He was in the waiting room. I noticed he dropped something from his bag and I wanted to step back to let him pick it up, but then it rolled towards me, something moving back and forth. I was drawn to it and it seemed to be drawn to me and it landed softly at my feet. I picked it up and looked through the end. I was curious. I had an immediate flashback to my childhood. I was holding a kaleidoscope. I gazed through the aperture and saw a child inside a star looking through an aperture at a man outside looking through an aperture at a world of many different shapes and colours.
We then found ourselves sitting opposite each other in another room. Just the two of us, with the kaleidoscope back in his bag. This was our first therapy session. I knew we had chosen to be in this moment and trusted there had been a deep calling in us that brought us here. And in all our struggles, hopes and dreams, we were now sharing the possibility of there being something else in our meeting, something larger. We did our best to recognise the space between us and invited all the possibilities of change and growth and healing. A candle was lit and we acknowledged the uniqueness of the moment. This wasn’t about fixing, it was about caring. Caring for ourselves and caring for the other and caring for the world. Then we listened. We listened deeply with our hearts and began to offer each other hope. ‘Who are you?’ ‘Who am I?’ ‘Why are we here?’ These questions seemed to disappear as we found acceptance of our being in the presence of a stranger acknowledging we were not alone. Client and therapist as two travellers, soul companions on our way home. Meeting at depth on many different levels in one moment, a kaleidoscope of fragments of light and shade, of love and fear, reflecting stories inside and outside of us, longing to be connected to the story of the world.
Psychotherapy may be an opportunity to access the essence of ourselves. Not just by being encouraged by our developing skills and theories of therapy, and our openness and search for healing, but through the lived, felt experience of our being. Exploring what connects client and therapist in terms of our being human and beyond, may find us in the territory of the soul.
When it comes to trying to understand any therapeutic relationship in depth, recognising what we all have in common feels like a good starting point. I wonder if the client and therapist can ever be separated when relating at depth. The story of each therapeutic relationship is unique and may offer the paradox of there being commonality and the possibility we are on the same journey of being human. If so, I believe we have the potential to connect to each other from the core of our being human in therapy.
Even though one may be an observer at times to the other’s experience, if we turn this around, like a kaleidoscope, we may see that we are both the experiencer and observer at the same time. If we turn it around even more, we may look deeper and see images that connect all the different parts of ourselves with the other, with the world and with the soul.
Mia Leijssen, professor of person-centred/experiential/existential psychotherapy at the University of Leuven in Belgium, believes therapy is a spiritual practice and observes that the ‘soul’ or ‘life force’ is a quality of experiencing life which can deepen, enrich and also potentially transform us in therapy.1 She also quotes Eugene Gendlin, acknowledging what he calls a ‘felt sense’ where ‘…the human body plays a remarkable role in developing an awareness of spirit’ and that by attending to this felt sense, we may capture the process of the soul.
Leijssen also identifies ‘soul moments’ in psychotherapy, which she sees as becoming part of the healing process, and understands there are different dimensions of our physical, social, psychological and spiritual life. She believes these different dimensions can ‘...become integrated in one felt process, evolving from moment to moment in therapy’2 and that they inspire us and can connect to our bodily felt resources. She also makes reference to ways of nourishing the soul in therapy where there can be communication through images, symbols and actions without what she terms ‘over explanation’. I agree there are times where explanation is not needed in therapy, and there is just a being with what emerges, letting moments fill with what is becoming. I have also experienced this as an intuitive communication in clinical supervision, where somehow I connect intuitively to the client by imagining space for the healing the client may be seeking. If we consider the kaleidoscope image I used earlier, different aspects of our being may somehow be linked to how we experience the therapeutic and supervisory relationships. Where something happens that can appear one moment as a thought, feeling or an image which seems incredibly important and may offer so much more at the time or in reflection, depending on how we look at it.
For instance, I looked up the origin of the word ‘kaleidoscope’ online.3 It comes from the Greek words kalos, which means ‘beautiful’, and eidos, which means ‘shape’. I liked the idea of finding something more, and looked further and checked out the word ‘scope’ and learned it means ‘to observe’. So, I then looked up the origin of the word ‘observe’ and found it described as ‘a sense of distance the mind can reach’. I really like this description. I think these words have a lot of power. By digging deeper, I may have discovered something at the root of the word ‘kaleidoscope’ which for me seems to describe the territory of the soul. For example, I wonder if as well as there being a felt sense, the soul may also appear like a beautiful shape in my imagination that can travel a sense of distance the mind can reach. Of course, we can only imagine these things, yet in our imagining, perhaps we can actually connect to something more, something deeper, inside and outside of us.
Jung, writing in The Red Book, considers this inner and outer world. And as we become part of what he refers to as the ‘manifold essence of the world’ through our bodies, we also become part of the manifold essence of the inner world through our soul, and he believes that this inner world is truly infinite.4
Bernie Neville, professor of holistic counselling at the Phoenix Institute of Higher Education in Australia, shares Rogers’ belief of an actualising tendency; that when the conditions in the therapeutic relationship permit, we are not only involved in an event, but ‘…we are tapping into a tendency which permeates all organic life.’5 I find this possibility inspiring, and have written about it before, where I considered there is something which intrinsically moves us towards self-actualisation and asked if we can experience its presence.6,7 I also find the question of the soul takes us further into the actualising tendency, which may be represented as our being part of a universe, as well as our potential for growth and change and healing, deep within our being.
