This essay is a continuation of discussion which includes Seminar #47 & #48 focused on Chapter 14 in the Portable Jung: On Synchronicity as its starting point. (CW Vol. 8 pars. 969-997) I will also make reference to a later, expanded version of this essay titled – Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principal (CW Vol. 8 pars 816 – 968)

 

We will talk further here about exploring synchronicity which emerge in the therapeutic office or in the therapeutic relationship:

 

In On Synchronicity, Jung describes three categories of synchronicity:

 

  1. The coincidence of a psychic state in the observer with a simultaneous objective external event that corresponds to the psychic state in the observer.

 

The example Jung gives here is the story of a very logical, somewhat concrete-minded young woman who reported a dream about being given jeweled golden scarab. As she finished speaking Jung noticed a buzzing sound at the window of his office. Jung opened the window and caught up a shiny green-gold beetle in his hands and offered it to his patient. The experience and exploration of something so irrational, unreasonable occurring seems to have, according to Jung’s report, opened the client up to experiencing her non-rational aspects (i.e.: emotional, physical, intuitive). So a subjective, internal experience – the reliving of a dream of a scarab – corresponds to an objective external experience – the beetle buzzing at the window.

The second type that Jung describes involves the simultaneous correspondence of a subjective state with an objective event at a distance, beyond the observer’s perception, and later verified. A fairly common example of this is people who experience a dream of a loved one, or a bad feeling at the moment of the death of a loved one. If you work with bereavement, death or dying you will have heard such accounts. These kinds of experiences appear uncanny to us because they disorder our understanding of perception and distance.

The third type involves subjective experiences that seem to predict or anticipate objectively real events that occur at a later time. In Seminar #9 on Shock I wrote about a depth psychology class I took where the dreams we collected appeared to anticipate the destruction of the Twin Towers a few days later. Here, the uncanny sensation emerges from our understanding of linear time being challenged.

 

 

I would also let you know – that in the weeks after September 11th I made space for the client’s who seemed to have had anticipatory dreams – to explore their feelings about them. I particularly remember a woman who had a dream of “kamikaze” airplanes flying down the streets of New York City talking about how her dreamed seemed to prepare her for what we all witnessed that day – and that she seemed to be able to understand what was happening before others around her could process it. Such predictive dreams seem to me to serve just that function – to put those who have them in a state of readiness, as if they had already begun to “pre-digest” the positive or negative transformative event before it occurred – allowing them to move through the experience with less overwhelm. When the “prediction” appears to be of a “low stakes” event – or something even quite peculiar but inconsequential – not “transformative” – it often serves a function similar to the scarab – inviting the client to consider their intuitive experience more deeply, brining “irrational” and “magical” ideas that had been suppressed, into the treatment dialogue.

Because we work in a professional realm where we are exploring unconscious and “irrational” content, and our own unconscious response is often constellated, even at times entangled with the client’s unconscious. And like dreams – when we are operating in “primary process” thinking we perceive the world without linear time, or measurable space or distance. This is sometimes referred to derisively as “magical thinking” but only a small portion of our experience of the world and our self operates “rationally.”   I am not particularly concerned with what is real or not real, provable or not provable. The fact most of our experiences are not “rational.” Our irrational selves, our emotional lives, our attachments, our creative and artistic experiences, our response to symbolic content, our dreams at night, our childhoods and our religious and spiritual beliefs, and our hunches are all irrational, nonlinear, and often operate without clear cause and effect – but that does not make them illegitimate or unimportant. And we create realities our of our subjective experience:

A very dramatic example of this third type of anticipatory synchronicity emerged with a young woman I worked with many years ago who struggled with eating disorder, an abuse history and severe anxiety. She had been passing through a very difficult patch and said to me: “I feel so desperate – I wish that I could see you every day this week!” The next day we passed each other on the street in an area of town that was not near my office or either of our homes. The next day I ordered a sandwich at a health food store, and as I left, she was eating her meal on the bench out front. The day after that, my husband and I had a “date night” and went to a new restaurant that we hadn’t tried in Union Square – when the hostess led us to our table, my client was already seated with a friend and was finishing up her meal at the table right next to ours. We acknowledged each other and waved each time – laughing and expressing surprise and shaking our heads but having no other conversation. These happenstances continued, bumping into each other in Central Park, standing in parallel lines at a random bank lobby to get cash – so that it became almost expectable and unsurprising. Until it turned out, by our next session that she had in fact “seen” me every day that week! When I told a colleague about the remarkable run of coincidence their first assumption was that the client was following/stalking me. But for at least half of our encounters I had been the one to stumble into her space after she had already been there for some time.

