Spirit and Soul in the Therapeutic Relationship:
An Exploration of Hillman's Archetypal Psychology
in Light of a case study in Boss' Daseinsanalysis

Brent Dean Robbins
Duquesne University

In "Peaks and Vales," Hillman (1979a) laments the forsaken soul, confused and collapsed into the world of the spirit, which, perhaps in a derogatory way, he equates with Puer. Hillman, at first, seems to spout a synthetic rhetoric -- the very holiest of matrimonies between the peaks of the spirit and the vales of the soul. But, Hillman's own Vulcanic presence must ultimately take the perspective of the underworld. And if one follows Hillman in his subsequent work, following this particular essay, we find a Hillman (1979b) who, for example, in The Dream and the Underworld, gives primacy to the soul. For Hillman, I will attempt to show, there is no access to the spirit unless one allows it to show itself in an image which can only be given from the depths. If there is a Psyche-Puer marriage for Hillman, we cannot enter the threshold of their mutual household until we've received Psyche's invitation to enter the depths, and there -- and only there -- may we glimpse the peaks, where Puer, let us say as Icarus, gives flight to his fancies. Yet, Hillman himself is guilty of such Icarian flights; it is Psyche, perhaps, who holds his feet to the ground, and, from there, invites him to see through, in his magnificent way, into the lunar shades of the misty vales. In this investigation, we can, therefore, allow Psyche to guide us into the threshold of her domain, not so much by taking flights of fancy, but in following the more concrete example of a particular case study. A case by Medard Boss (1973), featured in his Psychoanalysis and Daseinsanalysis, provides (what seems to me) to be the perfect case by which to see through into the depths such that we may catch a glimpse of the peaks, and, dare I say, even take wing into the horizon with Psyche in tow.

In Medard Boss' (1973) case of a "Daseinsanalytically Modified Treatment of a Modern Neurosis of Dullness and the Patient's Comments and Modifications," Boss tells the story of his patient, a man who is clearly torn between the peaks and vales. Through Boss' method of Daseinsanalysis, Boss follows his patient into the depths of the underworld -- literally, a descent into madness, psychosis -- such that what emerges is the patient's long buried image of the heavens in the form of a church tower. Through a close reading of this case, I will show how Hillman and Boss share a respect for the image of the dream as it shows itself; and, further, I will attempt to more clearly articulate how at least one patient discovered, in his descent into the depths, his very possibility for ascension to the peaks. From this exploration of Boss' text, it is possible to show how the Puer-Psyche marriage -- a hermeneutic between Psyche & Soul -- is necessary in order to avoid either a) giving primacy to soul, leading into a maddening descent into the world of the fecal, Cthonic, and pathological, or b) giving primacy to spirit, which leaves one cut off from the source of one's suffering and the images which both personify and personalize the abstract world of the heights.

As we will see momentarily with Boss' case study, Boss does not get sidetracked with his patient in the ways Hillman warns can be the case with the "transcendentalist" or "psychoanalyst." As Hillman writes, there are two ways of becoming sidetracked in therapy. In the first case, one attempts to "liberate" the soul from its vale, which is the position of the "transcendentalist." In the second case, one can "reduce the spirit to a complex" and "thus deny the Puer's [the spirit's] legitimate ambition and art of flying," which is the position of the "psychoanalyst." In either case, one makes the mistake of giving primacy to soul or to spirit, and thus, one pays a disservice to either Psyche or Puer. Boss' ability to pay service to both soul and spirit, as they are defined by Hillman, is nowhere more evident than in his "Daseinanalytically Modified Treatment of a Modern Neurosis of Dullness," to which we may now turn. Further, following a reading of this case, we may also begin to explore the cost for Hillman, in his later works, of giving primacy to soul over spirit.

Boss' "Case of Dullness" concerned the Daseinsanalysis of a 32-year-old physician with a middle class background. Of the presenting problem, Boss explains: "as far back as he could remember, the patient had been dogged by severe and unremmitting feelings of guilt which had made his whole existence a continuous succession of self-punitive and self-destructive acts" (Boss, 1973, p. 273). Prior to seeking treatment with Boss, the patient had already been through analysis with two other analysts, one a classical Freudian-oriented therapist and the other a Jungian therapist.

