened – how frightening this hallucination must have been to cause her so much anxiety. She continued the conversation, expressing her intense anxiety in reaction to this hallucination, describing her bodily sensations (heart beating rapidly, shaking). Again, I acknowledged these feelings and sensations, without suggesting that I too experienced them. Through my echoing her feelings, I became a validation for her, a sort of container outside of herself to acknowledge the experience and her reaction to it.

Empathy in the therapeutic relationship

    Empathy in the therapeutic relationship is similar to empathy in relation to other – this is what therapy is – a relationship between therapist and client. It is important to remember what empathy is, and how it manifests itself inside the self, our art, and through metaphor, so that we can harvest these grains and apply them in the therapeutic relationship.

    Empathy is a presence, a process whereby we lay aside our personal prejudices, judgements, and interpretations to make room for the client to grow. It is a facilitative agent of change, without it, there would be a block. If the client feels that he is being judged, he will hide things, avoid the main issue that has brought him to therapy, or worse yet, leave the therapeutic relationship entirely. Empathy then is a major component in trust within the therapeutic relationship. The client will be unable to trust you, that you truly care for and have unconditional positive regard for him, if he can sense a judgement or a negative appraisal.

    Empathy avoids interpretation – which seems counter-intuitive when we are talking about insight-oriented therapies, especially when we speak of psychodynamic approaches which are built on Freudian ideas and concepts. However, it is imperative that we avoid interpretation – of both words and art-work. Our interpretations will invariably colour the clients own interpretations of their work, and if we make a premature, or wrong interpretation, this could annihilate the therapeutic alliance entirely. An interpretation could easily be misconstrued as a judgement by the client, and because of this it should be avoided.


    Empathy is one of the most important conditions for person-centered therapy, and a significant aspect in therapeutic presence. I would argue that without empathy, there is no therapeutic presence. I believe that empathy is the bed-rock from which all else is built. Empathy requires practice and regular focus. At the outset of this paper I suggested that each of these aspects that Carpendale proposes require life-long dedication and development. They will change over time, and from client to client. This rings especially true for empathy.


Carpendale, M. (2006). Kutenai Art Therapy Institute Manual. (pp. 45-60).

Geller, S. M. (2013). Therapeutic Presence: An Essential Way of Being. In Cooper, M., Schmid, P. F., O’Hara, M., & Bohart, A. C. (Eds.). The Handbook of Person-Centred Psychotherapy and Counselling (2nd ed). pp. 209-222. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Jung, C.G. (1969). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, (Volume 9). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Maslow, A. (1962). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NJ, US: D Van Nostrand.

Rogers, C. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. In S. Koch, (ed.). Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill.

Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable.

Rogers, Carl. (1975). Empathic: An Unappreciated Way of Being. The Counseling Psychologist. Vol. 5, No. 2-10.


Soft light emanates from the candles lining the pine “community” style table. As it grows darker outside, the wicks in the candles lose their shape and size. The light begins to slowly fade, creating a calm serenity. The music rages on, pulsing through the body like a life-line, suffocating and resuscitating my focus in waves.

The whirring noise of the coffee grinder interrupts my thoughts. Only briefly, before I am brought back with another welcome distraction. Two girls sit in the corner, partially facing each-other, partially facing the window. Their indistinct chatter lulls in and out of my ear. They are enjoying themselves, just like everyone else here.

I can’t help but think, it’s been a long 6 months since I have put pen to paper. I am stuck in an unending habit of writer’s block. And it is a habit, an expectation, an assumption. I have fostered a negative relationship with writing. The assumption that I have nothing of worth to produce facilitates my inability to write.

The heart shape in my vanilla latte moves from side to side as I press the cup to my lips. The milk and vanilla create the perfect commixture of flavours to compliment the freshly roasted beans.

These bursts of creativity come on unannounced, and leave just as abruptly. Like the first snowfall of November. Can I really waste my breath complaining? Before now I was complaining about being unable, and unmotivated to paint, or draw. Here I am now, painting nearly every day, and unable to write.

Perhaps the flip-flop between the two is necessary for my creative production. My focus strays – the devotion I lend to each art is immeasurable. It’s merely a matter of finding that devotion.

I find it here, from time to time. But just as before, in these states, it is fleeting. I can’t rush it. I can’t push it on. The product of forced writing is contrived and uncomfortable. The discomfort resonates long after I lay my pen down and close the book.

I believe there are therapeutic aspects underlying the act of writing. I often use it as my mirror – I see myself reflected in the pages. I can’t lie when I write. It would be like pretending to be something I’m not.

So, I remain stuck in this sort of limbo, forever destined to write about how miserable and morose I am, suffering as a writer with endless writer’s block.

Until I’m not.

These pages, my mirror, currently reflect my struggles: my inability to write or create, the fear of never writing again, repetition bordering on neurosis.

So, I leave the page blank for now, until my mind is clear, and I am ready to introspect, and analyze. Once I lay my fears and anxieties aside, the flow of thought will return just as before.


Inside: Dr. Albert Bandura

Dr. Bandura is a Canadian Psychologist and Professor Emeritus of social science in Psychology at Stanford University. His major contributions to the field include: the Bobo doll experiment, social cognitive theory, social learning theory, self-efficacy and reciprocal determinism. He has been awarded with the Guggenheim Fellowship for Social Sciences, US & Canada in 1972; and the National Medal of Science for Behavioral and Social Science in 2016. In 2015, “Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves” was published. In this interview we discuss the theory of moral disengagement, the contents of this book, and its real-life applications.

