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The Role of Religious Imagery

in Adaptive Psychotherapy
Robert Langs
Abstract: This paper presents the viewpoint of the adaptive approach in respect
to manifest allusions to God and other religious themes from patients in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Such imagery is understood and interpreted
on a par with secular imagery, as reflections of encoded deep unconscious experiences, many of them in response to therapists interventions. The article
also explores the reasons why religious imagery is uncommon in adaptive
modes of therapy, discusses encoded evidence that therapists religious selfrevelations and extended personal reactions to patients religious images are
maladaptively countertransference-based, and suggests that particular kinds of
encoded nonreligious imagery suggest that the deep unconscious mind should
be thought of as an inner god of divine wisdom and pristine morality. The decision as to whether this viewpoint speaks for the existence of a transcendental
deity or is properly considered in secular terms lies beyond the province of
psychoanalytic observations and thinking.

Some ten years ago, I was presenting the plenary address at a conference of adaptation-oriented psychotherapists, a school of thought in
which I have played a formative role (Langs 2004a, 2004b, 2006, 2008).
At this occasion, I had presented certain advances in this treatment
modality, focused on the recent work I had carried out with a mathematician, Anthony Badalamenti, regarding a set of lawful hypotheses
about human communication based on explorations of an individuals
movement into and out of narrative expressions, as seen both in psychotherapy and everyday life (Langs, Badalamenti, & Thomson, 1996).
After I finished my presentation, a member of the audience spoke up:
Were hearing a lot about science and clinical validation, but where
does God come into the picture?
Robert Langs, M.D., Private Practice.

Journal of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, 37(1) 8598, 2009
2009 The American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry



I was stunned. At the time, allusions to God and religion were unheard of at these conferences. My answer to this unexpected question
was equivocal: You know, no one has ever raised this question before;
it has never occurred to me to look for Him.
I paused, however, thought a while, and added: I must say that as
I quickly run though the imagery from the patients Ive worked with
and those whose cases Ive supervised, I really havent seen any evidence for a hidden deity. If He was there, Id expect Him to be reflected
somehow in the deep unconscious mind, but nothing along those lines
comes to mind. Beyond that, let me think more about this and get back
to you at next years conference.
That was my abrupt introduction to religion vis--vis psychoanalysis and dynamic forms of psychotherapy (terms I use interchangeably),
especially the adaptive version. For a while, perhaps as a natural consequence of this question, I was on the alert for allusions to God and
other religious themes, but they were quite uncommon in my practice
and in the work of the psychotherapists whom I supervised. I could
find no reason to overcome my bias against the psychoanalytic study
of religion, an attitude that had been passed on to me as a classically
trained Freudian analyst. I soon dropped the matter.
A few years later, howeverand quite by chance, it seemsI happened upon a book on BuddhismRichard Bernsteins Ultimate Journey (Bernstein, 2001). To my surprise, Buddhist thinking about the levels of reality and the systems of the mind resonated with my Adaptive
Theory and the way I view these subjects and seemed overall to reflect a picture of the human psyche that could supplement and amplify
my understanding of emotional adaptation. My readings moved from
Buddhism to religion in general and, in time, centered on the Bible and
commentaries on its texts. I focused mainly on Genesis in the Hebrew
Testament and on the entire New Testament as it detailed the life and
teachings of Jesus Christ (Langs, 2008).
After careful study, I discovered that there are several unique ways
that the distinctive features of the adaptive approach to psychotherapy
facilitate an interaction with and further the study of religious themes
and allusions to God in ways that can shed fresh light on both disciplines. The present article focuses on three interrelated areas of investigation: First, the means by which religious imagery is used to encode
deep unconscious experiences of major traumatic events; second, the
reasons why patients allusions to God and other religious representations and experiences are quite scarce in the course of an adaptive
psychotherapy experience; and third, the means by which (for want
of a better term) god-like wisdom tends to be expressed through the
divine meanings of ordinary encoded narratives.