So of course we talked together about this remarkable series of events – and about what a powerful wish it had been, how it made her feel “held” to see that existed outside the office in “real” circumstances and how it felt to her like I was powerfully “there” for her – and deeply reassuring that she was not alone.

But of course, when we are implicated in a synchronicity with a client, it becomes our synchronicity too, so what did it mean to me? For myself, I think that it was reassuring that I was able to help this client – who was somewhat overwhelming for me at the time – by seeing that even though her need for me and dependency upon me was great, what she needed from me was actually not any kind of extraordinary labor – she simply needed to know that I existed in my own skin, in my own life without disrupting me in anyway. Her demand was not more complicated than that – and as the week of surprise encounters unfolded I saw that she really just needed a lot of simple little gestures and reassurances from me in order to stabilize – and it was very informative for me through the rest of the treatment.

This is one of the more dramatic synchronicities I’ve seen as a therapist – but synchronicity between therapeutic partners is a common experience for myself and many of the cases I have supervised – albeit on a smaller scale.

I will add a fourth type of synchronicity to Jung’s list: a subjective state that corresponds to another person’s subjective state across distance or time.

In my experience this most likely to happens between the client’s dreams and my own dreams: I wrote here about the ways that client’s dreams can influence the therapist’s and vice versa

I generally just think of dreaming synchronicities that occur between therapist and client as a indicating a kind of crystallization of the transference/countertransference – the client’s unconscious is in communication with the therapist’s unconscious – which occasionally breaks into awareness and is experienced as uncanny. Or the archetypal experience – a primordial image is activated in session – i.e.: the session felt thick and foreboding like a storm brewing on the horizon, or like a dam broke and a great flood poured forth – which the therapist identifies with and experiences vicariously or in the relationship- and both members dream about similar symbols because they shared – or are sharing or are about to share – an experience together.

 

One of the most common occurrences that I hear from many supervisees is of thinking about a client they have not seen for a long time who then calls out of the blue for a session or contacts them shortly afterward.

 

One of the decisions that the therapist has to make is this: When the therapist is the one who knows of the synchronicity, do we share it with the client? For example: if you have a dream that mirrors a client’s do you decide to share it or withhold it? If you think of a client who calls, do you tell them or keep that small synchronicity to yourself? If I had run into the client I spoke of above each day for a week, but she hadn’t seen me – should I mention to her that I had encountered her or keep that out of her way? I recently sat with a client who owned a restaurant – and as she spoke about her work, and how her business had been running I had a picture in my minds eye of the space that I have seen in photos online. But, strangely, in my minds eye, a former client was sitting at one of the tables eating a muffin! I have spoken to the restaurateur many times about her establishment and pictured the space many times without imaging any other client in it. And the next day – I was contacted by the “muffin-eater” who I hadn’t heard from in almost two years.

I decided to tell her about what I had imagined and the funny way she had popped into my mind because it struck me as an expression of feeling connected and indeed, that was why the client had reached out – just wanting to know that we were still connected after a period of not seeing each other.

 

The fundamental question is: Is this your synchronicity or the client’s or does it belong to both of you?

 

I don’t think that there is one universal answer – I rarely share such things with the client when I am the only one privy to the coincidence. For me, it depends on the client’s level of differentiation and individuation. If I suspect they are likely to over- or under- value it – dismiss it outright or attach to it too concretely – I will keep it to myself. If I feel that the client, or the connection between us is strong enough to contemplate and be curious about a symbol without becoming “possessed” by it – if they can withstand a strong feeling, of “uncanniness” without becoming flooded or fixated – but can instead wonder about what various meanings they alone- or the two of us together – might assign to it – I will likely share it.

 

Similarly if I think it will be disruptive or annoying to a highly skeptical client, or one who generally devalues their “irrational” aspects – I don’t expect a synchronicity that only I experience to have any positive effect on them – and it will simply become a moment of misattunement to impinge on their session with whatever the synchronicity meant to me. If they need to make more contact with their irrational aspects – their own unconscious can manufacture their own meaningful coincidence, or invite a scarab to buzz at the office window and challenge their linear thinking.