A Conversation with Gareth Hill
by Rue Harrison, Jan 10, 2015
Throughout my rather late entry into the world of psychotherapy in the San Francisco East Bay (it being a second career for me), I heard so many of my colleagues speak with respect and love of Gareth Hill, the Jungian analyst and senior member of my local professional affiliation, The Psychotherapy Institute in Berkeley. So I considered myself fortunate to be paired with him as my consultant when I participated in TPI’s Supervision Study Program from 2013 to 2015. I was Gareth’s last consultee, as he retired from being a therapist and consultant in 2015. In this conversation with him toward the end of our time together, he generously shared with me his life story.
Rue Whittaker: I want to ask you about your career as a social worker and psychotherapist because I think you’ve been important to many people. Maybe to start you could say something about your early life, any part of it that you feel is related to your work.
Gareth Hill: Okay. I guess it’s kind of a cliché that most of us in this field of psychotherapy got into it out of our own woundedness. I think of myself as having been a very wounded child. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, and I was kind of the identified patient. When I left home at 17 my family fell apart. My parents were soon divorced and my sister became an alcoholic and drug addict.
As a young person, one of the expressions of woundedness was some gender identity confusion. I was afraid of boys and very much identified with girls. I had an effeminate mannerism, some of the traces of which are still with me probably, although I’m not conscious of it. That led me eventually to be quite interested in the whole phenomenology of masculine and feminine. In high school, I was an art major.
Rue: So you did study art. [reference to an earlier conversation]
Gareth: Such as it was. I went to a remarkable high school, Sequoia High School. One year in those days, it got the prize for being the best high school in the United States. It had a remarkably developed art department; I learned to make jewelry, I learned to handweave, and I learned to do ceramics. There was less emphasis on painting. One thing I became very good at was sign painting, painting banners for school events and so on.
The art department was my refuge. One of the things I learned to do was to hand weave. When I was a teenager, I tried to become a professional handweaver. In those days handweaving was having an enormous resurgence. This was in the late forties. There were people all over the place weaving things.
Rue: Like cloth, or clothing?
Gareth: Mostly things like linen and cotton placemats. A school friend introduced me to a friend of his, an older guy who was a student at Stanford, who had a friend who was a handweaver. She specialized in weaving tweeds for wearing apparel. In those days handweaving with wool was considered to be a specialized craft. I was introduced to her. Then, when I graduated from high school at 17, she took me under her wing. I wanted to leave home—you’re going to have to stop me if I go into too much detail.
Rue: What interests me in your getting interested in handweaving and how the art department was your refuge. And of your being the identified patient in your family, suffering that. I think how those art activities go towards some groundedness and focus. I’ve done a little bit of handweaving myself, and working in clay— it leads you to a place where you don’t have to think so much. You can just be doing. It seems like you naturally went toward things that are very therapeutic.
Gareth: I guess so. That’s an interesting way to think about it. I think of myself as having been very “other.” I was like a minority of one. I needed a place to hide from the social intensity of high school. I befriended the art teachers and they let me just hang out. They would give me special attention. It just happened there was a broken latch on a window of the art room. I knew how to open it, so I would go there on the weekends and climb in—which I suppose from a certain perspective was a criminal activity [laughter]. I don’t know if there was some attention being given to me by people in the high school I didn’t know about, whether there was a kind of permission, so even if the security people knew this was happening, they didn’t apprehend me. So I had a place to be on weekends. I could get away from my house, from my family. It was about a mile away. I would stay there all day working on projects and then I’d walk home.
Rue: So maybe some kind of benevolent force was in play.
Gareth: I don’t know how I got away with this for maybe a couple of years! But then I eventually did graduate and went to work with this handweaver. I left home and moved into a rented room. My mother in those years was a Christian Scientist. As an adolescent, in the way adolescents often do with religion, I’d gotten quite involved in Christian Science. So I rented a room in San Francisco from a Christian Science lady near where the handweaver lived. I had virtually no money. The handweaving person wasn’t able to pay me because she was barely making a living herself. I would work with her all day. I was eating one meal a day at Foster’s. Remember Foster’s? I was eating fruit salad and cottage cheese. I was skinny as a wraith. I would go to my room and study Science and Health With a Key to the Scriptures…
Rue: Oh my gosh…
Gareth: I’d do the lesson every week. So I got into a kind of food-deprived state that I guess was a little like the experience that Medieval monks would have in their cells. One day, when I was reading and studying, I had a white-light experience. The room was infused with white light. It was numinous beyond anything that’s happened since. I was terrified and fascinated. I don’t know how long it went on, maybe ten minutes.