Hello Dr. Bandura. Before we begin discussing your book “Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves” I would like to ask you a few preliminary questions pertaining to your career as a whole. Firstly, would you be able to tell our readers what initially drew you to Psychology?

My choice of psychology as my profession was by chance rather than by design. I commuted to the University of British Columbia with engineers and premeds. They enrolled in early-morning courses so I searched for a course that would fill the early-morning void. A student left a course catalogue on the library table. In flipping through it I noticed a psychology course that would fill the gap. I enrolled in it and found my profession. In addition to the fascinating subject matter, I was intrigued by the complexity of the discipline. Psychology is the only core discipline that integrates determinants across disciplinary lines in its causal structure: In addition to determinants of intrapsychic life, it includes social, institutional, biological, and cross-cultural determinants as well.

The application of psychological knowledge for human betterment in virtually all walks life was another highly attractive feature of this discipline.

Who would you cite as the most influential people in your life (this can be anyone, it does not have to be limited to those within the field of Psychology). In what way did they influence you?

My parents were the most influential figures in my life. They migrated to Canada from Eastern Europe. They had no formal education or financial resources to build their new life. My father worked on the railroad laying tracks for the Trans-Canada railway. When he saved enough money he purchased a homestead. These homesteaders were the pioneers of the Canadian nation. They had to manually convert heavily wooded land into farmland, build their own homes, schools, churches, small towns and communities. They were extraordinary models of resourcefulness, ingenuity, unwavering self-efficacy, and resilient hopefulness in the face of adversity.

These extraordinary formative years provided the foundation for my theory of human agency, that people have a hand in shaping the course their lives take. In my book, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, I document how people’s belief in their efficacy determine their aspirations, motivation, emotional well-being and accomplishments.

Based on your experience both as a student and as a professor, would you say there are many differences between how things were taught in the past compared to how they are taught now? Are there classes you have not taught but would be interested in teaching?

The small town in which I grew up was woefully short of educational resources. Both the elementary and high school were housed in the same school house. Only a few teachers taught the entire high school curriculum. They were not always well-versed in the subject matters. I had to take some courses by correspondence. A few of us decided we could educate ourselves. The course content was perishable but mastery of self-directed learning has been an invaluable asset throughout my career. The students of today have the entire body of knowledge at their fingertips wherever they may reside. This vastly expands their opportunity to preside over their own learning.

Before addressing specific issues I will explain briefly how people inflict harm and retain a positive self-regard and live in peace with themselves. People adapt standards of right and wrong that serve as guides and deterrents for their conduct. They do things that give them satisfaction and a sense of self-wroth, and refrain from violating their moral standards because such actions evoke self-condemnation. Self-sanctions keep behavior in line with moral standards. However, we are witnessing a pervasive moral paradox in which individuals in all walks of life commit inhumanities that violate their moral standards and still retain a positive self-view and remain untroubled by the harm they cause. They achieve this paradoxical adaptation through eight psychosocial mechanisms whereby they selectively disengage their moral self-sanctions from their detrimental conduct.

Of the eight mechanisms, moral justification is especially powerful. It not only enlists morality in the mission or cause but also disengages morality in its destructive execution. Perpetrators absolve their harmful behavior as serving worthy causes. In exonerative comparison, belief that one’s harmful actions will prevent more human suffering than they cause makes the behavior look altruistic. Euphemistic language in its sanitizing and convoluted forms cloaks harmful behavior in innocuous language and removes humanity from it.

People evade personal accountability for harmful conduct by displacing responsibility to others and by dispersing it widely so that no one bears responsibility. There is no moral issue to contend with if no perceived harm has been done. Judging the harmfulness of given policies and practices is therefore the major battleground in moral disengagement. Perpetrators disregard, minimize, distort, or even dispute harmful effects. In dehumanization, perpetrators exclude those they maltreat from their category of humanity by divesting them of human qualities or attributing animalistic or demonic qualities to them. Rendering their victims subhuman weakens moral qualms over treating them harshly. A further mode of self-exoneration blames victims for bringing the maltreatment on themselves.

In my book, Moral Disengagement, I explain the myriad ways in which people compromise their moral standards in corporate, gun, tobacco and chemical industries; in terrorism and military counterterrorism; the death penalty; and the most urgent problem facing humankind in this century, the preservation of an environmentally sustainable future.

In the introductory chapter in your book, you outline what moral disengagement is, the loci of moral disengagement as well as the social cognitive theory. Would you be able to elaborate on the victim locus, which in my opinion is possibly the most interesting and multifaceted.

As explained above, treating one’s foes as subhuman, deranged, demonic, or bestial reduces moral restraints against detrimental conduct. Bin Laden bestialized the American enemy as “the most ravenous of animals”; ISIS beheaders call their enemy “dogs”; The gun industry called those supporting gun regulation as “loony leftists.” The tobacco industry derogated research that demonstrates adverse health effects as “half-truths in the hands of fanatics,” “scientific malpractice.” Financial traders disparaged their clients as “muppets” (British slang for a stupid person who is easily manipulated); the CEO of a mining company described mining regulators as “crazies” and “greeniacs.” Abu Ghraib guards degraded, humiliated and animalized Iraqi detainees. Naked detainees were forced to wear leashes and crawl for hours like dogs, to bark to the sound of a whistle, and to crawl with guards mounted on their backs like jockeys.

