Writing hiatus

img_6476Sadly, as I am sure many of you have noticed,  I have not been writing. Not only have I not been writing, I have not been publishing. For the past few months I have been focusing my energies mostly on work, relationships and preparing to move.

I will be returning to Ottawa at the end of this month, and will hopefully find myself with more time and motivation.

Writing is not something I ever expected myself to be so passionate about, and I have had the opportunity to test my own limits and intellect since the genesis of my writing career. This also means I am not particularly familiar with “writer’s block.” True, I have dabbled in writing before, but never to such a passionate and energetic degree as once I began writing about Psychology/Philosophy.

I’ve found you can’t rush writing, and you can’t force inspiration or motivation. If I am unable to produce anything of worth there’s no sense in producing anything at all.

I apologize for this long, drawn out dry spell, and will leave you with a haiku that exemplifies how I have been feeling as of late:

The purple hue of

the wisteria sings to

me as I fall to sleep…




Creating Art: A four-week long self-study

Art is an important way to express oneself and plays a role in releasing our emotions. I spent four weeks conducting a self-study where I used art as a means of self-expression. There are three steps to this process all of which were documented weekly (each time I expressed myself artistically, the quantity of which varied from week to week. For brevity’s sake, only one instance from each week has been documented and analyzed here).

The steps are as follows:

1.) Assess and record my emotional state

2.) Paint/draw

3.) Assess and record my emotional state (post-expression).

Each of these steps was followed for each artistic experience. One final step is needed to complete this self-study and that is an analysis of each individual painting, each painting experience, and the relationship between the two; each painting chosen from the four weeks will be analyzed here.

The aim of this study is to assess the validity of art as catharsis and to understand aspects of myself that would otherwise go unnoticed.

To assess my emotional state I used the PANAS-X  (Watson,D., & Clark, L, A., 1994)[1] a psychometric tool used to measure positive and negative affect states, as well as four basic negative emotions, three basic positive emotions, and four more complex affective states. Each score has been assessed and those that are of importance for each week will be displayed (pre and post-expression) alongside an analysis of the individual piece.

The PANAS-X uses a nominal 1-5 scale to rate emotions and affect, 1 for very slightly or not at all to 5 for extremely.

Week 1: “Fragmented”


Fragmented, self-portrait

In the week leading up to this painting I was feeling sad, lonely, and blaming myself for my feelings of despondency/loneliness. I set the environment by listening to music that reminded me of home –this generated strong feelings of sadness. I did not plan what I was going to paint; I let my creativity flow naturally influenced by my mood and the music.

“Fragmented” is a self-portrait representing how I viewed myself. I am faceless because I no longer knew who I was and I was unable to identify qualifying features of myself (how do I identify myself in relation to a city and culture I have never experienced before, and do not feel at home in). Further I have no eyes because I Was unable to determine what my future looked like, or where I was headed in this city – I am essentially blind, emotionally and mentally. I felt disconnected from myself, and a big part of that feeling stems from the relationships and connections I left behind.

The image is simple yet bold, clearly expressing my inability to identify with the city I am in, or the people in that city. Sandra Turner outlines this feeling in “Encountering what is possible – the impact of role development in facing existential crisis”: “When anything fundamentally threatens our way of being in life, the manner in which we each know ourselves, this becomes an existential threat. This threat potentially brings a loss of a way of life often coupled with a loss of the community to which we have made a commitment. We can no longer act as we normally would and this brings a loss of confidence […]” (Turner, 2002). Although Turner is referring to psychodrama and roles within psychodrama, this sentiment can be applied to my situation.

The act of creation for this piece generated a wealth of emotions – I began crying throughout the process, and found myself still crying post-painting. Staring back at the image of a faceless self I realized how fragmented I truly felt.

After creating this piece I did experience a significant emotional breakthrough, which made it easier to talk about my feelings with my significant other. I was able to understand where I was emotionally and why I was feeling this way. This helped me assess my current life situation and discuss changes I could make in my life to make my transition easier. It opened the pathway of communication about our hometown and it was comforting to know that I was not the only one experiencing these emotions. I had let my emotions completely take over my life, and being able to express how I was feeling allowed me to clear my head, see the bigger picture, and make necessary changes. Not only did the process act as a cathartic experience for me it facilitated continued emotional outlets – by communicating with friends, family and my significant other – I was able to deal more effectively with my emotions, and be more readily able to identify what I was feeling in the moment.

As we can see from the graph below a significant number of negative affects and emotions represented on the PANAS-X were typically experienced at a 1, 2 or 3, more often than at a higher rate. However, those affects that were most strongly felt were more interrelated than others recorded. An overwhelming amount of emotions were centered on dissatisfaction, anger, or blame towards the self, which influenced other significant emotions such as feelings of sadness, loneliness and being downhearted.

It would only make sense that during a time where I was concerned with feeling disconnected and estranged from my self, my friends, and my hometown, I would be experiencing feelings of sadness, dissatisfaction and loneliness more so than I would be experiencing feelings of fear, hostility and guilt. As we can see I did experience these feelings, just to a much lesser extent than the other more salient emotions outlined.


In comparison to the positive affect scale, I was feeling significantly more negative emotions. If we look at the graph below demonstrating the positive affect, we can see that for the most part my rates were ranging between 1-2, meaning there was no significant differentiation between positive affect states, but there was a significant difference between my negative and positive affect states. The negative emotions I had been feeling did have an effect on my positive emotions influencing the likelihood that I would experience them. For instance, confident, enthusiastic, and happy were all rated at a 1, which is uncharacteristic of my average affect. This indicates that my negative affect significantly influenced not only how I experienced negative emotions, but also how I experienced positive emotions. Since the strength of my negative affect was so strong this actually influenced the likelihood that I would experience positive emotions.


An important part of this experiment was measuring my affect pre and post expression and comparing the scores. Taking a look at my scores post expression I still ranked experiencing negative emotions and affect more so than positive ones, but to a slightly lower degree. Further, my positive affect increased by 1 point on affects and emotions that had been rated higher in the pre-expression assessment. However, my affect did not change for those scores that were rated lower, possibly because my negative affect was still felt relatively strongly, and possibly because feelings of joyfulness, and cheerfulness were not strongly felt prior to painting. This suggests that the artistic experience did help me emotionally, but it is hard to determine whether it was catharsis or my feelings towards the resulted image that influenced this change in affect.


These changes suggests that artistic expression does impact affect – it helped me express what I was feeling in a concrete, physical way, which helped facilitate conversation about my feelings.

The change in my negative affect can be explained by my newfound understanding of my emotional and mental state – upon completion of the piece I was able to see the whole picture. After completing the image the reason my negative mood states decreased, in particular feelings of loneliness and downheartedness, is because I was able to put into words how I was feeling and I was able to share these feelings with a confidant. As mentioned before, the painting represents a physical manifestation of my emotions in regards to my self, my relationships and my hometown. As we can see in the graph below, similar to the positive affect scale, not all affects were affected or altered.


It is of particular interest to note the changes in my feelings of anger, sadness and loneliness – because they all interact with and affect each other. Since the painting experience acted partially as catharsis I was able to express some of these feelings of loneliness and sadness in my image. Once these feelings were expressed I was able to understand them better and the source of these feelings. This of course made it easier to communicate my feelings, which further acted as catharsis.

Limitations to this process include that I cannot determine whether my emotional expression was better facilitated through the music, or if my resulting emotional state was due to painting, listening to music, or a combination of both. Regardless, this process made me introspect a great deal, focusing mainly on my negative emotional state in the previous weeks leading up to the experiment. My emotional state was significantly more potent directly prior to the expression (within 2 hours), but averaged the week prior.

 Week 2:”Floating”



The process for this particular piece was in contrast to “fragmented” – I did not need music to motivate my emotions or memories, in fact, the expression was very much a result of my environment and current life events. By environment I am referring specifically to my apartment and the influence the rooms and noises outdoors had on my emotional state. The time of day, the activities I was doing at the time (drinking coffee, writing), and the sound of the street mixed with the birds reminded me of home. This made me feel very much at ease, relaxed, and tranquil, and played a significant role in my overall affect. Of course, because I was thinking of home and feeling more connected to my home I undoubtedly experienced negative emotions as well as positive ones – the difference is that the negative emotions were felt less strongly than the positive emotions. For instance, while painting I was focused more on my positive feelings: feeling proud, happy, inspired and so on, than I was on my negative emotions.

As we can see in the graph below the negative affect scale averaged a score of 1, whereas the positive affect scale averaged a 3, which translates to “moderately felt” on the PANAS-X affect scale. It is interesting to note that even though I felt positive emotions and averaged a much higher positive affect than negative, I still felt negative emotions, and these surely impacted the expression of my positive affects.

If I were to have not felt negative emotions to the minor degree that I did (for instance, while I was rating my inspiration, pride and happiness around a 3 or 4, I was simultaneously rating my feelings of loneliness and downheartedness as a 2), my positive affect would not have been affected so greatly. That is, had I rated my loneliness and downheartedness at a 1, my feelings of inspiration, happiness and so forth perhaps would have been rated between a 4-5, making my positive affect much stronger than my negative affect.



What we should also consider is how my general positive affect further influenced other aspects of my emotionality. For instance, my ratings on the self-assurance dimension were quite strong as well in comparison to the week prior, where my scores of confidence, pride and strength were around a 1. The average score for the self-assurance dimension was 2.83 (rounded up to a 3), indicating that my positive affect had a significant influence on other dimensions of positive emotions, particularly aspects of self-assurance (my feelings of inspiration and happiness influenced my feelings of confidence and strength of ability).


When we look at the image “floating” itself, we can see each of these positive emotions reflected. The reason this image was so easy for me to paint was because I was feeling very expressive physically, and so it was easy for me to direct that passion and energy into creating this piece. The image displays myself floating with balloons – showing a lack of gravity.

This demonstrates how I did not feel held back by anything at the time – particularly my emotions. This image represents a sense of free-floating lack of attachment – to my surroundings and to any given situation. I felt so strongly connected with my home that I was spiritually, or emotionally transported to a time and a physiological as well as psychological state reminiscent of those experienced on a similarly positive day in Ottawa. These feelings of floating were also influenced by the fact that I had received positive news, which essentially made me feel “on top of the world”, which is reflected in the image.

After the painting was complete I completed the post PANAS-X and found that the majority of my ratings did not change much from the pre PANAS-X. This can be explained by the fact that I was not experiencing negative emotions or mood states that needed to be altered or shared. Typically, when we experience negative emotions we want to return to baseline – which are neutral or positive mood states. When we experience positive mood states however, we have already achieved what we are aiming for. It makes sense then that my affect did not change much after completing the image.

The only difference between scores was found in the negative affect but was only reflected in the ratings of upset, downhearted and sad – which only changed by 1 point. The reason for these changes can be explained through reflection upon the piece. Although I was still generally in a positive mood state and experiencing feelings of pride and confidence, I was still feeling disconnected from my home and a lack of connection to my current environment. Therefore, upon reflection, I was able to ruminate more on my feelings of sadness and downheartedness in regards to missing my hometown which, generated these feelings even more.

Week 3: “Caught Between Two Worlds”


Caught between two worlds

The process for this image was similar to that of floating in that it was very much a product of my emotions motivated by my current emotional state. What I had discovered at this point in my experiment is that the majority of my emotions have been centered on and influenced by my feelings towards my hometown and my strong desire to return home. I have discovered a lack of rootedness, which as Fromm declares, is one of our eight fundamental human needs (Fromm, 1941).

The image presents myself caught between Ottawa on the right, and Halifax on the left. It evokes a strangely calm and serene acceptance, an acceptance that no matter whether I remain in Halifax or return home, I will invariably be caught between both worlds. Should I return home, I would be more content because my roots will surround me, I will be comfortable, and fall back into my regularly occurring routines. However, should I return home, I will also be left with ruminating feelings of loneliness and sadness because the majority of my family will be in Halifax while I am in Ottawa –defeating the purpose of returning home. Should I remain in Halifax I will maintain the feelings of emotional stagnation but remain close with my family – which is incredibly important. My unresolved feelings towards Ottawa will keep me from growing roots in this new city.

Ottawa is painted in much more lively colours than Halifax is – the reason for this being I am much more attached to and drawn to Ottawa than I am to Halifax. The majority of my experience while in Halifax has been very emotional, leaving me feeling sad, lonely and detached much of the time. I am also quite fearful of water and being on boats, which plays into this image. I feel much more grounded in Ottawa hence the choice of parliament to represent Ottawa, whereas I feel very scared, and unsure of my surroundings while in Halifax, hence the use of water as the defining image.

