Penelope S. Starr-Karlin, PsyD, LMFT.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

8:30am to 9:00am Registration

9:00am to 12:00pm Presentation

Traumatic States and the Phoenix Myth: The Journey From Dissociation to Integration- The Royal Road of Image, Word, and Relationship

Mythology and dreams have most consistently been adopted for use by Jung’s analytical psychology but I will demonstrate their usefulness to contemporary psychoanalytic work by using a relational-systems approach called intersubjective-systems theory. The case involves an analysand whose analysis was abruptly terminated when her analyst ‘disappeared’ leaving her in a traumatized state. Our dialogic exploration of meaning in the myth brought dissociated experience into language and assisted with the integration of the trauma through imaginative use of mental images evoked by the stories.

More than a simple metaphor of self-renewal, the Phoenix myth has a richness of culturally elaborated sub-plots known as mythemes, that relate to the following existential moods and affects - loss of the absolutes of everyday life, a reduced sense of being, alienation, isolation, uncanniness, being-toward-death, traumatic temporality, resoluteness, and solicitude (Stolorow 2007, 2011). These will be described, along with the way mythemes and dreams can assist in the process of bringing dissociated or pre-verbal affect into language. I conclude that this ancient myth’s longevity (pre-dating the pharaohs of Egypt) may be due to a useful psychological function, that of facilitating survivors' ability to integrate catastrophic loss, because its images can aid in the organizing of unformulated unconscious experience.

The Phoenix Myth-
 The phoenix was said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant red and gold plumage. Only one phoenix existed at any one time, and it was very long-lived. As its death approached, the phoenix fashioned a nest of aromatic boughs and spices in the tallest tree, and the nest was consumed in flames. From that pyre miraculously sprang a new phoenix, which, after embalming its parents’ remains in an egg of myrrh, flew to Heliopolis (“City of the Sun”), where it gently placed the egg on the altar in the temple of the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra.

Learning Goals and Objectives

Participants will be able to:

1) Recognize, understand, and provide language for the specific universal existential emotions that follow in the wake of traumatic loss.

2) Use a myth to build a working relationship and become a ‘relational home’ when the analysand cannot trust the analyst due to previous traumatic experience in therapy.

3) Select mythemes in the Phoenix myth to facilitate exploration of existential emotions.

4) Utilize the relational aspects of the analytic dialogue to practice ‘dwelling-with’ the analysand, reducing dissociation and increasing the integration of experience.


Penelope S. Starr-Karlin, PsyD, LMFT., is Faculty, and a Supervising and Training Analyst at the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Los Angeles. Penelope teaches the core theory class in intersubjective-systems theory and various electives including psychoanalytic theory of dreams. She regularly presents her papers at relational psychoanalytic conferences, and a recent Jungian conference, and has published on various topics in psychoanalysis. She is mentored by Robert D Stolorow and George Atwood, co-founders of intersubjective-systems theory, and participates in a monthly philosophy group for psychoanalysts.

Penelope is a former associate editor for the International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology/PSC, and for four years has run an educational Facebook site dedicated to intersubjective-systems theory with well over 2000 ‘friends’ (over fifty percent are mental health professionals around the world). Penelope practices contemporary relational psychoanalysis, and marriage and family therapy in her private practice in West Los Angeles, California.


Important Relocation Information: The Penelope S. Starr-Karlin Workshop scheduled for Saturday, March 17th has been moved to the auditorium of the OU College of Public Health, located at 801 NE 13th Street.

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Registration by Mail

If you prefer to register by mail, please print off the following brochure and mail it with your check to: OSPS, PO Box 12683, Oklahoma City, OK 73157. If you have questions about registration, please email Kay Smith at

Penelope S. Starr-Karlin Brochure