I suggested earlier (Brains, bodies and places) that it might be useful to think of the dynamic of bodymind and place as like an ecosystem, and today the image emerged during my personal therapy of the mind as a dark forest. Such metaphors have a rich history, and Inger Birkeland comments that place in general “is a concept that mediates between body and mind, nature and culture” (Birkeland, 2012).
For some indigenous peoples – and in many myths – forests are liminal places that offer the potential for change. These ancient motifs are widespread in our culture: Shakespeare’s As You Like It it came to my mind today, and serves as a rich example. In the play the Forest of Arden becomes a mysterious place away from the civilized city where dramatic transformation take place. The play is a complex exploration of contrasts and conflicts; forest/city, nature/civilization, masculinity/femininity, child/parent, love/hate. Shakespeare doesn’t provide simple resolutions of these confrontations, but leaves us to make of it what we will – as you like it, indeed.
During my session I came to see the dark forest as the mind which the psychotherapist and the client explore together. Several aspects of the process became clear to me. In our wandering we must accept the reality of the unknown without fearing it. There may well be something frightening in the darkness, but finding it could be transformative. We need to feel our way through the trees, not blast at the darkness with the cold analytic beam of an electric torchlight. And as joint explorers of this forest, we must stay close.
Hopefully the significance for the practice of psychotherapy is clear: The therapist needs to feel safe with the unknown and not try to push it away prematurely with the intellectual light of theory. Instead, the therapist stays close to the experience of their client, helping them feel their way towards change.