All of the colours in this image work together to demonstrate my current emotional state. Although the colours draw a clear line between right and left dichotomies, and which emotion is felt for which city they are still relatively muted expressions of my feelings. This demonstrates the calmness of my sadness, loneliness and yearning. At this point in time I had been experiencing these and similar emotions and had quite some time to ruminate on them. In fact, the emotions that I had been feeling up to this point in time had essentially petered out. I am still feeling the same emotions just at slightly less intense levels. For instance, the emotions related to Ottawa and yearning to return home is still felt, and the majority of the emotions that I rate more strongly have been expressed each week. If we take a look at the graphs below we can see that I have experienced a mixture between negative and positive affect with a tendency more towards sadness than anything else.

I believe at this point my feelings of positive affect have strengthened, possibly because I have come to terms with my negative feelings. My negative and positive affects will undoubtedly continue to influence each other, but my feelings have calmed to a certain degree.


As I mentioned the majority of my high ratings were found on the sadness emotion scale, similar to past weeks. Although I was still experiencing feelings of sadness and loneliness I was simultaneously rating my positive affects at more median rates, while my sadness emotions were rated at more median rates as well.


This is the most interesting week so far in regards to my affect. I experienced relatively muted and mixed emotions. I experienced sadness while simultaneously feeling inspired or interested. Which leads me to believe that my emotions do generate creativity, and that by directing them into a productive outlet this facilitates further understanding of said emotions and affect states.

This piece facilitated communication between my partner and myself and I felt even more secure upon completing this image. The security I felt was linked to my desire to return home and the final decision I had made. I have come to realize that environment influences my contentedness, and that I should not be living to fulfill other peoples dreams or wishes.

What I learned throughout this experiment is that my feelings are stemming mainly from one source and are generated through thoughts attached to this source, environments that remind me of my friends, memories attached to Ottawa, and my past experiences. I discovered that I am much more rooted to Ottawa than I had previously thought.

My post expression scores on both negative and positive affect scales did not change significantly enough to graph the results and present them here. I believe that this lack of change is due to the fact that my affect was already so muted; expression in this case did not alter my emotional state much.


Week 4:“My Creative Mind”


My Creative Mind

In the final week of my self-analysis I found that my emotional state from the previous weeks had muted significantly. In the first week of the experiment I was feeling very lonely and downhearted, in fact, I was taking these feelings out on myself and I was blaming myself for feeling such a way. I had led myself to believe that I was feeling negatively towards myself because of internal aspects instead of external aspects.

In this week the majority of my art works were expressive of my own creativity, and very much an appreciation for the evolution of my artwork. Based on the form and colour, you can see a direct change in emotionality. This image in particular is expressive of my creativity and I employed a limited number of colours. The colours that I did use were expressive of calm, contentedness and serenity. The colours elicit a feeling of general calm that has come over me throughout the four weeks. This calm is in direct relation to the resolution of my feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness felt in the first two weeks.

My brain is painted in similar colours as the surrounding image, representing a calm felt at the cerebral level— these feelings of calm emanate throughout my environment but are also felt within myself.

As we can see below my negative and positive affect scales are similar to the preceding week. I was still feeling sadness, downheartedness and loneliness but these were muted in nature. I believe that these feelings were more muted in comparison to previous weeks because I had an opportunity to deal with the underlying issues.


As we can see my general negative affect was rated quite low with the majority of scores being rated as a 1, and the remaining scores being a 2. When these scores are compared to my positive affect we can see that I was experiencing positive affect more so than negative affect and at greater intensities. Each of the positive affects were closely related to each other – that is, my feelings of inspiration were correlated with my feelings of determination, enthusiasm and strength. These scores had changed from the first two weeks because I dealt with my negative affect throughout the subsequent weeks.


For this week I felt it was important to show both my sadness emotion scale scores and my serenity emotion scale scores. My sadness emotions were rated lower than the previous weeks, but I was still experiencing feelings of downheartedness and feeling blue, which I believe is due mainly to my missing my friends and hometown.


In comparison my serenity emotion scale indicates that although I was still experiencing underlying sadness emotions, my serenity emotions were quite high. My feeling of relaxed in particular is important to note. I believe that this emotion was rated so high because although I was still dealing with negative emotions I have come to terms with why I was feeling these emotions, and I developed a plan to alleviate these feelings.

At the beginning of this experiment I was overwhelmed with my emotions and had a difficult time verbalizing the issues I was facing. Now, at the outset of this experiment I have a better understanding of my emotions and their source. This helped alleviate some stress and anxiety.

With the increase in my general positive affect and the decrease in my general negative affect I have been able to mediate my emotions, and have become much more content. Of course, just as the positive affect scale, the emotions rated on the serenity emotion scale are very much interrelated, which could explain why my scores did not differ much. Since my feelings of relaxation were so high so too were my feelings of being at ease and calm. Again, these feelings and the positive affects are interrelated, which could explain why the scores on both scales were rather similar.


The post expression scores did not differ significantly enough to display here. Although I was feeling lower levels of downheartedness and upset, these changes were not even significant enough to indicate nominally (the changes would have been between .25-.5, and the PANAS-X uses a 1-5 nominal scale). Therefore, although there was a slight difference between scores they were not significant enough to mention.


There is a positive relationship between my use of art as a form of expression and my affect states. Over the four weeks I came to understand my emotional state on a deeper level, and came to understand the root of the majority of my emotions/affects. In assessing my affect state both before and after artistic expression I was able to assess the potential immediate impact the expression had on my mood state. I found that for the most part my mood state did not improve significantly directly after the artistic process, rather that the act of artistic expression acted more as a facilitator for further communication and analysis. Post expression was more oriented towards analyzing the underlying emotion states and how to deal effectively with them.

This four week process was interesting for me to notice the changes in my affect and emotion states, particularly because I found myself dealing primarily with one main issue that had been effecting my mood state for quite some time. I was able to focus on this issue and explore different ways to deal with it, which led to improvements in my overall emotionality.

As an additional effect, I found that painting actually became a source of improved mood and I began seeking it out and looking forward to the opportunity to paint throughout the day. Therefore, there were three main effects: improved mood, catharsis and communication, all of which were interrelated.


This is a self-study and therefore lacks external validity. Further, there may be confounding variables (the use of music), which may interfere with our assessment of the usefulness of artistic expression in facilitating catharsis and dealing with emotions. As a final note, this study was based entirely on introspection, which is not easily tested and not entirely reliable.



Fromm, E. (1941). Escape from Freedom. New York, NY: Farrar & Rinehart.

Turner, S. (2002). Encountering what is possible –The Impact of Role Development in Facing Existential Crisis. ANZPA journal, vol. 11, 31-37.

Watson, D., & Clark, L, A., (1994). The PANAS-X: Manual for the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. Retrieved from http://ir.uiowa.edu/psychology_pubs/11/

[1] Permissions to use the PANAS-X were granted me by David Watson. The PANAS-X is copyright David Watson and Lee Anna Clark (1994) at the University of Iowa.

The Power of Listening

The reason therapy works for so many is because therapists are trained to listen to their clients, and this active listening lets the client feel that they are important and what they have to say is important. When someone accesses therapy it is typically because they have something they need to communicate and have no one in their lives that will listen. This may present itself in different ways; either they have no one who is available to listen, or they feel threatened in some way by the people in their lives – perhaps what they have to say could be misconstrued as damaging to their character, or may be generally embarrassing – but they still need and are seeking help. They are seeking someone to offer an active ear and a non-judgmental, empathetic approach to their situation.

I do not believe that active listening and empathy are limited to therapeutic settings. Typically when laymen think of therapy they imagine a client lying on a couch pouring out their feelings across from a clinician expressing “how does that make you feel?” This is not how all therapy unfolds, and a lot of therapy does not have to be as structured. However, because of this conceptualization of therapy, it is believed that if there is no couch or no closed room, therapy cannot happen. This is not necessarily the case.

I have met with a number of persons who have needed counsel outside of typically identified therapeutic settings, and the same components were present – empathy, non-judgmental attitude and active listening[1]. Empathy and active listening are two very closely related actions which can be combined in order to create empathetic listening, which Burley-Allen characterizes as resisting distractions, noting and acknowledging the speaker’s verbal and non-verbal communication, and being empathetic towards the speaker’s thoughts and feelings (Burley-Allen, 1995).

image-17Interpersonal connectivity : sharing thoughts, feelings and emotions

Stewart and Logan (2002) identified three competencies in developing empathetic listening, which include focusing, encouraging and reflection. All three competencies work together to encourage the speaker to communicate their feelings, issues and desires. It also allows the speaker to feel more at ease while discussing their thoughts. Ender and Newton (2000) demonstrate the importance of paraphrasing the thought and feeling of what the speaker has said in a non-evaluative way, while still interpreting their understanding accurately. This is important because we do not wish to make the speaker feel uncomfortable, or uneasy. We want the speaker to feel able to express him or herself free of judgment, so we must take care to withhold judgment from both thoughts and feelings. This is directly linked to empathetic understanding, which as we know, is the understanding of the clients’ views and experiences from their frame of reference (Ender and Newton, 2000). Cuny, Wilde and Stevens (2012) point out that through empathetic listening and understanding we can help the client/speaker develop personal understanding. Empathetic listening can be used to promote communication, develop cognition and enhance self-concept. Empathetic listening and understanding also promotes a specific attitude which translates to the client as them having worth, and something to offer, which helps develop self-confidence (Cuny, Wilde, & Stevens, 2012).

Stanley Jackson states that “the psychological healer, in particular, is one who listens in order to learn and to understand; and, from the fruits of this listening, he or she develops the basis for reassuring, advising, consoling, comforting, interpreting, explaining or otherwise intervening” (Jackson, 1999). This demonstrates the importance of listening for the counselor, outside of building trust and offering a cathartic experience for the client. Of course, listening is important in assisting the client through catharsis, building trust between client and counselor, and aiding in self-development, esteem and efficacy; but it is also important in understanding the client and situation better. We are unable to help a client without first knowing, and understanding, what it is they need help with. It is true, that listening in and of itself is powerful in facilitating healing for the client; but we must be able to provide further assistance after the fact, through proper application of interventions or therapies.

The most relevant person to mention while discussing the power of listening is of course, Carl Rogers, who championed empathic listening in his client-centered therapy. Rogers identifies the value of empathy in a multitude of ways. First he states that empathy indicates to the recipient that someone cares for, accepts and values who he is as a person (Rogers, 1975). He states that empathy “dissolves alienation.” That is, it breaks down barriers between person and therapist (Rogers, 1975). The analysand in question is requiring attention and care, possibly for issues that may arouse judgment or isolation. Through our use of empathy we no longer see alienation as an option, and we allow the clients to fully express themselves, to fully experience the all too needed catharsis. This of course, leads to better therapeutic results.

There cannot be active listening without empathic understanding; the two go hand in hand, and work in conjunction with each other. By understanding a person more fully through our listening, we pave the way for the client to understand himself in a full or complete way without inhibitions (Rogers, 1975). Rogers indicates that by our full understanding of the client we offer them a way to understand their self, which facilitates congruence (Rogers, 1975).

Rogers and Farson (1987) show that people who are listened to in such an active and sensitive way learn to apply such methods to themselves, and listen with more care and are able to vocalize more precisely how they are feeling and what they are thinking. They identify that there are two essential components to what a speaker is saying; there is the content of the message, and the feeling or attitude, which underlies the content. Both are equally important and must be attended to in order to understand the complete picture, (Rogers, C., & Farson, R., 1987). There are a few ways that we as listeners may attend to these underlying messages: firstly, we must consider the emotions, and respond to the feelings conveyed by the speaker. By our responding to the feelings we acknowledge the speakers emotional state, and offer a space where they may feel safe and able to express themselves. Secondly, we must note all cues; facial expression, verbal cues such as inflection, speech style, and body language. All of these things may work together to let us know more of what the speaker is trying to convey. For instance, a client may wish to express they are feeling hurt, but may fear reprisal and so they may try to mask these feelings. It is our job as listeners to study their body language, facial expressions and tone, all of which may help indicate the underlying emotion the client may be shying away from expressing. In this way, we may respond not only to the content, but also to the underlying emotion, which truly shows the client that we are listening and that we care.

Active listening is an important component of any therapeutic scenario, and can be employed in every interaction with another person. It demonstrates respect, builds trust, and facilitates a relationship between speaker and listener. It tells the speaker that they are valued, and it encourages them to value themselves.

Many consider listening as a passive component in therapy, when in fact it is the most significant component in any therapeutic scenario without which we would not have an understanding of the other person. Listening is a powerful tool, and truly listening leads us to develop healthier, stronger relationships with our clients, and leads our clients to better understand themselves and relationship dynamics. Listening is an all too important tool that we can apply to every scenario, and offer our clients when we find ourselves with nothing but our attentive ears to give.