You define moral disengagement as a circumvention of moral standards, which often results in good people doing bad things without feeling responsible for their harmful behaviour. In your book, you offer a number of excellent examples that illustrate this perfectly. I am sure we all practice moral disengagement in our own lives (whether on a small or large scale), but it is difficult to wrap one’s head around the way in which certain groups and individuals have been able to commit such atrocities and yet still be able to maintain their sense of moral disengagement. It is my understanding that through self-exoneration, these individuals rid themselves of blame, and guilt (whether that be by shifting the blame onto the victim, which is possibly the most cruel form of self-exoneration, or shifting the blame onto a system). When I imagine committing horrible acts such as those outlined in your book, I imagine myself not being able to fully rid myself of the feelings of guilt, and shame. Do you think that there is a permanent unconscious feeling of guilt that haunts those who commit these acts? Would you consider self-exoneration a one-time atonement, or more of a repetitive necessity, such as confessional. Is this more dependent on the individual and the act committed?

People who remain firmly convinced in the rightness of their cause and successfully disengage moral self-sanctions in implementing their cause have no reason to be plagued by unconscious feelings of guilt. Bin Laden is a good case in point. He provides an excellent example of how extensive inhumanities can be perpetrated with equanimity using the entire moral disengagement practices. Through moral justification, bin Laden sanctifies his global terrorism as serving a holy imperative: “We will continue this course, because it is part of our religion, and because Allah ordered us to carry out jihad so that the word of Allah may remain exalted to the heights.” He displaces the responsibility for the holy terror to Allah; they are carrying out their “religious duty.” Through attribution of blame, he construes terrorist strikes as morally justifiable defensive reactions to humiliation and atrocities perpetrated by “decadent infidels”: “We are only defending ourselves. This is a defensive Jihad.” By exonerative comparison with the nuclear bombing of Japan, and the toll of economic sanctions on Iraqi children, the Jihad takes on an altruistic appearance: “When people at the ends of the earth, Japan, were killed by the hundreds of thousands, young and old, it was not considered a war crime, it is something that has justification. Millions of children in Iraq is something that has justification.” He bestializes the American enemy as “lowly people,” perpetrating acts that “the most ravenous of animals would not descend to.” Terrorism is linguistically sanitized as “the winds of faith have come” to eradicate the “debauched” oppressors. His followers see themselves as holy warriors who achieve a blessed eternal life through their martyrdom.

The soldiers of World War II returned as heroes with pride in their accomplishments because they fought a just war. Many soldiers returned from Vietnam and Iraq haunted by guilt and stress disorders. They were persuaded in the morality of these wars only to discover that they fought under false pretenses with a deeply divided nation on the morality of these lengthy military campaigns. Realizing the falsity of the moral justifications is guilt provoking for the harm done. A new military syndrome has been created called “moral injury” in which soldiers are haunted by feelings of guilt, betrayal, self-loathing and self-harm. Unlike PTSD, which is rooted in traumatic combat stressors, moral injury arises from violating deeply held moral convictions on spurious grounds.

In Chapter 2 you say “in moral justification, rightness is used directly to turn harmful behaviour into good behaviour.” Those who believe they are doing something “right” or for the “greater good” eliminate any blame for their harmful behaviour. Do you think it is more difficult to show the harmful nature of a person’s behaviour when they think they are right and justified in what they are doing? Do you have to first illustrate to them that their behaviour is not right if it is harming others?

In exonerative moral justifications, wrongdoers do not deny their harmful means. They view them as serving worthy purposes. This legitimizes and sanitizes their harmful practices. In consequential utilitarian justification based on common good, some must be sacrificed for the benefit of many. Terrorists, who view themselves as “freedom fighters,” publicize the harm they cause rather than deny it.

Last year there was a tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub, where 49 people lost their lives, and another 53 were left injured. The obvious target in this scenario was the LGBTQ community, but bystanders were so quick to judge the scenario as an instance of religious extremism, and quickly began using the Muslim community as a scapegoat. Why do you think it was easier for bystanders to shift the attention from the LGBTQ community onto the Muslim community in America? Is this a reflection on how both communities are viewed in America?

The killer was an American-born Algerian raised as a Muslim. In his 911 call shortly after the shooting, he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq. Given the hostile national climate regarding Muslims, this tragic incident was readily used as further evidence that Muslims are dangerous.

In chapter 4 you discuss the NRA, and the overwhelming ignorance towards gun ownership presented by the NRA and gun owners in general. There is a dialogue surrounding the NRA that more often than not points the blame to mental illness when it comes to the misuse of firearms (in murder-suicides, mass shootings and the like). How do you propose this dialogue is influencing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses? Do you believe that it is worse in America or in Canada?

Mass killings are performed rapidly with semi-automatic military style rifles equipped with large killing capacity. Lanza killed 20 young children and six staff members with 154 bullets fired in under 5 minutes. NRA shifts the contributing factors to mass killings from deficient regulation of lethal weapons to mental illness. In the oft repeated causal cliché, “It is people not guns that kill people,” the NRA deletes the means by which people kill people.

Only about 4% of violence is attributable to mental illness. The severely mentally ill use guns mainly to kill themselves rather than to kill strangers. La Pierre not only diverted attention to mental illness but demonized the mentally ill as “genuine monsters. . . that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can even possibly comprehend them.”

Canada does not engage in causal displacement. Canadians do not venerate guns, they regulate them, and are spared mass killings.