While in analysis with the Freudian therapist, the patient's dreams involved, per the interpretation of the analyst, Oedipal themes related to castration anxiety. These dreams, writes Boss, were of "a sensual relationship with a maternal figure, several times with his actual mother. Each time a punishment ensued, at the hands of a paternal dream figure aiming at the utterly wanton destruction of typical, wholly phallic symbols" (Boss, 1973, p. 273). At first, these phallic symbols were of a varied nature, but, gradually throughout the therapy, the phallic images in the dream become more and more exclusively the image of a church tower, "especially those of high Gothic style" (p. 273). In one particularly powerful dream, the patient dreamt he was standing on the floor of a church tower, while an older man, resembling his anatomy instructor at medical school, proceeded to strike at the foundations of the tower with a scalpel-like instrument. This dream of course was immediately interpreted by the Freudian analyst as another symbolic collection of images relating back to the castration anxiety of the patient's Oedipal complex. While this did not seem to register with the patient at a deep, psychic level, he nevertheless learned to intepret these dreams in the manner in which his analyst insisted; that is, the patient learned from the analyst how to reduce the image of his church tower to a prescribed idea -- the concept of castration anxiety -- behind the image. Despite these interpretations, explains Boss of the patient, "nothing changed during the 3-year analysis, in either the dreary monotony of his dream life, the stereotyped character of his waking life, or the chronically morose climate of his state of mind" (p. 274). Worse still, the patient became even more overwhelmed with guilt, which was only partially alleviated by his switch to a new therapist.

The patient's second analyst, in the spirit of Jung, did not reduce the patient's dream image of the church to something other than a church, but, rather, permitted the patient to see his "dream churches as religious images" (p. 274). Rather than pathologizing and reducing the church images to symbols of an Oedipal complex, the new therapist convinced the patient "there was as much 'psychic reality' attached to his (religious thoughts and notion) as to his sexual fantasies" (p. 274). Of course, the patient immediately felt relieved of his guilt, and, instead, began to feel that his pathological idiosyncrasies were shared with common humankind; "that his religious dreams ha(d) their fundamental origin in archetypal structures" (p. 274). When, at least at an intellectual level of engagement, the patient came to understand his dream images as normalized patterns of experience -- universal, timeless, and shared in common with all people -- the analyst sent him out into the world believing he'd taught his patient all he had to teach. "Henceforth," persisted the therapist according to Boss' account, "the patient could rely on his own healthy understanding and need(ed) in no way regard himself as sick and deviant" (p. 276).

Despite the Jungian analyst's optimism, the patient yet again felt he had arrived at a "static condition" (p. 276). Shortly after terminating this psychotherapy, he began to develop a peculiar interest in collecting crystal. This interest, however, soon developed into a compulsion to ceaselessly clean and polish the sparkling surfaces of the crystal, which blossomed further into a obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with cleanliness. The patient reached his breaking point when, after all his hours of psychotherapy, he still felt himself lapsing into a dull torpor, experiencing an "inner lack of direction and emptiness that made him regard everything with a jeering and jaundiced eye" (p. 276). It was with this new low that the patient finally attempted a third round of psychotherapy, though he remained largely hopeless in the face of his suffering. And it was in this state that Boss first encountered our patient.

Entering therapy with Boss, the patient, in this desperate state, held out for one, single hope: "Where was there something genuine and real to found which would make life worth living?" (P. 275) What can we make of this question? For Boss, it is quite clear that our dear patient has simply been overwhelmed with the numbing intoxication of too much psychology! In both of the previous therapies, the images of the patient's dreams had been reduced in one way or another to "a derivative, non-autonomous something" (p. 275). The images of the dream had been debased and severed from his life-world, such that the patient became adrift in the "unreal mirages" of theoretical construction. Boss, in an attempt to curtail this continual therapeutic disaster, instructs the patient "clarify his being and find himself without psychology," and, thus, for once, "to forgo further scientific discussion" (p. 276).

Before preceding further with Boss' handling of the case, let us stop and reflect on what has transpired with this patient. While Boss is not able to articulate it in quite the same way, we can see that each of the two previous therapists had fallen into one of the two side-tracks laid out by Hillman. On the one hand, the classical Freudian therapist had fallen into the trap of the "psychoanalyst" by attempting to reduce the image of the patient to a preconceived unconscious complex, thus paying a disservice to the spirit; and, on the other hand, the Jungian therapist, through intellectualizing and universalizing the image, had attempted to liberate it from the vale, thus falling into the trap of the "transcendentalist." Boss is right, to a certain extent, that each of the therapists reduced the image to a 'derivative something.' But, perhaps, with Hillman in mind, we can more clearly understand how each therapist performs very different reductions. That is, the Freudian analyst reduces spirit to soul, and the Jungian analyst reduced soul to spirit.