[1] Therapy cannot occur without a licensed practitioner, just the same as art therapy cannot occur without a licensed art therapist. However, we can employ therapeutic methods while counselling our clients in atypical settings (within their homes, at school, on the street).



Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The forgotten skill: A self-teaching guide (2nd ed.) New York, NU: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Cuny, K, M., Wilde, S, M., & Stevens, A, V. (2012). Using Empathetic Listening to Build Relationships at the Center. In. Yook, E, L. & Atkins-Sayre, W. (Eds.), Communication Centers and Oral Communication Programs in Higher Education. UK: Lexington Books.

Ender, S, C., & Newton, F, B. (2000). Students Helping Students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Jackons, S, W. (1999). Care of the Psyche: A history of Psychological Healing, New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

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

Rogers, C., & Farson, R. (1987). Active Listening. From Communicating in Business Today R.G. Newman, M.A. Danzinger, M. Cohen (eds) D.C. Heath & Company.

Stewart, J., & Logan, C. (2002) Empathetic and dialogic listening. In J. S. Stewart (Ed.), Bridges, not walls: A book about Interpersonal communication. (8th ed., pp. 208-229) Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.


How We See Art Helps Explain Our Psyche

In our assessment of art as a creative, emotional and psychic expression, we can understand its nature to be based almost entirely on the innermost workings of our personal psyche. Art, just as dreams, can be completely meaningless, simply a mixture of nonsensical images, colours and lines. However, upon further analysis these may represent archetypes, unconscious and internalized problems, or act as a mode of wish fulfillment. As an onlooker, we are unable to fully understand the meaning behind an individual’s artistic expression – in fact we analyze it in such a way that we ascribe our own unconscious feelings and conflicts onto the image. Jung illustrates this in Modern Man in Search of a Soul when he says: “whatever we look at, and however we look at it, we see only through our own eyes” (Jung, 1933). This portrays that although there may be multiple interpretations of a particular image, our analysis of the image will assuredly express more an aspect of ourselves than any aspect of the artist.

Jung summarizes archetypes and their meanings in his book “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” (Jung, 1969) and though these may assist in our initial assessments we should not rely on them to get at the core of the image. Just as what we see in an inkblot helps determine our internal processes, so to does our assessment of another person’s art. Therefore we should allow for projection in our interpretations. Through this projection of our self in the assessment, we can be led to understand ourselves more through the viewing, and analyzing of others art. What we assess as an artists motives, are more closely our motives.

This is not to say that in our assessment we may not get at, to some degree, a better understanding of the artists personal motives (for by chance or human nature, we may share the same or similar motives as the artist under analysis. In fact, if we are to follow suit with the idea of the collective unconscious and our understanding of archetypes presented by Jung, it is not too far off to say that our assessment, although I am speculating it will mainly be our own self projected onto the piece, will in fact have some element of truth to it). We will not be able to determine what an image is expressing without asking the artist himself. Even then, we may be at an impasse, because our question may be met with trepidation. Perhaps the artist has created a most intimate piece illustrating his inability to fulfill his self in any realm of his existence – and this is embarrassing to express. An alternative scenario; the image in fact, means absolutely nothing. It is absolute nonsense, and this too, is embarrassing to express. We hold our artists in absolute reverence, we put them on a pedestal and see them as higher beings with greater insight and understanding of the human psyche – they are more in tune with themselves, with nature, with their fellow man. Why then, would an image an artist create mean absolutely nothing? We automatically feel the need to ascribe meaning to an image. In fact, even in its nothingness, we still find meaning – “artist A created an image of lines and boxes, circles and splashes of paint. He indicated that it means absolutely nothing, with that we can deduce that he feels that he is absolutely nothing and life has no meaning.” These statements are not entirely erroneous, but they are unfounded. They are based entirely on speculation.

A pressing issue we need to address in regards to interviewing the artist about the meaning behind the image is that introspection is not entirely scientific. Although Wundt demonstrated its importance through his voluntarism (Wundt, 1894), it lacks reliability and we are unable to measure or quantify it. If we consider the scenarios above, although the artist is of course, capable of introspection, he can very easily modify what he finds in his psyche. That is, we may ask “what does this image mean” and he may be embarrassed to share the truth, therefore, he may alter the truth and we may receive an inaccurate understanding of the image. Therefore we should not focus on understanding what the image means from the artists eyes, but instead we should allow our analysis to help us better understand our own psyche, through the projections we make in our analysis.

Though archetypal images may suffice to supplement our depiction of the images we should not rely too heavily on them, and in the process of analyzing images we should use them solely as motivating forces. If we rely too heavily on them we will be faced with resistance. When we are met with resistance surely this indicates that what we have uncovered is not only true of the image, but also true of our selves. Though we may be encouraged to protect our egos through this resistance, we should not work against it. In fact our resistance indicates that we have uncovered a truth about our selves previously unknown. This truth may frighten us to some degree, hence we will respond with resistance. Resisting the truth will not result in a protected ego, as we are wont to believe; in fact, it will result in a fragmented, damaged, and fearful ego. Fearful of what we are aiming at discovering – our true self.

It is easier then for us to determine the meaning behind an image using an archetype because we can separate our self from the interpretation. There is no aspect of our psyche in an interpretation that relies solely on archetypes.

How then, should our interpretation follow if we are to focus our attention mainly on our unconscious psyche? This interpretation would be similar to our assessment of a Rorschach inkblot; assuredly, our interpretation of art can be used as a projective measure involving Freudian free-association. To the reader who is confused in the importance of our allowing these deep, potentially dark truths being revealed to us through our interpretations, the answer is simple. We uncover these truths so that we may face them and deal with them. We uncover these truths so that we may consolidate them into the whole of our being, in order to actualize and find congruence between all the selves –the perceived, real and ideal.

As humans we use art to express ourselves and to connect with others, and for this reason it is one of, if not the most, important ways we can understand the self.

Let us take for an example one piece of art along with my interpretation of said piece of art. I have provided my affect state and preoccupations prior to my interpretation so as to provide a reference point for my interpretation.

I have also provided a previous interpretation I have made on the same piece of art in order to compare the two interpretations, and determine the extent to which my affect and preoccupations have had on the interpretation.

Current affect/general feeling:

  • Proud (of what I have achieved in the past few weeks)
  • Confident
  • Content
  • Reserved
  • Insecure

Current preoccupations:

  • Self image
  • Others perceptions of myself and body
  • The change of seasons
  • Creativity and being successful through my creativity (recognition from others, acceptance from others based on my artistic abilities, being recognized as artistic and creative)untitledSalvador Dali “Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening”

The image above is by Salvador Dali, and I have interpreted this image before, nearly a year ago. The main focus of the image is a nude female figure prostrated on the stone floor exposing her self, seemingly proudly. Her form seems to be based off of an ideal figure, and the gaze is very focused on her body rather than on her face. The soul can be found through looking into someone’s eyes, which demonstrates to me the potential that this woman is idolized as the perfect female figure, without her internal aspects being taken into consideration.

On the other hand, if we look at this from a female perspective, we are able to understand the image more so as a woman being proud of herself, (we could still apply the same understanding of the soul here, and say perhaps that she is proud of what society has told her to be proud of, namely, her body, while shunning “unfeminine” aspects of herself – her mind, her creativity, her self).

If we look closely we can see there is a rifle pointed at her face. Perhaps this is a “shaming” her for being so expressly proud of her self, and failing to be modest. The tigers fall in line with this understanding as well, and can be seen as an extension of the rifle. They are leaping towards the woman in a rather aggressive fashion – their mouths agape. This could represent another form of shunning – telling women how to behave, how to dress, how to demonstrate her pride (or to not do so).

What is interesting to note however, is that the focus is still on the woman –regardless of whether other aspects of the image are pointededly demeaning her for her confidence, pride, and immodesty. This to me indicates that although women are told on various occasions in various different ways how to behave or how to feel about their bodies and minds, they still continue to persevere, and are able to determine if they will be proud, and how they will express said pride. There is a constant battle between woman and societal demands indicating what is and what is not “feminine.”

My previous interpretation was made August of 2015, and can be found below.

My initial interpretation was made from a Freudian perspective; that is, I assumed the guise of Freud, and my interpretation followed in suit of his dream analysis approach. Therefore, there was none of my own psyche being reflected onto the image.

The image is riddled with sexual desire and motivation. The woman is prostrated on a rock exposing herself to the oncoming tigers (representing men); begging to be devoured. The fact that tigers represent men here demonstrates their animalistic tendencies and their express interest in the female figure represents the carnal urge of eros. We must also pay close attention to the pomegranate from which the tigers are springing. The pomegranate is a representation of the female womb; the female womb bears fruit, that is, provides life. Here then, we can see a life cycle in action; men come from women, and spring to women following their carnal urges, in order to perpetuate the cycle. Similarly, the fish too, often represents the woman.

The atmosphere of the image as a whole supports this idea of sexual reproduction. The main focus in the background of the image is the body of water which is a life force, a source of baptismal renewal, rebirth. Water is found to be necessary in every instance of life – we as humans need it to survive, as do animals and plants.

Further, the rifle could be seen in two ways: holding the female figure hostage against the male advances, or, as shaming the female figure for submitting to male advances. Should we consider this from a modern societal perspective, we can see how true the latter is. Women tend to be held hostage in their own bodies: they are met with a plethora of demands – demanding them to be sexual beings while simultaneously maintaining their modesty (because their worth is linked very strongly to their chastity). Therefore, in this image the woman is simultaneously submitting to the male desire and being shamed for it.

The reason I am not providing an affect scale or preoccupations for this final interpretation is because it was completed from a Freudian perspective, therefore it was not influenced by my personal experience.

If we look at the first interpretation provided and compare it with the affect scale provided, we can see just how related they are. At the time I mentioned feeling quite preoccupied with my personal worth, based predominantly on my physical appearance and how others perceived me. In my interpretation of the image I focused on the female figure and her exposing herself to the viewers (namely society). Further, I found it easy to associate her turning her face away from us as viewers as a demeaning of her cognitive, internal functions (her intelligence, soul, creativity). As we can see, I mentioned I was preoccupied with my own creativity – being creative while obtaining appreciation and acknowledgement for my creativity and ability.

In this instance then I was seeking said appreciation and acknowledgement (hence the audience of tigers ascribed in the image). Tigers are a wild animal characterized as vicious therefore it makes sense that I would interpret these tigers as society (society being any onlooker, not necessarily society as a whole. It has an additional connotation). Although I am seeking validation (validation of my appearance, acceptance as an aesthetically pleasing being, as well as validation in my creativity), I am simultaneously trying to survive without it. I acknowledge my want to express myself freely, to accept myself (the inner and outer aspects of my self) without relying on the approval of others while waiting for said approval; hence the female figure prostrated on the rock for all to see (and be judged and shamed for her exposing herself both physically and psychically). There is a dichotomy in the interpretation, as well as in my preoccupations and affect states (as is normal for us as humans to experience.)

For instance, my affect states were noted as content and confident (in my creative abilities, and the past successes I had made) but also referring to my body and aesthetic. I, as many women, struggle with accepting my body and with seeing myself as “beautiful” or worth recognizing as such. Typically my feelings of self-worth fluctuate, as does my confidence in myself as an aesthetically appealing person. It is interesting to note that my confidence in my internal abilities fluctuates, but not as often as my confidence in my external qualities. It makes sense then that I should not only be focusing mainly on the external aspects of the female in this image, but too that my affect state of confidence/contentedness would be juxtaposed with reservation and insecurity. In fact, this is relatively normal for me. Although I may feel confident with myself, there tends to be an underlying feeling of insecurity in my body. I mention too that the female figure seems to be idealized; perhaps unconsciously I was comparing myself to the image of the female figure already calling into question my current confidence.

As we can see, my interpretation of Dali’s image falls closely in line with my current preoccupations and affect states. Does this indicate that my hypothesis is correct, and that we should be right in assuming that our personal interpretations of art may uncover unconscious aspects of our psyche? Perhaps, but as mentioned before, we cannot conclude with any certainty that this is correct, because these speculations are relying very strongly on introspection. Introspection is helpful, but as already mentioned, cannot be quantified, and therefore cannot be scientifically studied. This is not to say that we should not be using art interpretation as a way of understanding others and ourselves.

Consider our dreams, which Freud determined were manifestations of our wishes and desires (typically of an erotic nature). These help us to understand aspects of our selves that may be buried within our unconscious, and through interpretation may come to light so that we may incorporate them positively into our self. The same can be said of our interpretations of artistic pieces (they, like dreams, are comprised of symbols, archetypes, images that denote specific meaning). There are a plethora of different meanings we can ascribe to an individual image, just as we can ascribe to a dream image, or a poem. Found within the meaning we ascribe to the image are aspects of our unconscious, aspects of our psyche that may have not been fully consolidated into our self – bring them to consciousness and we may incorporate them into our self, or should they be of an entirely neurotic nature; deal with them appropriately.

