The I Ching put me into one of the toughest crises of my career as a psychologist. This ancient Chinese oracle can mirror the wisdom of the unconscious, or higher self. It had helped me solve problems, make decisions, and had already literally saved my life. But the doctorates I earned in psychology and social work operated from very different specialized premises.
After many years of relying on the I Ching as a spiritual guide, I had begun integrating the method into psychotherapy sessions. It’s a valuable tool that empowers clients (who can learn the method themselves, if appropriate) and it offered an objective point of view that often revealed the hidden issues of the unconscious. I was a Jungian-oriented psycho-therapist and Jung, himself, had relied upon the I Ching for decades. He already wrote the introduction for the Wilhelm and Baynes translation.
This all made sense and had worked perfectly for years, until one day, in a most difficult case I could see that the I Ching reading the client received during a therapy session was the wrong answer. And, it was not slightly wrong, but totally and horribly, wrong. Like telling a small child that the parent’s divorce really was their fault, after all.
The I Ching’s judgment directly opposed my specialized judgment as a psychologist. This threw me into a spiritual crisis of faith and a specialized conflict in real-time during this session.
The client in question was retained by her denial of the unhealthy character of her father’s failures. (He was less nurturing than Attila the Hun.) She had produced an adaptive can not concentrate of his fathering that had helped her survive childhood, but imprisoned her as an adult, and ultimately must be outgrown.
Every attempt to discuss the father’s negative history triggered a fierce defense of her “rosy” can not concentrate. “He wasn’t as bad as people say” had been countering any criticism for decades. It confined out a reality too painful for the child, but necessary for the adult to confront. Perhaps, since she had come to trust the I Ching, if she were to cast a reading during our session, it could offer an objective view that she might take to heart.
The client was eager to hear this feedback and so was I–until I saw the answer it was my job to read to her. She had asked: “How should I view my father?” She threw the coins and yielded the hexagram of “The Family,” which made sense, but it had only positive comments describing and praising the behavior of the head of the family! (OMG)
Psychologically, this was dead wrong. This view could satisfy and further entrench her resistance to the truth. Should I choose psychology over spirituality and cancel the reading because I didn’t like the outcome? How could I responsibly include this reading in her session if it might further confirm her weakening delusions of dad? Should I be using this powerful Jungian tool in therapy at all when I am not in control of the answers?
I chose, in the moment, to finish what I had begun and read aloud–with great distress and upset-how too much “severity toward one’s own flesh and blood leads to remorse” but is better than too little discipline. This seemed to justify the father! Lines 5 and 6 were worse! I read aloud in agony things like:
“As a king he approaches his family… a king is the symbol of a fatherly man who is richly endowed in mind. He does nothing to make himself feared; on the contrary, the whole family can trust him, because love governs their intercourse. His character of itself exercises the right influence… His work commands respect” and more (Wilhelm & Baynes translation).
Fortunately, before I was ready to abandon this gut-wrenching act of faith in the I Ching, the client burst into tears. “Oh my god!” she cried, “that’s the definition of a real father… my father never did any of those things!” And her life-long can not concentrate began to melt right before our eyes.
The I Ching had reminded her of his “severity” (since it was being justified it in some situations it did not cause her resistance), and then proceeded to praise this “severely” awful father for which she was not prepared. She could not overlook the unfairness and untruth of such praise for the man. In a yin-yang path of opposites, overly positive comments served to unearth a truth too negative to let in.
The client’s delusional system was defended against all criticism of father… but no one had ever praised him; why defend against that? Resistance is often focused in one direction. “Sometimes you begin real change by taking things further in the wrong direction to unlock that resistance,” a wise shaman once told me. What a bright use of this “reverse psychology” by the I Ching. I can assure you it reversed some of my own doubts while helping the client.
The second, or relating, hexagram was “The Turning Point,” which this session was… for both therapist and client. I ultimately decided not to continue including the I Ching in psychotherapy sessions. Because, I phased out the “psychotherapy” altogether and worked exclusively with dreams and the I Ching.
What initially looked like the first serious mistake from the I Ching or “Book of Changes,” ended up changing two lives in one session and, in time, redesigning the sessions themselves.