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Depression, an Interview with James Hillman

In Anxiety | Panic by veronica

I am quoting here quire extensively the article to provide a contrast to anxiety and panic. The piece is from “Giving depression a fair hearing, An afternoon with James Hillman” by John Söderlund  (Extracts from the article)

Jungian psychology:
Hillman: “Jungian psychology is about attitude above all,” he begins. “So the whole business is grasping this attitude towards the psyche, or the soul. The question is: ‘What is the psyche doing by presenting the patient with a depression?'”

“Instead of seeing depression as a dysfunction, it is a functioning phenomenon. It stops you cold, sets you down, makes you damn miserable. So you know it functions,” Hillman explains, speaking slowly and deliberately enough for a longhand, word-for-word transcript.

“If history is merely a repeat of a story, then it is not necessarily causal In Jung’s sense, causality is something more formal,” he counters intuitively, slipping from a clear understanding of where he’s going.

Consciousness is “one-sided” in Jung’s psychology. This one-sided picture we hold of the world is complicated by the arrival of “other parts”, Hillman continues, “ones left out of the main room, which come in the back door”.

And what has come in, slipped past consciousness, is not there with the criminal intent of a typical back-door entrant, but has come to upset the one-sided programme consciousness was intent on pursuing.

This intruder is an agent of change in service of the search for meaning which goes beyond the meaning consciousness can offer us, I think, as Hillman pauses, allowing his listeners to place the disconnected pieces of the puzzle in their rightful place without any connecting pieces. But the missing pieces are easily enough placed by his attentive audience, sucking them further in.

“The above are the essentials of the Jungian attitude to what comes up in you and your patients’ lives,” he summarises.

The depression epidemic

Newspaper reports tell us there’s much more depression around than we realise, that it is endemic to our culture, the largest presenting complaint in the medical practitioner’s practice, Hillman recounts, summarising a few years of shotgun mental health statistics and projections.

“We must do something about depression!” he says, provocatively mimicking the mainstream psychiatric response to patients who present with symptoms of depression.

Sure, I think, recalling some recent projections which expect depression to cripple the workforce in the coming two decades.One of the key diagnostic criteria of depression, notes Hillman, is feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.

“This is putting a chronic malady in the category of an acute category. We have to notice the manic nature of that diagnosis, that anything which lasts more than two weeks in our culture is too long” he says.

“This is a totally manic situation. I have to keep talking to you so you don’t get bored,” he yells at the audience. “I stand over my fax machine, pound it and say: ‘Why does it take so long for these fucking things to go through.'” We roar as another two pieces slot together in Hillman’s puzzle.

“What most Americans complain of is not enough time and not enough sleep. Manics don’t need to sleep or to eat. We can sit at a computer all day long, dishevelled, naked like a case in a locked ward. So, where does depression, slowness, fit in? How does Saturn enter, except by forcing its way in?”

The economics of depression

The direct cost of depression accounts for only a small part of the average person’s medical bills, he continues, but our frenzied opposition to depression and what it represents has a close parallel in our dominant economic fears today.

Twice as many women as men across all racial groups are likely to suffer depression, he continues.

“The manic culture is primarily a testosterone culture. This went on in the 19th century, women were the carriers of many more symptoms which they presented to male doctors.

“Today this depression has lost the confines it had in earlier psychiatry. It’s in youth, children, and the term is used very broadly. But it is so important to get back to what experience that person (depression sufferer) is in.”

“In practice, for people to say I am depressed is insufficient, it won’t do. I want to know what, where, how, what are the physical correlates, what do you eat, what happens when you are in that chair and when you get up out of the chair. I want to know an enormous amount about your body.”

“Dry hair, shallow breathing, frequent sighs a flat to diminished tone to everything, sleeplessness and facial pain which is different to anxiety, which has a seriousness to it. That is very important Everything seems so weighty, heavy. The Romans called it gravitas, it belongs to Saturn,”

“In your training you probably heard that depression is worse in the morning. Why is depression worse in the morning? What does it say about the day you are about to enter. Is it because there is no minor key used in the music they play on morning radio, because you have to keep up with the rising of the sun We have to make some sense of the things we observe.”

“One of the things you don’t want to be is interrupted,” he says, now 6 metres tall and washed in an overly rich technicolour on the screen which looms over the conference-goers.

“You can go, go, go on coffee and stimulants. When you watch the heroes on TV they never get tired (But) slowness is basic to the notion of melancholy from the very beginning. Mania is often described in psychiatry by the absence of sadness. Loss means losing what was. We want to change but we don’t want to lose Without time for loss we don’t have time for soul,” he drives home.

“Melancholy brings us to a place where we can see more clearly the essences of life,” Jules Cashford, a writer, tells the film’s interviewer.

The soul knows about the chaos of the culture we’re in. Somehow, if you’re not in mourning, you are out of touch with the world. So, underlying depression is an adaptation to the underlying condition of the world, Hillman explains. Every time somebody slips into depression everybody comes to resurrect them, and we find drugs and convulsive therapy to assist. In ordinary life, we just get out and moving again to avoid the depression, he continues.

“This is not instrumentalism, not a technique I teach you to apply. It isn’t that you hold out hope You keep the faith, and one of the ways of therapy that feels most useful is not that you do something, but that you keep contact. You are a consistent, chronic companion, rather than being a therapist who enacts something against the problem,” he says.

“What happens is that you become activated by the stillness or the drop.

Against that paralysis are the very active methods of treatment. ECT (electro convulsive therapy) was developed by an Italian who also developed aircraft fuses,” he says cryptically.

“In the history of the treatment of depression, there was the dunking stool, purging of the bowels of black bile, hoses, attempts to shock the patient. All of these represent hatred or aggression towards what depression represents in the patient.”

But Hillman does not decry the treatment du jour for depression – psychopharmocology.

“There is no reason why we shouldn’t take advantage of medications. The important thing is what is your attitude to it, how you keep that demon in its place so that it doesn’t possess you.” The trick, he reiterates, is to keep your focus on what the patient is feeling, thinking, and imagining.

“I’m not out for finding ways of getting rid of depression. Depression brings slowness, a counter-move to the manic, inwardness. It opens the door to beauty of some kind. So there seems to be something in there besides the way you, the ego, see it,” he concludes, completing a rough and impressionist picture of one of the world’s most valuable iconoclasts that is far more valuable than that which might have been captured on my camera.