Just as the Rorschach inkblot test acts as a projective measure, our interpretations of artistic images can act in the same manner, providing us with another venue for understanding our self and coming closer to actualization.



Dali, S. (1944). Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening [Painting]. Retrieved from http://www.dalipaintings.net/dream-caused-by-the-flight-of-a-bee-around-a-pomegranate-one-second-before-awakening.jsp

Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Harvest. p. translators’ preface

Jung, C.G. (1969). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious [sic], Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1), Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wundt, W. (1897). Outlines in Psychology. Trans. Charles Hubbard Judd. Leipzig, Germany.



Manifestations and Methods of Dealing with Self-Hate.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a tired old cliché we continue to repeat in instances of self-doubt, self hate, or low self-esteem. We fail to realize that if we were to believe this statement to be true, then it would erase our incessant self-loathing. For if beauty is in the eye of the beholder why do we continue to rely on others in order to increase our physical self esteem? We too hold the power of sight, and could easily turn this statement and our sentiments about our bodies on its head.
Acting interdependently within society is an inherent human need, but more often than not we mistake this for dependence, and find ourselves relying on others when we are in fact fully capable of self-sustainment and reliance. It is true that in our day to day lives we rely on others to provide us with food (via farmers and restaurants), and that we rely on others to provide us with monetary gain in exchange for our labour. But it is also true that we rely on ourselves for our physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Consider our need for sleep, and the myriad of reasons for which we need sleep. We are responsible for maintaining sleep patterns that allow us to remain functional. The same can be said for food, we satiate our hunger need, as well as our need for procreation and sex, affection,  and happiness – we have complete control over these needs and our ability to satiate them.  It is easier to shift the onus onto others, it makes it easier for us to cope and come to terms with our shortcomings. This does not work in the long-term.
When we shift the blame onto others we are actually perpetuating this idea of absolute dependence, we are relinquishing our power. And when we shift the blame for our self-hate onto others, we expect them to change, and we expect them to alter our conception and perception of ourselves. This is not possible.  There will always be different “in-groups” and “out-groups”, and we will always be individuals within these. We cannot expect all others to accept us as beautiful or creative or intelligent, and expecting this from others, demanding this from people will only result in perpetuating our negative self-view. So instead of blaming others, which we are so wont to do, we should choose to work within ourselves, to not judge, to accept and understand ourselves in all of our seemingly loathsome attributes.
In fact, this is what Maslow was referencing when he spoke of our need for esteem. We cannot rely on others for our esteem, for when others stop stroking our egos we will find ourselves empty, our reserves of efficacy and pride: depleted. So we must find it within ourselves.
In order to understand esteem, we first must understand self-hate, and its fashionable persistence within our society and ourselves. We will discuss how self-hate manifests, and what self-hate does to the person and their relationships.
To look in the mirror and magnify “negative” aspects of our visual appearance or to concentrate on minor flaws is almost considered “normal” in that nearly everyone treats their bodies with such reproach. This attitude of fashionable self-hate is not normal, and can be quite debilitating. We take it as being significant to us, and our understanding not only of our selves but also of our culture and our relation to society. While it is true that the media may influence us from time to time, and it may have a stronger hold on some than others; assuredly it manifests its strength subconsciously, so that many will argue that we have no control over it. This is not true – if it is manifested subconsciously, then what we must do is bring this supposed control into consciousness. We already do this daily when we blame the media for “negative portrayals” of both men and women. This indicates that we recognize the negative influence these images have on our bodies, and our perceptions of ourselves. Instead of trying to influence the cessation of these images, we could be directing our energy towards altering our own negative self-perceptions. In fact, if these images hold their strength in the subconscious, would they not still be echoed in the recesses of our psyche, even after the images were wiped away from media outlets?
So this means blame shifting is not the answer. In fact, it leaves us just as isolated and hopeless as before, because instead of changing our attitudes we blame those who supposedly made us feel that way to begin with. This creates an “Us VS Them” dichotomy, which we perpetuate through our blame and self-hate. It does not deal with the root of this self-hate.
Our self-hate does not limit itself to our bodies alone, although this is typically where it begins. Our idea of our “self” is very much rooted in our bodies; we perceive an aspect of our physical appearance as unattractive, and this extends into  psychical aspects of our self. Since our bodies are so often seen as the totality of our selves, what is perceived to be wrong with the outside is undoubtedly wrong with us internally. This is partially influenced by the shame and guilt we feel as we strive to attain the supposed beauty standards our society has provided us with. Shame, because we realize to a degree how superficial it is to mark our lives as successful based on appearances alone, and guilt because we have what others do not have. Guilt because we altered our appearance in some way so as to change our selves entirely from how we were born. Not only do we feel guilt and shame for attaining these standards, we feel guilt and shame for not attaining these standards. It is a double-edged sword, and in reality, one might say, “we cannot win.” This is true, if we continue to place the blame outside of ourselves.
Through all of our comparisons with others, we lose our selves, and begin the process of life-long self-hate sustained by other blaming.
Guilt is a strong motivating force in our self-hate. We feel guilty for not attaining what others were naturally born with (or had unnaturally altered), and we feel guilty still for accepting our bodies as they are. It is similar to the Christian guilt culture, components of which have become engrained in our culture regardless of our attempts to delineate from it. Paul Hiebert says of guilt: “Guilt is a feeling that arises when we violate the absolute standards of morality within us, when we violate our conscience” (Hiebert, 1985). We violate our conscience by concerning ourselves with our worth as a person steeped in vanity and superficiality. This then infects our psychical perception of ourselves through our guilt and shame. We are made to feel guilty for concerning ourselves with such superficial aspects of humanity (that is, aesthetics), and we feel shamed for doing so as well. He continues by saying, “Guilt cultures emphasize punishment and forgiveness as ways of restoring the moral order,” (Hiebert, 1985), and Freud claims this need for punishment as an “unconscious sense of guilt” (Freud, pg. 136). We punish ourselves through our self-hate, which permeates every aspect of our waking life, and too, of our dream life.
There is no escape from our self-hate. As I mentioned earlier, we must practice self-hate. It is an integral part of our understanding of our selves (this is because we do not know ourselves, we know what ourselves should not be; we know the judged and scrutinized aspects of ourselves). Our routinized self-hate dictates our waking life, without it, we would feel too free, we would feel guilty for not feeling guilty about our bodies. This too, makes it so we cannot develop and sustain esteem, and cannot discover our selves, truly, as much more than bodies. Self-hate is proof of our inability to advance in our self-development.
In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud exclaims that “it is almost as though the creation of a great human community would be most successful if there were no need for concern with individual happiness,” (Freud, pg.99). Individual happiness, which can be found in our own self-acceptance and development.  If we avoid self-happiness, we cannot foster our self-worth, and potential. We as individuals are the backbone of our societies, and our individual happiness arguably impacts the greater whole of society. In our self-hate we remind ourselves that we are not important on an individual level and continue to compare ourselves to those around us, feeling guilty in any attempt we make for individual contentedness.
Our self-hate doesn’t only affect us. It inevitably takes a negative toll on the people around us – friends, family, and strangers alike.  Through the comparisons we make on a day to day basis, which only confirm our utter disdain for ourselves, we end up projecting these negative feelings onto those around us. While dealing with close relatives and loved ones, it manifests itself as negative affect, for no apparent reason. It may result in unneeded conflict and arguments, and we may seek out their validation; vying for their positive attention, in the hopes that these positive remarks will eradicate any longstanding negative feelings we have of ourselves. We know this not to be true, for if they acknowledge that, for instance, no they do not notice the flaw you are mentioning – it confirms that the flaw may still be present they simply do not notice it. Or worse, regardless of what they say, it will never be enough. We are our own worst enemies.  These behaviours and attitudes create conflict and generate and foster hostility, putting strain and stress on a relationship where there was none before.
Similarly this occurs in public with strangers. We react to strangers with our self-hate too, but in a much different way. We get to a point where our negative self-talk no longer does justice to how we are feeling, and we begin to displace our feelings onto other, innocent strangers. These feelings and reactions, too, generate self-hate. We convince ourselves that each individual who we see is in fact ugly, gross, or poorly dressed; thoughts we are actually having about ourselves. In this instance, we may not be knowingly doing this. We may truly believe we feel that way about the person in question which indicates that our self-hate is in fact, rooted very much in our unconscious, and has yet to come to the forefront of our minds. It may seem that this form of self-hate is much less insidious, or dangerous, when in fact, it appears to be much worse, for the sole fact that we are unable to address it.
These reactions create negative feelings within us that last throughout the course of a day, even after the activating stimulus is no longer in sight. We may ruminate on their appearance, assuming negative things about their body and person. This rumination fosters negative feelings in us and when questioned by others we may find ourselves lashing out, creating conflict, again, where no conflict is needed or warranted.
I mention subconscious self-hate, that is, self-hate presented when displacing our feelings onto strangers. I detail this as the most insidious form of self-hate, but that is not to say that the self-hate felt consciously on a daily basis is not as debilitating or harmful. The two are both incredibly damaging to our psyche, our development, and our relationships. In fact, I believe there is some possibility that many, if not all forms of self-hate present themselves in both ways simultaneously. For even when we believe we are dealing with our conscious self-hate, we may find new issues, new flaws developing, coming to the forefront of our minds that we may now ruminate on.
It is a constant, tiring battle we must face. But there are ways that we can combat our feelings, and there are reasons why we should do so.  I have already alluded to some of the many reasons why we should combat our feelings of self-hate, but to provide an overview they are as follows: to foster healthier interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, to clear the path to self-actualization, to experience more positive life-fulfilling emotions, and to free up time to be more productive and creative.
Our self-hate not only debilitates us emotionally and psychically, it tends to consume a great amount of our time, time we could be using for many more important things in our lives (spending time with family, finishing a project or two, to suck the proverbial marrow out of life). We will find, when we eliminate our self-hate rituals, all areas of life will improve (personal contentedness, relationships, success in hobbies and work).
How then do we combat these relentless feelings? I am not proposing a cure all, especially because we have to admit and realize that we are all too human, and should we quiet a single ocean on our map of self-hate, another is bound to stir. We must admit too, that each of us is far different from the other and what may work for some, will not work for all. Therefore, I propose a number of different activities one can practice in order to quiet, and hopefully eliminate the negative voice inside.
The best way to combat these thoughts is to challenge them, and to change the negative into positive. This can be done through journaling – keeping a journal of every negative thought or statement you make about your appearance (or inner aspects of yourself as well). For those who are more visual it may help to add images throughout the journal (for instance, should the statement be about the size of your eyes, or the shape of your nose, illustrate the body part to accompany the statement made). This should be practiced throughout each and every day, for every statement or thought made. After each statement has been documented in the journal you should take 5 minutes to change the statement into a more positive or neutral statement. This statement now acts as a personal mantra, to be recited in front of a mirror whenever the negative thoughts begin to resurface.
An alternative to this is to give yourself a pep talk in front of the mirror every morning, anytime where these negative feelings seem to be resurfacing. You should allow your speech to act as a running dialogue between yourself – that is your negative perception of yourself, and your true self. Do not worry about what is being said, this is a time to air all of your grievances about your body, and to question their validity.
Writing and visual art may also prove helpful while dealing with our self-hate. Poetry, short fiction, or creative narrative can help to create a dialogue with yourself, and can help you to illustrate the extent of your self-hate, and how you see it as damaging and debilitating to yourself and others. Visual art acts as a great visual aid that may accompany your writing, or act as a stand-alone cathartic outlet.  These methods act more as catharsis than addressing specific thoughts or attitudes you have about yourself. Although these may create a dialogue, you should not feel the need to make something more come out of the creative process than the finished product, and a relief of stress. If the natural progression is for you to analyze your finished piece, then so be it, but you should not be forcing it. These methods are good ways to supplement what you have already been doing to combat your negative thoughts, and help you to de-stress, and “unload” your thoughts and feelings.
The last method I have to offer is more time-consuming than the others, and involves a great amount of patience and attention. It again acts as a visualizing of your self-hate and a physical realization of its eradication. In some way create what represents your self-hate the best (this could be a diorama, a painting, a poem, a clay mold of a word or phrase) – and allow yourself some time to focus on it. Allow yourself to talk about it, what it makes you feel, how it steals time and energy from you, how you will no longer let it have a hold on you – then destroy it. Physically destroy whatever it is you have created, in any way you think works best. As you create the dialogue with yourself, and physically and mentally combat that which has been holding you back for so long you are psychically changing the way you see and think about yourself.
Remind yourself that you are stronger than these thoughts, you are stronger than that which has held you back, and will only continue to hold you back if you allow it.
We are slaves to our self-hate, and we feel so debilitated and drained when we find it near impossible to recognize our own role in that. We should not blame others for the way we feel about our bodies, or for the way we allow those thoughts to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. We need to hold ourselves accountable for the way we attack ourselves, and devalue ourselves willingly. Change the narrative and change the perceptions we have about ourselves. Self-hate can be very damaging, and only we have the power to change it and change our lives. We will always find issues with ourselves to ruminate on when we compare and devalue our bodies and measure our worth on our physical appearance.
Freud reminds us that “[…] in spite of all our pride in our cultural attainments, it is not easy for us to feel comfortable,” (Freud, pg. 137), this too, can be said of our bodies, and our perceived place in society. This does not mean that we have society or culture to blame rather, we can go against what we believe society is telling us, and we can change the pride we have for our culture into pride in ourselves.
Freud, Sigmund. (1961). Civilization and Its Discontents. (Eds. and Trans. James Strachey). New York: Norton and Company. Originally published in 1930.
Hiebert, Paul G., (1985). Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Self-Care in Care Work

