Meeting Jesus in Psychoanalysis: Lent 2024

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ

 Galatians 6:2

Psychoanalysis is an intensive therapeutic treatment invented by Sigmund Freud (1857-1939), that aims to make unconscious processes conscious.

I started psychoanalysis with rather grandiose ideas. My husband is a psychotherapist and has analysis as part of his job; I had expressed an interest in trying it out and it turned out his analyst had a colleague who was in training and looking for a patient. This sounded perfect; I could help this woman by being a patient, I’d be doing her a favour. No doubt, I imagined, she’d be extremely grateful for my assistance in her career! Now I spend fifty minutes, every weekday, lying on her couch, trying to do something called free association, where I just say whatever enters my mind, however strange or trivial. She listens and thinks with me, offers interpretations of what I say, links my ideas together, suggests what might be happening under the surface.

I didn’t expect to meet with Jesus here. Indeed, I was very anxious that it was a profoundly un-Christian thing to do. Freud was vocally anti-religion and I had spent some time in a conservative church where many people viewed any kind of therapy as a sin; real Christians relied only on God. But Jesus is everywhere in my psychoanalysis. You really can say anything from the couch, all the things that make you ashamed, frightened and disgusted; and the fundamental compassion of the analyst never wavers. I realised how much of myself I sought to hide from God because I thought God had no room for it; I was so alone with my shame. But there is room- in the consulting room, and in the heart of God. Analysis seeks to show you that even the worst feelings and thoughts can be contained and not overwhelm you; God is more than capable of holding the whole of us. 

Analysis tells us that there is always room for transformation, to think about why things are the way they are, to understand them, and to increase your capacity to make different choices. We can have new life; we are not stuck with our pain. I am also there to transform my image of God; in learning more about myself I might discern what is truly God in my mind, and what is something else. I meet Jesus in new, and closer, ways because I am able to think more clearly and recognise His presence, rather than the presence of early life experience or unconscious fantasy.

The practice of psychoanalysis is intensely generous; to be with someone so frequently and so consistently, is a radical act in a culture of late-stage capitalism. 1 To have space for the deepest and most fragile parts of a person is a strange and wonderful gift in a world that offers very little grace, and thrives on shame. When I talk about my psychoanalytic treatment, people express surprise that I could go every day; it seems so much. But is it really so much time in a week to spend thinking, being and healing? Is our society so addicted to economic productivity that we can’t take a small window of time without being self-indulgent? Jesus reminds us that we are not money-making machines whose only purpose is to generate income and serve greed. We are created by and for God; “to have life and have it abundantly.” We, and our being, are important and have value. The world may tell us we are not worth time and space, but this is not what we see in Jesus. 

I could write thousands of words about meeting Jesus in analysis, I think it has been one of the greatest gifts given to me by God. It allows me to see things more fully, it increases my choices so that I can choose to be more like Jesus. It invites me to face the parts of my inner life that I despise and know that I am loved and seen, held and contained. It challenges the world’s way of understanding my worth. In analysis we can see in some small part that, which in God, we see in full. 

1  Psychoanalysis can be very expensive, but the Institute of Psychoanalysis offers low-fee treatment for as little as £5 a session. Trainee analysts also offer very discounted treatment. 

Written by Jessica Dalton.  Jessica is a freelance theatre director and doctoral researcher at the University of Roehampton. She is currently a Creative Partner at Southlands College and is an accredited Local Preacher in the Methodist Church.