Getting Past the Threshold and Into the Classroom

Posted by Nikole Hollenitsch on Sep 9, 2016 1:48:48 PM

A guest post by Craig Chalquist, Ph.D.

possibilities.jpgYou’ve investigated which schools offer what; you’ve found a suitable program; and you’re ready to apply. What holds you back?

You’ve applied but not completed the application. How come?

You’ve completed the application but not paid the fee. Why?

I’ve been there. Twice: when entering the master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at CalLutheran University, and when enrolling at Pacifica Graduate Institute for my PhD in Depth Psychology. Why do we resist committing ourselves? Perhaps we can look at it psychologically.

Abraham Maslow liked to point out that when faced with an important decision, we are also faced with two conflicting impulses. The first is for growth: for adventuring, moving forward, gathering up new experiences. The second is for self-protection. What looks to some like self-defeating behavior has, at bottom, the goal of keeping us safe by keeping us away from what would change us.

When these impulses collide, the conscious mind must make the decision whether to move forward or be held back. It’s a choice. Sometimes made in the face of great fear, but a choice to be considered carefully lest either impulse simply make the decision for us.

Sometimes the impulses also manifest externally: the hinderers and helpers noted by Joseph Campbell. “I used to have idealistic dreams too,” a middle-aged coworker at the office told me when I shared my decision to go back to school to study psychology. “After a while you accept that it’s really just about making a living.” That is the voice of self-protection; in his Red Book Jung calls it “the spirit of the time." The voice of growth, “the spirit of the depths," was there for me too: “Do it if you think it will make you happy in the long run.” So I collected my nerve and enrolled, twice. The alternative was life in a cubicle: a life not for me. Sometimes safety is the greater risk, the higher cost.

That’s one way to see it. Going mythical, we might also discern the perennial path of deep transformation: Departure, Confrontation, and Return. In some cultures this looks like rituals of initiation. Psychologically, it resembles those myths and fairy tales in which the seeker comes to a doorway flanked by threshold guardians. This is the point of decision. Stop, or go through?

If you wait until you’re not afraid, you will never go through. Individuation is about pushing through in spite of fear even while honoring the self-protective impulse that strives to keep you safe.

Managing your fears intelligently is the first step on the path beyond the guardians. When they see your commitment, they move aside. The doorway stands open before you.

p.s. Read this to see what happened to me after I walked through and entered Pacifica. 

craig_chalquist.jpgCraig is Associate Provost at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He earned his Ph.D. in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and also holds a Master Gardener certificate and another in permaculture design. He is the author of Terrapsychology: Reengaging the Soul of Place (Spring Journal Books, 2007) and co-editor with Linda Buzzell, MFT, of Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind (Sierra Club Books, 2009). Craig was core faculty in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies and former core faculty at John F. Kennedy University, where he served as acting department chair (Consciousness & Transformative Studies), designing and launching the world’s first ecotherapy certificate.

He also trains psychotherapists in ecotherapy techniques, has presented at Bioneers, and gives local presentations on "Gardening and Mental Health." He is on the editorial board of the journal Ecopsychology and a member of the International Association for Ecotherapy. Visit his webiste at

Topics: graduate school, Education