Care giving is seen as one of the most selfless professions in which those of us who feel great amounts of empathy use that empathy to “enrich the lives” of those receiving care in a near selfless fashion. Therein lies the problem. Not only are those being cared for seen as lesser in all respects (capable, competent, content, self-aware etc.), those caring for them are put on a pedestal, admired by so many as “martyrs” who sacrifice their own lives in order to help others lead their own. This paints caregivers in the most positive light imaginable, and not only falsely represents what it is we do, but it also sets us up for failure. This perception makes it hard for us to find time for ourselves without feeling guilt or shame. Further, if we don’t feel them others thrust them upon us.
It is quite common to hear people talk about how important self care is and it is especially big in the care-giving field. It has to be. If you are living the majority of your life inside someone else’s home, entirely engrossed in every aspect of their life – it is hard to find time for your loved ones, let alone yourself. Think of yourself as a glass of water, and think of your care-taking clients as an empty glass. You continue to fill this glass with water from your own, always making sure that the other glass has enough. At the end of the day your glass is left empty, and no one is around to fill it back up for you.
This poses two problems: first, you do not have enough energy or resources to continue giving to others, and second, you have absolutely no resources left for yourself! The desire to feel supported is not selfish. In this profession, as in many others, it may be rare that you receive gratitude – from those you support and from your employers. Some days, it may feel as if you are the only one supporting the clients, and it seems your coworker who is supposed to be there to support and complement you and your work is falling behind. At the end of it all, you may not receive so much as a simple thank you, or recognition for your contribution. This can be damaging – it can leave you feeling unsupported in the workplace, isolated from the clients and coworkers, and it can stifle your energetic and optimistic outlook on change and new opportunities for those you support. This may affect your performance, it may affect your feelings of self-worth or efficacy, and it can even affect the way you communicate with others. It can very quickly turn an optimistic and energetic individual sour.
This is why self-care is especially important for caregivers, counselors, and therapists. For those caring for others, caring for yourself is often the last thing that crosses your mind, but it is one of the most important things that we should be practicing on a daily basis.
For me, self-care is rather easy. I love a good book and a cup of coffee, I can paint on my back porch, or I can escape to the woods for a few days. I have been practicing self-care since before I started my university career, and while studying Psychology, became even more aware of how important it was that I continue practicing it.
For some, it may not be so easy. Especially considering the martyr complex that is so often developed in these kinds of professions. The first step to allowing yourself to indulge in well deserved regenerative rest is to create a new image of yourself as caregiver; an image that portrays you as being human, just like those for whom we care.
Next is allowing yourself to talk to those around you about your profession in the most real way imaginable. Let those closest to you know about the struggles that you face daily. If they fail to support you, find someone who will.
Following along those lines, you should also find it within yourself to develop a support network within your workplace. Whether this is with one or two coworkers or even one of your superiors, you should always make sure you feel appreciated and heard in the workplace. Should you find it too difficult to reach out to either coworker or supervisor, allow yourself some “you” time while at work, just to breathe and remind yourself that you may be having a hard day, you may be feeling under appreciated, but you are worth so much, and you have others in your life who recognize the work you are doing, and recognize how essential you are in that position.
Lastly allow yourself time to unwind when you leave their home, and enter your own. It is hard to not bring work home with you, especially for those tending to the needs of others. Even when we leave their home, we are still turned “on” and tuned in to their lives. We have to be. Emergencies happen, staff get sick or don’t show up. When you are truly involved, and care about the people you are caring for it is near impossible to keep them out of your mind. This is especially true for those of us who like to see positive changes happen in people’s lives, and who want to help those changes happen. Regardless, it is important that we learn to leave these feelings at the door when we leave their space.
As a side note, if you feel the desire to vent about work, or you are feeling creative about how to help enhance these individuals’ lives – leave your house. Go on a walk, and think about work outside of your home. Your home is for you, work should never be brought inside.
As I mentioned before it is very easy for me to find ways to unwind – I have my own passions and interests that I pursue outside of work, and these act as forms of self-care for me. For those who have yet to find their passions, it is never too late to start searching. Remember that self-care is about recognizing your worth and your abilities, and making sure that you feel positively about yourself and your life afterwards. This could be anything from yoga ,to dance lessons, to reading, or even taking a bubble bath. Allow yourself time to appreciate you, so that you can strengthen your self-esteem and self-awareness, in order to improve your overall mental health. It helps too that self-care will always result in a positive feeling, that will inevitably seep back into your work and relationships!
Self-care is one of the most important things we can all easily practice every day, and we should not be made to feel guilty about it, because we matter too.

Dream Analysis: A Four Weeklong Self-Study

“Our scientific consideration of dreams starts off from the assumption that they are products of our own mental activity. Nevertheless the finished dream strikes us as something alien to us” (Freud, 1900).
Dreaming is a dissociated state of unconsciousness, in which we experience images, sounds, and sometimes even taste and smell. There are a number of theories on dreams; their meanings, the significance of images, the cause of dreams, what they can tell us about our subconscious psyche, etcetera. The two most notable are those of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Freud first introduced his theory in “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1900 (Freud, 1900).
Freud believed that dreams are “the royal road to the unconscious.” Our unconscious mind consists of mental processes that we are not aware of – they are repressed materials that need to be brought to our conscious awareness through analysis. During wakefulness our unconscious mind remains dormant, and during sleep it slowly awakens, through dream images, or symbols, otherwise known as dream content. Freud distinguished two forms of dream content – manifest content, which refers to the actual images presented that the dreamer remembers upon awakening, and the latent content which refers to the underlying meaning of the images (pp. 311-312).
Freud demonstrated the need for the latent content to be translated into manifest content, in order for us to dream. In one aspect, this is to protect our psyche, due to the volatile nature of the latent content. This process is known as dream-work, which involves condensation, displacement and secondary elaboration. Condensation refers to the process of joining two or more ideas or images into one (pp. 312-39). Displacement refers to the transforming of a person or object that we are actually concerned about, into someone or something else (pp. 340-44). Finally, secondary elaboration refers to the unconscious mind putting the wish-fulfilling images and events in a logical sequence, obscuring the latent content further.
All of these components of the dream-work act together to produce our wish fulfillment, which is the most significant and basic understanding of the meaning behind our dreams (pp. 588-64), Freud stated that “[…] the dream, in its inmost essence, is the fulfillment of a wish.” (pp.160). This wish fulfillment can be sexually, anxiety or ego driven; it is entirely individualized. In fact, Freud shied away from universal symbols and their definitions. “Dream dictionaries”, therefore, should be avoided at all costs. While analyzing a dream, it is imperative that we focus on the context and individual circumstances.
Although dreaming can be assessed in such as way as to understand a persons’ subconscious better, interpretations are more rooted in subjective, rather than empirical, evidence. Since we are unable to deduce with confidence what a dream image means in relation to an individual under examination, we may only speculate. Therefore, dream analysis cannot act as a diagnosis for a potentially neurotic individual. It can, however, act as a window into the unconscious, and help with future diagnoses.
By analyzing dream images and sequences, we can better understand the individual’s general affect, the sources of their stress, and their anxieties. By understanding these three things we may also provide coping techniques to manage stress, and deal with the anxieties. Dreams are not merely baseless images projected in the minds eye while we sleep, they tell us stories about ourselves, and the world around us. Based on this idea, I have taken to documenting my dreams for the past four weeks and analyzing them.
Alongside the dream journal, I incorporated a mood diary in which I would rate the type of emotion I felt during or after waking from the dream, its intensity, and the most vivid image related with the emotion (on a scale from 1-5, 1 being little to no feeling and 5 being felt very strongly). This did not occur with every dream. This scaling of my emotions simply acted as a way to interpret the dream better.
Dream 1
The dream begins with my mother, sister, father and I at our old house. The house was dark and much smaller than I recall it being. As the dream progressed, the hallway in the house shrank more and more. There was a horrible storm happening, and we were scrambling trying to survive the storm. A very large condo building was struck by lightning and fell to the ground. This was out of place because the street our house was on was far too small to have a condo building.
All of a sudden my partner is with me, and I am explaining the chaos of the situation to him, and that in these situations I am in charge of getting the safe-box from the garage, along with the suitcase of “preparedness” which is filled with food and clothes. I pull out a key and open the garage door, and for some reason I have to close it and lock it as well, even though our lives are in danger. The entire time this is happening I feel very anxious. We go back inside the house, which is even darker than it was before, and it feels even smaller than it was before we left to go to the garage. It feels as if the walls are closing in, and it is hard to breathe. My parents are screaming and yelling; the chaos is palpable. My parents and sister are unable to move, and they have no idea where to go. I grab the clothes on the couch and yell “we have to go”, as my father lights a match and sets my skirt on fire (putting fire under my ass), but it just sets my skirt on fire and I have to stop drop and roll, which doesn’t work so I have to actually take my skirt off and stomp it out on the couch. After removing my foot from the skirt I notice that it is now stained orange. We are trying to leave the house now, and as we are leaving the living room and heading into the entryway the hallway becomes a very long single-file corridor, and it seems like we are running up it forever. My dog is at the front door waiting for us, running around in circles wagging her tail and whining. I am responsible for grabbing her too. I grab her by the collar and pick her up, (she is not a small dog in reality, but in the dream she feels even heavier, and keeps slipping from my grip). We start running away from what is now a firestorm. There is fire in the sky, and there are flaming buildings everywhere. The sky is orange, red and yellow. We are running so slowly, but it doesn’t seem to matter how hard we push to run faster, we are still running at the same slow pace as once we started.
I announce to everyone present “we just have to get to the water, the water will quell the fire.” My dog is now running ahead of us. Neighbours are fleeing their homes, and one of them yells at my father “how much do you have in safety?” “17,000” was my father’s response. For some reason, the neighbour declares he will match that, so now we have $ 34,000 in “safety” money. The whole street is dark and gloomy, and the entire scene is almost apocalyptic.
• Claustrophobia – 4
• Fear – 2
• Anxiety – 4
• Stress – 4
• Doubt – 3
The dream images are obvious here, but there are too many to analyze individually. The most significant images are: the fire, the house, and the money. Though we should also pay close attention to the symbolic power of the family members. Some key concepts we should be mindful of while making these interpretations are the three concepts, which make up the dream-work. Displacement is a prominent theme throughout the dream, especially in the storm, which actually represents the chaos I feel in my everyday life. This dream occurred at a time in which I was very stressed in my waking life; I was working a part time job, unable to make enough money to save and pay down my debts, all the while trying to get my work published. In this instance then, my waking life is reflected in my dream as a chaotic storm. This follows throughout the entire dream, and additional latent feelings can be found manifested in the dream images. For instance, the image of my parents, and the chaos surrounding them, reflects my feelings of worth in relation to them. I feel the need to make them proud and to not disappoint them. Again, this reflects my waking state at the time. I remember having feelings similar to these in my waking state, particularly concerning my job position. I was concerned that I was not fulfilling their wishes for me, and that I perhaps had made a mistake moving out to the east coast. I was able to make ends meet, but I was not fulfilling myself artistically or financially (I was unable to focus on paying off school debts or saving money). One of the last remarks made in the dream is that concerning money; one of the neighbours yells to my father asking how much we have in safety money, to which my father responds “17,000$.” The neighbour decides to match this, making it 34,000$. This is not a random number; this is how much money I originally owed in student debt upon graduation. This relates to the amount of stress I was feeling in my waking life, which reflected in my dream. My part time job at the time was not paying enough to pay down my debt, which made me feel anxious, stressed, and stuck.
The walls of the house closing in on us not only represent physical claustrophobia, but it also represents how I feel under pressure to the point of suffocation.
The instance of my father putting fire under my ass is interesting to consider. The image and what it means is very clear; I feel pressured to make myself, as well as my parents proud. It is interesting to note that the house in my dream is not the house I most recently lived in with my parents; in fact, it is the last house I lived in before heading off to university. I believe that this represents my growing up and away from my parents and family. The reason I believe this is because the rest of the dream images suggest a powerful parental influence, where I would not have felt as strongly at our new home as my last. Upon returning to my parents’ newest house I would have been in my 3rd year of university, not quite an impressionable teenager living by my parents “rules” anymore. The reason this house is shown in my dream and not my parents’ most recent house, is because although I still feel a strong need to make my parents proud, I was much more concerned about it when I was younger, and living in my parents home.
As you can see, a great number of dream images indicate responsibility; I am responsible for procuring the safe-box, I am responsible for motivating my family out of the house and storm, I am responsible for grabbing my dog. This is also linked to the immense pressure I was feeling at the time. The last remark I make in the dream is that we have to get to the water; the water will quell the fire. Water is typically seen as a symbol of renewal, life, and cleanliness, whereas fire is typically symbolic of destruction and death. The juxtaposition between these two images is paramount. I am the only one responsible for fixing the issue at hand, and the fire, above all other images represents the immense pressure I am under. The water, on the other hand, gives this idea of removing pressure – I suggest we must get to the water, in order to quell the fire. This is a clear message: although I am under pressure, and extremely stressed, I have the power to diminish that stress by dealing with it, or quelling it.
This dream is rich with images, representing my waking mental and emotional state. I was very stressed and anxious at the time about a number of things: making my parents proud, money, being successful in a new city, and generally wanting to succeed at life.
The final scene of the dream, the apocalyptic state of the neighborhood, succinctly demonstrates the state of my life at the time. My living situation was chaotic and emotional. I was away from family, friends, my hometown, and everything that represented my childhood and youth. I was out on my own, in a foreign city, with only my partner to rely on. This is why my partner appeared halfway through the dream; the whole scene was chaotic, and I was feeling pressure from all sides, except from my partner. It is interesting to note that this support was made exceedingly evident in my dream images.
Dream 2
I was in a very old building that felt very much like a castle with a number of anonymous figures. There were a number of rooms and staircases and the interior of the building was very dark (not only were there little to no lights on, the wood and paint was all dark).
After limited exploring I found a photo album that had a number of professional photos of me in it, and one in particular stood out to me. I was standing at the top of a double spiral staircase with my back to the camera. I was wearing a burgundy mermaid gown, with a long train cascading down the one side of the staircase. My hair was done up in a beehive, and my arms were stretched out along the railing of the middle portion of the staircase. I took a picture of this image with my phone and posted it on facebook with the caption “I miss modeling.”
The next thing I remember is stepping out of the shower wrapped in a towel and trying to catch the ferry. I was running down the dock, which was wet and slippery making it difficult for me to run. There were a number of people in my way, and a group of guys were teasing that they would throw me in the harbor, which made me very anxious because I had just showered. I had an underlying feeling of embarrassment relating to the fact that I was almost naked, and a fear of losing my towel.