Rue: Wow. So you were in white light?
Gareth: I was surrounded by this intense light, and then it finally came to an end. I went off to my landlady, who was friendly, and told her about it because she was a fellow Christian Scientist and I thought she would understand it [laughs].
I guess it just knocked her socks off because she became quite concerned about my sanity. She called up my mother and said, “You’ve got to come and get this boy.”
Rue: Oh no!
Gareth: In the meantime, I became ill with flu or something. I became so ill that I just couldn’t get out of bed. My mother came and got me and took me home. But the reason this story means something to me is that years and years later, in the context of my training at the Jung Institute, I told this story in a seminar that was being led by Joseph Henderson. He pointed out that this was an experience typical of shamans. And that it probably pointed me toward becoming a healer. So it took on a meaning in retrospect that it had not had at the time, of course.
Rue: It makes me think of Mother Teresa, who had a powerful experience— she would say that God came to her—and she never had the experience again, but it got her on this track.
Gareth: On a path.
Rue: Yes. But you did get any specific message? Or were any words attached?
Gareth: I don’t know if there were words. I thought of it as a spiritual experience. It was certainly a manifestation of my relation to this spiritual work.
And meanwhile the hand weaver had moved to Sacramento. She was about twice my age and had a young son. I would go and visit them on weekends. It was another way to get away from my family.
Rue: It sounds like it wasn’t a really great time in your life.
Gareth: Well, it was very difficult. Although, interestingly, my father worked in San Francisco and was pleased with my getting a job. It fit into the pattern of his life‑—starting at the bottom, doing some kind of clerical work. That had been his life. He had an eighth-grade education and was an immigrant from Scotland. I had a problematical relationship with him. He loathed my effeminacy, and he was very shaming; my entire family was shame-oriented [sad laughter].
Rue: It sounds horrible.
Gareth: And of course I also felt shamed by my peers at school, and so on. But during this time, I did have a period of a relatively more positive relationship with my father because we would commute together to the city, and he approved of what I was doing.
But then one of those life events occurred. I was working in this office and was valued. I had gotten promoted fairly fast. One day I went up to visit my friend in Sacramento, and there was a terrific snowstorm in the Sierras; the buses were completely shut down in the snow. So I was not able to get back in order to go to work on Monday morning. I called my mother and asked her to call the office to tell them what my situation was, and she didn’t do it.
Rue: She didn’t?
Gareth: My mother was a person who could never take any responsibility for her own behavior, so she completely denied that she didn’t do it. She just lied to me. So when I went in to work on Tuesday morning, they were outraged that I hadn’t come to work the previous day. And the boss treated me so high-handedly that I quit.
Gareth: I just couldn’t tolerate it. I always had that spirit in myself. Anyway, I quit. I was confronted with the reality that my mother had lied to me, and I called up my friend in Sacramento and said. “I’ve got to get out of here now.” Can I come and live with you guys? She said yes. I left home with my mother at the front porch saying, “Don’t go! Don’t go!”
Rue: So that’s a real act of power!
Gareth: So I went to Sacramento and lived with them. I worked hard at weaving. There weren’t too many customers, but enough to keep me weaving. My friend, to make a living, was teaching school. And then we were doing well enough we thought we would open a shop on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. So we found a shop with a little living apartment in the back, and we set up this shop. By now I was eighteen.
Rue: I just want to say that this strikes me as a unique path. It’s really just evolving.
Gareth: It was evolving. And the shop, of course, was economically a total failure. I was literally starving. There was no money and I had practically nothing to eat. But next door there was a family, a mother and two young children, and I became acquainted with them. The woman, whose name was Helen, had a sister who was a fascinating woman, an art person. She had run the frame shop at Gump’s for years; she had a concession there.
