This is the last part of the story of the Black Dog of Aylesbury as told me by one of my patients.. It’s a frightening story and easy to dismiss as the product of too much alcohol or other dubious substance. But my patient made it very clear that he was absolutely sober. I believe him. So, what to make of this story? Jung would view the Black dog as an archetypal figure raising from a shared unconscious. Not being a Jungian, I chose to interpret this story as a kind of waking dream. Dreams being seen as the Royal Road to the unconscious by Freud. In the earlier blogs I’ve spoken about one view of what this event might have meant for my patient. I now want to look at how we might understand what happened to his friend. (Although like all therapy sessions, this might take longer than initially planned.)
In the story my patient and his friend both go out to challenge the dog. The friend beats it up and it vanishes. But the consequence of this is that he goes in to a kind of coma and is hospitalised. At the time I was seeing my patient his friend had been like this for several months.
“What do you think happened, Terry?” my patient asked.
This was not a question I knew how to answer in simple terms. In fact the whole saga stretched me to my emotional and intellectual limits. I found, and still find, the whole event disturbing. Here is a summary of what i suggested to my patient.
What did he know about trench blindness, for example? Or of soldiers who developed paralysis in their hands when it came to shooting a rifle. He said he’d vaguely heard of this idea.
“Weren’t they seen as skivers or cowards and either shot or court marshalled? Or both?” he asked.
“Yes, that was often what happened. Psychological thinking wasn’t very sophisticated in the forces in those days.”
“So”, asked my patient, “what does this have to do with the dog? It was real. We both saw the damned thing.”
I took a deep breath and started.
“I think something like this happened. Both of you wanted to visit this woman at the end of the lane. Both of you wanted to have sex with her. Both of you were stopped by this dog. This dog represented the bit of you that felt guilty about this. You wanted this woman but also knew that you had a family at home whom you loved. The dog ‘worked’. It kept you faithful-which you wanted it to.”
“I sort of get that.” said my patient. “You’re saying I invented this dog to stop me from doing something dangerous like having sex with this woman.”
“That’s close enough .I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘invented’ but that’s pretty much what I’m suggesting.”
I went on to suggest that the dog had served its purpose. (We rarely ‘state’ or ‘tell’ as therapists. We ‘suggest’. We ‘muse’. There are all sorts of reasons for this…) It had given him a chance to think about what he was doing. To decide that he wanted to keep his marriage, home, family etc. In a sense the dog was no longer needed by him.
“OK. I see that and it’s true. Mostly.I did want to keep my marriage more than I wanted to have sex with this woman. But, it would have been fun finding out …”
“Agreed. It might have been. We don’t know what else you might have found out.
We left this thought hanging and returned to his friend. And since that is the end of our time for today, the story of the friend will have to wait for another session.