Manisha Roy: A Jungian Therapist with a Conscious Desire to Write.
By Doug Holder
Manisha Roy is a Bengali who was born in Northeast Assam, India, and educated in Calcutta, as well as at the University of Chicago, and the University of California. Once an anthropologist, she is now a lecturer and writer in Jungian psychotherapy. She has been a practicing psychotherapist since 1985 in Boston. She is the author of “Bengali Women,” “Cast the First Stone: Ethics in Analytic Practice,” and other works. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: How does Jungian psychotherapy differ from Freudian or Cognitive?
Manisha Roy: I will see if I can simplify it. Jung was a student of Freud and they were very close initially. At some point they separated from each other over theory, or an issue. Jung noticed in working with psychotics that they had a fantasy world they went into that had symbols and contents that sometimes are identical with certain cultural histories, legends and stories of far away cultures. This made him wonder if old humanity and young humanity had some sort of connection in the deeper level of the unconscious. So he came up with the term “collective unconscious” and he talked to Freud about it when they both traveled to this country in the early 1900’s. (Notably to Clark University in Worcester, Mass.) Freud could not agree with his theory.
Jung was like a son to him. He was looking to pass on his legacy to Jung. But Jung could not deal with it; he had to be on his own. All sons have to separate from their fathers. He broke away.
A Jungian psychotherapist pays attention to the deeper unconscious symbolism through dreams, fantasies, and neurosis. Freudians look at symbolism more or less in a standard way. Jung’s approach to the unconscious was more refreshing, healing and positive. It was not like Freudian theory that stipulated that the ego had to be constantly on guard against a cauldron of unconscious material; that could be destructive. There is a big difference philosophically between the two.
Doug Holder: How is Jungian psychotherapy received in more traditional settings like, say McLean Hospital?
Manisha Roy: Twenty years ago it was not very popular. Mclean has been welcoming to my students now for practical training.
Jung predicted as the crisis of life increases in a technological society; Jungian therapy would be more in demand---and now it is happening.
Doug Holder: You have written in “Reckoning Heart: An Anthropologist Looks at Her Worlds.” that culture can offer security, but also can be so confining that we must protest or rebel to survive. Is mental illness a form of this rebellion?
Manish Roy: It is like the case with children. There is a need to rebel unless there is a big restriction. Ideally culture takes care of people. Culture is supposed to take care of people’s spirituality as well as there security. When individuals find there is a clash between their individual
values and their culture then culture becomes traditional. Individuals break away from it, create something new, and then there are new cultural leaders. Then others follow. This is how culture moves. Freud said this was “discontent” I think it is the natural way of things. When we clash against what we are “supposed” to be doing it can form a neurotic reaction. Jung said every time we have neurotic suffering we also have an opportunity to grow.
Doug Holder: In the “Reckoning…” you write about an experience living with an unhappily married woman and her rather promiscuous lifestyle. You remain non-judgmental and objective. Explain.
Manisha Roy: This was an anthropological book of course. I was an anthropologist before I was Jungian. It is a good foundation to have. Because when you work with individuals; knowing their background, knowing their cultural conditioning, helps in individual therapy. Our job is not to judge, but to help people in emotional pain. By knowing their cultural background helps. People don’t realize how conditioned we are by culture.
Doug Holder: Can you tell me a bit about the Bengali writer’s group you are part of.
Manisha Roy: The name of the group is “Lekhoni,” which literally means the pen, and it also means someone who writes. Some writers, about 8 to 10 of us meet regularly. It’s been meeting for three years now. We try to meet once-a-month. Some people in the group are grateful because they always wanted to write but never did before joining this group.
Doug Holder: Is it a big stretch going from clinical writing to creative writing?
Manisha Roy: It was not easy. I had to unlearn things. In academic writing you have to argue. You have to convince your readers—either prove or disprove something. In creative writing you can let go of that. You can unlearn. My first love was literature. I work with a lot of creative people. Sometimes therapy improves writing.
Doug Holder: Can you talk about the connection between the high incidence of mental illness among writers and artists in general?
Manisha Roy: There are of course some writers who have killed themselves like Sylvia Plath. To create, as any poet knows, you often have flashes that come from a depth. You don’t think them out. When you put it on paper it is different, but the ideas are from the unconscious.Healing comes from the same area of subconscious, as the problems do. Writers and artists sometimes go too close to this area, and it can be dangerous. They are usually more sensitive than other people—they are closer to that area anyway. At some point they think: “I’d rather be a writer, than be quote”sane.’’ But I know there are many sane writers. (Laughs)