She was well-known in the art community. Her professional name was Sally Parks, but we called her Shandel. In the meantime I went downtown and got hired by an insurance company as a bookkeeper and began to earn enough money to keep body and soul together. And I was very quickly promoted to office manager of this premium collection division. There were about twenty employees, mostly women who were twice my age, and I became supervisor. By now, I was twenty or twenty-one.
Rue: This is getting to be quite a picaresque adventure!
Gareth: Shandel was at Gump’s, which was just a few blocks from my work. So I would get off work and visit her at Gump’s and we would often go out to dinner together, or she would invite me over to her house for dinner.
I was in love with her. But I was still in my gender identity thing enough so that it wasn’t as a heterosexual male. She was an ideal of some kind and I was identified with her. She was fascinating and very arty. Well, she had a very close friend who was a Jungian analyst.
Rue: Here we go!
Gareth: It was through Shandel that I learned who Jung was. I asked her one day, in one of those embarrassing moments, “Who’s this guy called Jung (with a hard J sound)?” [laughs] So, she corrected my pronunciation and began to tell me about him. I went to a bookstore and I got hold of Jung’s Commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower. I was 20 or 21, and I read this thing. I have no idea how much I was able to understand, but it captured that same spirit that had been involved in my white-light experience. It put me in touch with some transcendent dimension that captured me.
In the meantime, I’d gotten into a kind of psychotherapy because I had developed an ulcer. I got hooked up with an MD who wasn’t a psychiatrist, but he was working psychologically with illness. He was in San Rafael and I had to get on a Greyhound Bus to go to see him every week. Oh, but I’ve left out another piece of this story…
I left that bookkeeping job to go to school. It started with my going to the university extension and taking French because I hadn’t taken a language in high school and needed it as a requirement for Berkeley. I did finally get admitted to UCB. And when I was at Berkeley I met a guy who worked for a woman who ran Clearwater Ranch Children’s House. Remember that?
Gareth: It was a treatment center for emotionally disturbed children. I think it may still exist. This woman had a center in Berkeley. She had 4 or 5 children in her house whom she was treating. They were very disturbed children. This guy I met at Berkeley worked for her, and he introduced me to her, and I went to work for her that summer at Clearwater Ranch in Philo (CA) as the cook for the ranch. We must have had 6 or 8 children.
Rue: That must have been beautiful. It’s a beautiful part of California.
Gareth: Yes, it was a very beautiful setting. It had a creek running through it, which we dammed it up a bit to make a swimming hole. So I was the cook and the swimming counselor. One of the consultants to her was a psychotherapist here in Berkeley who was a Rogerian therapist. I became acquainted with her through my connection with this place. So when I needed psychotherapy after this early experience with the psychosomatic guy, I approached her and went into therapy with her.
Rue: I would think that your experience with her has influenced how you have worked with people—that basis of Rogerian therapy.
Gareth: Well, I certainly wasn’t conscious of it at the time. I knew nothing about therapy, really, but she was especially loving and really held me in a remarkable way that I can only really fully appreciate in retrospect. She worked in her house, which was a tiny little cottage up on Benvenue. I would go into her living room where she saw me and take off my shoes and get on her couch and curl up and talk obsessively about whatever my concerns were. I was very depressed and would often call her between sessions. I think I did it fairly often, at least once a week. She would indulge me in a telephone conversation that would maybe go on for 10 or 15 minutes. She was a lifeline. When I think back on it, it was very remarkable. I mean, we all have patients who call us, but I just feel that she indulged me quite remarkably, and I think I needed it that much.
Rue: Yes, it sounds like you didn’t get that from your mother, for instance.
Gareth: Oh, God no! All of these were profound influences on me. My wife and I had a 25th wedding anniversary party in which we decided to invite all of the therapists we had ever had in our lives. And this woman, Elinor, came to the party, and we reconnected in this social situation. It was years and years later.
Rue: What a radical idea! [laughs]
Gareth: They all came, these therapists.
Rue: Was it a positive experience?
