Time and coherence
A theoretical approach of psychical time structures and the symbols of time in music and music therapy
Sophie Guignard
I  Introductory words
This study of time conditions lies within a broad philosophical and psychological field. The music therapeutic orientation is psychodynamic, with references to psychoanalytical theories.


II  Structural aspects of time
II.1 General aspects
In order to describe the implications of time experience within the field of music therapy, I will first make some
general remarks about time conditions.
Whether you consider time in a biological, mythological, philosophical or psychological perspective, you will find a dualistic quality. On one hand, you’ve got a linear dimension of time, that is to say that events and states follow after each other in one direction. For example, human life follows that model, from birth to childhood to teenage, to grown up, to old age, to death. The image of an arrow represents that aspect. On the other hand, you’ve got a cyclical, rhythmical dimension of time, with periods that repeat themselves in a given pattern, like the seasons, day and night shifts, the frequency in the process of cellular reproduction, the alternation of waking and sleeping states, the heartbits, the time patterns for eating, working, religious ritual and so on.



We are so used to the time organization that structures our everyday life that we seldom reflect upon these conditions. Punctuality is a modern concept in our western cultures. Until the 1800th-century, you didn’t have a centralized notion of time and people followed their local time. The need of a general regulation revealed itself first when train communication developed.
A determinist idea of time prevails in our culture. A principle of causality rules our lives but some theories have come out within sciences and art fields, which can’t be integrated in the usual understanding of time. A fragmentary reality is reflected in music, literature and arts works that emerged in the twentieth century. Cubism, expressionism, nouveau roman, minimalism, atonal, polytonal and electroacoustic music are a few examples of that fragmentary aspect. Quantum theory raises the question of reversibility of time direction, relativity describes time as a varying stream, biology shows the existence of a rhythmical plurality as a basic principle, evolution theory explains that mutations happen in quantum moves. Jung also presented theories that challenge the causal order. These representations can be related to mythological representations and show a way of seing reality that has existed beside the principles of causality for a long time and still caracterizes many cultures and alternative cultural movements. The idea of time as an all inclusive structure that contains us for example, can be found in mythology and that representation matches Plato’s concept of a timeless world of ideas, eon and cyclical time, and the fleeting concret world.
In other words, the linear experience of time as continuous and ordered in causal series of events is a mental construction that enables the individual to adapt to the social environment. (I don’t deny it is a physical reality as well)
I’d like to show you two pictures which illustrate the dichotomy of time that I’ve been talking about :
Picture of Saturnus - linear aspect
Picture of Oceanos - cyclical, all inclusive time, eternal dimension
II.2 The music therapeutic temporal framework
When the client and the music therapist meet, they have both an own history that brought them to that same place at the same time. Whatever happened before that meeting is going to influence the therapeutic development. The therapist’s ability to offer a structure that suits the client is an important condition for the music therapeutic activity. That structure includes a time perspective which already started at the planning phase and extends over a determined agreed time period.
The planning phase of the therapy can be compared to a period of pregnancy, when the hopeful expectant mother prepares all the practical things to welcome her baby in a favourable environment. Even the patient has expectations that grow up and can lead to frustration if the period of waiting is too long. Clarence Crafoord uses the metaphor of a birth when he refers to the first therapy meeting and describes therapy as a journey where ”the start is pregnant with the end”. The form of music therapy matches the individual’s psychological basic structures, reproducing the pattern of life with birth and death. The therapeutic journey with a start, a middle part and an end is structured like biological life with childhood, adult and old age. This pattern with three phases structures lots of human activities. One of these, the early relationship between parents and child which leads to the child’s autonomy, serves as a model to the therapeutic relationship.
The temporal framework of music therapy acts upon the therapeutic content. The music therapists Katherine Grogan and Doris Knak showed the importance of well defined temporal frameworks in a study of music therapy in group with children. Not to know how long the therapy is going to be pursued influences the sense of security and the possibility for the music therapist to contain the process. Is there a containing function in the temporal structure ? The idea of time that I named before, as an all inclusive structure which contains us, incites us to believe it.
II.3 Time of the music therapeutic process
Time is said to have a natural healing power.
