this was my final paper for my Creative Arts in the Helping Professions class. It was a really great class–I felt very comfortable and safe with Maria, our professor, and my other classmates, who were all wonderful. It deals with Pullman’s concept of daemons (which I have integrated into my own life) and suggests a potential intervention for kids struggling with separation anxiety disorder. It is long. You have been warned.


“’Conscious beings make Dust—they renew it all the time, by thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on.” – Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass.

Every time I open my dog-eared copy of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a little shiver of excitement goes through me when I read the words “Lyra and her dœmon” (Pullman pg 1). Ever after, for the rest of the series, wherever Lyra goes, Pantalaimon, her dœmon, follows, quite literally to the ends of the earth. And just as Will feels a thrill at seeing his own dœmon for the first time, so did I, an ordinary high school girl from a poky little town.

But this essay is not about me. This is about dœmons, the dœmons that Pullman so cleverly noted that were a part of every human being in all the worlds. They may not be corporeal in our world, but they are still present, and with the help of what the angel Xaphania called “using the faculty of what you call imagination” (Pullman pg 912), dœmons can be used to help adolescents struggling with Separation Anxiety Disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association classifies Separation Anxiety Disorder as “Developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached, as evidenced by three (or more) of the following: 1) recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated; 2) persistent and excessive worry about losing, or about possible harm befalling, major attachment figures; 3) persistent and excessive worry that an untoward event will lead to separation from a major attachment figure (e.g., getting lost or being kidnapped); 4) persistent reluctance or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because of fear of separation; 5)persistently and excessively fearful or reluctant to be alone or without major attachment figures at home or without significant adults in other settings; 6) persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home, repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation; and, 7) repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated” (American Psychiatric Association [DSM-IV-TR], 2000). Separation Anxiety Disorder is only diagnosed in children and adolescence under the age of eighteen, the duration of the disturbance must last at least four weeks and it must not exclusively co-occur with schizophrenia or another psychiatric disorder. As with other disorders, it must significantly impair functioning in everyday life.

What strikes me the most about Separation Anxiety Disorder is the pervasive fear of being alone. Individuals with SAD will go out of their way to avoid being by themselves and are completely reliant on external figures for support and the feeling of safety (DSM-IV-TR, 2000). As was brought up the first day of class, safety is within the mind of the beholder. I feel fine walking to the store to pick up food by myself, but to an SAD sufferer, being alone at a store may seem as terrifying as being thrown off an abyss. The trick within my intervention is not only symptom relief, but also to create for the SAD sufferer the feeling of safety without relying on constant attention from others and to foster exploration and courage.

I had not really thought of Lyra’s bravery until Maria brought it up in class. Here she is, a little girl all alone in a world where she’s wanted by the most powerful of all oppressive regimes, yet she is still gutsy enough to trick a bear-king out of his kingdom and to enter places where adults don’t dare. As readers, we are only attentive to the presence of Pantalaimon when Pullman wants us to be, but throughout the course of the series he is always by Lyra’s side. He is a friend, a pet, an older brother, a parental figure, a perpetual companion that is separate, yet one with Lyra.

What makes the concept of dœmons so appealing is the knowledge that paradoxically even when you are alone, you are not alone. There is this part of you that’s there for you when you need it to be, a friend who is a hundred percent reliable because it is coming from yourself. Robert Landy calls these two entities the “I” and the “me” within drama therapy—the “I” is the “one who thinks, senses, and names,” (Landy, quoted in Malchiodi, pg 90), and the “me” is “another who is thought about, taken in through the senses, and named” (Landy, quoted in Malchiodi, pg 90). Lyra herself realizes this, she says, “’I can think about my body and I can think about my dæmon—so there must be another part, to do the thinking!’” (Pullman pg 671). Without Pan, Lyra is not whole; indeed, in her world, to see a human without his dœmon, his “me” is like seeing someone with “their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts” (Pullman 159).

The idea of human duality is not new. Carl Jung names the “me” as “animus” in females and “anima” in males (Hall and Nordby pg 46). According to Jung, the animus is “not the image of this or that particular woman, but a definite feminine image. This image is fundamentally engraved in the living organic system of the man, an imprint or archetype of all the ancestral experiences of the female, a deposit, as it were, of all the impressions ever made by a woman” (Jung, quoted in Hall and Nordby pg 47), and “the first projection of the anima is always on the mother, just as the first projection of the animus is on the father” (Hall and Nordby pg 47).