Gareth: Oh, it was. At the party, Elinor and I made a plan to have lunch together. And when we met, I was telling her of my appreciation of how she had been, and she looked at me over this lunch table and said, “Well, you were so wounded.”
Gareth: And (it’s going to happen again) I just burst into tears because I felt so… seen.
Rue: That’s beautiful. Such a thread of love.
Gareth: I guess the point here is that all these things were influencing me in the direction of becoming a therapist.
Rue: Yes. So many parts to it.
Gareth: And the only way I could imagine becoming a therapist then was to become a psychiatrist. Of course medical school was a daunting prospect, but I did become a pre-med student at Berkeley, but I just had a miserable time with the sciences. It was totally wrong for me.
I don’t know how this happened, but one day somebody told me about social work. And I went up to the School of Social Welfare at Berkeley and got an interview with an admissions person. I had a chat with her and became inspired. So I became a social welfare major. I really wasn’t very able to identify with the social welfare aspect, although it was historically very interesting. In the meantime, I had met Ruth, my wife, and we had gotten married. We were both working; she was working and I was working part-time, and we were struggling. She was putting me through school.
I graduated and got admitted to the School of Social Welfare. Then I began my education toward becoming a therapist. But in those days, of course, social workers were not allowed to call themselves psychotherapists. It wasn’t part of the tradition.
Rue: About what year would this be?
Gareth: 1960. The School of Social Welfare in those days was quite clinically oriented. They had psychoanalysts as adjunct faculty, so we had interesting courses that were grounded largely in Freudian theory. That informed the clinical teaching that went on in those days. But social workers were social caseworkers. They were never allowed to think of themselves as psychotherapists.
Rue: So it was more like going out into the community?
Gareth: No, that was community organization. It was working in agencies with poor people who had custodial needs, who didn’t have enough money or enough whatever.
Rue: So you were a caseworker.
Gareth: Yes, and part of casework was forming a relationship, which was viewed as a medium for helping people make use of the concrete services that were offered by the agency. So there was a great deal of emphasis on relationship, listening, and being with people in a healing spirit, but it was in the service of helping them make good use of welfare payments or helping their children grow up and be responsible citizens. It was all very grounded in their concrete needs.
Rue: Did it get into working with addiction, those kinds of issues?
Gareth: Well, no. That was not part of my education. I suppose those issues were in the background of a lot of those situations, but I don’t remember getting any education about it.
Rue: But you were working on relationship, listening and joining.
Gareth: Yes, all those things that are fundamental to psychotherapy, but they weren’t calling it that. [both laugh] And I wanted to be a therapist! That was my goal, so I would get into struggles with the faculty—well, one faculty member in particular. I was forever talking about the work in relation to therapy and she was forever having to correct me. Also at about the same time, Virginia Satir hit town, bringing a fascinating new permission to think more flexibly, to sit down with more than one client at a time in the same room. These were shocking ideas in the context of the psychoanalytic culture. The faculty at Berkeley were just outraged. And I, being a rebellious character, got the student organization to invite Virginia Satir to come and give us a lecture.
Eventually I did become a social worker. I went to work in a family service agency. In the culture of this agency in Palo Alto there was much more permission to think of what we were doing as therapy. So I began to have 40 hours a week of experience doing therapy, working with these clients. I clearly had a talent for it. I became a valued member of the staff. I held on to my clients—in those days it was open-ended, long-term therapy. It was a luxurious time in that regard, because these people were paying absolutely nothing, virtually, for these services.
Rue: What a rich learning experience.
Gareth: Yes, it was a very rich learning experience. But in my characteristic way I got into conflict with the director of the agency. I considered her an outrageous person in terms of her high-handed manner. I was never able to tolerate that. So after about two years there she invited me to leave. She didn’t exactly fire me, but she said it was time for me to start thinking about moving on [laughs]. So she gave me time to find a job and I got hired as the chief social worker in the psychiatric clinic of Presbyterian Medical Center—now Pacific Medical Center—in San Francisco. It just happened that the director of that clinic and the chief psychologist were Jungian Analysts. Part of the reason I got hired was because I had this Jungian connection.
Rue: That had become part of your way of thinking?
