In the early 1980’s I began to experience a series of nightmares concerning nuclear apocalypse. The prevailing psychoanalytic and Jungian approach to such images was to interpret them subjectively, understanding each piece of the dream as representing something within oneself. Jung himself, however, had come to understand that some of his own dreams and visions were premonitory regarding the outbreak of World War I. In the 1980’s I lived in Boston where Australian physician Helen Caldecott was creating more consciousness about the effects of nuclear war, as she founded Physicians for Social Responsibility. I began to volunteer for this fledgling organization and to immerse myself in learning about this ongoing threat.
From this period I began to explore what I imagined as a porous membrane between the “external” world and the “internal” world, where the former gains psychic body through image. In addition to clinical work with children and adults during this period, I began to work with groups. The focus was on listening to how the world presented itself in their dreams and images, and what, if anything, they felt called to do in response to these images and the understandings that evolved in relationship to them.
What struck me most strongly was the difference between the kinds of problems that individuals brought up in the context of individual psychotherapy and what they brought up in these groups. Both sets of concerns were often filled with affect, but the themes were different. Whereas those in therapy discussed their families of origin, their intrapsychic experience, and their interpersonal relationships, they seldom brought up social issues such as class, racism, the threat of nuclear war, bad schools, failures of democratic process, and deep desires for societal transformation. These observations gradually led me to understand how much psychotherapy, including depth psychotherapies, were affected by the underlying Euro-American paradigm of individualism (see “From Individualism to Interdependence: Changing Paradigms in Psychotherapy”). Individual well-being was being sought without concern about community well-being. Indeed, a person could be attempting to obtain his own liberation, while intimately involved in practices that foreclosed the liberation of others.
Watkins, M. (1987). “In dreams begin responsibilities”: Moral imagination and peace action. In V. Andrews, R. Bosnak & K.W. Goodwin (Eds.), Facing Apocalypse (pp. 72-95). Dallas: Spring Publications.
Watkins, M. (1988). “Imagination and peace: On the inner dynamics of promoting peace activism, Journal of Social Issues, 44, 2, 39-58.
Wagner, R., de Rivera, J., & Watkins, M. (Eds.). Psychology and the Promotion of Peace, Journal of Social Issues, 44, 2.
Watkins, M. (1984). “In dreams begin responsibilities”: Moral imagination and peace action. In E. Mc Coneghey & J. Mc Connell (Eds.), Nuclear Reactions. Albuquerque: Image Seminars.
Watkins, M. (1984). Thinking about the future in a nuclear world. In E. Mc Coneghey & J. Mc Connell (Eds.), Nuclear Reactions. Albuquerque, NM: Image Seminars.
Watkins, M. The Un-Doing of Hard Borders: Art at the U.S. Wall Against Mexico [To be published in S. P. Moslund, A. R. Petersen & M. Schramm (Eds.), Migration and culture: Politics, aesthetics, and history. London/New York: I. B. Tauris Press.]