Anthroposophic psychotherapy, anthroposophic medicine and the spiritualization of the earth – a single case study

John Lees

Corresponding author: fjohnlees@aol.com

Published: 10.07.2024

Author information

Dr. phil. John Lees

UKCP Registered psychotherapist, BACP senior registered counsellor

Anthroposophic psychotherapist in private practice, chair of the International Federation of Anthroposophic Psychotherapy Associations (IFAPA). Served as Associate Professor of Psychotherapy and Counselling, the University of Leeds/UK for many years.

This single case study research shows how anthroposophic psychotherapy enhanced the mechanism of action of one medicine prescribed by an anthroposophic doctor and developed it further. The medicine, lachesis, aimed to further a spiritual and sensitive client’s capacity to observe the living supersensible world in earthly life and thereby overcome her intellectualism.

Introduction and case study

I take the view, based on anecdotal evidence from both clinical and non-clinical observations, that many people today are seeking supersensible realities beyond the physical sense world. But they are often unable to achieve this in a healthy way because they are ‘disabled’ by trauma and neglect in childhood. Such people are generally highly sensitive and spiritually aware and want to help humanity to evolve and move into the future in a healthy way. But their ‘I’ which carries their life task or destiny is not able to take command of their lives to enable them to do this. In addition to childhood neglect and trauma they have to struggle with the pervasive dominance of materialistic thinking and intellectualism today. Sarah was one such person.

Sarah, aged 28, presented with problems of anxiety, panic attacks and depression. The root of the problem was early childhood trauma. She was an only child and I hypothesized that she had experienced early life trauma, neglect, or unsafe nurturing conditions although it was not clear what had happened in concrete terms. The earliest trauma she could remember was around the age of 5, when she was visiting her grandmother’s farm in the countryside. She was overwhelmed by an invasion of ticks and bitten on her head. Her grandmother, who was used to dealing with insects swarming around the head of cows, dealt with it in the same way in which she dealt with the cows by slapping both sides of Sarah’s face. She was infected and paralyzed for one and a half days. The shock of the attack and the rough treatment by her grandmother meant that the ensuing Lyme disease was exacerbated. Her neurosensorial system became dominant, she was excessively intellectual, the psychotherapeutic sessions displayed very little affect with a sense of paralysis of both Sarah’s will and mine. This suggested in anthroposophical terms that her connection with the world, including with me, did not enter her rhythmical and metabolic systems.

Therapeutic process, interventions, and analysis

My discussion of the treatment will examine the close interaction between anthroposophic medicine and anthroposophic psychotherapy. It builds on the view that ‘in all so-called mental diseases, the primary cause lies in the organic system – so that there is more chance of obtaining a cure in organic diseases through treatment of the mind and spirit’. Conversely, ‘we must learn to treat mental diseases with physical remedies’ (1, p. 177). As most traumas affect both body and soul it is usually the case that both interventions produce optimal effectiveness as in this case.

The following extracts from sessions 45-47 demonstrate Sarah’s struggle to free herself from entrapment in the physical world and intellectualized thinking and develop a connection with the spiritual world. She was born into a catholic family, attended church and, more recently, had begun to attend the Christian Community, a church connected with anthroposophy. Overall and like many people of her generation, she had a strong motivation to investigate realities beyond our normal everyday reality as discussed. This took several forms. In addition to attending church, she had completed a masters degree in academic psychoanalysis with its notions of the unconscious, had undertaken psychoanalytic therapy, started therapy with me and had recently decided to train in psychosynthesis.

Session 45

By the time we reached session 45 I had already referred Sarah to an anthroposophic doctor who had prescribed the following medicines: ferrum siderium D10, mercurius cyanatus D12, hepar magnesium D6, taraxacum D3, lachesis D30, belladonna D12, Cardiodoron® B, aurum/stibium/hyoscyamus and there had already been some transformation. As previously alluded to, her intellectualism had initially dominated the therapy sessions but had begun to soften. The transformation was reinforced in session 45. The extract below began with a discussion about her intellectualism and the need to develop her feelings more fully. In response to this she said: ‘Is the emotional side enough?’