Gareth: There was a woman in the family service agency who was in Jungian analysis and had been for years. So I became acquainted with her, and through her I became acquainted with a little circle of other Jungian-oriented non-medical therapists. Another connection was a very good friend of Shandel’s, who was a painter. He couldn’t survive as a painter, so he decided that he wanted to become a therapist, and because I was already an educated social worker, he consulted me about that. He went to social work school and got an MSW. He had been for years in Jungian analysis, so he became part of this little circle. We formed a study group and would invite analysts to come and consult with us as a study group. In the meantime we were reading and discussing.
Rue: Was there a Jung Institute at the time in San Francisco?
Gareth: Yes, but not where it is now. It was on Clay Street.
Rue: So that was going on.
Gareth: That had been in existence for years, since right after World War II.
Rue: So that’s going on and a lot of these people have been in this milieu too?
Gareth: Yes. There was Renee Brand, the Jungian analyst I’d met who was a friend of Shandel. There must have been about eight of us. And there was a circle of people we could invite. So, through this study group, I became acquainted with a number of analysts. This was all in the context of my getting this job at the Presbyterian Medical Center, where the director and the chief psychologist were Jungian analysts.
Rue: It sounds like in those days, it wasn’t so much like it is now, where you get an idea, “I’m going to apply to the Jung Institute.” Was it more based on mentorship?
Gareth: In those days, for one thing, in order to become a Jungian analyst you had to have an MD or a PhD.
Rue: Oh, you did?
Gareth: Yes. You had to be a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Somebody would be in analysis with an analyst and the analyst would identify that person as someone they thought had potential to be part of the group. So that’s how the psychologists got in. They were patients of the MDs and they got qualified. In the meantime—this was in the early sixties—psychologists achieved licensure so that they could practice independently. Before then they had always had to practice under the umbrella of an MD.
Rue: So there were MDs and PhDs at the Jung Institute, and you were able to participate as a social worker working alongside analysts at Presbyterian Medical Center. There’s lots of room for discussion about therapy and about analysis.
Gareth: Certainly. In the context of that clinic, we had staff meetings and would discuss our clinic patients. The perspectives of the director and chief psychologist and me, and a couple of other people on the staff, were colored by Jungian theory. But we social workers were disqualified from ever becoming analysts at that time. But at that time the MFT license had come into being. MFTs were licensed about 1966 or so.
Rue: And that had an effect on the social workers?
Gareth: When I left the family service in Palo Alto, I opened a private practice. This was an unregulated practice because at that time there was no licensure for social workers. It was a scandal that some few social workers had the chutzpa to open private practices outside of an agency structure. The director of that agency was scandalized, and it was probably one of the reasons why she invited me to leave.
Rue: That was really going outside of the box!
Gareth: But the way I got into private practice that early in my career was because my supervisor in my student field placement and I had formed a close relationship. She had a lot of respect for me and was one of these maverick social workers. She had a private practice and she invited me to join her so we could work together. Her specialization was working with families and children. My placement had been at Children’s Hospital. By now this is about 1963, and the whole teenage drug phenomenon was hitting town, and families were enormously upset. They were going out of their minds over this marijuana scare. Kids were getting into trouble with drugs, and Berkeley was full of desperate families who wanted help, and there weren’t enough therapists. So those of us who were there, and especially those who specialized in working with kids and families, were inundated with referrals.
Rue: It’s incredible to hear about that whole era from the point of view of a family therapist.
Gareth: And there weren’t very many of us. There was an awful lot of work for those of us who were there. I went to work fulltime at Presbyterian and my practice was growing, too. By then I had two young children, and my wife was out of her mind with trying to take care of everybody and wanting to go on with her own education.
So my practice grew to the point where I couldn’t do a full time job and also have my private practice. I asked the people at the medical center if I could work part time. And the word from the higher ups —not the MD analyst—was “no.” So I called up my friend, my former supervisor, Verneice Thompson, and said I needed a job. She said, “Come to work at Children’s.” She offered me a 20-hour a week job which was just exactly what I wanted. Children’s Hospital was extremely flexible. I started out at 20 hours a week, and as my practice grew, they let me cut down slowly until I was down to about 4 hours a week. Just ridiculous!