There seems to be an epidemic of police brutality against African-Americans in the United-States. In fact, you could say that it has existed for quite some time. Why do you think people are so quick to dismiss these cases of racial profiling and defend police officers with the assumption that they were “just doing their jobs”? Do you think it is easier for members of one group to morally disengage when acts of evil do not directly affect them, but involve another group altogether?

Police are granted considerable discretionary power in judging and protecting their safety. Police behavior is often based on their own social and moral codes. Given widespread societal discriminatory practices, some members of police forces are likely to be prone to violence against African Americans. My chapter on Capital Punishment documents the prominent role that moral disengagement plays in public support of the death penalty, jurors sentencing persons to death, and executioners who have to kill them. It remains a problem of future research to determine the role that moral disengagement plays in police violence.

A number of factors shield police from the consequences of violent misconduct. Victims are intimidated from reporting maltreatment. Informal police codes prohibit informing or testifying against fellow officers. Police administrators are quick to defend their officers to protect their public image. As a result, charges of police violence are often dismissed.

After Brexit, there was an an influx of racist and prejudicial behaviour. Do you think that Brexit acted as a vehicle for racism that already existed in Britain, and that this encouraged Native Britons to fully disengage themselves from non-natives? Would this be an example of moral disengagement at the agency locus?

A good share of the British population views immigration as impairing the way of life in their society. As a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom was required to admit a certain number of refugees. This requirement undoubtedly contributed to the social pressure to exit from the European Union (see question 12 for other factors fueling the radical right movement).

You mention that epiphenomenalists argue that there are neural networks that operate outside of our awareness and control, and that this strips humans of personal identity and agency; thus arguing that individuals should not be held responsible for what they cannot control (Pg. 41). This sounds reminiscent of arguments used for rapists, (victims are blamed for enticing rape so the rapist could not control themselves Pg. 20), and incidents of racial profiling in court cases. This indicates to me that there is a bigger issue at hand; this is more systemic than individual. There are a number of systems that have a significant influence on us as individuals, and as a society. We are so easily removed and we are so able to disassociate. Why do you think this is, and how do you suggest we try to be more engaged as individuals and as a society?

In arguing that people’s behavior is regulated by neutral networks that operate outside of their awareness and control, epiphenomenalists face a formidable ethical problem for which they have no solution. It is pointless to hold anyone responsible for their behavior if they have no control over it. Criminals should not be held personally accountable for their crimes, nor police for abusive enforcement practices, jurors for biased sentencing, and jailers for maltreatment of inmates. They can all disclaim responsibility on the grounds that their neural networks made them do it.

Such a view would erode the personal and social ethics that undergird a civil society. How would people create and maintain a civil society if its members were divested of conscious regulation for their actions? Epiphenomenalists have been unable to explain how nonethical neuronal processes produce ethical and socially responsible conduct. The Moral Disengagement book describes their failed efforts. As mindful agents, people are generative, creative, proactive, and reflective, not simply reactive to experience. They use their sensory, motor, and cerebral systems to accomplish their tasks and goals that give meaning, direction, and satisfaction to their lives.

Human adaptation and change are rooted in social systems. Therefore, personal agency operates within a broad network of sociostructural influences. In agentic transactions, people are both producers and products of social systems. Much of the moral disengagement is collective not just individual. Collective moral disengagement at the social system level requires a network of participants vindicating their harmful practices through moral disengagement.

Just this year, a man rose to power in America who is arguably unfit for the job. There have been many debates surrounding his candidacy, and many have turned violent. Do you think the act of voting for him was in some way a reaction to perceived injustices against the American people? How would you explain the justification for some of the aggressive and violent behaviour enacted by both Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters?

We are witnessing a global rise of radical right movements. They are the product of major social dislocations. The change from the rural era to the industrial era transformed people’s lives. We are now in the midst of another sweeping transformative change from the industrial era to the information cyberworld era. Many people are left behind by these dislocating changes. With growing automation, globalization, and outsourcing, they are losing their livelihood and feel marginalized with social elites and immigrants destroying their traditional way of life. The Trumps and La Pens exploit people’s discontent, fears, and resentments and portray themselves as their saviors and social reformers.

After first completing your book I was amazed at how many times I found myself nodding along with what you were saying and fervently uttering agreeance. I started to witness small acts of moral disengagement and I became more aware of the language used to justify certain wrongs. I saw this in my daily life, in political life, and in my work life. This heightened awareness has helped me to truly assess a situation, and to see things from a moral disengagement perspective, so to speak. I think it is human to err, and to make excuses for our mistakes. Perhaps, this moral disengagement is a defense mechanism to protect us from the mental anguish of taking responsibility for horrendous acts. Do you think that moral disengagement is a defense mechanism to protect us from resulting neuroses?

When people engage in behavior that violates their moral standards, they use methods of moral disengagement to neutralize aversive self-sanctions. “Defense mechanism” is a Freudian construct in which psychological defenses are used to repress tabooed impulses. While defense phenomenon are linguistically similar in both approaches the theories differ markedly in the nature of the threat, how it is managed, and the functions the mechanisms serve. In addition, some of the mechanisms in the theory under discussion engage morality in the service of detrimental behavior by portraying them as serving worthy purposes
Moral disengagement does not reside solely in people’s minds. As previously noted, some of it is built into the structures of social systems that enable wrongdoers to disavow responsibility for this harmful behavior. Subordinates view themselves as simply carrying out orders so they bear no responsibility for their actions. Authorities create mazy chains of authorization, sanction, detrimental conduct surreptitiously, keep themselves intentionally uninformed of their use, and devise insulating social arrangements that permit deniability of wrongdoing. Moreover, in the collective form, participation in wrongdoing is widely dispersed, which diminishes a new personal responsibility.