I use the term god-like or divine wisdom in order to refer to stimulus-evoked, adaptive knowledge and insightdeeply unconscious
knowledge that expresses an awareness of threats to existence, especially those which emanate from failures or alteration of a secure frame of
containment. The conscious mind is incapable of sensing these threats
and often is seduced into or seduces compliance with frame alterations
that seem helpful and necessary but are in fact ultimately hurtful to the
therapeutic process. The source of this wisdom may be a transcendental or inner God, who might exist just as most religions characterize
this entitywhose sacred texts can be shown to contain mythologized
warnings about threats to a secure frame (Langs, 2008)or a unique
cognitive capacity of the aforementioned deep unconscious mind, for
which God or the divine is merely a symbol. Adaptive therapists
have as yet found no way to distinguish between these two basic possibilities, and they do not take a stand on the definitive meaning of
religious concepts or images of God outside of the therapeutic encounter. However, and without reducing one potential source (God, the unconscious) to the terms of the other, I do believe that psychotherapists
must be prepared to discern the ways in which a patient who mentions
religiously clothed content or feelings might be expressing a deeply unconscious awareness of some form of death-related, existential anxiety
that has been evoked by the therapists alteration of some element of
the psychotherapeutic frame. In my view, during the treatment process,
even the therapists silent overinvestment in, and certainly his overt
declaration of, his own religious beliefs and experiences can have this
anxiety-arousing impact upon the patient.
In order to provide a further context for a clinically oriented discussion, I shall first present the highlights of the approach that informed
this work.
The Adaptive Approach
The adaptive approach (Langs, 2004a, 2004b, 2006, 2008) is a novel
paradigm of psychoanalysis that is grounded in a distinctive process
of validating, listening, and formulating the communications that take
place during the psychotherapeutic process. The approach highlights
two distinctive modes of communicationintellectualized and narrative. The intellectualized mode is comprised of single-message expressions, whose manifest content is fraught with directly extractable implications, which may be conscious or superficially unconscious. The
narrative mode is comprised primarily of either dreams or stories that
convey double-message communications: One message is manifest and



conscious, while the other is encoded and deeply unconscious. These heavily disguised secondary meanings are reflections of the manner in which
the unconscious adapts to anxiety-provoking, death-related, traumatic
triggering events whose implications and impact are too unbearable
for direct registration and conscious awareness. These deeper, more
meaningful responses are accessed solely through a process called trigger decodingthe unmasking of the disguised meanings of a narrative
image in light of the traumatic triggering event that has evoked it. For
patients in psychotherapy, in most instances these triggers involve their
therapists interventions, many of which are seemingly innocuous and
even conventional and appear to be accepted by the patient consciously. In fact, however, careful attention to the patients statements and
behavior will indicate that such interventions have been experienced
by the unconscious as harmful in some death-related manner.
An important component of the adaptive approach is the model of
an emotion-processing mind that has gradually evolved in order to accommodate and assimilate emotionally charged events that are on some
level death-related. This mental module is comprised of two relatively
independent operating systems: A conscious system whose adaptive processing efforts are able to register with the property of awareness and
a deep unconscious system whose adaptive efforts have no direct access
to awareness but instead are conveyed through the encoded meanings
of narrative-like structures and expressions (e.g., dreams, myths, stories). While it is correct to state that both systems operate cognitively,
the conscious system is geared toward defense against awareness of
death or its denial, and thus its efforts at emotion-related adaptation
which by definition includes much of the kind of conscious cogitating and believing we identify as religiousare severely compromised.
In contrast, the deep unconscious system, which is highly sensitive
to the consciously obliterated, death-betokening meanings of events,
functions with enormous adaptive wisdom. The latter module makes
use of a pristine moral code that enables it to cope effectively with the
impact of death-related dread and traumaand ensures that our basic,
inescapable existential scenarios are encoded in a patients responsive
It has been important to note that the conscious minds responses
to emotionally charged incidents are highly individualized, unreliable,
and impaired, while deep unconscious responses are archetypalthat
is, universally sharedas well as optimally oriented toward survival,
remarkably wise, and highly reliable. It is for this reason that the adaptive approach attributes paramount importance to an intact therapeutic frame. Dealing with the ground rules of psychotherapy, including
the frame, is the critical avenue for the expression of adaptive prefer-