Rue: What a magical career! When your practice was growing, you were influenced by Jungian ideas and all of the clinical work you’d done, by your personal experiences as a psychotherapy patient. Would you say that the way you were working then was the same as how you had always worked with patients? Or were there ways you were growing in your understanding?
Gareth: Well, there’s another thread of the story that I haven’t mentioned. When I was at Family Service, I began Jungian analysis with a famous Jungian analyst, who is now dead and who himself had been analyzed by Jung. He was an extremely affirming man, very extroverted, very affirming, very loving, a huge personality. He just kind of cottoned to me, or maybe he did with everybody. He came to a point in his work with me where he decided that I needed to move on, to work with a woman analyst, so he referred me. Then he and I eventually became friends, of a sort. We had lunch together occasionally. I had analysis with this woman, who was also a very senior analyst at the Institute. But by now it’s 1970, and the whole social revolution is going on. Hierarchies everywhere are being leveled. So my former male analyst, whose daughter in the meantime had become a social worker, wanted to change the rules at the Jung Institute so that social workers could be admitted.
Rue: Ah ha! [laughs]
Gareth: Fundamentally, he wanted his daughter to be admitted, but that was a little too nepotistic, I guess, for him politically, so he invited me to apply. One of my colleagues in the study group was a woman social worker. So I said to her, “Well, I’m going to apply, so why don’t you apply?” So we both applied, and we were both reasonably well known to members of the Institute. So they started having discussions about it, and there was a terrific upheaval. My former analyst was accused of only wanting to do this because of his daughter. There were all sorts of political turmoil. And they tabled the applications.
Now another part of my story that I haven’t yet gotten to is that because I so much wanted to become a Jungian analyst, and because a path would be to become a clinical psychologist, I applied to the psychology program at UC Berkeley, and I was admitted. So in the context of being a private practitioner with a practice of maybe 25 hours a week, or even more—at the height of it I was seeing sometimes 45 patients a week—I became a graduate student in the psychology department. That was demanding.
My wife had gone back to school. It was her turn. She had seen me through school. It was more than I could do, writing the papers and going to the seminars, and seeing my patients. So after about three semesters at Berkeley, I decided I just could not do it.
Another thing that happened in that context was that I had a crisis of identity. I could not identify with psychology. The culture of it was so different from social work, which is governed by the Great Mother. Psychology just isn’t.
Rue: It was also coming out of experimental psychology, which seems kind of harsh. But as you were telling me all these threads I was reflecting back to the weaving and how interesting it is that you had a long period of time doing this work of weaving that helped you establish a relationship to yourself, perhaps? It’s such a metaphor. As your career in social work and being a therapist grows there’s all the weaving, and it’s tumultuous too! All these things going on in which it’s possible for you to be filled up. It’s like being filled up in all these different ways—with ideas, with love from Elinor…
Gareth: And from Joe, my male analyst. But I had a huge, huge crisis then, because I could not continue in psychology for all those complicated reasons. I had an identity crisis. I needed to support my family; it was Ruth’s turn to go to school, and we had young children. So I sacrificed becoming an analyst and dropped out of the psychology program.
Rue: That must have been tough.
Gareth: I had extreme grief. But in the meantime, I had applied based on this invitation. So, as I had just gotten through the grief of it, of giving up on that aspiration, the phone rang, and a voice said, “You’re in!”
Gareth: They had taken those applications off the shelf and admitted us. We two were the first clinical social workers to be admitted to the Jung Institute. It was like a miracle.
Rue: To slog through all the difficulties and then to get a gift. Life is kind of beautiful that way sometimes.
Gareth: But alongside of this, giving up psychology was an enormous reaffirmation of my identity as a social worker. At that time, I became very involved in the collective, the clinical social work collective. We achieved licensure. We formed the California Society for Clinical Social Work. I was extremely active in all that and it led ultimately to the foundation of what was called the California Institute for Clinical Social Work, which has since become the Sanville Institute for Clinical Social Work and Psychotherapy.
Rue: Really? So your relationship to the Sanville Institute goes way back.