Do you think that knowing about moral disengagement makes a person more likely to take responsibility for their attitudes and behaviours?

When people know the methods of moral disengagement they see through them. This diminishes their effectiveness both personally and socially.

I would like to close this interview by thanking you for participating, and by looking to the future. If you were to give future Psychologists a piece of advice, what would it be?

Fight cynicism that efforts at change are futile. Build people’s sense of personal and collective efficacy to enable them to better their lives. Make it difficult for people to strip humanity from detrimental conduct. Promote moral engagement in social practices that foster inclusive, socially just, and humane societies.

Tea for Two

We lived our days out within the confines of a safe-haven of inspiration. Where the tea and coffee flowed endlessly, coating our bones and minds with tidbits of information we deemed important enough to share with the rest of the world. Day in, and day out, we would sit and soothe our souls with our words and the rich taste of perfectly ground Arabica beans.

It started out slowly. I watched him write effortlessly playing with words and form, spilling his thoughts onto the page in a calm, articulated manner. This was a vision of genius, and silently I challenged myself to push my boundaries, to test my abilities as a creative force.


Inside those walls is where I toyed with the idea of myself as a different kind of artist, with a different flare for creativity. Poetry was where I was most comfortable. It was where I flourished. I spent many a day writing poetry, listening to music, and people watching. The more I assayed my environment, the more I became interested in assessing human behaviour, emotion, motivation and the like. I slowly ventured into academic writing, and this academic and creative writing titillated me in more ways than poetry had done for quite some time.

I developed my craft with him by my side, encouraging me and ensuring the flow of Centro House never ended. I have traveled to many different cities, experienced the taste of different blends, enjoyed warm and comforting environments, and I have yet to find a place as inspiring and nurturing as here. The words flow from me like water in a river, soaking my page with the nectar of the deepest perimeters of my mind. Fresh air is breathed into my lungs here. I am reborn and renewed again and again ad infinitum with each sip, with each drop dangling in the back of my throat. It is a religious, metaphysical, fulfilling experience.

It seems unusual to speak of a coffee room with such pious acclaim. But here is where I found myself, here is where I came to be. The writer, the artist, the perfect communion of the two. And two there were: he and I. I’ll have coffee and he’ll have tea; and a little intellectualism for the both of us.

A Case study in sleep paralysis: Rosie

In our assessments of sleep paralysis we came to understand there is a link between sleep paralysis and certain disorders including anxiety, general stress and sleep apnea. The following is a brief diatribe wherein I suggest that there is a greater link between those with schizophrenia and schizophrenia like disorders, who have also been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and sleep paralysis. In particular, I will be providing a brief case study of one client and her apparent symptoms. It must be noted here before proceeding that the suggestions made in this paper are speculative in nature: I can not ascertain their validity or reliability without further assessment and deeper analysis. All qualifying personal information has been removed to uphold confidentiality.


Rosie is a geriatric African-Canadian living with an intellectual disability and she has been formally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bi-polar type, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (sleep apnea), and she exhibits obsessive compulsive like behaviours.

She exhibits typical symptoms for her diagnosis including delusional thought (including persecutory delusions), visual and auditory hallucinations, blunted affect, and alogia. She experiences intense mood swings which invariably affect her behaviour, and she has a general negative attitude. This is particularly exhibited in relation to herself, as well as in her relationships with others. She does not appear to put much faith in others’ reliability or loyalty. It is difficult for her to form and maintain relationships, and she is often closed off from others. In times of great stress she will express her anger and frustration with self harm, screams, shouts, expletives, and eventually aggression towards others. This sort of anxiety can be mediated successfully with anticipatory interventions, and due to her propensity towards anxious states it is best to avoid causing more anxiety or stress.

When Rosie is experiencing a hallucination she appears engrossed in the event as if she is watching a film. It is difficult to pull her from this engrossment and she pays little attention to voices and actions outside of the hallucination. She has demonstrated interaction with her hallucinations through her actions and her speech. At times it appears she is talking to herself, when it is more likely that she is actually communicating or interacting with her hallucination. She does not appear to be negatively affected by these hallucinations or delusions, during the day.

It appears that the ferocity and frequency of her hallucinations increase throughout the day, peaking particularly prior to sleep. I am not sure if this is due to added stress about completing nighttime routine, the thought of sleep, or anticipation of increased hallucinatory experiences.

Rosie uses a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine on a nightly basis. She averages 12 hours of sleep a night, but it appears this sleep is interrupted. This being due primarily to her sleep apnea and COPD. It is my estimation that her hallucinations worsen during sleep, and that this invariably contributes to her interrupted sleep. Not only does this contribute to disrupted sleep, it contributes to her heightened anxiety and stress related to sleep. This in turn increases the likelihood of more hallucinations. I am not sure if these hallucinations stem from her schizoaffective disorder, or if they more likely are linked to sleep paralysis. I can not confidently determine one way or the other.

In moments of sleep paralysis, the dreamer typically is witness to hallucinations, particularly insidious and persecutory hallucinations that cause great fear and stress. In these moments the dreamer tries to escape the situation. Due to the their vividness, these hallucinations appear real, instilling great fear in the one experiencing them.

As Rosie sleeps and dreams she shouts, uses expletives, and screams. Upon arriving to her room to offer assistance, she can be seen with her body twitching, convulsing and thrashing gently. It appears as if she is trying to wake herself up. These may be nightmares, but it is my estimation that she is in fact experiencing sleep paralysis related hallucinations.

