Part of a psychologist’s job is often to assist clients in finding deeper meaning in their lives.  Oftentimes, a lack of meaning can be related to unsatisfying work or career, and a correlated depression.  This common task of the psychologist is similar for psychologists in Santa Cruz when working with our clients.  In fact, particularly in Santa Cruz, with an emphasis on play and leisure, the absence of rewarding work is epidemic.  Of course, not all who enter into psychotherapy are unsatisfied with their work, but a not surprisingly large number are in this unfortunate situation.

In graduate school, I studied the idea of early childhood imagery and its relationship to career choice.   Albert Camus said, “a man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” (Sheldrake, 1991) Sheldrake, a botanist, who was concerned with the development and physiology of plants, developed an interest in the connection between interests in later life and the early experiences and imagery of childhood.  He stated:

My grandmother came from a family of willow growers in Nottinghamshire….My most vivid image of the rebirth of nature came to me when I was staying at the old family farmhouse….I was about 4 or 5 years old.  Near the house I saw a row of willow trees with rusty wire hanging from them…but the stakes had come to life and turned into trees. I was filled with awe.  I forgot all about this incident until a few years ago when it came to mind in a moment of sudden illumination.  First of all, there was the memory itself, the moment of insight as I saw how the stakes had turned into living trees.  Then came the amazing realization that it summed up much of my scientific career. (p.1)

Sheldrake wrote of another example of the connection of early childhood experiences and adult career choices.  He wrote:

A colleague in developmental biology, who is much preoccupied with ideas of waves, rhythms, and flows in living organisms grew up in Canada.  He remembered in particular his boyhood passion for canoeing.  For him, flows, waves, and rhythms are not only physical processes  that can be modeled mathematically; they correspond to living experiences. (Sheldrake, 1991, p. 217)

Sheldrake found that while few people had thought about this specific relationship, some had specific childhood memories closely paralleling their adult career choice. This fascinating correlation has piqued my interest ever since.  Similarly, it was said in Jonas Salk’s obituary, that this doctor and inventor of the polio vaccine, took a great pleasure in later life reflecting on people’s roles as “co-authors” with nature in their destiny.  (Lacayo, 1995).

Carl Jung was a pioneer in the exploration and utilization of imagery in work with his patients.  In Jungian psychotherapy, great emphasis is placed on mental images such as in dream work, waking fantasy, and active imagination.  Part of the work in Jungian psychotherapy is helping clients find meaning and direction from their own highly individual imagery.  I discovered through some of my own research, that there appeared to be meaningful childhood imagery related to what could appropriately be called an individual’s “life pattern.”  The idea that childhood imagery could be in part teleological in nature, or directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose, is a fascinating idea, and one that can help some find work that is both unique to their own “life path” and  highly rewarding.  If you feel stuck in an unsatisfying job or career, we could explore your early imagery during Jungian psychotherapy, and this could lead to a richer, more satisfying career path. 

Sheldrake, R. (1991).  The rebirth of nature: The greening of science and god.  New York: Bantam Books.

Lacayo, R. (1995).  The good doctor.  Time, 146, 59.