According to Jung, both animus and anima are “underdeveloped” throughout the course of an individual’s lifetime, because it is a side that is not readily accepted or acknowledged—“the disparagement begins in childhood when ‘sissies’ and ‘tomboys’ are ridiculed” (Hall and Nordby pg 48). The greatest psychological health in Jungian psychology comes from the harmony found when personality integration occurs—when the anima integrates with the man and the animus with the woman; “at the same time that each of these components is being permitted to individuate by being expressed (rather than repressed) in conscious acts, they are also tending to form an amalgam. That is, each conscious act comes to express both sides of a man’s nature” (Hall and Nordby pg 85).

If we consider that the first projection of the animus is on the parental figure and that children with Separation Anxiety Disorder often cannot separate from their parents, then we can conclude that part of their un-integrated animus lies with the parent. Metaphorically, it would be as though the parent acted as the dœmon, and to be torn away from the dœmon would be like tearing your own body in half. After all, the corporeal dœmons of Pullman’s world cannot travel more than a few feet from their humans and both human and dœmon would die if separated.

In this intervention, as therapist, I would encourage a person to find their own inner dœmon, so to speak, and by doing so form a sense of independence as well as develop the ability to reason and rationalize with themselves whenever something seems very anxiety provoking. As we can see in His Dark Materials, Pantalaimon is the first one Lyra consults when she needs anything, and more often than not he is the logical and cooler one of the two.

This intervention would be implemented about halfway through traditional talk therapy or CBT, when the child has had an opportunity to engage in transference with the therapist and has integrated part of the therapist.  Within my online community who regularly communicate with their own dœmons (more on that later), it seems to be more suitable for females because a majority of the posters are girls, so I will use feminine personal nouns in describing the process. This intervention is designed with the adolescent crowd in mind, about fifteen to eighteen, who have had a greater opportunity to develop a sense of reason and rationale, who have been taught greater reasoning skills by the therapist and who are somewhat self-aware and psychologically minded. The client also has to realize that the dœmon is an inner voice, an “inward face” (Jung in Hall and Nordby, pg 46) and not something outside of the person’s psyche, which is why this intervention is not recommended to clients who are severely dissociative or disturbed.

We begin with a guided visualization. The client sits in a comfortable position and envisions herself in her favorite relaxing space—it could be her bedroom, a seaside, a rolling meadow covered in wildflowers. She envisions an animal sitting next to her, one that she identifies with. The animal may be subject to change throughout the therapeutic process, but as long as the client feels comfortable communicating with it, it is fine. The client then names the dœmon. The name can have a symbolic meaning or it can simply be something the client finds pleasant-sounding, and if it is very long, the client may even pick a nickname for the dœmon. Once a name is attached communication becomes easier. The client then opens her eyes and in a relaxed state draws the dœmon, or decorates a pendant or a journal or something to remind her that her dœmon is there. This art piece will function as what a “transitional object” (Winnicott, paraphrased in Malchiodi pg 25), something symbolic to remind the client of this newfound strength within herself that she can always take with her. Through the dœmon, the client may practice on herself the Socratic reasoning techniques so often employed in CBT—“Well, what are the odds of that actually happening?” “I don’t know, but if it does, it’ll be catastrophic!” “Not necessarily. Look, hundreds of people have moved away from home and grown up just fine, and you won’t be any different”.

If it is easier for the client, while she reason with herself, she may imagine the animal in her guided visualization sitting next to her and talking with her, nuzzling her when she is anxious or bristling at an offender when she is angry. This constant visualization reinforces the fact that the client is not alone, and that she has the capacity within herself to bring out this “inward face,” this “me”. It allows her to healthily express the masculine and feminine qualities of the animus and anima (an imaginary animal never physically hurt anyone) and thus to facilitate a healthier and more psychologically whole person.

As a child I suffered from separation anxiety, perhaps not to the extent that those with SAD do, but it was uncomfortable nonetheless. From preschool, when I would sit in the corner and bawl until the teacher came to reassure me that Mommy was coming at two o’ clock, till high school, when a breakup meant the end of the world, I always felt ostracized and alone and friendless when not with other people. I can empathize with that fear and apprehension that comes with one’s mother leaving the school gates—what if she doesn’t come back? But what helped me were my imaginary friends—I had them in preschool, wrote stories about the people in my head in middle school, and in late high school finally read Pullman’s books and discovered my own dæmon.