A psychodynamic perspective implies a belief in the possibility of changing connected to the therapy, as well as an idea of a yet undetermined future which is created in the present moment. The individual’s experience of the past is remoulded in the present where a mental representation of the future is created or altered.
The therapeutic process is characterized by both cyclical aspects, with repeated experiences, and continuity of the psychical activity. Like a hologram, every experience in the therapeutic process contains an imprint of the whole structure.
II.4 A philosophical perspective of the present
Augustine in the ”Confessions” reflected upon the question of experienced inner time. How can the past and the future exist, when the past is not any longer and the future is not yet. If they exist, it is in the present. Stories about the past are produced out of pictures of events which left marks in our memories. What about the future ? Do future events exist as pictures in our consciousness ? We don’t know that, but if it were the case, these pictures would belong to the present. Augustine asserts that we can only see what is now. One who pretends to see the future doesn’t see the events themselves but causes, signs and representations that are in the present. For instance, if I didn’t have a mental picture of the coming sunrise, I would be unable to predict it.
Augustine asks : Is there an eternal present ? An eternal present is eternity, not time, and if you only consider the present, you will discover that you can divide that time entity into even smaller pieces and the smallest entity you can imagine would not have any time length at all. Augustine defines time as a changing picture of the motionless eternity and as an expansion or an expanding movement of the soul.
In his way, Augustine was a predecessor of Bergson who, 1500 years later, stated that ”duration is the continuous progress of the past gnawing at the future and swelling as it moves forward”. According to him, the past grows continually and is automatically kept in the memory. Most of it is kept in the unconscious. Mental mechanisms let only what is useful to the present situation come up to consciousness. But even although our consciousness doesn’t have access to all our past material, we bear it within us in the present. Our personality is formed by our life history and even earlier factors since we have innate qualities. The past affects us, our actions, wishes and will. It means that a state of consciousness doesn’t re-occur. Our personality changes continually. Our duration is irreversible.
II.5 Time of the music therapy session
These philosophical aspects of time and duration correspond to the experienced time of the music therapeutic session. Under the session, the opportunity to be involved in the present of the music therapy relationship is provided on condition that the music therapist is present in his task and in the music.
The way of relating to time mirrors the individual’s psychical structures and is part of the psychical material which is remoulded during the therapy. For example the persons who take part in a group therapy may have different ways of dealing with time conditions and sharing time between each other, that the music therapist will have to coordinate.
In a music therapy session you can choose to alternate playing with talking, creating a dynamic time flow. A session contains musical time. If you use music, both while playing together or listening, to let the patient sink into a relaxed state which facilitates the flow of free associations, you may notice a sense of both time direction and time dissolution. I have experienced long pianoimprovisations, together with a client. Although the client, as she confirmed it, found herself in a meditative state, she seemed to have an inner sense of time and stopped playing whenever the session time was over. More than a movement forward, I experienced these improvisations as a kind of rocking movement. In ”Analytical Music Therapy”, Johannes Th Eschen describes an altered state of mind he calls ”tertiary thinking process”, as a creative thinking process oscillating between reality and dream, and opening up ego boundaries. Mary Priestley mentions a state in the musical improvisation where the therapist becomes a musical instrument. She calls it a creative receptive experience that takes place in the ”eternal now”, where the sense of time is altered, in an experience of stillness and praise. This may be compared to trance or alternative, meditative and hypnotic states of consciousness but playing music has still more dimensions. That musical sense of presence can be directed inwards to psychical matters, to aspects of playing together and communication or to the music itself and its quality.
The experience of the dissolution of time is paradoxical because music, in reality, uses and takes time. Music structures time. The norwegian music therapist Even Ruud asserts that music can give the experience of control and mastering and of belonging to a bigger context. Is there, on an unconscious level, a sense of coherence which can be reached in music ? Music psychologists have observed that the experience of a ”now” in music can vary between 5 and 12 seconds and that, in a slow piece of music with long structures, the present moment is experienced as longer. This is a sign of an immediate (maybe perceptual ?) sense of coherence that affects the experience.
