1st Edition

The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy Spiritual Practice, the Apophatic Way and Bion

By Judith Pickering Copyright 2019
    290 Pages
    by Routledge

    290 Pages
    by Routledge

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    2020 American Board & Academy of Psychoanalysis (ABAPsa) book award winner!

    If, when a patient enters therapy, there is an underlying yearning to discover a deeper sense of meaning or purpose, how might a therapist rise to such a challenge? As both Carl Jung and Wilfred Bion observed, the patient may be seeking something that has a spiritual as well as psychotherapeutic dimension. Presented in two parts, The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy is a profound inquiry into the contemplative, mystical and apophatic dimensions of psychoanalysis.

    What are some of the qualities that may inspire processes of growth, healing and transformation in a patient? Part One, The Listening Cure: Psychotherapy as Spiritual Practice, considers the confluence between psychotherapy, spirituality, mysticism, meditation and contemplation. The book explores qualities such as presence, awareness, attention, mindfulness, calm abiding, reverie, patience, compassion, insight and wisdom, as well as showing how they may be enhanced by meditative and spiritual practice.

    Part Two, A Ray of Divine Darkness: Psychotherapy and the Apophatic Way, explores the relevance of apophatic mysticism to psychoanalysis, particularly showing its inspiration through the work of Wilfred Bion. Paradoxically using language to unsay itself, the apophatic points towards absolute reality as ineffable and unnameable. So too, Bion observed, psychoanalysis requires the ability to dwell in mystery awaiting intimations of ultimate truth, O, which cannot be known, only realised. Pickering reflects on the works of key apophatic mystics including Dionysius, Meister Eckhart and St John of the Cross; Buddhist teachings on meditation; Śūnyatā and Dzogchen; and Lévinas’ ethics of alterity.

    The Search for Meaning in Psychotherapy will be of great interest to both trainees and accomplished practitioners in psychoanalysis, analytical psychology, psychotherapy and counselling, as well as scholars of religious studies, those in religious orders, spiritual directors, priests and meditation teachers.

    Preface; Introduction; Part One: The listening cure: Psychotherapy as spiritual practice 1 Spirituality and psychotherapy 2 An open heart and an open Hearth: Towards an ethic of analytic hospitality 3 The listening cure: Presence, awareness, attention 4 The state of contemplation and analytic reverie 5 Some Buddhist teachings on meditation 6 Primordial purity and spontaneous presence: The Great Perfection of Dzogchen 7 ‘I do not exist’: Śūnyatā and the terror of non-being 8 Bearing the unbearable, imagining the unimaginable: Intergenerational transmission of trauma Part Two: A Ray of Divine Darkness: Psychotherapy and the Apophatic Way 9 The trace of the infinite in the face of the Other: Lévinas’ ethics of alterity 10 The origins of the apophatic way 11 The apophatic mysticism of Dionysius 12 The apophatic way after Dionysius 13 Transcending all knowledge: St John of the Cross 14 Apophatic contemplation in Christianity 15 Apophatic epistemology in Bion 16 Without memory, desire or understanding: A commentary 17 Bion’s O and the apophatic way; Inconclusion


    Judith Pickering is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, analytical psychologist, couple therapist and scholar of religious studies working in private practice in Sydney, Australia. She is the author of Being in Love: Therapeutic Pathways Through Psychological Obstacles to Love (Routledge, 2008) and has over forty years’ experience in meditation, prayer and contemplation.

    "Early in her book Judith writes of her own experience of singing: Ultimately, inspired by the spirit of the music, all elements of attention converge and unify, the singer enters a state of ecstasy transcending awareness of time, space and individuality, such that the music and singers become all one instrument, one soaring, flowing body of sound. In this scholarly book Judith brings us, her patients and herself on a deeply personal journey in the search for meaning in psychotherapy. Her exploration of Dzogchen, Buddhism and apophatic mysticism from a range of traditions culminates in an original re-interpretation of Bion’s "O". Her writing sings to the "ray of divine darkness": the transcendence of not knowing over knowledge in psychotherapy."-Penelope Jools, Senior Editor, Working with Developmental Anxieties in Couple and Family Psychotherapy: The Family Within (Routledge, 2018)

    "Dr Judith Pickering offers invaluable insights and guidelines into a richer understanding of the human spirit, showing a path to unity out of false divisions and bringing much needed compassion and gentleness of spirit into a fast-paced, acquisitive and often aggressive world. She does so by drawing on the wisdom of many apophatic mystics from different spiritual traditions as well as her own vast experience in contemplation, meditation, and psychotherapy."-Bishop Patrick Power, author of Joy and Hope, Pilgrim Priest and Bishop

    "In this immensely evocative, provocative and scholarly book, Judith Pickering challenges the reader to consider the daunting role of the psychoanalyst, psychotherapist and couple psychotherapist in relating to their patients – mind and soul – in discovering the truth of who they are. In her engaging writing style, which conveys her aliveness and analytic hospitality, she emphasises the spiritual dimension of psychoanalysis, noting the importance of a particular state of mind in the analyst in this enterprise and how this can be cultivated. In noting the importance of un-knowing ourselves in the processes of self-realisation, she also highlights the value of approaches to psychoanalysis such as those advocated by Jung and Bion which incorporate an apophatic approach. I think this book, which is of great contemporary relevance, makes an important contribution to the field and is essential reading for psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, couple therapists, students and those with an interest in spirituality and psychotherapy."-Timothy Keogh, Vice-President, International Association of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis and Australian Confederation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies, Co-author of Psychoanalytic Approaches to Loss: Mourning, Melancholia and Couples

    "At the heart of psychotherapy lies the yearning for meaning and spiritual fulfillment. To venture into this inner landscape as a therapist and offer support to another is to enter sacred ground. While mindful of history, Judith Pickering makes accessible all the best of current psychotherapy, mysticism, contemplation and meditation techniques. Engaging, powerful, insightful and above all relevant to these troubled times, this book is a must read; it provides the know-how and the inspiration to take the plunge!"-Ian Gawler, author of Blue Sky Mind