He came to me one day as I was writing in a journal. For some months I had been chronicling my woes into two separate dialogues—the I would write a line, and then the other part, the “me”, would write the other line, the one who knew that the breakup did not mean the earth was cracking in half and that I would definitely grow as a person from this experience. Finally, I wrote, “Who the hell are you?” and the voice answered, “Your conscience, your Jiminy Cricket? Your dæmon, if you like, from Pullman’s perspective.” I stared at the empty space on my comforter and instantly a cat with golden eyes winked into view. “What’s your name?” I asked him. “Skarja,” he replied. And he slunk up against me. It must have been what Will Parry and Dr. Mary Malone felt upon seeing their own dæmons for the first time—the joy of knowing that this creature is a part of your own nature and you have known him all your life.

My dæmonology intervention draws on elements from psychodrama, in turn, Gestalt therapy, art therapy, Jungian analysis and CBT with the emphasis on fostering Socratic dialogue. Of course, all these therapies in and of themselves may work just as effectively on treating an individual with Separation Anxiety Disorder, but pulling pieces of them together create a living metaphor for what has helped me throughout most of my adolescence. And that is what I find most wonderful about the creative arts therapies—they draw on the concepts of transference, active imagination, role-playing and rehearsal, and most of all, the EMPATHY of the therapist, which has been tested again and again and again and each time coming up as the most important factor that facilitates a transformation.

Therapy isn’t about technique—it’s about alliance and empathy and mirroring, the fact that knowing you are not alone, whether it is your dæmon that listens or your therapist, and that you are completely and unconditionally accepted and validated. The arts therapies realize these things more than traditional talk therapies. I have read many papers that are geared towards CBT, psychopharmacology or psychoanalysis or DBT or Schema Therapy, each touting its own effectiveness, and I think, “Okay, that’s fine, but there’s more out there than pronouncing your way as the most beneficial way.” It lacks empathy and becomes more about the researcher trying to prove himself rather than helping the client.

This semester has been an exercise in empathy. It was a different kind of empathy than the kind one feels when a friend tells a sad story. The empathy communicated through music and art was more powerful and pervasive, and has trained my third ear to listen to the cues that people give off and how it can affect their surroundings. It might be something entirely different from what I want to feel, or what I think the person is going through, but this semester I have had to throw judgment out the window and let people make their own decisions. It wasn’t about proving how the symbolism in someone’s drawing clearly represented one thing or another. It was about how the person felt, and that was emphasized over and over again.

When we were singing in the group, I felt the tremble in the air and even though I wasn’t particularly thinking about anything, a soft sadness seeped into the notes I was humming. I glanced up and everyone else seemed to be having a similar experience. But even though the moment itself was raw, the aftermath was cathartic. We had expressed our sadness, and it was being held literally within the confines of the circle we had created.

All therapies, whether it is art therapy or CBT, is about expression and containment. It is about allowing the client to release his or her pent-up negative feelings within a safe holding space, within a vessel, whether it is the canvas in art therapy or the analyst in psychoanalysis, and it is this paradox that seems to facilitate healing. When I project myself onto my dæmon, I am able to separate myself into a part that holds all the negative feelings and anxiety and another part that knows it’s all going to be all right. That other part is the part that reassures and stabilizes me.

I had never thought about music and drama and art in terms of shamanism and religious ritual before this class. Here was the missing link. I have always been somewhat turned off by the dry-sounding technical terms used in traditional therapies—“transference, countertransference, symptom relief”. But regardless of whether what flows between client and therapist is explained in terms of “flowing energy” or “countertransference”, it is there, it is real, and it is to be explored and cherished. People find great comfort and healing within their ritualistic practices, and rituals within themselves take elements of art. I have realized that traditional psychotherapy itself is a kind of modern-day ritual—the couch, the analyst and the office all lend themselves to creating that healing environment.

Today my computer might whistle at me to tell me my email inbox is ninety-three percent full. I might be running to and from campus and trip on the sidewalk in my clumsiness. I might forget to do my workbook exercises for Mandarin, but my dæmon’s steady golden cat gaze reminds me that it is all right, that everything will be fine. His assurance of my present and future safety is all I need to take a deep, calming breath and, with him slinking ahead, to keep walking.

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Hall, C.S., & Nordby, V.J. (1973). A Primer of jungian psychology. New York: The New American Library.

Malchiodi, C.A. (Ed.). (2005). Expressive therapies. New York: The Guilford Press.

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