More obviously than for reproduced music, free improvised music is structured in the present. If you haven’t agreed upon a defined temporal framework for the improvisation, then, you don’t know as you start playing when the improvisation ends. It’s not always easy to steer a musical improvisation to an end when you notice that the client is not ready in fact and would like to go on playing. The music therapist must be able to take different aspects of time into consideration while being present in the music and for the client.
A feeling of continuity and coherence is enabled by the regularity of the music therapy sessions. However, these sessions are short episodes carved out of another context, which is the life outside the therapeutic space. This contributes to an aspect of discontinuity. That paradox can be seen in analogy to the dichotomy of time with on one hand a structure which gives coherence and on the other hand fragmentary characteristics.
Starting each session by gathering possible thoughts and feelings that aroused in connection to the previous session is a method of linking up the sessions and create continuity. It implies however that the client is able to follow the thread and experience the sessions in a continuum. Donald W Winnicott points out that the patient’s coherence of thoughts might be the sign of an organized defence which conceals anguish. Winnicott maintains that, in a trusting therapeutic situation, incoherent sequences of thoughts may emerge that the analyst would better accept as they are without trying to find the main thread.
Like the therapy as a whole, the session also has a start and an end and contains a process. I will once again suggest the idea of a hologram : each unit (the session) contains knowledge about the whole. The holographic principle is a guiding structure which is in accordance with the structure of time. In the present of the session, there is a gleam of both the patient’s and the therapist’s lives. We may say that the therapeutic session is structured as a sort of container of the paradoxical time aspects of reality.
There’s usually an agreement about the length of the therapy session which is often between 45 and 60 minutes for an individual therapy and one hour and a half for a group therapy. Winnicott gives an example of a therapy with a patient where the length of the sessions was not limited. The session could last for 3 hours in the beginning and decreased to two hours after a while. Björn Wrangsjö considers that there isn’t an optimal time length for a session which would suit everybody. The important thing is that the outer form of the framework corresponds to an inner form within the therapist. This makes it possible to challenge the signification of the limits in the therapeutic process.
These reflections show that time is an important element that the music therapist must balance in order to combine the dissolving and structuring qualities of time and music. Both of these qualities may be needed for a change, a psychical remodelling to be achieved. These qualities contribute to integrate experiences from both the therapy and the ”real life” and to establish a sense of coherence.
(Stanley Clark, Al di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty ”The rites of strings”
 n° 8 : La cancion de Sofia  3 mn 23 s)
I suggest that we listen to a piece of music and concentrate on the polarity between a sense of time direction and one of time dissolution.
You may choose to focus on one of these poles or shift between them.
III Psychological aspects of time
III.1 Psychological theories about time
Sigmund Freud thought that people’s relation to time is connected to the activity of consciousness. The temporal order of representations belongs to the subconscious, conscious memories as well. According to Freud, time is connected to cognitive process and the unconscious is outside of time.
Studies of biological rhythms within the fields of chronopsychology and chronobiology denote the tight connection between physiological and psychological processes.
Clinical studies of Paul Fraisse showed that time perception is not only a cognitive process but is connected to the emotional life. Fraisse showed that babies have an innate structuring perception of time and intuitively experience speed, space and duration. They can structure sound sequences in rhythmical groups which are connected in a temporal continuum and they notice changes as well as adults do. Fraisse maintains that the faculty of abstraction is connected to the development of time representation.
  Sense of self
Daniel Stern describes the psychological development using the terms ”sense of self”. The self has two dimensions : one is spatial, like a limited unit in the space of the psyche ; the other one is a temporal, subjective organization of meaning coherence.
According to Stern, a child forms and acts out of abstracts representations of perceptual qualities, from the very first days of her life.  These are general qualities of experience like forms, intensity and temporal patterns. The need and the faculty to form abstract representations of primary perceptual qualities starts when mental life begins.
What Stern calls amodal perception is an innate faculty to transfer perceptions from a sense to another. Babies have an innate understanding of the similarity between a visual temporal pattern and an auditory temporal pattern. They can transfer duration, pulse and rhythm into other modalities. Stern believes in an overmodal form, that can be recognized by each one of the senses.