I am led to believe this because of the sheer intensity of these hallucinations in comparison to those experienced throughout the day. They appear to be much more intensely felt, and she appears to be much more fearful of these. This indicates to me that they are outside of the realm of normalcy for her. Her attitude towards these hallucinations is that of concern and fear, and it appears as though she is trying to escape the situation both physically and mentally: evidenced by body thrashing and twitching upon regaining control of the body.

Further evidence points towards Rosie’s condition as being related to sleep paralysis. Hishikawa and Shimizu (1995) inform us that motor paralysis due to REM sleep can cause breathing difficulties, including what may appear like choking or suffocating. It may feel as if there is a weight or pressure on the chest, making it difficult to breathe deeply without feeling as if one is being suffocated. This is interesting to note because Rosie has been diagnosed with COPD. Could these feelings also be intensified through sleep paralysis? We know sleep apnea to be one disorder that contributes to the onset of sleep paralysis. While Rosie is diagnosed similarly, could this be contributing to her (as of yet undiagnosed) sleep paralysis? Simply put, her pre-existing breathing condition contributes to sleep paralysis, and her sleep paralysis contributes to her breathing condition, ad infinitum.

Although this information helps us in conceptualizing her sleep paralysis condition, what we are most interested in is the hallucinatory components of sleep paralysis, in particular Rosie’s nighttime hallucinations. I am unable to confirm sleep paralysis as a primary diagnosis for Rosie. Sleep paralysis at this point is mere speculation based on variance in hallucination profile from day to night, the intensity of the hallucination, and the apparent escape tactics used while experiencing these hallucinations. I do believe however, that due to the constant state of stress and anxiety Rosie is in daily, along with her diagnosis of COPD/sleep apnea, that it would be highly likely for her to experience sleep paralysis from time to time. Anywhere from 8% to 44% of people will experience sleep paralysis at one point in their lives, and according to psychologists at Penn State and Pennsylvania University, sleep paralysis occurs more frequently in students and psychiatric patients (Penn State News, 2011). Further, the sleep paralysis project reports that sleep paralysis more often occurs in African American individuals ( These statistics do not determine with any clarity that Rosie is in fact experiencing sleep paralysis, they merely contribute to my belief that she is.

In order to determine if Rosie is experiencing sleep paralysis we would need to study her case much further. We are still left with three unanswered questions. Does Schizophrenia contribute to sleep paralysis hallucinations (and what should we consider the primary diagnosis: sleep paralysis or schizophrenia?) Are hallucinations experienced by persons diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizophrenia like disorders more vivid, insidious or threatening in sleep paralysis? And does schizophrenia heighten one’s awareness of hallucinatory experiences, thus making it not only more likely for a person with schizophrenia to experience sleep paralysis, but for them to also be more aware of the accompanying hallucinations?

We are left wondering if the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder is correct, or if perhaps hallucinatory complications arise due to sleep paralysis. Constant stress and anxiety contribute to sleep paralysis, and sleep paralysis is accompanied by hallucinations. We must consider daytime hallucinations. These could be explained by hypnagogic sleep paralysis: sleep paralysis which occurs prior to sleep. It would make sense for Rosie to be in a constant state of exhaustion due to her disrupted sleep caused by COPD. This could be cause for a general lethargy, perpetuated of course by anxiety and stress. The cycle of over-tiredness due to the avoidance of sleep or experiencing disrupted sleep is continuous and unrelenting. This lays way for sleep paralysis and hallucinations, the fear of which contributes to the avoidance and disruption of sleep.

Due to our prior observation that daytime hallucinations appear different from nighttime hallucinations, it would not make sense for us to dismiss schizoaffective disorder as the primary diagnosis. Although I am sure upon further analysis we could make a compelling case for why daytime hallucinations occur, and are experienced differently from nighttime hallucinations, we will not expel resources to do so now.

Rosie is but one case of many, and I believe it is important to conduct further research into the relationship between schizophrenia and schizophrenia like disorders and sleep paralysis. I propose some of our questions would be answered, and upon uncovering these answers we would lay way for many many more questions.


Hishikawa, Y., & Shimizu, T. (1995). Physiology of REM sleep, cataplexy, and sleep paralysis. In S. Fahn, M. Hallett, H.O. Lüders, & C. D. Marsden (Eds.). Advances in neurology (Vol. 67, pp. 245-271). Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven.

Psychologists chase down sleep demons. (2011). Retrieved from:

Prevalence. (2017). Retrieved from:

Lucid Dreaming and Sleep Paralysis

I awoke motionless, my body pinned to the bed by some inexplicable force. All the muscles in my body felt taut and no amount of will-power could move my arms, legs, neck, not even my smallest finger. I experienced an intense fear and anxiety wash over my body as I tried to shake myself awake. The bed rocked in tandem with the shaking sensation I felt in my body; shaking as though it were convulsing. After what felt like days pass I was able to force my eyes open as my body continued to lay perfectly still in the bed. I stared into the darkness that worked tirelessly to engulf me, and right before my eyes stood a shadowed figure— menacing, looming, insidious. My chest tightened and fear continued to paralyze my body. Unable to move, unable to speak, I stared into the darkness wondering where this eldritch horror had come from. Within seconds it was gone, my muscles slackened and I was able to speak. Unable to return to sleep I lay staring at the ceiling questioning the events that transpired.