• Fear – 2
• Embarrassment -3
• Worry/anxiety – 3
• Nostalgia – 4
• Lost – 4
• Disconnected – 4

The overwhelming feeling throughout this dream was nostalgia, with underlying feelings of fear, anxiety, and embarrassment.
The building is where the dream begins, and the atmosphere therein was one of loss, of being lost. Not only was the building old, and non-descript, but it was also one in which I am unable to say with certainty that I have visited before. Further, there was a near absence of light within. The figures that were with me were not identified. I am sure they represented important characters within my life, but within my dream I could not identify them. If we take into consideration the time in which this dream occurred, we can interpret this sequence of images as my personal feelings of being lost. This dream was documented in early January, a time when tensions were high and I was feeling more homesick than I had been in the previous months. I was feeling disconnected from my friends and family, who are hundreds of miles away, and I felt as though I was lacking a bedrock of emotional support. This may help us to understand the significance of the anonymous figures – there are people in my life, but I did not feel capable of connecting or sharing my emotional frustrations with them. This of course, connects well with the feeling of being lost. Not only was I physically lost in the dream I was emotionally lost, which mirrors my waking state. I was feeling very lost in a foreign city, which was further amplified by my feelings of disconnectedness with important figures in my life.
The feeling of nostalgia was deeply rooted in the photo album and the images of myself modeling. I spent a significant portion of my time in Ottawa modeling for shoots, with different photographers, bridal shows and with my best friend. Moving here, I no longer had the opportunity, or gumption to model or even bother looking for modeling opportunities. This image resonates with me because my time in Ottawa was characterized largely by my ability and willingness to try new things, and accept myself. It was almost as if moving, and leaving that behind, made me separate myself from who I was becoming, and devolve into an earlier version of myself, or some version of myself I thought was expected of me. The statement “I miss modeling” has a deeper meaning than just I miss modeling, rather, I miss who I was when I was modeling, seeking and accepting those opportunities and the person I was becoming and allowing myself to become. The image itself was a very idealized version of myself, which was not congruent with my actual, perceived self at the time, and was more in line with my actual self prior to moving. This of course, caused a significant amount of anxiety while experiencing the dream, and after the dream. The reason I was pictured at the top of a double spiral staircase is significant in that, it represents the difficult journey we face when self-actualizing. Each staircase represents an aspect of the self, and a certain path we can take in order to self-actualize and become the person we are meant to be. The centre, being the image of myself, the ideal-self, is the end point, where I reach self-actualization, and realize fully who I am. The fact that my train is falling down one set of the stairs indicates an incongruence between my real self and my ideal self, meaning, that, I am finding it difficult to self-actualize. This image of my ideal self is very connected to who I was becoming, and now that there is a break in my realization, incongruence has developed.
All of this is tied very much to my self-image, and feelings of nostalgia. The fear of nudity and the images of the crowd and people taunting or teasing me are linked to my self-image, and my feelings of being watched and judged. The towel in a sense represents a mask that I have worn in the past, and that I felt I was wearing at the time of this dream. My fear of losing the towel, especially in front of others, is that they will see who I am in reality, the “me” I fear others will not accept.
There is no real transition in the dream, from being inside the building to running down the dock, but there is a significant contrast. Inside the building I was shrouded in darkness, and there were significant feelings of being lost and disconnected, whereas in the sequence of me running down the dock, it was daylight and there were multiple people around with faces, expressions and identifying features. It is significant to note that I was still finding it difficult to run down the dock, and that it was slippery and wet. I was however, running away from the building I had been in. The contrast between the building and the outdoors, was that I was essentially running away from who I was inside the building. I was running away from those feelings of being lost and disconnected, and now, different people, different colours, different fears and anxieties were in my surroundings. I was still avoiding people, however, especially the group of taunting boys, who wanted to throw me into the water. In my dream, the reason I was afraid of being thrown into the water was because I had just showered – however, in waking life, I am actually afraid of the water to some degree because I have difficulty swimming. When I was in my adolescence I did not want to get my hair wet while in a swimming pool because I wanted to hide my forehead and my eyebrows, which I thought were ugly aspects of myself. This feeling has stayed with me into my young adulthood. This is a very real way to mask the self, I fear embarrassment from people seeing me without my bangs, because I do feel a sort of security with my bangs covering my forehead. In a way, they do act very much like a mask.
My strong desire to avoid the water was not only because I had just showered, but also because I feared that my mask would be washed away. I was not ready to reveal who I am, because at the time I did not know who I was. My feelings of disconnectedness were not just with others, I felt disconnected from myself; there was a significant incongruence that I needed to deal with.
This dream is very much a dream of identity and self-image. It is interesting to see the transition from feeling lost, nostalgic and disconnected, to feeling anxious, embarrassed and still a little lost. Coming out of the darkness into the light, is in a way a realization of these feelings of incongruence, and the desire to change that. The need to self-actualize without considering the judgment of others around me is paramount.
Dream 3
The dream began inside a boutique where I was trying on clothes. The change room had doors that were very low. This made my head, shoulders, and chest visible just above the top of the door. Two girls were standing outside of my change room chatting with each other. The one barged into the change room I was in, and started to dance around and push me around. When I told her she needed to leave, she became very upset with me, but she did leave.
Her and her friend remained outside the change room and began videotaping, and the friend was pretending to be me. I did not hear exactly what was being said because I was focused on the dress I was trying on. The dress was a shiny, metallic brown prom gown that had a mesh cutout on my chest, all the way down to my privates. This means that all of my intimate areas were showing. All of a sudden the owner of the boutique called me into her office, while I was still wearing the dress, and she informed me that the girls from earlier has accused me of assaulting them. She showed me the video that they had made, which was of them assaulting each other. Both the owner of the boutique and I began to laugh because it was clearly not me in the video.
The issue resolved itself, but I decided to buy the dress even though it was 3000$.
• Shame – 2
• Being pushed around/stepped on – 4
• Anxiety – 3
• Anger – 4

The main feeling that I felt at the end of this dream and upon awakening was anger, specifically in relation to how I had been treated. The change room doors already had my body partially exposed to the entire store, which caused a great deal of anxiety. I found it difficult to try on the clothes and ignore my surroundings – I found trying to crouch down and hide my body very distracting. This contributed to the feelings of shame as well.
The girls pushing into the change room and ignoring the fact that I was there made me very angry, but also caused a great deal of anxiety. I felt that I was almost invisible, even though most of my body was exposed to the store. This reflected my current feelings in my waking life. At the time of this dream, I had been denied approval for my vacation request, which meant I would not be able to see my family, who lives 3 provinces away. This made me feel like I was being stepped all over, and not being taken seriously or even considered. Further, the environment at work had been quite tense for the preceding months: I was given more responsibilities but there was no change in my position, nor was I seen as any more capable.
The scenario with the girls framing me for assault was rooted entirely in my feelings of being blamed for things I had not done or said in waking life. In my waking life I felt very much like an invisible, disconnected scapegoat that was only paid attention to when it served another persons aims (that is at work, or with acquaintances/friends).
Another interesting thing to note is that this was at a time in my life when there were a number of familial issues happening, and I felt as though I was under a microscope, which is mirrored by the exposure of my private body parts. I felt very exposed and very harshly judged by those around me in waking life.
I believe the store owner represents my ego in this dream sequence, the voice of reason. My ego assessed the situation and questioned my actions, making sure that I had in fact, not committed the assault. This is in direct relation to my waking life where my ego was assessing what I was being accused of in waking life, and analyzing whether or not I had done what I was being accused of. The resolution of this dream proved to me that I had not, but the fact that I still purchased the dress that exposed intimate parts of my body demonstrates that I felt it necessary to prove something to those around me.
Dream 4
The dream began in an English class in a room in my old high school. All of my former classmates were in the room, and a particularly domineering and autocratic teacher was teaching the class. We were going through the class reciting poetry that we had written for a class assignment. I had a book of my published poems that I described as a mix between Kurt Vonnegut, Ezra pound and “all of my emotions.” Although I was very excited to read some of my poetry out loud, the teacher skipped me and told me we did not have time to hear everyone’s poems, and that my poems were not all that important.
This scenario made me feel very anxious, and I was able to recognize that I had already graduated high school, so I began to wonder why I was there.
Anxiety – 3
Upset – 4
Neglected – 4
Invalidated – 4
Worried – 3
This dream is very much an anxiety dream about acceptance and recognition. The setting takes place in high school because high school is a time of self-development; it is a time where we struggle with our own identities. In high school, like most other adolescents, I was concerned with being accepted and recognized as unique and valuable in my uniqueness. This has continued on throughout my life, well into my young adulthood. Although I feel I have formed a relatively strong ego, and I would identify myself as a self-actualizing individual, I still continue to seek validation, particularly from my parents.