Studies about memory enables us to link the perspectives of natural sciences and philosophy. Memory is our link between the present and the past, it constantly rebuilds the past. Memory processes can be classified in two categories of symbolic systems : a discursive and an analogical symbolization process.
The discursive symbolization process is described by Björn Wrangsjö as analytical, logical, slow, connected to language, left brain and explicit memory functions.
The analogical symbolization is fast, pluralistic, takes the whole picture into account simultaneously, is non verbal, connected to the right brain and implicit memory functions. It gives coherence in an immediate all including experience that enables us to anticipate future events.
Memory processes are creation in the present and they are influenced by emotions. Paul Ricœur points out that memory and imagination are very close to each other. The past we can acceed to through memory and mental processes is a representation, an illusion, not reality. But there’s one situation that allows us to directly look at the past. It’s when we look through a telescope at long distance stars which existed a long time ago. Even then, the experience of the past is included in the present.
III.1.2 Psychopathological and health perspectives of time   experience
The illusions we build our lives on have an important function in structuring our existence and in how we relate to the world’s changes and our own ones. Observations have shown that although there are variations in the way people relate to time, there is a conformity with regard to regulation of time experience. Differences are signs of the individual’s adaptation and health.
 Psychotic and autistic conditions
Psychotic and autistic conditions are characterized by a fragmented experience of one self, the world, space and time. Every change is a threat and a loss of control. In that condition, time and place are inseparable. The past is not linked to the own person but situations of the past are bound to places where they occurred. As the border between one self and the outer world is not clearly defined, to move and leave a place is experienced as a breaking of the self and as if the outer world moves and changes around one. To change established patterns is a challenge to the identity of the autistic or psychotic person. A transitional object may be used as a bridge between different times and places and protect one from the threat of annihilation. That transitional object may have the function of creating a coherent structure of time, a continuity.
Jacques Lacan distinguishes three orders : the symbolic world, the imaginery one and reality. He considers that a psychotic person finds herself in a symbolic world which she doesn’t understand herself and which has a dualistic structure whereas the imaginery world and reality are characterized by continuity. The psychotic person’s symbolic world intrudes into reality. Even her relation to the own body is on that symbolic level. According to Lacan, an ill-considered attempt to replace an acknowledgement on that symbolic level with an acknowledgement on the imaginery level may be a releasing factor of a psychosis.
The music therapist Karin Schumacher has shown how she establishes contact with autistic children by mirroring their stereotyped behaviours. I see that as a way of linking the symbolic world to the emotional and physical reality, which, by integrating forbidden symbolic aspects, may lead to an experience of coherence and time continuity.
Johan Cullberg defines depression as a disturbance in the sense of self caused by set backs and disappointments. Traumatic events like feelings of failure, loss and abuses can trigger off depression. Grunberg describes depression as a gap between oneself and the ideal one. Depression is the expression of inner psychical conflicts.
A number of depressive symptoms affects the individual’s experience of time : deterioration of the cognitive functions and memory, difficulties to concentrate, slower psychomotor reaction and incapacity to anticipate are such symptoms.
Jean Claude Nayebi studied the temporal disturbance in depressed refugees. He noticed that the borders between the past, the present and the future become indistinct and that reveals a conflict with reality. Nayebi refers to Freud’s idea of a delayed effect of a traumatic experience which has been kept in the unconscious as a repressed memory. A new event which activates that repressed memory can trigger off a psychical condition. Nayebi observed that depressed people experience the present moment as very heavy and insufferable. There’s an aspect of stillness and stopping of time and at the same time, the idea of a flight of time, a time which goes by in a reality where the individual is not committed. When reality is irreconsilable with the inner representation of one self and of the outer world, it leads to a break and the impossibility to conceptualize time and take control over it.
The music therapist Jacqueline Verdeau-Paillès asserts that depression brings the incapacity of projecting one self into the future and to build it actively and positively. The intelligence is not disrupted but the patient who lacks hope and enthousiasm is incapable of using it. The loss of that ability may be connected to other symptoms : loss of interest, loss of vital energy and creativity, slow-wittedness, disrupted sense of time and problems of integration in the reality of the world. Verdeau-Paillès has observed these symptoms in all kinds of depressions and no matter the age of the patient. The movement towards the future has stopped. The patient can’t imagine a future where he has a place. A dissolution of time occurs, as an indefinite waiting without hope, commitment or orientation signs. The individual looses his synchronicity with the time of the world. This can be expressed in several ways : the depressive person may either be unable to structure project, control the time between conception, wish and action ; or she may find that more difficult because her personal time doesn’t match social time any longer ; or the wait may become intolerable because of a lack of self control and that may lead to impatient and violent behaviour.