Me: What happens if it is not enough?’

Sarah: I have an image of a stranded astronaut in the middle of space and not connected with anything.

Me: It’s a materialistic picture.

Sarah: Yes.

Me: What about your spiritual beliefs?

Sarah: I still feel disconnected from the rest of the world.

Me: Didn’t Christ say, ‘I will be with you until the end of the world’?

The unemotional, cognitive, and paralyzed countertransference in the sessions (2, p. 109), which reflected Sarah’s experience of life and her paralysis after being attacked by the ticks, changed markedly at this point in the session. We made an immediate connection. She broke down emotionally, but I think they were tears of relief. And crucially she conveyed this to me. I could sense the tears within myself. Her emotions were palpable. However, her intellectualism did not give up easily.

Sarah: Feeling suspended can happen.

Me: It does not happen if we take Christianity seriously.

Analysis

I call this a lachesis session. Why? Because lachesis, made from the venom of a snake, is prescribed when the soul and spirit become trapped in the heaviness of the physical body. The action of this medicine helps the client to re-connect with their spiritual or supersensible being. The first step of healing had already been taken as demonstrated in this session. The ‘image of the stranded astronaut’ and ‘not being connected with anything’ indicated that she was freeing herself from the heaviness of her physical body. But the image also indicates that, despite this, she was not able to connect with the spiritual world. In view of the dominance of her neurosensorial system she was entangled in the materialistic physical world – hence the materialistic image of an astronaut. So, my intervention aimed to provide a safe and containing environment where we could follow up the effects of the medicine, address Sarah’s entrapment in the material physical world because of her intellectual thinking and help her to connect with the reality of the spiritual world.

Subsequent sessions

In the next session Sarah referred to a bee which was trapped on a bus and how, after 10 stops, people had got out and she opened a window to let the bee out of the bus. I said that it reminded me of the remedy called apis based on the bee and this, in turn, triggered a discussion about lachesis as it is based on the venom of a snake. We discussed how lachesis or poisonous plants were needed to shock her body into consciousnessm, just as she was shocked by the ticks, based on the homeopathic principle of like treats like. Continuing the theme of session 45 we discussed how she was stuck in the material world and needed to wake up (or be shocked) to be more connected with her true spiritual being and her creativity. But the materialistic images continued. Towards the end of the session, she spoke about a ‘fear of dying and floating into space’, about being ‘anxious about something not happening – a lack of anything enriching in life’ and ‘a doubt about connecting’. She also offered a reason for the cause of her panic attacks: ‘Panic attacks are necessary because I’m lazy’.

Session 47 began with a discussion about some of the people who would also be studying psychosynthesis who she had kept in contact with after a pre-course seminar:

Me: It’s like a transition moment.

Sarah: It’s like the stans; I need to fill the dead moments.

The stans referred to her writing which was based on a video game that she is interested in and which we had previously discussed. I had not fully understood her interest in video games. She now made this clear. They provided a transition between the physical world and the non-physical supersensible world as well as filling the dead moments.

Me: It sounds like being in a non-real world like the metaverse – you are standing back and researching into it.

Sarah: Yes, I don’t get taken over by it unless I mirror it in a psychoanalytic way. I observe and are not taken over by it – observing another reality from the outside.

I did not understand her reference to psychoanalysis but continued my perspective of trying to understand how Sarah was dealing with the virtual world and, in so doing, was encouraged by her capacity to avoid being taken over and to observe what was happening from the outside.

Me: It’s like you are entering the skin of the dragon.

Sarah: In my free time I go for a walk; I’m aware of other things to do; if I don’t, I don’t feel good.