ences: The deep unconscious mind seeks an optimally healing, archetypal framework for a psychotherapy experience and is prepared to
cope with the entrapping existential death anxieties aroused by the secured frame. In contrast, in the service of denying death, the conscious
mind prefers and solicits many kinds of harmful departures from the
ideal frame. I enumerate modifications in therapists relative anonymity through personal self-revelations, religious and otherwise, as chief
among these kinds of potentially harmful frame disturbances.
These basic insights provide a context for the findings to be described
below, generated in my role as a psychoanalytic observer without religious bias, pro or contra, relying upon the safeguards offered by the
adaptive approach to minimize distortive countertransference-based
influences (Langs, 2004a, 2006).
Some Initial Considerations
Based on my supervisory and personal clinical experiences and compared to the impression I have derived from the literature, I would
state that manifest religious and spiritual themes and direct allusions to
God appear far less often in the free associations of patients in adaptive
psychotherapy than they seem to under other definitions of psychoanalytic treatment. Direct references to God and broader, God-related
transformational experiences are especially uncommon in my experience. When religious imagery does emerge, it tends to come from religiously inclined patients; they are extremely rare in those not so inclined. Privately, a therapist, including adaptive therapists, may have
their own personal religious preferences, but these are not shared with
the patient. I have worked with many nonbelieving therapists, and I
have supervised a handful of adaptationally oriented therapists with
strong convictions regarding the existence of a transcendental God.
Their religious orientation was revealed mainly through coincidental
discussions at times of personal contact; it was not elicited during their
supervisory work because it is not seen as relevant to the role requirements of an adaptive therapist and was not expected to exert a palpable
effect on how these therapists did psychotherapy.
With the exception of rare incidents of countertransference-based
lapse, my experience reveals that when therapists worked in ways that
were guided by the deep unconscious validation of their interventions,
their personal religious beliefs are not conveyed to their patients. In
principle, their handling of the patients religious material remains
based on adaptive principles in which, in a manner similar to secular imagery, God-related narrative themes were understood to reflect



the patients deep unconscious adaptive responses to significant trigger events. Hence, the patients associations were trigger-decoded rather
than dealt with at the manifest level, and the analytic work focused
on universal death-related or other existential threats and anxieties as
opposed to surface-level (I cannot say superficial) religious narrative
On rare occasions, the adaptation-oriented psychotherapists with
whose work I am familiar have received a referral from a religious leader, and in these instances the unexpressed (or expressed) reliance on the
therapists presumed or avowed belief in God was the hidden basis for
the referral. This kind of arrangement is a potential threat to the integrity of the analytic frame if left unexpressed or unattended to. Two main
patterns were seen with these patients: In the first, the patient sought
therapy because their faith in God had been shaken for some reason.
While these patients consciously explored the manifest bases for their
doubts, the therapeutic work was directed toward trigger-decoding the
patients encoded narrative material, religious as well as secular, in order to interpret the deep unconscious experiences that underlay the patients religious doubts. The second group of patients was not suffering
from religious uncertainties as such. Instead, they presented with other
kinds of emotional problems, and they, too, communicated secular and
religious narratives all of which were nevertheless trigger-decoded in
order to reveal the deep unconscious basis of their difficulties.
Much as patients sexual images and behaviors did not (need not)
affect the sexual orientation, thinking, or feelings of their therapists,
so, too, I find, the religious experiences and God-related imagery from
both groups of patients did not and ought not to be expected to influence their therapists religious orientation, thinking, or feelings. The
therapists responses to their patients religious-representational material were technicalthat is, geared toward the understanding of deep
unconscious forcesand not recast in religious terms or special forms
of religious or spiritual empathy. On the contrarythe rare inadvertent
lapse in which a therapist expressed a personal religious belief, even
the most subtle, was unconsciously perceived and responded to by the
patient as a countertransference-based, inappropriately self-revealing
frame violation, and this was made clear in the patients responsive narratives subsequent to such therapist disclosures. In one such instance, a
believer-therapist who had just begun to work with greater adherence
to the adaptive approach recalled during a supervisory session having
directly supported a woman patients belief in God with an interpretation that included an acknowledgment to her that he shared this belief.
At the time, he was satisfied with the intervention because the patient
had consciously felt reassured by his self-revelation. But in supervi-