According to Verdeau-Paillès, music, with its rhythm and pulse, can help the patient to tune up his personal time to the time of the world. Moreover, music diminishes anguish because it helps the patient to forget the flight and stopping of time that I mentioned before. Music therapy can function as a support of the patient’s activity, creativity and desire to commit one self in a process of recovery.
When Freud described in a letter the emotional aspect of a depressive condition related to the fact of getting old, he used the metaphor of the lack of an echo, like playing the piano without using the loud pedal. That musical metaphor gives music therapists a clue about a therapeutic method consisting in creating a resonance for the depressive patient’s muffled emotions.  
 Sense of coherence (SOC)
Aaron Antonovsky considers health in a salutogenic perspective, where the focus is on the healthy aspect in people, which offsets the natural tendency to entropy in all living creatures.
Antonovsky asserts that a sense of coherence is a very important factor for maintaining one’s position on the health-illness continuum and for moving towards the healthy pole. He defines the sense of coherence as a concept with three main components : comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness.
The first component, comprehensibility, implies a capacity to understand the course of time and how events are organized in time, in a determinist way of thinking.
Manageability implies that one takes part in time.
Meaningfulness can have different expressions and is linked to the emotional signification of life. People need to feel that they fit in a bigger context which can be related to other people, to the environment or which goes beyond the own life’s time, in such a dimension where time and place meet in an eternal existence. That may be a matter of passing on a legacy, having a valuable and important activity, social commitment, religious or philosophical convictions, art or music.
A high SOC implies the ability to relate to reality, to the own history and to be able to project one self into the future. A sense of continuity and psychical time structures are basic factors that enable an integration in reality. The capacity to experience constancy in spite of changes is a significant element that furthers a favourable health ground.
The music therapeutic process is just such an activity where constancy despite changes can be experienced. In the symbolic dimension of music, the patient may discover a meaning which will shine over other areas of her life.
III.1.3  Carl Gustav Jung’s theories
Carl Gustav Jung studied the symbolic dimension of the psyke. He presented theories about achetypes and synchronicity, which differ from the usual idea of linear time.
Jung’s theory is that archetypes are forms in the deepest realm of the psyche which have the potential to evoke images that keep recurring world-wide in all people's psyche and have been reappearing from time immemorial. Archetypes are inherited psychic instincts and behavioral patterns. We know them from myths, legends and stories told the world over. The psychic land where these archetypes exist is the collective unconscious.
According to Jung, these archetypes are memories of human experiences that constantly repeat themselves, like everyday sunrise or the moon’s phases, for example. Those repeated physical events have generated mythical representations which are subjective reactions to physical experiences. Archetypes are not only signs of constantly repeated experiences but also power or tendency to repeat the same experiences.
In that sense, a cyclical aspect of time prevails. But the idea of archetype has also an eon time perspective, that is not limited to the individual’s life and where the future is included in the past.
Whereas the personal unconscious stops on the borders of early child memories, the collective unconscious includes a time previous to birth which is a rest from the ancestors’s lives. That implies a karmic dimension. The archetypal content comes from a time beyond human existence and tends to turn expansion into a regression ”until the amount of energy activated by the collective unconscious has been consumed.” In order for this energy to be available again, an agreement has to be concluded with the collective content. From the union of conscious and unconscious contents arises what Jung calls a transcendent function. Jung considers that psychic energy is dualistic. Our christian culture has formed our consciousness in a way that excludes unconscious parts which do not fit in the established idea of the world. That creates inner conflicts and leads to the appearance of destructive forces because the individual must compulsively live the irrational side of the psyche which appears as an excess of libido with archaic content.