Yet, while Boss follows a framework somewhat different than Hillman, we shall see that he is yet able to hold spirit and soul at equidistance and allow each its say, and all for the benefit of the patient.

Without the benefit of psychology, thanks to Boss' urgings, the patient was able to dwell with his emerging images on their own terms. After six months of therapy, largely consisting of free association, the patient began to have recurring, nightly dreams of locked toilets. Dwelling with the image of the toilet, the progression of these dream images would lead the patient straight into the bowels of the underworld. One dream in particular, at the end of the patient's succession of toilet dreams, acted as a prelude to his psychotic break. Boss (1973) recounts the dream:

Once again, the patient found himself standing outside the locked door of a toilet. But this time his urge to defecate was so overpowering that he flung himself against the door with all his might and burst it open. But instead of getting through to the toilet, as he had expected, he discovered he was standing in the middle of a large church, directly in front of the baptismal font. A thick rope hung from the vault of the ceiling over the font. It was the rope with which the sexton tolled the largest bell in the tower. Now at his wits end, he had no choice but to hoist himself, on the bell rope, high up to the baptismal font where, still clutching the rope, he relieved himself. His bowel movement would not stop; soon he was standing knee deep in his own stool. He tried to escape the rising mass of excrement by scrambling up the rope to the church tower, but his feel were stuck fast in the feces. And somehow, with all this frantic scrambling, the bell rope had twisted itself inextricably around his neck. Besides this, his frenzied efforts to climb up the rope had meanwhile set the bell in motion in the tower. Worst of all, with each resounding peal of the bell, the rope, in some inexplicable way, wound itself around the revolving axis of the bell, so that between the tug of the bell rope dragging him upward and the binding mass of feces tightening its hold on his feet, he was rapidly being torn in two. In the agony of this bodily torture he startled out of the dream. (p. 276-277)
Following this dream, the patient quickly disintegrated into psychosis and became immersed in the world of the fecal. Auditory hallucinations taunted him, calling him "shitter," and olfactory hallucinations overwhelmed him with the pungent odor of sewage and feces which followed him wherever he went. Crying out in rage at Boss for allowing him to be "robbed of his dignity" by his immersion in this world of shit, he violently tore the therapy room to shreds before promptly falling into a catatonic state which lasted for two days. Boss tube-fed the patient and sat by his side all hours of the day, until, on the second day, the patient emerged from his catatonia, threw his arms around Boss, and cried over and over again, "Mummy, Mummy, dear, dear, Mummy, Mummy, dear, dear" (p. 277) Within two weeks, having descended into the fecal underworld, the patient was able to resume therapy, though, not surprisingly, still filled with terror and burning questions: "What evil genius had allowed him to commit the blasphemy of bringing his stool into the church and into the baptismal font, of all places?"

In response to the patient's question, Boss countered with still another question: "Is it not of the very nature of man that he must at all times reconcile himself to his essential state of being spread between heaven and earth?"

With this reframing of the patient's question, the patient was able to begin the process of integrating spirit and soul; an integration which would involve, for the patient, a flood of memories. Again dwelling with the image of the church as a church -- on its own terms -- the patient recalled that, since beginning his medical training, he had "closed his mind to the beckoning call of the church tower," now understood as the patient's "mighty gesture toward heaven" (p. 276). And, further, it was the patient's anatomy instructor, who held the scalpel-like blade in the patient's initial dream, who "through his enlightenment and cynicism had brought about the collapse of the patient's faith in God" (p. 278). The patient, that is, had closed himself off from the call to the spiritual heights of his youthful religious aspirations, and, as a result of the deprivation of this, one his fundamental possibilities of being, he suffered. Yet, the patient was unable to gain access to this fundamental mode of relatedness to the world until he was also opened to the world of the earthy and fecal from which the church tower could, once again, be erected. It is, after all, from out of the toilet that the church tower springs in the dream of the patient. As Hillman has already attempted to persuade us, the patient was unable to access the world of the spirit unless through the image provided by the soul from the underworld.

