The divine life in man is joined
in all innocence with animal life
Dionysian psychotherapy uses the creative embodied power of emotional experiencing for healing. New developments in the field of psychotherapy are also beginning to embrace the power of deep experiencing and its transformative power to heal emotional suffering. We see this new innovation in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) and Somatic Therapy. Previous approaches to healing are allopathic, only focusing on alleviating symptoms. These new Dionysian innovations in psychotherapy are a homeopathic way of healing, following the ancient healing principle of “like cures like.” Dionysian psychotherapy explores underneath the symptom, deepening the events of the symptom into experiencing, which further unlocks deeper experiencing. This healing process gets to the cause of the symptoms and transforms suffering.
Exploring the mythical stories of the ancient Greek archetype of Dionysus can reveal more about the nature of emotional health and growth. I imagine the Dionysian myths as descriptive metaphors for the transformative power of experiencing. Dionysian reality can be imagined as our emotional body, as the emotional animals that live in our unconscious, instinctual body. These emotional animals (Dionysus was also known as the “lord of the wild beasts”) are common to all humans regardless of our unique personalities and the different social and cultural pressures to channel these “wild beasts” for communal good.
In an attempt to describe some of the common emotional life experiences we face, I have imagined these fundamental emotional experiences as our archetypal inheritance as human animals. This is our “EQ”, our emotional animal intelligence. These “inner” wise animals have an instinctual sensibility and drive to engage in spontaneous creative actions. Some of the Dionysian archetypal animal emotional needs of humans are: the seeking animal, the intimacy animal, the survival animal, the fairness animal, the giving animal, the grieving animal, the playfulness animal and the loving animal. These wise emotional animals are engaged in the present moment, operate independently from our consciousness and are often hidden from consciousness.
Much of psychotherapy is helping the patient’s ego consciousness cope with the consequences of these instinctual emotional needs not being met, or being traumatized, neglected, repressed and/or unfulfilled. Dionysian psychotherapy can also guide us in learning how to follow our innate animal sensibility. This homeopathic form of therapy works on helping the thinking ego get out of the way so our imagination can give voice to the deeper needs of emotional living. Our instincts are usually true and accurate, but often our reactions to and interpretations of these emotional experiences are wrong and harmful. These wise emotional instincts know how to skillfully and creatively move through the agonies and ecstasies of a passionate, playful, giving, intimate, loving and creative lived life.
We have two creative powers within us: One is to think and become conscious; the other, to experience and creatively express. Thinking can help us conceptualize, interpret, analyze and develop self-awareness, but there is a problem with thinking. It stops experiential processing by pulling away into thought. Dionysian psychotherapy tries to quiet the thinking mind so our inner poet can stay with the process and metaphorically express its emotional intelligence.
Dionysian psychotherapy uses imagination instead of thinking. Whereas thinking can’t get near experiencing, poetic expression dances with experience. What Dionysian psychotherapy can add to AEDP and EFT is the value of imagination and our poetic right brain to express and deepen experience. Our poetic right brain can also expressively capture and carry a likeness of experience. In Dionysian psychotherapy, both the poetic imagination of therapist and patient are our primary therapeutic tools for a homeopathic process of deep healing and emotional growth.
Thomas F. McKenna, Ph.D., is co-founder and clinical director of Life Change Psychotherapy Institute, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a soul-centered psychotherapist for more than 30 years. This paper is a summary of a series of lectures given by Dr. McKenna for the staff at Life Change Psychotherapy Institute in August 2019.
© 2019 Life Change Psychotherapy Institute, PC