Jung’s theory is inspired of the chinese culture. Their idea of time comes from a circular time model or mandala where the order is found in opposit pairs which balance each other in a cyclical movement. Time belongs to the masculine principle Yang, while the feminine principle Yin, is associated to space. Together, they build Tao, the law which governs the cosmos. Time and space are bound by eternal existence. The meaning of time is to make reality out of potentiality.
Jung’s idea of synchronicity has also been inspired by chinese philosophy. Synchronicity means that the simultaneity of events in time and space is more than merely a question of pure chance, a relation of dependence between the objective events and the psychic state of the observer. This theory implies that cosmos has a psychophysical structure. Synchronicity signifies that a situation can be interpreted as a set of meaningful and comprehensible coincidences. Jung related as an example the story of the beetle flying into the room through the open window while a client was telling about a dream of a beetle. Jung considers the order of synchronicity as non causal and with a mysterious and divine quality communicated through a universal symbolic language.
The notion of synchronicity includes clairvoyance and prophetic dreams. It is characterized by improbable and meaningful events. Time, like in the taoist way of thinking is like a field, a qualitative space of inner and outer existence which includes  all the emotions. According to Jung, synchronicity is more visible in times of crisis. Commitment and the affective dimension are important. Experiences of synchronicity are at the edge of a psychotic state. Jung asserts that one can bring about synchronicity by putting one self in a strong emotional state with the help of different techniques. States of flow, trance, meditation, shamanism, communication with a spiritual world or the realm of the deads, are different ways to get in contact with other dimensions. Techniques of divination use a symbolic medium who mirrors the person’s inner and outer situation and finds, in the present moment, a correspondence between inner and outer focus.
The scientist Wolfgang Pauli who had contact with Jung and experienced synchronicity explained the repeating patterns as a state of inner tension, that could be connected to energy balancing.
According to Jung, the aim of synchronicity is a widening of the consciousness. It is about a mirroring process between psyche and materia, a maturing process and way of life where one is present in the moment and oppen for whatever happens. The inner order and harmony respective chaos and disharmony correspond to an outer order and harmony respective chaos and disharmony.
III.2 The time of the music therapeutic meeting
In music and even in psychotherapy, we use the term ”timing”. Timing signifies that one acts just at the right moment in a way that feels meaningful. The cognitive functions are not enough for that. Timing reminds of a inner order and harmony which is connected to the experience of time and to an emotional feeling of awareness of one self as one and whole with the situation, in the mirror play between psyche and materia.
The music therapeutic relation is characterized by commitment and emotional charge. It can be seen as a magnetic field between the music therapist and the client. Psychoanalysis describes that field in terms of transference, countertransference and projections. How can specific mental representations and pictures move along between the client and the music therapist without having been named in the conversation, is a question I’ve been wondering about. Fliess considers that it’s unavoidable that the patient’s conflicts become a part of the analyst’s psychic conflicts under the transference process. In my work as a music therapist, I have noticed how situations and coincidences connected to the therapeutic relationship could repeat themselves outside of the therapy room, and how I had dreams with specific representations that showed up later to be part of the client’s account and symbolic imagery. How specific pictures that haven’t been named in the conversation can be transfered between people is still a mystery for me. Perhaps the musical activity contributes to form these images out of an emotional content ? These phenomena are difficult to understand in a causal perspective and can be considered in the light of Jung’s synchronicity and archetypes theories. According to Jung, representations that belong to the collective unconscious are projected in the process of transference between the patient and the therapist.
How things that do not have a direct physical communication influence each other, is not only a psychological matter but actually a current question in quantum physics.
Music offers the means of both analogical and discursive symbolization. Therefore, music can be a link between time bounded rationality and the irrationality of an eternal now :
”When time slows down and the body no longer has the energy to free itself from gravitation - as in depression or melancholy - or when time has stopped and the subject is excluded from a symbolically shared experience - as in psychosis - it is often solely music which succeeds in making a connection between the concrete untranslatable musical sound and rhythm and the extinguished tempo of the patient.” (Jos de Backer & Jan Van Camp in Wigram, Tony & De Backer, Jos, 1999, p 16, ”Clinical applications of music therapy in psychiatry”)


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12 Juillet 2006

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