Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

From the Shadow of the Object to the Shadow of the Almighty: A Story of Transformation

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

From the Shadow of the Object to the Shadow of the Almighty: A Story of Transformation

Article excerpt

As background for a case presentation, two primary sources are used, The shadow of the object: Psychoanalysis of the unthought known by Christopher Bollas (1987) and Psalm 91 from the New International Bible. This story is about transformation, for the patient as well as for the therapist. The movement by the patient from a place of confusion, depression, anxiety and despair to a place of newfound, although not complete, freedom and clarity is detailed with reflections by the therapist who was both witness to and part of this transformation. The movement for the patient is described as transformation from living in the shadow of the object to the shadow of the almighty. For contextual purposes, a summary of some of Bollas' central theoretical ideas are presented as well as a brief exegesis of the biblical reference, Psalm 91. A background of the patient is presented and the history of the clinical journey is chronicled through excerpts from a memory book written by the patient and given to the therapist at the final session of treatment.


I am pleased and honored to contribute to this special issue on psychoanalysis and religion/spirituality in memory of Randy Sorenson. Randy's book Minding spirituality (2004) and his other works are such a rich legacy in this area of discourse and clinical work. He contributed much to my life and work while I was a student at Rosemead and in the years since.

I've been carrying around the idea for this article for some time and am grateful for the occasion to put it into words. In reflecting on clinical encounters over the years, various ways of understanding the process have emerged, including the images depicted in the title of this article. For me, there is something profoundly compelling that is captured in the contrast, the concepts, the play on words. The contrast elucidates something of the significant shifts experienced through clinical encounters.

Until I began the research for this article I had no idea how well Christopher Bollas' (1987) conceptualization would fit the experience I had with this particular patient. I have experienced something of a parallel process between what Bollas describes happening with patients who move from aesthetic, wordless transformational experiences to finding language to articulate experience and what has happened in my own journey in writing this article. What I carried as wordless beliefs and realities (unthought knowns) about this patient's experience during the five years of treatment, found a voice through Bollas' work and through a closer look at Psalm 91.

The article is divided into two sections: the context and the case. In the context, relevant highlights of Bollas' (1987) work, particularly part I, are presented (all quotes and references are from this particular book). Because Bollas presents his ideas so eloquently, the most relevant excerpts have been quoted in their entirety. In this context section, an exegesis of the passage in Psalm 91 is also presented. Both of these frameworks contribute to understanding the transformational shift for this patient from a place of isolation to a new life-giving relational reality in therapy and beyond.

Section two of the article consists of the presentation of the Case of Barbara as well as the narrative of a memory book she gave me on the last day of our treatment. It is presented in its entirety, as it chronicles her tortuous journey from living exclusively in the shadow of the object (a place of torment, terror, chaos and confusion), to an ever increasing life-giving space in the shadow of the almighty (a place of relative peace, safety, shade and rest). A signed release from Barbara granting permission to quote her experience is on file with the author.

It is important to clarify that in my presenting the case (and clinical work and experience in general), my understanding of religious experience is from the perspectives of psychoanalysis as well as religion. …

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