sion, the therapist now remembered that the patient then reported a
puzzling nightmare the following session in which a man was running
naked through a meadow for no apparent reason and was struck by
lightening and killed. As the patient associated to the dream, she spontaneously brought up a story of a sinner for whom God opened the
earth with a lightening bolt, sending the man to hell for eternal damnation, and other religious imagery.
At the time the dream was reported, the therapist had interpreted it
as a reflection of the patients fear of sex with and her general hostility toward men. In discussing the incident with me, the therapist was
able to see that the dream, though replete with imagery to which the
patient brought her own religious associations, also encoded the patients unconscious perception of the therapists self-revelation as a
sinful, sexualized exposure for which he deserved to be punished for
all eternity. The therapist, in turn, experienced conscious guilt and remorse when he reconsidered his earlier intervention in this new light,
which is consistent with my general experience during the supervision
of self-revealing therapists. Often one discovers a strong sense of deep
unconscious guilt which may motivate the desire to act in ways that are
self-destructivealbeit, without conscious insight. At the same time,
we did not notice any specifically religious effects in the therapists response to the patients material. Our work on these insights enabled
the therapist to restore the analytic frame which, in turn, brought great
relief to the patient, as was evident in subsequent associations. Thus,
this therapist did not seem to require the addition of a religious cast
to his inner searches in order to restore the patients faith in the refurbished frame. And, in this sense, Gods representational presenceat
least, as might have been inferred from the patients religious allusions
to sin and divine punishmentwas viewed as an encoded indicator of
a frame-related anxiety; it was neither necessary nor fruitful to attribute
any specific ontological value to the belief in God as such.
A Manifest Allusion to God
In 1983 (Langs, 1985) I carried out an extensive interview study of
patients of different ideological persuasions who had been in psychotherapy with different kinds of therapists. During that time, I was witness to the most striking allusion to God that I have experienced. In the
incident I have in mind, the patient was a woman in her 40s, a practicing Catholic, who reported that, when still a virgin in her early 20s, she
had been sexually seduced by her elderly general practitioner. She then
became sexually promiscuous and consulted her priest who referred



her for psychotherapy with a local psychiatrist who somehow seemed

to defend the perverse actions of the physician. Still upset, the woman
then went to a therapist who was known to work with strongly religious patients, yet he turned out to be verbally abusive and often kept
her waiting for hours for her scheduled sessions while other patients
came and went, exposing her in an embarrassing manner as she sat
there. Gradually, she fell into a state of despair and went on a pilgrimage to church sites in Italy. There, while walking alone along a deserted
country road, she experienced a visual image of Christ descending
from heaven, entering her body, and purifying her of her sins. She has
functioned relatively well ever since.
I experienced these revelations on several levels. As an interviewer
thinking initially in terms of the usual psychodynamic approach, I understood the Christ experience as a delusion in which the patient, having been failed and further damaged by her therapists, found a way to
forgive and heal herself for her promiscuous behaviors. My subjective
reaction was one of sadness over the ways in which her therapists had
treated her and of awe in response to the patients ability to find a religious means of cure.
I also reacted to this material as an adaptive therapist. From this perspective, I understood that, despite my assurances to this patient that
all further scientific use of her material would be protected by full disguise (she was also informed that she couldand didread the protocol of our interview, further censor it if she felt the need, and approve
all additional allusions to her interview in the book), nevertheless, by
virtue of the very fact of interviewing her for a book, I too was exposing and exploiting the patient. Thus her tale to me of being exposed and
exploited by previous therapists reflected her deep unconscious experience of the current interview. On this level, her tale had been selected
and told to me in ways unconsciously designed to encode and convey
her attempt to cope with the harm, however well intended, that I was
causing her at the moment. At the same time, her description of seeing
and being purified by Christ may have reflected her deep unconscious
appreciation that in interviewing her for a book devoted to redressing
the errors that occur when psychotherapy is practiced without regard
for the adaptive context, I was trying to redeem and purify a field sorely in need of saving.
I responded to these latter, difficult-to-arrive-at realizations with sadness and with concern that even my well-meaning interview had been
rightfully experienced by the patient as a kind of frame-violating sexual abuse. What then, I wondered, was I to do in trying to be constructive about psychotherapy on a broad basis? The answer to this question
came in part from the patient: My efforts also were redemptive for both