The teacher in this scenario then, would represent my parents. This is not to say that my parents are particularly domineering or autocratic, but I have lived my whole life wanting to impress them and make them proud. Recently, I have taken to writing as an outlet for a number of things, and have had the opportunity to have some of my articles and poems published, which of course, has led my parents to tell me how proud they are of me and how impressed they are with my work. We can consider this in drive-reduction terms; my secondary drive is to make my parents proud, but just because I make them proud once, does not mean this need will be satiated indefinitely. In fact, according to Clark hull and the drive reduction theory, we have drives that we need to reduce, and so we reduce these drives by drinking water (satiating our need for thirst, which is a primary need) or by getting paid (satiating our need for money, a secondary drive). But after a while we become thirsty again, or we spend the money that we made. Therefore, we are in a constant state of needing to reduce these drives – that is what my drive to make my parents proud is like. This could potentially stem from an inferiority complex, where I feel it is necessary to over exaggerate my accomplishments because I feel inadequate in some aspects of my life (either as an artist, as an intellectual, etc). According to Adler this is caused either by neglect or over nurturing, but I believe this can also be due to a perception of either or. Neglect and over nurturing are not limited to the physical, they can be tied to the emotional and psychological, and sometimes can be unintentional.
An inferiority complex not only leads me to over exaggerate my accomplishments, it makes me act in such a way as to take offense when people fail to acknowledge my accomplishments. I have been writing a blog with my personal essays on psychology and mental health, and perhaps feel neglected and invalidated because these essays are not receiving as much attention as I think they should from those who mean the most to me.
This is of course, a perception that stems from feelings of inadequacy that I have felt since adolescence. In a way, my need to attack psychological research and essay writing so fiercely is because I feel inadequate because I did not accomplish what I feel I should have while in university, and because I feel that I should have accomplished much more in relation to my field at this point in time. The need for recognition and acknowledgment, however, is something that I will have to overcome on my own.
I have learned through this entire process that it is helpful to analyze my dreams because it helped me identify the issues within my life that need the most attention. Any attempt at self-analysis is intimate and undoubtedly helps you understand yourself better. Dream analysis has helped me to understand my intentions, motivations and emotions, and has actually helped to alter my behaviour in waking life. When you have insight into your cognition, and your ego strength, you are able to apply positive changes in your waking life. We can learn a great deal from our dreams.

Neuroplasticity is Not a Religion

The study of the mind has a long history from Darwin to Wundt, Freud to Jung to and Rogers and beyond. As we advance our understanding of the mind, so too do we advance our understanding of its underlying mechanisms. Psychology has birthed a great many schools of thought, including ones to which we now pay little mind, such as functionalism and structuralism (which undoubtedly have contributed significantly to our present wealth of knowledge), and ones we should be paying closer attention to such as the psychodynamic, humanistic, & behaviorist schools. One important concept these divisions have in common is treatment and recovery.

Recovery is a difficult concept for some to grasp, and though the dictionary definition is quite clear, the way it is conceptualized seems to vary greatly from person to person. This is important to keep in mind when giving treatment. Telling someone they need to change does no good, but leading them to the realization that their own behaviours and attitudes are negatively influencing their lives, and having them come to the conclusion that change is imperative for their well being is the key to recovery. It gives a different message than when someone tells you “you have this negative feature about you, and you should change that” because what they end up hearing in that case is: “there is something wrong with you and I love, care, and accept you less because of it.” However, when we lead an individual to this realization on their own, the message is very different. It says “I still accept you for who you are, and I will accept you no matter what.” It demonstrates to the person that their actions do not define who they are as a person, and that they are more than their negative behaviours. This stems from the Rogerian concept of unconditional positive regard, which is integral to the client-centered therapeutic approach. This concept posits that we ought to accept and respect others just as they are, free of judgment or appraisal (Rogers, 1951, 1959).

Although it is important to allow and appreciate another person’s conceptualization of recovery during treatment, the one we will focus on today is the dictionary definition: recovery is a return to a normal state of mind, strength or health (Oxford). This conceptualization indicates that we can fall ill, but return to our original pre-illness state with the help of medication, operations, and (at least as far as mental illness is concerned) therapy. Some, however, hold a very different view; they believe that once you have developed an illness, you will have it for life. We do not refer to those individuals who have cancer, and go through treatment successfully, as having cancer. Once the cancer is gone, the cancer is gone. It may come back, but it is not the same cancer as before, and the cancer does not define who the person is. Why then does the opposite occur with mental illness? Prior to the onset of symptoms of depression, the individual might not experience any feelings of worthlessness, decreased interest in activities or suicidal tendencies (APA, 2013). If they did not experience these symptoms prior to the onset of the illness, why is it so hard to believe that once the cause of the symptoms is eliminated that they return to baseline?

With all the advances in our understanding of neuroplastic change, it shouldn’t be. Neuroplastic change isn’t as temporary as some may think, in fact, there is a restructuring of brain matter in some instances. In a study conducted by May et al., it was found that alterations in gray matter could occur rapidly, and that cortical plasticity may be involved in sustained clinical improvement (May et al., 2007). The study used low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). They administered active rTMS to one group and sham rTMS to another for 5 days. They found that depending on the frequency, rTMS can induce similar effects to direct electrical stimulation, which has elicited neuroplasticity in animals, (May et al, 2007). Further, rTMS could be used to target specific symptoms, for instance Hoffman and Cavus (2002) and Poulet et al (2005) found that 1-Hz rTMS that targeted the left tempo-parietal cortex caused a significant and sustained reduction in auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia (May et al, 2007).

There are a number of different interventions that can induce neuroplastic change; we don’t necessarily have to rely on medication or rTMS. Davidson and McEwan (2012) discuss the evidence for plasticity-like change in the brain as a result of regular physical exercise and cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy is an excellent intervention for neuroplastic change. First introduced by Aaron Beck in the 1960s, cognitive behavioral therapy is used in the treatment of a number of mental illnesses including depression, OCD, anxiety and even psychosis (Beck, 1967, 1975). CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all connected, and that the way in which we perceive things influences the way we act. The goal of CBT is to alter negative thoughts and behaviours into more positive ones (Beck, J, 2008).

Cramer et al (2011) defined neuroplasticity as the ability of the nervous system to alter its structure, function and connections, and as a response to the environment, development, learning or therapy. The review article (Harnessing Neuroplasticity for clinical applications, 2011) offered a number of instances offering supportive evidence for neuroplastic change, ranging from stroke, spinal cord injury, developmental disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders[1]. Plasticity promoting interventions produce clinically significant results, for instance, Colcombe et al, (2004) and Kramer and Erikson (2007) found that aerobic exercise programs that benefit cognitive functioning in healthy ageing and early dementia patients, might also be of benefit to those with schizophrenia. They have also been shown to increase brain volume, and enhancements in brain network functioning, (Colcombe et al., 2004, Kramer & Erikson, 2007). Eack et al., (2010) found that two years of social skills group therapy, in conjunction with cognitive remediation for early schizophrenia is accompanied by significant increases in grey matter in the left hippocampus and amygdala, which correlates with the degree of improved cognition (Eack et al., 2010).

As with any intervention, there are varying degrees of success with neuroplasticity. Neuroplastic change is dependent upon a number of factors including the environment, concomitant training, individual motivation, attention, and time (Cramer et al., 2011). Neuroplasticity does not occur overnight, it takes a lot of time and effort, and the client must be open to the idea of change as well.

Norman Doidge outlines a number of salient cases that offer powerful examples of neuroplasticity at work in his books “The Brain that Changes Itself (2007) and “The Brain’s Way of Healing” (2015). These both illustrate a number of ways that neuroplastic change can be initiated ranging from physical activity (chp 2, pp 33-100) to neromodulator devices (chp 7, pp. 226-279), to light (chp 4, pp 114-159). Doidge outlines the stages of neuroplastic healing in chapter 3 of “The Brain’s Way of Healing”(2015), these are: the correction of general cellular functions of neurons and glia (eliminating sources that may be affecting the health of neurons and glial cells), neuro-stimulation (preparing the brain to build new circuits and overcoming non-use in existing circuits; an example of internal neuro-stimulation using thought would be CBT), neuro-modulation (restores the balance between excitation and inhibition in neural networks) neuro-relaxation (sympathetic nervous system is “turned off” and the individual relaxes/sleeps) and neuro-differentiation (the ability to pay attention and learn, making fine distinctions in the brain, or differentiating). According to Doidge, all five stages are essential for neuroplastic change, (2015).

Doidge identifies these five stages specifically because most instances of neuroplastic change and healing; these stages are not necessarily he has observed them in applicable in every circumstance. That said, these do typically occur in most cases (for instance, the building of new circuits is evidenced in the case discussed above, cited by Eack et al). The only difference is that they may not be referred to with the same names as those suggested by Doidge.

Neuroplasticity, or neuroplastic change, is a scientific discovery that can help many overcome mental and physical illnesses. Sometimes, we hear people say that “keeping a positive attitude” or “thinking positive thoughts” will cause good things to happen. Although these statements are most often made with the concept of karma in mind, they are somewhat applicable to the concept of neuroplastic change. It is a key component of cognitive behavioural therapy, which is closely related to the concept of neuroplastic change. Since the evolution of Psychology as a science, we have discovered more and more mental illnesses, their symptoms, and have been able to theorize the best methods to treat them. Many have been convinced that once you have been diagnosed with a mental illness you have it for life. This is not necessarily true. As we have seen over the years, there are a number of therapies that interact with the cognitive structures of the brain (CBT, DBT, light therapy, exercise therapy, etc.), that act as a way to re-frame the mind, and with it, the brain.

The brain and mind are one in the same, while paradoxically also being separate entities. We are unable to identify or locate the mind within the brain; Freud attempted this with his identification of the Id, Ego, Superego, but we have yet to find the location of these structures in the physical brain. The brain is to the mind as the body is to the soul. The two interact with each other motivating our behaviours and actions. We cannot understand the mind without first understanding the brain, and we now understand that our mind (thoughts, emotions, schemas, etc) influence our brain (the actual structure; hippocampus, gyri, amygdala, sulci etc.). This is exactly why neuroplasticity works; our thoughts first interact with our mind, causing negative attributions, altering our brain structure in a way that debilitates us and causes illness. This also means that our brains can change us for the better.

There are still a great number of skeptics who do not believe that neuroplasticity is effective. Neuroplasticity is not a religion; it is not something to believe in or not. It simply is an aspect of science that has proven once again how incredible the human species is, and just how malleable the human brain is. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, we can understand neuroplasticity as a way for the species to adapt, which is just what our brains are doing when we experience neuroplasticity.







A May, G. Hajak, S. Ga¨ nßbauer, T. Steffens, B. Langguth, T. Kleinjung and P. Eichhammer. (2007). Structural Brain Alterations following 5 Days of Intervention: Dynamic Aspects of Neuroplasticity. Cerebral Cortex. 17: 205-210. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhj138

Beck, A.T. (1967). The diagnosis and management of depression. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-7674-4


Beck, A.T. (1975). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8236-0990-1


Beck, J. “Questions and Answers about Cognitive Therapy”. About Cognitive Therapy. Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research.


Clark D, Beck AT. Cognitive theory and therapy of anxiety and depression: convergence with neurobiological findings. Trends in cognitive sciences. 2010;14:418–424.

Colcombe SJ, Kramer AF, Erickson KI, Scalf P, McAuley E, Cohen NJ, et al. Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2004; 101: 3316–21.

Cramer, S, C., Sur, M., Dobkin, B, H., O’Brien, C., Sanger, T, D., Trojanowski, T, D., Rumsey, J, M., Hicks, R., Cameron, J., Chen, D., Chen, W, G, et al. (2011). Harnessing Neuroplasticity for Clinical Applications. Brain. 134; 1591-1609. doi:10.1093/brain/awr039


Disner SG, Beevers CG, Haigh EP, Beck AT. Neural mechanisms of the cognitive model of depression.Nature reviews. Neuroscience. 2011;12

Eack SM, Hogarty GE, Cho RY, Prasad KM, Greenwald DP, Hogarty SS, et al. Neuroprotective effects of cognitive enhancement ther- apy against gray matter loss in early schizophrenia: results from a 2-year randomized controlled trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2010; 67: 674–682.

Erickson KI, et al. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2011;108:3017–3022.



Hoffman RE, and Cavus I. (2002). Slow transcranial magnetic stimulation, long-term depotentiation, and brain hyperexcitability disorders. Am J Psychiatry159:1093-1102.


Kramer AF, Erickson KI. Capitalizing on cortical plasticity: influence of physical activity on cognition and brain function. Trends Cogn Sci 2007; 11: 342–8.


Poulet E, Brunelin J, Bediou B, Bation R, Forgeard L, Dalery J, d’Amato T and Saoud M. (2005). Slow transcranial magnetic stimulation can rapidly reduce resistant auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia. Biol Psychiatry 57:188-191.



Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable. ISBN 1-84119-840-4.


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



[1]                  Please refer to the full article “Harnessing Neuroplasticity for Clinical Applications” for full examples.

