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Synchronicity in the Therapy Room

© This BACP article was first published in Therapy Today, the journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) in March 2020.

Like many others before me, I entered my counselling training with fairly solid beliefs. One of them was a healthy scepticism about ‘energy’ or ‘spirituality’. Yet, as my training went on and I started my clinical placements, more and more things were happening in the therapy room that were leading me to question this certainty. I had to admit that something was going on in the therapy room that couldn’t be explained by science.

I had been aware of Carl Jung throughout my training but, with so much to learn, he took a bit of a back seat. It wasn’t until later in my private practice that I came across his idea that there is no such thing as coincidence in the therapy room. Jung called this ‘synchronicity’, by which he meant coincidences that have no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. It rang a bellwith me. I could remember off the top of my head several times when there had been strange ‘coincidences’ in the therapy room. I wanted to learn more, so I read Jung’s paper, Synchronicity: an acausal connection principle.1

Jamie was a 24-year-old integrative counselling student who had come to me for counselling in their second year. Jamie was well read and had a great understanding of counselling and psychotherapy. I am an integrative counsellor but tend to work more psychodynamically, as I did with Jamie. One day Jamie asked me to work in a ‘more person-centred way’. I was stopped in my tracks for a moment: ‘How the hell do I do that? Do I remember person-centred!?’ Of course I did, as it remains the bedrock of how I work, but it was going to take a conscious effort to change things up. Not one to back down from a challenge, I agreed.

As the session progressed, Jamie began to discuss counselling theories and their application in their client work. I wondered out loud if the use of theories in the moment, although helpful, might take away from Jamie being able to hear what the clients were saying. Jamie said they felt they were able to bracket the theories and think about them later, after the client session. This is where things got interesting, as Jamie then asked: ‘What’s that quote Jung said about theories?’ My ears instantly pricked up because the day before the session I had seen a quote by Jung himself on social media: ‘Know all the theories, master all the techniques, but as you touch a human soul, just be another human soul.’ Second, that very morning I had copied the quote onto an app in my phone as I wanted to post it on my own social media. This was barely an hour before Jamie came for their session.

Synchronicity was flashing in my head – this was exactly what Jung was talking about. With the quote still fresh in my mind, I needed to make a decision: was I to be a ‘good enough’ psychodynamic counsellor or a ‘good enough’ humanistic counsellor? I went for humanistic and shared what was on my mind. ‘I know exactly what quote you are referring to – in fact, as Jung would say, there is no such thing as coincidence.’ And I told Jamie about writing down the quote that very morning and even showed them the app on my phone. We shared a smile. Jung was definitely on the money with his synchronicity idea, and both Jamie and I were very aware that this had just happened. And I had just been very humanistic by sharing so much of myself.

Jamie thanked me and I believe we both left

the session with a stronger, more person-centred, humanistic relationship. And I had just seen demonstrated that something so seemingly niche as synchronicity fits beautifully in a humanistic, person-centred approach. Jung himself admitted,‘I am only too conscious that synchronicity is a highly abstract and irrepressible quantity’. However I believe if Jung was alive today and I told him this story, it might have put a smile on his face too.

Jung C. Synchronicity. London: Taylor & Francis, 1985.

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