The I Ching put me into one of the toughest crises of my career as a psychologist. This ancient Chinese oracle can mirror the wisdom of the higher self. It had helped me solve problems, make decisions, and had even literally saved my life (see article "The Day the I Ching Saved My Life"). But my doctorates in psychology and social work from the University of Michigan operated from very different professional premises.
After many years of relying on this spiritual guide, I began integrating the method into psychotherapy sessions. It's a valuable tool that empowers clients (who can learn the method themselves) and it offered an objective point of view that often revealed the hidden issues of the unconscious. I was a Jungian psychotherapist and Jung, himself, had used the I Ching for decades. He even wrote the introduction for the Wilhelm and Baynes translation.
It all made logical sense and had worked perfectly for years, until one day, in a most difficult case I could see that the I Ching had arrived at the wrong answer; it was not slightly, but totally and horribly, wrong. The I Ching's spiritual judgment directly conflicted with my professional judgment as a psychologist. It threw me into a spiritual crisis of faith and a professional conflict at the same time.
The client in question was trapped by her denial of the harmful nature of her father's influence. He had been, as a father, somewhat less nurturing than Attila the Hun. She had created an adaptive illusion that helped her survive that phase. It's similar to "Stockholm syndrome" wherein captives idolize their captors, but it eventually must be outgrown. All attempts at gently broaching the topic of her father's damaging behaviors only activated her fierce defenses of him, which are best not confronted until the client is ready. Perhaps the I Ching can provide an impersonal, objective view of the father that would be more palatable, I reasoned.
The client was eager for the feedback and so was I--until I saw the answer it was my job to read to her. She had chosen the question: "How should I view my father?" She threw the coins and yielded the hexagram of "The Family," which made sense, but had several moving lines praising the character and behavior of the head of the house!
Psychologically, this was dead wrong. Do I choose psychology over spirituality and cancel the reading which I had suggested in the first place because I didn't like the outcome? Can I responsibly present this reading as part of a psychotherapy session when I fear it may further confirm her already debilitating delusions about dad? Should I be using this method in therapy at all when I don't control the answers?
I chose to finish what I had begun and read--with great distress and upset-- line 3 which mentioned that "Too great a severity toward one's own flesh and blood leads to remorse" but that in doubtful instances it was better to err on the side of discipline. Her situation was far from doubtful, and this implied father may have been justified. Lines 5 and 6 were worse! I read aloud in agony:
"As a king he approaches his family... a king is the symbol of a fatherly man who is richly endowed in mind. He does nothing to make himself feared; on the contrary, the whole family can trust him, because love governs their intercourse. His character of itself exercises the right influence... His work commands respect" and more (Wilhelm & Baynes).
Just before I abandoned this gut-wrenching act of faith in the I Ching, the client burst into tears. "Oh my god!" she cried, "that's the definition of a real father... my father never did any of those things!" And her life-long delusion began to melt before my eyes. The I Ching had reminded her of family violence and then proceeded to advocate her own position so strongly that she could no longer maintain it herself.
"Sometimes you need to take things further in the wrong direction in order to unlock resistance," a wise mentor had once told me; what a brilliant use of this "reverse psychology" by the I Ching. I can assure you it reversed my own doubts while helping the client.
The second hexagram was "The Turning Point," which this session surely was... for both of us. I decided that, in fact, I should not be including the I Ching in psychotherapy sessions. Before long, I stopped doing "psychotherapy" altogether, and only worked with the I Ching and dreams exclusively. That "first ever mistake" the I Ching appeared to make changed two lives in one session.