the field and herself. This interviewees mixed reaction of deep unconscious experiences in response to a constructive frame break offered
me some much-needed reassurance as to the project I had undertaken.
Profoundly wise, the deep unconscious mind starkly perceives both the
harmful and healing aspects, often simultaneously, of well-intended efforts of this kind.
As far as any religious effects on me of her story of Christ, I was too
preoccupied with these adaptive formulations and insights and their
impact on methat is, too committed to decoding and understanding
her material at the deepest level and not only at the level of the manifest
content of her description. Thus, in my experience, the trigger-encoded dimensions of the patients description, the level most commonly
referred to as religious in content, had no religion-related effect on
me. I am aware, of course, that any therapist might experience fleeting religious responses to the patients material, just as many therapists
experience fleeting sexual responses to sexual material, but anything
beyond a fleeting reaction would suggest a countertransference sensitivity that further warns of a potential frame violation.
Some Broader Perspectives
To offer some general comments, the frequency and nature of Godrelated and religious themes in the material from patients in psychotherapy depends on a number of factors within the patient, therapist,
and therapeutic frame or setting, which includes the features of the
therapeutic setting arranged by the therapist and his or her handling
of the ground rules and boundaries of treatment. That is, religiously
oriented manifest contents as well as their encoded meanings do not
arise solely from within or as projections from the patient, nor does
it matter, from my point of view, if they actually point to something
that exists beyond the firmament. Instead, because patients are unconsciously sensitive to the ways in which the therapeutic frame ensconces
or irritates, exposes or protects the patient from death-related anxieties,
religious themes are understood primarily as a psychic event housed in
a specific type of narrative that is being triggered by some emotionally
charged incident within or relevant to, the treatment setting, and as an
effort to create an adaptive response to the incident. Thus the emergence of religious imagery from patients is the result of both interactive
and adaptive forces; such imagery would be a culturally tinged reference to the therapists interventions or failures to intervene at specific
moments during the ongoing work.



Especially relevant in this regard is the religion-related information

that a patient has obtained from or about the therapist. Ideally, a therapist should sustain his or her relative anonymity and not reveal his or
her religious preferences nor respond personally to patients religious
material. The adaptive principle that therapists interpretations should
be based entirely on the material from their patients should be sustained. Nevertheless, after a therapist is seen by a patient at a religious
service or the patient discovers that the therapist has published a religious book or articlewhich will impact upon the frame, regardless of
manifest intentionsan upsurge of religious imagery can be expected
and in my experience is not uncommon. Under these circumstances,
however, the therapist ought to avoid the seduction to become self-revealing and work entirely with the patients material. When such material is at the point where it is most amenable for interpretationthat
is, when it is narrative in naturethere will be clear evidence that it
encodes the patients deep unconscious reactions to the discovery of
the specific dimension of the therapists religious affiliation or interests. As for therapists personal internal responses to such material, the
critical factors appear to be their awareness of the personal meanings of
their own religious preferences and their position on the ground rules
of treatment, including the extent to which they truly believe that the
ideal, healing, archetypal therapeutic frame precludes personal revelations to their patients. Also relevant is the way in which a therapist
understands, formulates, and intervenes in response to religious imagery. Adherence to the secured frame and concentration on adaptive
listening and intervening tend to make religious imagery from patients uncommon. This approach tends to render God-related allusions
into passing communications because the therapeutic work is always
moving forward toward further explorations of the patients deep unconscious experiences of traumas as the patient illuminates his or her
emotional difficulties. Oftentimes, the religious content arises slowly,
even where it has not been obvious at first.
For example, an adolescent male patient asked his female therapist to
see his mother in connection with his psychotherapy, and the therapist
began to wonder to herself whether the circumstances indeed warranted that she consent. As he continued to speak, the patients associations
went to an incident earlier that week in which his mother barged into
his room even though the door was closed. He commented that she had
no right to invade his privacy like that. He told other stories of inappropriate intrusions, including a newspaper report about a crazed, divorced man who had broken into his own home and murdered his wife
and children. The therapist decoded and interpreted this imagery as
reflecting the patients valid unconscious perception that her seeing his