Understanding Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a neuropsychiatric disorder most easily defined as a distortion in thought, social behaviour and cognitive functioning. Around 1 % of the world’s population has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. There are a number of theories surrounding the onset of the disorder. Prevalent theories are steeped in the bio-medical model, while other less popular theories stem from a more psycholinguistic approach. The word “schizophrenia” comes from the Greek word “skhizein” meaning to split and “phren” meaning mind (Online Etymology Dictionary); schizophrenia therefore, can be translated as a splitting of the mind. This understanding has confused some individuals who are not necessarily familiar with the symptomatology of the disorder. It should not be confused with dissociative identity disorder, where there is a split between personalities; rather, the split that occurs in schizophrenia is a split between self and reality (how one internally conceptualizes reality).

This confusion does not end with the definition of schizophrenia. Most do not understand the presentation of symptoms, what the symptoms mean, or how to interact with these symptoms. I have witnessed many times, individuals interacting with someone with schizophrenia and not understanding just how to do so – it can be a complicated and at some times frustrating experience, when you do not fully understand the disorder. I am here to outline some major symptoms of schizophrenia, and how they present themselves, along with some ways to interact with clients while they are demonstrating these symptoms.

First, let us differentiate between positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms can easily be thought of as additions to a persons’ behaviour or cognition. Common examples of positive symptoms are hallucinations and delusions. Negative symptoms are subtractions from a persons’ normal range of functioning. Common examples of negative symptoms would be blunted affect and alogia.

Now that we have identified positive and negative symptoms we can assess the full range of symptoms presented in persons with schizophrenia[1].

Positive symptoms

Hallucinations and delusions are the most commonly known symptoms of schizophrenia, in fact, most people will not know many symptoms aside from these two.

Hallucinations can manifest in 5 different ways, these being auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory and tactile. Visual hallucinations are things that are seen by the client which are not there, or that other people cannot see. Auditory hallucinations are characterized by hearing voices that others are unable to hear, tactile hallucinations are characterized by feeling things which are not there, or which other people do not feel. Tasting, or smelling things, which are not present, or that other people do not taste or smell characterizes the final two categories of hallucinations – gustatory and olfactory (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Delusions are identified as false beliefs held with strong conviction, regardless of evidence to the contrary. These can be characterized in 4 categories, which are delusions of paranoia, delusions of grandeur, somatic delusions and delusions of reference (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Paranoid delusions are false beliefs centered on the idea that others are out to get you, or that others are doing things when there is no clear evidence. Delusions of grandeur are centered on the idea that you are important, special or significant outside of the normal realm. For instance, believing you are a religious prophet, or the reincarnation of Christ. Somatic delusions are false beliefs about your body – internally or externally. Delusions of reference are false beliefs that things in the environment are directed towards you, when they are not. For instance, a TV show or radio broadcaster is talking about a certain event, and you believe that this is directed at you specifically.

Disorganized speech, otherwise known as word salad, is characterized by derailment or incoherence in speech (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

The final positive symptom in schizophrenia is known as catatonia, or catatonic behaviour. This behaviour is characterized by rigidity, stupor, inactivity, mania, or extreme flexibility of limbs, (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Negative symptoms

Negative symptoms, as mentioned before, are characterized by a lack of certain behaviour. These are as follows:

Alogia, which is characterized by a difficulty or inability to speak.

Affective flattening (or blunted affect), which is characterized blunted facial expressions, or less lively facial or bodily movements.

Lack of emotion or, the inability to enjoy activities to the same degree as before.

Social isolation, in which the individual spends most of their time away from others, or when they do, it tends to be close family only.

Low energy, in which the individual does not exert a lot of energy, spends most of their time sitting around or sleeping.

Lack of motivation, in which the individual does not have much motivation or interest in life.

Inappropriate social skills or, a lack interest in, or ability in socializing with others

and finally, inability to make friends, in which the individual finds it difficult to make new friends, or keep friends they already have. They may not care for their friends.

There is one more category of symptoms that typically gets ignored when discussing schizophrenia. These are categorized as cognitive symptoms, and refer to difficulties with concentration and thinking.

They are as follows:

  • Disorganized thinking
  • Slow thinking
  • Difficulty understanding
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts, and
  • Difficulty integrating thoughts feelings and behaviour

In treating and individual with schizophrenia, understanding the symptoms of the disorder is half the battle. It is not enough to simply be aware of these symptoms, you must too understand their presentation and be able to differentiate between the symptom, and the person. What I mean by this is you must have the ability to separate the person from the expression of the symptom. For instance, a woman experiencing an auditory hallucination may be feeling anxious, or aggressive. She may be feeling attacked, and may yell or swear out loud in response to the hallucination. You may think she is yelling or swearing at you, and you may involve yourself in the situation. This should be avoided. That is not to say that you are not able to communicate with her while she is experiencing these symptoms, but you should avoid centering the conversation on them. The reason I say this is because you are not experiencing the symptom, you are not aware of what exactly is being said. This is based almost entirely on whether or not you have gained the client’s trust. Do not pretend to hear the voices as well – she is able to recognize that you do not hear them. Do not pretend that you know how to make them go away – because when she realizes you are unable to do this, you lose even more trust.

You can ask the client what the voices are saying. I believe that by doing this, you are demonstrating to them that you care, and it opens a window to strengthen the trust that is already there. You can also ask the client if they believe what the voices are saying. If they are able to, ask them to challenge the voices. You can re-direct the negativity into positivity.

Albert Ellis proposed rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) in 1955, which is the pioneering cognitive behaviour therapy. The goal of REBT is to challenge thoughts in order to avoid certain behaviours. He proposed an ABCDE model, with A meaning action (activating event) B meaning belief system, C meaning emotional consequence, D meaning disputing and E meaning cognitive/emotional effects of revised beliefs. In a situation such as the one outlined above, we can easily apply this model to the clients’ hallucination. The beauty of REBT is that it involves rationalizing the situation prior to the onset of behaviour. By asking the client to challenge the thought, voice, hallucination, or delusion, we are going straight to the disputing stage of our model. It is perfectly all right for a client to dispute their delusions or hallucinations. In fact, it should be encouraged. By ignoring or trying to avoid the symptoms, we end up encouraging repression, which means that the symptoms will likely return.

You should avoid invalidating their symptoms because though they may not be real to you, they are very real to your client. Invalidating their experience breaks down trust, and creates a divide between you and them.

While interacting with someone with schizophrenia we should always be mindful of our own attitudes and behaviors, specifically while they are being symptomatic. You should avoid teasing or mocking the client’s behaviour. I have witnessed caregivers laugh at a client’s word salad, or mock their catatonic behaviour. There is a misconception that because these individuals are experiencing things outside of the realm of normalcy that they do not understand our behaviour, or do not notice it. This is not true, and you should always be aware of your attitudes, language use, tone, and behaviour.

Experiencing schizophrenic symptoms puts the client in a very vulnerable state. There is a need for trust, without the ability to trust. Not only, will a client with schizophrenia find it more difficult to trust you due to their illness, they will also find it difficult to trust you because they have been taken advantage of so many times before. With that in mind, their delusions hold some truth. It is difficult to give your entire trust to someone else, to give up your power and to rely on someone else’s.

There are better ways we could and should be interacting with these clients. It may sound obvious, but the two most important traits are patience and kindness. Due to the combination of cognitive delays and positive/negative symptoms experienced by the client, it is sometimes difficult to make it through a conversation with them. This should not discourage you; in fact, you should seek out any opportunity you have to share a conversation with them. This not only builds trust, but it helps you understand the client more, so that in the future you may be able to differentiate between symptomatic expression and non-symptomatic expression.

Empathy is the most important thing we can offer the client. Carl Rogers explains the importance of empathy in understanding our clients, and in aiding them in their healing process (Rogers, 1951, 1959, 1961, 1974). To be empathetic is also to demonstrate unconditional positive regard, also identified by Rogers as a key factor in successful therapy/treatment (Rogers, 1951, 1959, 1961, 1974).

When communicating with a client with schizophrenia, you should be mindful to communicate with them the same way you would with any other client. Attempt to include them in social activities – they may say they do not want to each time, which is fine, but eventually they may change their mind. What matters, however, is that you made the offer; this shows them that you care.

Understanding schizophrenia is a difficult task, however it is far more difficult to live with it. By attempting to understand, show empathy, and build trust with our clients, we are helping them heal. We are helping them make it through a very difficult disorder. The key to understanding schizophrenia is education and the ability to listen.

American Personnel and Guidance Association. (1974). Carl Rogers’s 1974 lecture on empathy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMi7uY83z-U&feature=share&list=PL9w3l7GkGUr1yxU4s2PiggyCbOO3XfpRf

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Ellis, Albert. (1957). How To Live with a Neurotic. Oxford, England: Crown Publishers, 1957.

Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable

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

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

Schizophrenia. (n.d). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=schizophrenia

[1]                  It should be noted that not every individual diagnosed with schizophrenia would present all or the same symptoms.

The Role Mozart Plays in Psychodynamic Psychoanalysis


Sigmund Freud first introduced psychoanalysis in the 1890s and its basic tenets are as follows:

  • A person’s development is largely determined by forgotten, or repressed events from early childhood,
  • Attitudes, thought and behaviours are influenced by irrational drives found in the unconscious,
  • Conflicts between the unconscious and conscious can manifest in neuroses, and
  • Alleviating neuroses from the unconscious mind is done so by bringing these thoughts, memories and ideas into the conscious mind.

Since the approach was first presented, things have continued to change and evolve, including different schools of thought, and different theories. Psychodynamic psychoanalysis is typically regarded as the least successful/useful form of therapy, particularly due to its founder and his theories and ideas relating to the unconscious mind. Most regard Freud and his theories as hyper-sexualized, and relying too heavily on psychosexual development, and said development as the reason for most if not all neuroses.

The nature of Psychoanalysis is to delve into a person’s psyche, to present to them what the root of the issue is. This makes it so a client who says they are feeling depressed is not given a quick fix, rather, they see what is causing those feelings and focuses on dealing with that, as to avoid the feelings reoccurring. The techniques used are as follows:

  • Anamnesis: recalling past memories and bringing them to the forefront of our minds. The patient is to remember facts, behaviours or emotions related to the occurrence of the symptoms. (By remembering the antecedent of a symptom, we may find the answer for why the symptom presented itself to begin with.)
  • Free Association: The patient is asked to lie on a couch, (in order to create a relaxing state/mood) and is asked to say anything and everything that crosses their mind, without restriction. This act of free association is to allow ourselves to avoid censure, which means we will freely speak of immoral, unethical, neurotic and narcissistic things that cross our minds. By allowing ourselves to freely speak of things, we offer the therapist a way to better understand our condition. This method does not end when the talk stops, rather, it is the therapist’s role to analyze these thoughts, and find the associations between the talk and the condition.

The act of free-association was argued by Freud to be more helpful than anamnesis in bringing thoughts and feelings from the unconscious to the conscious mind. Essentially, through free association, the client is revealing his psyche to the therapist, and his self. So what role does Mozart play in all of this? Music has been found to influence a person’s subjective emotional state (Georgi, R.V., Gobel, M and Gebhardt, S, 2010), effects neocortical structures associated with analysis and synthesis, as well as subcortical structures associated with the processing of both negative and positive stimuli, (Georgi, R.V., Gobel, M and Gebhardt, S, 2010). This supports the idea that music significantly influences mood, and understanding of that mood.

With this in mind, by way of using Mozart throughout the therapy session, then the act of free association may become much easier for the client. By activating emotions, and essentially opening the clients psyche more so than if we were to rely solely on free association, the client may feel more in tune with themselves, and may feel more open to express themselves. It may also help the client understand why they are saying what they are saying –and may be able to “come to a realization” during free association.

Why Mozart in particular? As Norman Doidge points out in his most recent book “The Brain’s Way of Healing”, Mozart’s compositions provide the most continuous sounds that are “easy on the ear,” and it motivates the emotional flow of language (Doidge, N, 2015). Further, the music used in sound therapy enhances the connection between brain areas that process positive reward and the insula, which is involved in paying attention. Music rewires the “noisy” brain, which Doidge defines as an overactive brain that fires neurons senselessly and without direction (Doidge, N, 2015). By re-wiring the brain and these neuronal connections, the brain, and the mind, are quieted and cleared in such a way that enhances clarity, focus and attention. All of which are essential for recalling repressed and unconscious emotions.

Why combine Mozart with psychoanalysis, instead of having patients listen to Mozart outside of therapy? The combination will work in such a way that the client becomes much more open to their past memories and current emotional availability, so that free association will occur with more direction than before. Further, the music will allow the client to be in a more relaxed state, which is essential in free association. Although some have found it necessary to choose one type of therapy, and argue its validity and efficacy, I believe that we should incorporate and rely on more than one form of therapy for the treatment of neurotic symptoms. If music proves therapeutic for some patients, and offers a sort of lucidity, why not pair it with a proven form of therapy, such as psychoanalysis?











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