I recognize how close within the realm of possibility it was that I was experiencing a hallucination. I am otherwise asymptomatic and have never been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoia, or as experiencing delusional thinking or hallucinations. The question then remains, what did I experience? Is it at all possible that lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis are closely related phenomena? Can we suggest that, in a way, my dream image projected itself into waking life as I struggled to release myself from the grips of sleep paralysis? Was it a sort of residue from my sleeping state presented in my waking state. This also begs the question of what state of consciousness we are experiencing while we dream lucidly, and how different it is from our conscious state in comparison to non-lucid dreaming. Are we still experiencing yet another state of consciousness while waking from sleep paralysis, or is this merely another corner of our vast conscious experience​?

This is not the first time this sort of lucid projection has happened to me, and I have heard similar reports from others. Jorge Conesa (2002) helps illustrate what exactly could be occurring. He determines that dreamers become aware of their paralyzed state during the sleep paralysis episode, as they become aware of their inability to move. Typically, dreamers try to rouse themselves from the state. He reports having an out-of-the-body-experience (OBE) in 1969 in conjunction with his sleep paralysis episode (Conesa, 2002). This out of body experience, although not entirely the same, seems rather similar to what I have experienced in the past while in a state of sleep paralysis. Being consciously aware of both my paralysis and my lucidity while in this state is increasingly unnerving, and regardless of whether there is a non-paranormal, but rather a realistic and plausible response to my question of how the images in my mind projected into the real world, I am still led to believe that there is a correlation between sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming that creates a bridge of some sort to allow for these projections (hallucinations). This bridge allows for dream content to project in reality. Again, this is a sort of dream residue left from the lucid dream. It is as if the body is roused from the sleeping state too quickly and the dream is still occurring, so these hallucinations occur, creating some level of anxiety and fear in its sleeper. As I force my eyes open I remain mentally aware of the dream content, and rather quickly become alerted to the dream content’s projections in the real world. In the sleepy state however, I find it difficult to make this distinction: that the images I see are dream residue, or mere hallucinations. The fear I experience while in these states is seemingly insurmountable.

It may help before we proceed in these discussions to define lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis, so as to provide our readers with some basis of understanding. Simply put, a lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. The dreamer may be able to exert some level of control over the dream and it’s direction (Kahan, 1994). Sleep paralysis occurs when the body becomes paralyzed and the dreamer is unable to move, speak or react to the world around them. There are two general forms of sleep paralysis: one which occurs prior to falling asleep, referred to as hypnagogic, or predormital sleep paralysis and the second which occurs upon waking, where the person becomes aware prior to the cessation of the REM period. This state is referred to as hypnopomic or postdormital sleep paralysis (WebMD). Interestingly, sleep paralysis has been linked to such disorders as anxiety, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, generalized stress, and migraines (Ohayon, M.; Zulley, J.; Guilleminault, C.; Smirne, S, 1999; Terrillon, J.; Marques-Bonham, S., 2001). In their researches, Jalal, Romanelli and Hinton found that typically, hallucinations accompany sleep paralysis, due to the heightened awareness of the dreamer (Jalal, Baland; Romanelli, Andrea; Hinton, Devon E., 2015), and this seemingly answers our question of what was occurring: I was experiencing hallucinations.

HIshikawa (1979) and Hufford (1982) expand upon hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences (HHE’s) as including auditory and visual hallucinations, feelings of pressure on the chest, suffocating, choking, floating and out of body experiences (as cited by Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark, 1999). These experiences when accompanying sleep paralysis appear more vivid, elaborate and multimodal, therefore making them more terrifying (Hufford, 1982; Takeuchi, Miyasita, Inugami, Sasaki and Fukuda, 1994; as cited by Cheyne, Rueffer and Newby-Clark, 1999). It has been suggested that a hyper-vigilant state is created upon awakening in a sleep paralysis state, due primarily to the need for survival (Cheyne, J., 2003), and it has been hypothesized that the amygdala is heavily involved in this threat-activation system, which could help explain the hallucinatory components dreamers experience while in their paralyzed stat (Sharpless, B., McCarthy, K., Chambless, D., Milrod, B., Khalsa, S., & Barber, J., 2010).

Paralysis during sleep is not abnormal, we are paralyzed every night in REM sleep. Muscle atonia occurs during REM sleep so that we do not act out our dreams (Carskadon, M. A., & Dement, W. C., 1994). When we wake from REM sleep our bodies should respond accordingly, and our mobility should return. When we experience sleep paralysis our mind becomes aware of our paralyzed state and we continue to experience paralysis, even after REM sleep has stopped. This is where we begin to experience paranormal and otherwise inexplicable phenomenon (witness to otherworldly hallucinations including evil spirits and demons). Terrifying as it is, these visions are harmless and all we are able to do is wait patiently for the episode to end. It may be possible to bring the episode to a swift end by practising and honing methods used to wake the body and mind simultaneously out of this state. It is my firm belief that there is more to sleep paralysis than merely “stress” or “anxiety” and that the hallucinations we witness are much more personalized and tailored to our personal psyche. Understanding any underlying causes may contribute to avoiding or treating sleep paralysis and the accompanying HHE’s. With anything, treating the cause not the symptom will prove much more beneficial than focusing solely on symptom control.