Analysis

In this extract Sarah is showing how many insightful millennials (Sarah was a late millennial) are born with the capacity for a connection with the non-physical world but find it difficult to connect with the spiritual world due to the dominance of their intellectual education and upbringing including the pervasive influence of computer technology which diverts their attention from the spiritual non-physical world to a non-physical virtual world. The fact that she was 28 was a double-edged sword. Like many millennials and Generation Z she had to deal with the tendency to ‘embrace Nihilism’ and was ‘tired and exhausted from the games online’ (3). But at the same time, she had reached what has been referred to as the hypomochlion in anthroposophic therapy which we reach at the age of 28 and which presents an opportunity to achieve a balance between what Rudolf Steiner refers to as nature and spirit both of which prevent us from becoming free. In the case of nature we are influenced by the ‘viewpoint of materialism’ which does ‘not come to the idea of freedom but causal conditioning’ (4, p. 40). In other words our lives are dominated by the intellectual thinking of our age and we are unfree. As regards spirit we ‘come to the determination of the will by God’ and as such ‘do not come to free will’ (4, p. 40). In contrast when we reach the hypomochlion we have the possibility of becoming free since it ‘lies in the middle at the point of balance’ between nature and spirit (4, p. 41). We have the possibility of becoming free in our feelings in the present as opposed to being unfree in our thinking based on the present (nature) and our willing which is orientated to building the future (spirit).

The client’s carers must decide whether it is possible to help the client to become ‘responsible for his actions – by judging whether his spiritual constitution and physical constitution are in balance’ ( 4, p. 41). So, Sarah had come to see me at a perfect time for making this judgment. First, I judged that her physical and spiritual constitution were not in balance and thus not free. Her powerful thinking and strong will prevented her from living in the present. But they were both sufficiently well developed to give her the potential to achieve freedom by connecting with her feelings in the present as she demonstrated in session 45. Second, she needed help to achieve this, and this is why I had made the clinical judgment that psychotherapy alone was not sufficient and that I also needed the help of an anthroposophic doctor.

Sarah’s I organization had been active in various ways to attempt to establish a balance. This included the computer games, psychoanalysis, attending two different churches, psychosynthesis training, coming to see me and agreeing to see the doctor. The following extract from her writing based on video games (the Stans) shows another way in which Sarah was struggling to discover herself as a free being despite the influence of divine will and earthly intellectual materialistic causality, thereby confirming that she had the potential to become free:

“Panacotta …. collapsed to kneeling on the tiled floor, gasping for breath, hot and cold rushes cursing through his body and a mounting ache in his chest. He tried to focus on anything else around him than the floor but found darkness closing in on him, like an oppressive hand pushing down, and making his vision blurry …. Everything hurt and he could not breathe. He desperately wanted to run to safety, get up and dash outside, where it did not matter, but his trembling body and the overwhelming dizziness just would not let him. He could feel it in the way his whole body was shutting down. Lungs and heart collapsing under the inexorable decay, compelling him to gasp for every gulp of air left, blood rushing madly in a push for escape. His muscles were being consumed, spasming.”

From a conventional psychotherapeutic point of view Sarah confirmed that she was using the writing to work through her trauma and that Panacotta was thus a fictional version of herself. But from an anthroposophic psychotherapy holistic body, soul, spirit point of view, whilst this is important, it is more important to examine her struggle to become free from nature and spirit. And this determined the interventions which I have described. The work also had a broader macro spiritual aspect which I will now examine.

Macro aspects and conclusion

Anthroposophic psychotherapy also considers the broader temporal context of clients’ lives. First, it places the current moment or Zeitgeist within a broader historical and evolutionary context. Second, it sees each individual human being’s life within the broader context of different lives and the client’s karma of the past and the future.

Historical context

In a lecture in 1924 Rudolf Steiner made an important statement which has implications for our current moment in history. He refers how at birth we come ‘to earth-life in the form of an embryo in another human being’ but also how we are also ‘born not physically but spiritually’ (4, p. 112). At first this seems most strange since he is saying that we are not only born into the physical sense world physically but are also spiritually born. But it is not so strange if we consider that the whole of the universe that we are born into was created by God and we are immersed in the activity of spiritual beings even though, for most of the time, we are unaware of this. We are born into a God-created world whether we are aware of it or not. He continues to speak about how after birth, we perceive the physical activity of the sun but that we also unconsciously experience the ‘soul-spiritual activity of the sun’ which he refers to as ‘communion’ (4, p. 112).