mother would allow the mother to inappropriately and murderously

invade the privacy of his psychotherapy. The therapist then made clear
that she would not agree to speak to the patients mother.
The patient responded to this frame-securing interpretive intervention by recalling that after the incident with his mother, his father had
told mother that she ought to allow their son the privacy due him and
to stop intruding into his space. Next, the patient, who was Jewish,
thought of the episode in the story from the Book of Exodus in which
the first-born sons of the Jews were not killed during the tenth plague,
divinely protected by the sign of the blood on the door posts of their
homes, while the Egyptian firstborn were killed. Upon further work, the
therapist was able to clarify with the patient his perception of how the
safe frame (door post) had protected him.
These responsive storiesone secular, the other religiousvalidated
the therapists frame-securing intervention and further encoded the
patients deep unconscious appreciation that the therapists not seeing
his mother was protecting himthe patientfrom his mothers unconsciously experienced efforts to destroy his therapy and himself. It also
can be seen in this rather typical clinical vignette that the most powerful meanings of the Biblical story lay with its encoded meanings that
are on a par with the nonreligious stories that the patient might more
generally tell during the session. Subjectively, the therapist responded
to the story of God and Moses in the same way that she reacted to the
patients other narrativesas an encoded communication in need of
trigger decoding. The material had no effect on her personal religious
beliefs, nor did it involve them.
Frame-securing interventions tend to evoke positive God-related images, while frame modifications tend to evoke images of a punishing
God and of hell and Satan. A case in point arose recently after a male
supervisee who is a religious believer appeared on television to promote a book he had published. A religious woman who was in treatment with this therapist happened to see this televised interview. She
began one session by expressing conscious appreciation for the therapists appearance and the views he expressed. Somewhat abruptly, the
patient seemed to switch topics and told a dream in which a man enters
her bedroom and tries to assault her. She associated to the dream with
a story she had recently read in the Bible in which Jacobs daughter,
Dinah, was abducted and violated by a Canaanite prince, after which,
as punishment for the crime, her brothers killed all of the males in his
One can, no doubt, hear many latent themes in this material, and
do many things with it from an interventive point of view. In my
view, however, the key here is the patients deep unconscious experi-