Neville also poses a view from the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, that when we observe the therapeutic relationship, we see two individuals who make up the relationship; however, we may have this back to front. He states that: ‘In each moment of experience it is the relationship which holds the two experiencing subjects into being, not two individuals who make a relationship happen’ and that they are directly connected as aspects of a single cosmic moment of experience. He goes on to suggest: ‘...the universe is not made of people or chemicals or atoms. It is made of relationships which bring people and atoms and chemicals into being.’5
I find this view compelling, and I wonder if the soul can be described in this way as that which brings us into being. Kaitlyn Steele, a person-centred spiritual accompanier and pastoral supervisor, also shares Rogers’ view of the actualising tendency and believes that when he spoke of our ‘organismic nature’ or our ‘transcendental core’ he was essentially talking about the soul, and that where there is meaningful encounter in the therapeutic relationship, it is as if ‘…one soul reaches out and touches the soul of the other’.8
I once worked with a client who told me she saw the cosmos when she closed her eyes at night and felt really connected somehow to the stars and planets. Janet (not her real name) had never spoken about this before and had felt hesitant about sharing this with me. She wondered if I would think her strange or think that she was going crazy; of course, I didn’t think that.
When clients start to tell me something and say things like, ‘You might think this is really weird, or you may think me crazy…’, I find myself moving towards them that little bit closer as I am particularly interested in what they might say. In my experience, what they talk about are usually matters of the soul; not revealing things to another person may be a kind of protection for the core of their being.
Janet was experiencing an incredible loneliness in her life. She had clearly been hurt. The physical part of her had healed she said, but there was a deep scar inside her that wouldn’t heal. It had destroyed her sense of believing in herself and believing in her safety in the world. I noticed early on she seemed to be holding something in her body by the way she sat with her arms crossed over her lap as if covering a wound. She seemed to find some relief and even some comfort in just sharing her story. At the end of our work together, she said she experienced me as being kind and that having been listened to was so important for her. It also seemed she had found kindness for herself too.
I think as therapists we can only ever come close to understanding the client’s story and similarly only ever come close to understanding the soul. There may always be a distance, even when we feel that we connect. But it feels so important that we are able to respond from a deep place within us when listening for the soul in the other, sharing and being in relationship and imagining matters of the soul as they emerge.
In shamanic practice, there is a belief that parts of the soul may leave the body at times of trauma and can only be retrieved by the help of a shamanic practitioner, who visits the world of spirit on the client’s behalf.9 I have limited knowledge of this; however, I do accept the possibility and I am attracted by the imagery. I can imagine many clients I have worked with, having reconnected to parts of themselves in their healing and in discovering new ways of being. I also think that where there is suffering, it may be the soul’s process of seeking healing, with parts of the soul trying to reconnect. Perhaps, even in therapy, there is a way of calling these fragmented parts of the soul back home.
Janet’s life had been a struggle. She was self-harming and taking risks with alcohol and sex and had believed she was of no value. She also thought no one cared for her as she had lost the sense of caring for herself. She also acknowledged that something felt like it had been taken away from her. Having an image of a lost part of Janet helped her imagine where it might have gone and what it looked like and if it might ever come back. Over time, she was able to experience some of the qualities of the lost part of herself and, rather like the shamanic view, she believed something of her essence had been returned, was able to manage better and had found a confidence in herself.
Whatever questions we may have of the soul, I think it is important we accept there may be an enabling of life we have at our core that stays with us through life. Part of our journey may be further empowered in the therapeutic relationship by a therapist or someone accompanying us towards our dark places to find what has been lost.
Hearing the healing in the client’s story feels important as it may be a story of the soul, which is also our story and the story of the world. I believe that in the therapeutic relationship, we may discover we have the power to enliven life with a thought, awareness, a reflection and maybe even an intention or intuition, where the outer world connects to our inner world. We may choose to turn the kaleidoscope, see we are part of something larger and connected to all life, and indeed this awareness may be the awakening of the question of the soul.
Mike Moss is employed as a counsellor for children and young people by West Lothian Council, Scotland and is a registered member of BACP. He lives in Edinburgh and has a small private practice offering clinical supervision and training.
1. Leijssen M. Encountering the sacred: personcentred therapy as a spiritual practice. Person-Centred and Experiential Therapies 2008; 7(3): 220–222.
2. Leijssen M. Psychotherapy as search and care for the soul. Person-Centred and Experiential Therapies 2009; 8(1): 29.
3. Online Etymology Dictionary. https://www.etymonline.com/ (accessed 13 November 2019).
4. Jung CG. The red book: liber novus. Shamdasani S (ed). New York: WW Norton; 2009.
5. Neville B. The life of things: therapy and the soul of the world. Monmouth: PCCS Books; 2012.
6. Moss M. The fifth wave: beyond the mainstream. Thresholds 2018; July: 6–10.
7. Moss M. Something larger: on sharing case notes with children and young people. Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal 2019; 19(2): 18-19.
8. Steele KE. Sacred space: embracing the spiritual in person-centred therapy. CreateSpace Independent Publications; 2015.
9. Ingerman S. Soul retrieval: mending the fragmented self. London: Harper One Publishers; 1991.