Gareth: Way, way back. I was one of the founders.
Rue: Wow. I didn’t know that.
Gareth: So that’s an awfully longwinded response to a question about my early life [laughs].
Rue: You’ve touched on everything! Now I’d really like to bring up a question about your book. I’m thinking about the theory you developed about the two aspects of the feminine and the two aspects of the masculine: the dynamic feminine and the static feminine, and the dynamic masculine and the static masculine. In hearing your story, some of the people you came into conflict with, the women, and then there was the male analyst who was so affirming—had you already developed that theory, or were you learning along the way as you had different relationships with people who were very influential for you?
Gareth: I had all of that, but while I was a candidate at the Jung Institute, we had established the Institute for Clinical Social Work. I was one of the founders and then I became one of the first students. My book was based on my doctoral paper in getting my PhD from the Sanville Institute. But it was parallel with my training in the Jung Institute. So, looking back, I think of that dissertation, which was a theoretical dissertation, as an integrative paper. It was my way of integrating all I had been learning in my Jungian Institute training and all that I had learned over the years of being a therapist. And of course I didn’t write the book for some years after that. So after graduating and having that doctoral paper, I then gradually expanded the ideas with additional papers. When it came time to write the book I just had to piece it all together and connect it up and structure it, and further develop the diagrams and so on.
Rue: What was your experience of that?
Gareth: What I developed in my doctoral paper took possession of me. It was like it was an enormous intuition, if you will. For years I explained absolutely everything through that model and drove myself—and pretty much everybody else—crazy doing it! I was using the model in most of my consultative work and I was thinking about the world and culture in relation to the model. Gradually that waned a bit, but then I became possessed by the idea that I could turn this into a publishable book. So that took me over as a kind of possession. I was able to work all day in my office. And at the end of the day when I would normally be fairly tired, I was filled with energy, and I could sit at my computer and work on the book. So the book came together fairly easily because I was on a roll!
In the meantime I had a consultee who was extremely interested in the theory. He is now also a Jungian analyst. He encouraged me and introduced me to an editor who took the material I had, and she loved it. She was a Jungian-oriented, fundamentally Buddhist person. She edited it; she was connected with Shambhala. She introduced my manuscript to the Shambhala editors, and they loved it. So it was a very easy process. It all just fell in my lap through these connections.
Rue: How would you relate your theory to your early experience of gender identity confusion?
Gareth: Well, I was extremely interested in my Jungian training with the ideas of the animus and the anima, but I began to feel critical of Jung’s approach to it. I found him to be culture-bound, stuck in a nineteenth century perspective. I became quite revisionist and rebellious about all of that, and tried to rethink those ideas in a way that was more satisfying, closer to my own experience somehow. There’s a whole chapter in my book on that critique.
Rue: It seems interesting that you would encounter the culture-boundedness of his ideas of anima and animus, because in fact your experience as a young person was often of being tortured by the narrowness of the culture.
Gareth: You are reminding me of the fact that one very exciting dimension of this was to begin to make a distinction between the Feminine and femininity, and the Masculine and masculinity. Because of course, I had been tortured as child by ideas about masculinity and femininity. So to get that separated out from the archetypal principles was personally very important.
Rue: So when you are saying “masculinity” that’s more like …
Gareth: Ideas we have about how men should be.
Rue: But then there are these archetypes of the Feminine and the Masculine. And these are eternals.
Gareth: Yes, and of course it was the era of feminism—the mid-seventies. So, if women expressed the masculine, they were viewed as animus-ridden, and somehow culturally unacceptable. That was what the feminists were trying to overcome. The feminist struggle was an effort to overcome those ideas, those social prejudices. So that was informing all of this.
Rue: I wish I’d encountered your book as a young woman during that high period of feminism because the static feminine sort of got a bad rap for awhile, and the possibility that women could embody these more masculine ways of being and still be women.
Gareth: It did.
Rue: Nobody wanted to be on that end of the spectrum. Of course that’s a legitimate part of human experience, and I think in your book you talk about how as therapists of whatever gender, we are we often embody the static feminine for our patients.