Many of Sarah’s actions attempted to experience ‘communion’ with the soul-spiritual activity of the sun. I will explain this by referring to the Calendar of the Soul; a series of verses Rudolf Steiner wrote in 1912 for each week of the year. It did not seem to me that the verse for the week in which session 45 took place was a mere coincidence but was syncronistically connected with Sarah’s mood in that session. The verse is as follows:

To cosmic All there speaks,
Forgetting self
And mindful of its primal state,
The waxing ‘I’ of Man:
In you, in liberating
Myself from my subjective fetters,
I fathom essence of my being (5).

This verse provides a wonderful picture from a spiritual point of view of what Sarah was speaking about in session 45. She had a sense of her cosmic primal state. She also had a sense of her waxing I and the essence of her being. So, inwardly she was engaged in a struggle between her spiritual I and the ‘subjective fetters’ which bound her to the sense world, and which made her feel like a ‘stranded astronaut – not connected with anything’. We need to live in this world – ‘to enter the skin of the dragon’ – because only then can we transform and eventually spiritualize the world. We cannot do it from the outside. This is central to anthroposophy as it is to Christianity and other spiritual perspectives. In Christianity it is well-expressed in the revelation of St John which is orientated towards the huge challenges facing us as we spiritualize the earth in the future.

Individual spiritual context

Lachesis also reminded me of the three fates in Greek mythology: Clotho (spinner), Lachesis (allotter or apportioner), and Atropos. Whereas Clotho spins the ‘thread’ of human fate and Atropos cuts the thread thus determining the moment of death, Lachesis decides how much time is to be allowed for each person to live their lives by measuring the thread of life with her rod and, most importantly choosing a person's destiny after the thread of life is measured. In other words, Lachesis is closely related to karma and destiny. Sarah was spiritual but was struggling to connect with her eternal spiritual I as well as the earthly presence of the spiritual world. Her karmic development over time had been disrupted as it is with most human beings today. She was drawn, in adult life, into another non-physical world – the virtual world of computer games. Yet she was able to maintain a connection (or communion) with God’s universe when she went for a walk or went to church communion or was able to observe this ‘reality from the outside’. The psychotherapy aimed to reinforce her connection with the ‘soul-spiritual activity of the sun’ within the context of her life in the physical sense world.

Conclusion

I often refer to my approach to psychotherapy as being like a dot-to-dot game. Whatever story the client brings it has in my view an internal coherence – a drive to salutogenic health – and so I see my task as recognising that coherence and conveying it to the client. Another way of describing this is to say that it is like discovering the archetypal phenomenon in Goethe’s sense: ‘a manifestation of the spiritual ground of phenomena observed by the senses’ (6, p. 103). Goethe’s scientific work was concerned with the Kingdoms of Nature. In the case of plants, there is only one archetypal plant which applies to all plants. But with human beings it is different. Each client has an I – a unique archetypal phenomenon and the spiritual core of our being – which exists in the physical sense world and is the source of healing.

Note: Sarah is a pseudonym. She has given written consent for the purposes of publication and knows that after publication there is the possibility that someone somewhere may recognize her.

Bibliography

  1. Steiner R. Spiritual Science and Medicine. London: Rudolf Steiner Press; 1975.
  2. Bateman A, Holmes J. Introduction to Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge; 1995.
  3. Dekkers H. Review of article. In: Lees J (ed.) 2023.
  4. Steiner R. Pastoral Medicine. Hudson, NY: Anhroposophic Press; 1987.
  5. Steiner R. The Calendar of the Soul. Spring Vally, NY: Anthroposophic Press; 1974.
  6. Naydler J. Goethe on Science. Edinburgh: Floris Books; 1996.

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