I am still not satisfied with our current understanding of sleep paralysis and HHE’s. There must be some alternate explanation, there must be some personalization of HHE’s. Is it realistic to assume that a window is opened between the dream world and the waking world to allow for the exchange of mental content while experiencing sleep paralysis, or is it much more likely that these hallucinations stem from an evolutionary necessity to keep ourselves safe? They evoke fear and anxiety in us, and stimulate our fight or flight response. According to Cheyne (2003), our threat vigilance system encourages us to interpret ambiguous stimuli as dangerous or evil, in order to guard against potentially threatening objects, thus increasing the likelihood of our survival. Are the ambiguous stimuli only ambiguous because our subconscious mind continues to protect us against much more insidious forms of the stimuli. Upon further analysis of the stimuli, will we find that they actually expose us to deeper and darker parts of our psyche? Is our fear a valid response because we fear the reality of ourselves and the repressed aspects of our minds? This too can be qualified from an evolutionary standpoint: the reason our superego structure protects us from the deep recessed of our subconscious is because the personal and cultural memories, histories and experiences are far too intense, questionable, or gruesome for our conscious psyche to handle. This is why even when we dream and these thoughts and memories rush to the forefront of our minds, they continue to be masked through manifest content. We have heard this many times before in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1900): this is not new information. However, it would make sense for our hallucinations to be related to the manifest content in our dreams, and perhaps in our sleep paralysis state our superego is weakened even more and the manifest content evolves into the latent content it so tirelessly tries to mask. Thus our hallucinations more closely resemble the latent content, invoking fear and anxiety in us. We try to escape this wicked reality, and continue to repress even these hallucinations. We fear the answers our mind protects us from, so we fail to ask the questions. 

Although I believe that what we experience can much more readily be explained through personal analysis the question still remains: are incubi, succubi and evil spirits real? They fall more within the realm of paranormal and since this is not only not my area of expertise, I do not have a vested interest in these phenomenon, therefore I can’t justify concocting some mediocre response to this question. I can say, however, that the experience of having encountered one such spirit is of no less value, regardless of how real it is. These experiences do not need to be defined as real in order for us to experience the fear and anxiety they so amply provide us with. Perhaps, in addiction to this, they offer us insight into our psyche and our current mental state. I still believe that the hallucinations we witness while in these states are not unrelated to our previous dreaming state: rather, they are exact or manipulated versions of our dream images. It is possibly the most real way to experience a dream, the absolute most lucid form of dreaming. It is important too, just as with any interpretative practice, to focus on the emotions elicited while in such a state as sleep paralysis. Our initial conception of the hallucination may help us understand previous thoughts or feelings we had prior to sleep paralysis. I have read that it is well within normalcy to have a fear response to these phenomenon, and as was mentioned earlier this may be due to our need for survival (fear is what keeps us safe from harm). However, should we analyze the exact image we experienced in our sleep paralysis state, the emotional response we had to it, and any REM related dreams we had prior to the onset of awareness. With this, we may be able to determine if these are interrelated and how. If we can determine any extraneous stimuli that influence sleep paralysis we may be able to control for it, at least to some degree. These would need to occur on a person by person basis. There are a multitude of ways in which sleep paralysis can be influenced; stress, anxiety, over-tiredness, sleep apnea and so forth. I am unable to use my past experience as an example because the fear I experienced continued to paralyze me well after my muscles slackened from the sleep paralysis. To this end, I was unable to determine with any confidence the exact profile of my hallucination, and my mind was wiped clean of any dreams I had throughout the night. Unfortunately because of this I am currently unable to begin building a case around my sleep paralysis patterns and the kinds of hallucinations I witness while in these states. I can say that I have experienced sleep paralysis all of three times before this most recent experience, and that typically it occurs while my stress is unbridled. I can make no further comments without it being mere speculation. Should this occur again, perhaps my fear will subside long enough so that I can start building a case for these personal experiences.



Carskadon, M. A., & Dement, W. C. (1994). Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In M. H. Kryger, T. Roth, & W. C. Dement (Eds.), Principles of and practice of sleep medicine. (2nd ed., pp. 3-13). Philadelphia: Saunders.

Cheyne, J. (2003). “Sleep Paralysis and the Structure of Waking-Nightmare Hallucinations”. Dreaming. 13 (3): 163–179.

Jalal, Baland; Romanelli, Andrea; Hinton, Devon E. (2015-12-01). “Cultural Explanations of Sleep Paralysis in Italy: The Pandafeche Attack and Associated Supernatural Beliefs”. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. 39 (4): 651–664.

Kahan T.; LaBerge S. (1994). “Lucid dreaming as metacognition: Implications for cognitive science”. Consciousness and Cognition. 3: 246–264.

Ohayon, M.; Zulley, J.; Guilleminault, C.; Smirne, S. (1999). “Prevalence and pathologic associations of sleep paralysis in the general population”. Neurology. 52 (6): 1194–2000.

Sharpless, B.; McCarthy, K.; Chambless, D.; Milrod, B.; Khalsa, S.; Barber, J. (2010). “Isolated sleep paralysis and fearful isolated sleep paralysis in outpatients with panic attacks”. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 66 (12): 1292–1306.

Sleep paralysis. (n.d).

Terrillon, J.; Marques-Bonham, S. (2001). “Does Recurrent Isolated Sleep Paralysis Involve More Than Cognitive Neurosciences?”. Journal of Scientific Exploration. 15: 97–123.


Jung identifies the persona as a mask we all wear, a mask that acts to conceal the true nature of our selves, and to provide a positive social image. In order to know a person all masks must be dropped, and all layers need to be pulled back. Only then, layer by layer, do we come to know the other. This too is true of how we come to know our selves.