Gareth: Right, exactly. Well, the static feminine got a bad rap and so did the dynamic masculine—all of the masculine got a very bad rap. So all the little boys were scolded if they wanted to use swords or do things that expressed their masculinity or the masculine archetype.
Rue: I do idealize you as my consultant, but you have embodied for me this aspect of listening that is welcoming, and I feel that in all your work as a social worker and in your private practice and interest in Jungian ideas, my experience of being with you is that something has accumulated in you, some kind of accumulation of a capacity to listen. That’s something that is sorely missing in our world. Do you think you have developed a capacity for listening and that that is one of your life achievements?
Gareth: Well, I don’t think of myself as having an extraordinary capacity to listen. I think all of us therapists are listening—most of the time. But your bringing it up reminds me of the relationship between Self Psychology and the ideas in my book. Kohutian Self Psychology was a great influence on me. Identifying the Kohutian idea of self-object transference with the Jungian idea of archetypal transference and the notion of locating myself in relation to patients in the static feminine, as you put it, is the self-object transference of the mother archetype. As a male analyst, to feel a theoretical basis for being entirely identified with the feminine principal in holding patients, I guess that’s in the background of this listening thing.
Rue: Yes. Another thing I recognize in you is that from your experience of being with so many patients, you have a capacity to give a person the benefit of the doubt; being critical of others is not at the forefront of how you are with people. You do seem to have the capacity to look at things from a more open standpoint.
Gareth: Yes. The word “acceptance” comes to me. I think I’ve learned to be very accepting. I think maybe the major achievement in my personal development is to have come to a self-acceptance. And that’s been an astonishing achievement [lots of laughter]—from a totally shame-ridden young person to finally come to really accept myself.
Rue: How do you think that happened?
Gareth: Well, I don’t know. But it has evolved. It’s a way of naming my understanding of individuation. Self-acceptance is reflected in the capacity to be accepting of others.
Rue: Yes. And if we all have different individuation processes, then yours, and probably many people’s, has to go along a movement towards self-acceptance.
Gareth: I think Jung would say that would mean fully integrating the shadow—being conscious of and including the shadow so that one doesn’t get possessed by it, or doesn’t project it into other people. So the capacity to accept other people means that one is free from one’s shadow complex.
Rue: That gets into the area of being aware of how one projects onto others, and of course as therapists, we are deeply involved in all of that.
Gareth: And getting back to the consultation we did the other day on your case, we were talking about the collective shadow, and the kind of societally based judgments we make about people whose paths takes them in directions that most of us would consider undesirable. How do we find a relation to that that is non-judgmental?
Rue: Yes, because a lot of what I was struggling with, as a therapist, was this paradigm that I am going to help this person get on the right track. But what if their idea of being on track is not the same as mine?
Gareth: It suddenly occurs to me, in that regard, in relation to my early life with my effeminacy, that I lived in the collective shadow. I spent so much of my young life, from adolescence into my twenties, having to cope with the incredible projections onto me in relation to my mannerism.
Rue: It must have been crushing.
Gareth: Well, it was very difficult. But maybe it’s partly that reality of my background that gives me an appreciation of what it is like to live with the projections of others.
Rue: Yes. That must be part of your ability to help others.
Gareth: Well, it comes to mind again in relation to your case because all kinds of people in my life—adults, teachers—were constantly trying to correct me, to get me on the path of being a boy! A boy-boy! [laughter] I never felt like a girl. I was by no means transgender. But I was never a boy-boy. People were always trying to correct that, to help me out.
Rue: Well, I’m really glad you found that art department. And one last thing it might be good to return to would be your early shamanistic experience with the white light. Could you reflect on that? Your seminar leader at the Jung Institute said that was a precursor to your life as a healer. You also said you haven’t experienced that since.
Gareth: Well, nothing of that intensity.
Rue: When you spoke about the light, it felt like something got through, some energy. What words would you have for it?
Gareth: It was an intensely spiritual experience, and I think it definitely informed me in some way that I can’t fully articulate. It didn’t take me on the path of being a monk, but it got me on a path toward self-realization. I certainly go back to it in my memory. It is very clear to me even now. It was profound. There’s no question about it.