ence of her therapist invading her bedroom, the place where she had
seen him on television. As depicted here, the deep unconscious mind
tends to take a brutal view of frame violations and expresses an assault,
not felt consciously, in both secular and religious imagery. The similarities between the two sets of themesreligious and nonreligious
reflect the archetypal perceptions, wisdom, and moral code of the deep
unconscious system, archetypes that can be expressed equally well
through either type of imagery. Each patient responds to emotionally
charged triggering events with their preferred idiom of expression and
wisely but unconsciously selects from the universal meanings of frame
breaksand frame securing momentsthose images that are most
pertinent to their own personal histories and traumas.
Summing up, rather than addressing the conscious meanings of religious themes, adaptive therapists treat these images as part of the network of encoded themes which patients generate in order to convey their
deep unconscious perceptions and adaptive processing of traumatic
triggering eventsoften in the form of errant interventions by their
therapists. Adaptive therapists do not treat allusions to God, stories
about Gods messages and actions, and other spiritual themes as having a divine sourcethey remain neutral on this issue since it involves
unexamined belief rather than psychoanalytic evidence. Instead, they
treat spiritual material as an expression of human psychology and as
a reflection of the adaptive activities of the emotion-processing mind.
The themes so generated are viewed as part of patients efforts to cope
with traumatic experiences on the deep unconscious level of adaptation. The imagery therefore is on a par with the countless other nonreligious thematic images that patients come up with in order to encode
their deep unconscious experiences of traumas that are manifestly or
latently death-related.
The Concept of an Inner God
The deep unconscious system of the emotion-processing mind is a
system with extraordinary features that are aptly described as god-like
(Langs, 2008). This discovery may be understood within either a secular or religious framework. The religious belief in the existence of an
inner god is a key feature of Gnostic thinking about God and Jesus.
By and large, however, the presence of Jesus as God is not reflected
in manifest images but in the wisdom and morality of His sayings. In
these instances, divine pronouncements speak for the deity rather than
manifest religious themes that may or may not be part of the received



For example, the Gospel of Thomas attributes to Jesus the following

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring
forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is
within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
(Pagels, 1979, p. 126)

This is not a manifestly God-related statement but is instead a wisdom statement that may well be thought of as a reflection of divine wisdom. Jesus is said to have made many such pronouncements, and Yahweh too is described as possessing divine wisdom of the kind that Eve
sought in eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. There is then
a body of divine wisdom conveyed in the Hebrew and New Testaments
of the Bible. This wisdom stands in contrast to ordinary or mundane
wisdom that is uninspired, as it were, and devoid of deep unconscious
insight (that is, wisdom that succeeds in maintaining emotional discontinuity between the material and the meaning-seeking tendencies
of the unconscious). The adaptive approach sees mundane wisdom as
an attribute of the conscious system and locates divine wisdom in the
deep unconscious mind, a finding that supports the religious idea of
an inner god existing within all humans. While the Bible and Gospels
convey much of this wisdom directly, Christ, in his extensive use of
parables, also encoded this knowledge in disguised or metaphorical,
archetypal narratives (Langs, 2008).
In god-like fashion, the deep unconscious system draws on sublime
universal archetypes in order to sharply separate good from evil, right
from wrong, and moral from immoral acts; there is no hedging, excuse
making, or trying to rationalize away the true nature of a given deed
or thought. The system stands fast with its pristine moral code and, as
was the case with Yahweh, it also has enforcement capacities in that
it arranges, however unconsciously, for self-punishing decisions and
behaviors in those who transgress these inviolate values. In all fairness,
the system also orchestrates favorable decisions and advantageous behaviors in those who adhere to its archetypal values within and outside
of therapy. As is the case by implication in the Bible, most of this wisdom and morality has been acquired through unconscious experiences
with death and death-related traumas. We may therefore think of the
deep unconscious system as a death-centered, moral inner god which
serves the human pursuit of a good and rewarding life on earthand
in the minds of some, ever-after as well.



Concluding Comments
In the adaptive approach, the therapist functions and experiences
patients material, religious and otherwise, in ways that are in keeping
with the role requirements of being a psychotherapist. The therapist
does not respond to patients God-related themes and experiences with
religious reactions of his or her own, but sustains an interpretive stance.
In my own therapeutic work and those of my supervisees I have not
encountered unconsciously validated observations that suggest that
consciously or unconsciously humans have a special awareness of an
omnipotent being. On the other hand, there is ample evidence for a
god-like deep unconscious system with perceptiveness, wisdom, and a
sense of morality that far outshines anything that the conscious mind is
capable of. This system has all of the attributes of an inner god.

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Langs, R. (1985). Madness and cure. Lake Worth, FL: Gardner Press.
Langs, R. (2004a). Death anxiety and the emotion-processing mind. Psychoanalytic
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Langs, R. (2004b). Fundamentals of adaptive psychotherapy and counseling. London:
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Langs, R. (2008). Beyond Yahweh and Jesus: Bringing deaths wisdom to faith, spirituality,
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