If it is true, as Hillman says, that we must first access the soul in order to gain access to the spirit, then why did the original Freudian analyst, who gave primacy to the soul, fail so miserably? As the patient himself explains:

I didn't dare go into this area of filth without reservation, because I somehow sensed from the beginning that the spiritual, religious sphere had no sustaining strength for my analyst. He continually tried to reduce my dream churches to genital symbols. The enrie domain of the holy seemed to him to be merely a sort of sublimated haze. That explains why there was no rope in the psychic compass of that first analytic situation, like the one fastend to the ceiling in my church-excrement dream, to which I could cling and achor myself in my descent into the earthy, fecal region. The danger was far too imminent that I would be plunged into filth and chaos beyond recall. (Boss, 1973, p. 278)
In light of this patient's experience with classical Freudian analysis, it may come as no surprise that most classical analysts feel that there is no escape from psychosis. Traditional psychoanalysis, so concerned with the depths, had forgotten about the liberatory potential of the heights to pull the psychotic back into the world of the living. Yet, because Boss was able to hold back preconceptions about the phenomena presented to him in the therapy, he allowed a space for both spirit and soul.

In conclusion, this case appears to be a rather beautiful illustration of the therapeutic potential of a Puer-Psyche marriage in psychotherapy. The Psyche, on her own terms, is unfathomable and ungraspable. Without Puer's drive and goals, Psyche becomes lost in the undifferentiated shadows of the fecal underworld. Yet, without the reflective capacity of Psyche, Puer "takes its drive and goal literally," and is unable to see through to the depths. With the immersion into the depths of the soul, the patient is able to dwell with his pathology -- the logos of the pathos -- but only when this drive of the soul to pathos is brought into language and given "a sense of process, direction, (and) continuity" through the logos of spirit. Without Puer, the suffering of Psyche makes no sense. Without the perspective of the peaks, the suffering of the vales can go nowhere but deeper into the darkness, from which there is no return. It is, after all, as we've seen with this patient, the heights which we hunger for, which drives us onward, despite the understanding of mortality, limitation and death which Psyche knows so well. Yet, without our roots planted in the fertile soil of the earth, we cannot expand toward the heights, which would remain closed off to us, no matter how much we may yearn to reach them.

As Hillman (1979a) writes:

The Psyche has spiritual needs, which the puer part of us can fulfill. Soul asks that its preoccupations be not dismissed as trivia but seen through in terms of higher and deeper perspectives, the verticalities of the spirit. When we realize that our psychic malaise points to a spiritual hunger beyond what psychology offers and that our spiritual dryness points to a need for psychic waters beyond what spiritual discipline offers, then we are beginning to move both therapy and discipline.
It is unfortunate, even as a form of extreme compensatory rhetoric, that Hillman, in his later years, forgets the importance of this spiritual drive toward the heights, and, instead, gives primacy to the soul. Surely, without the excremental vision of the soul, we cannot come to terms with our finitude, with the fact that the intentional bodies we are continually decay and give off feces even as we aspire to bodiless, perspectiveless, Icarian flights from which we are doomed to fall once again to the earth from which we arose. We cannot escape the fact that we are beings which shit. But we must never forget that it is our fanciful flights toward the peaks which drive us onward, which keep us alive rather than falling into the despairing depths of the underworld, upon which is inscribed, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." It is the peaks which hold our hope, so that we may transform the filth below our feet into beautific creations.

As therapists, we can learn from Boss' approach to his patient that we can hold ourselves open to both possibilities of relatedness, the peaks and the vales of our patients. It is Boss' philosophical grounding which enables him to understand that, in either case, whether we fly toward the peaks or sink into the depths, it is always is in the service of our humanity, our existence. After all the verticality of heights and depths, it is to these psychological places -- we must never forget -- which we turn in the service of our horizonal relations in-the-world with others and alongside things. Whether we follow Psyche into the shadows of the underworld or spread our wings with Puer toward the sun, we can only do harm if it is not, in the end, to return to that place, with our feet on the ground and our head toward the sky, from which we can turn and stand face to face with another human being.


Boss, M. (1973) Psychoanalysis and Daseinsanalysis. New York: Basic.

Brown, N. O. (1959) Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

Fuller, A. (1990). Insight into Value: An Exploration of the Premises of a Phenomenological Psychology. New York: State University of New York Press.

Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time. New York: Harper & Row.

Hillman, J. (1979a) "Peaks and Vales." In J. Hillman (ed.) Puer Papers. Dallas: Spring Publications.

Hillman, J. (1979b) The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper & Row.

Keats, J. (1818). "A Thing of Beauty." In Endymion: A Poetic Romance, Book I, lines 1-24.


Copyright 1999, Brent Dean Robbins

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