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7th - Trickster (Beebe)

According to John Beebe

A third archetype that not infrequently makes its appearance in the psychotherapist’s consulting room is the trickster. It is one that is problematic for analytical work, because the very ethos of this kind of psychotherapy is a commitment to being sincere and vulnerable. A man identified with the trickster archetype is anything but sincere and vulnerable. The archetypal thrust of the trickster’s restless energy is to resist having to do things the way others think is right. The trickster toys with expectations, flouting rules that attempt to uphold standards of behavior and questioning the values of those who defend the standards (Radin, 1972).
Here’s what that can look like in the consulting room. A graduate student of twenty-four came to therapy complaining of a dulling of his feelings. He revealed that he was gay and in a long-term partnership with another man that was going well. With his partner’s consent, he was supporting his graduate education by working as a prostitute. I had to point out to him that it wouldn’t be consistent with the goals of the therapy, which were presumably to help him overcome the dulling of his feelings, if I also simply allowed him to support his therapy, as he had done his graduate work, by turning tricks as a prostitute. I told him, therefore, that I would see him, but not if he paid for the therapy out of earnings as a sex worker. He told me that he thought that was elitist, but that he would do it.
After time to think about his remark, I told the patient that I felt a bit ripped off by it: that I wanted to be sure the change I was suggesting was one he wanted to make because he agreed it made sense, given his presenting symptom, and was not one he was making simply to meet my standards. He agreed that it was a change he wanted to make.
Then occurred some serendipitous boundary crossings, of the kind I do not find unusual when ‘mercurial’ communications involving feeling risks have created disturbances in the interpersonal field with a client. My new patient happened to be taken by a friend of his to the home of a woman that unbeknownst to him was also a friend of mine. He told her that he had just started with a ‘fantastic psychiatrist’ and mentioned my name. The woman, somewhat naively, relayed this comment to me when by chance I saw her later the same week. Normally, I don’t enjoy having any information from third parties about a client’s feelings about me, but under the circumstances I found the information that the patient had apparently liked the limits I had set reassuring, and it gave me confidence to see what would happen next in the therapy.
The patient discontinued his work as a prostitute, and I believe from the communications he made to me over the next year and a half that he kept to this decision. He told me that the change involved a combination of finding other work and accepting more support from his living partner until he could get on his feet. But after the initial limit setting, I did not strictly monitor his behavior in this regard, out of respect for his moral autonomy. My point was to communicate that I felt that prostituting himself was incompatible with the goal of his therapy, as stated by him at the outset—to do something about the hardening of his feelings, which was what had led him to seek professional help.
It was this communication that impressed him and motivated him to change his life, and for more reasons than I could have known at the time. A year and a half into his therapy, he mentioned that when, in high school, he had told his stepfather that he dreamed some day of going to graduate school, the stepfather had coldly replied, “I don’t care what you do; I don’t care if you sell your body.” In the therapy, the young man had finally met someone who didn’t accept the terms of the double bind he had been placed in by the stepfather’s remark, that the only way for him to get an education, including even a psychotherapy, was to disregard his own feelings.
When the trickster appears out of the psyche of a patient, its calling card is usually a display of the archetype’s capacity to put both others and oneself in a double bind (Beebe, 1981, p. 38). The patron divinity of alchemy, the wily Roman god Mercurius, is often referred to as “duplex and his main characteristic is duplicity” (Jung, 1948/1967, p. 217). Contemporary men who have aligned their survival strategies with the trickster archetype can be quite duplicitous when urging their psychotherapists to support personal choices that are, in fact, highly untherapeutic. The analytical therapist will want to recognize that the trickster is operating in the patient, but that is not enough. The therapist will have to have integrated enough trickster of his or her own to be able to turn the double bind around and reverse the terms of the hard bargain that the trickster in the patient is trying to drive. When the patient initially told me that he could not pay for the therapy unless he went on working as a prostitute, I felt the cage of the double bind closing in around me. By making him see that he would not be able to have me as a therapist if he continued his prostitution, I managed to turn the trap back on him and by so doing signaled him as well that I was at least potentially equal to the challenge of being his analyst.[1]

According to Lenore Thomson

My understanding of the trickster is that it’s so far from consciousness that it normally gets constellated only by the Self—either to protect the ego from potentially annihilating damage, or to spur growth when the ego’s boundaries are too narrow to support further psychological development. In either case, this is a double-edged sword: A protected ego feels no pain, but also cannot risk for the sake of love; an ego undergoing breakthrough is confronted with paradox and can never return to its former state. Which is not to say that people don’t live out the trickster in society, particularly when its institutions need to change, but also to protect people from fear of that change.[2]

According to Michael Pierce

The sub-inspiring function is the most objectionable function, the most offensive. The inspiring function is the goddess calling her hero to adventure, and is understandably sensitive to competing calls. Consequently, the sub inspiring function’s contributions to the quest of the inspiring function are conveniently forgotten, and every sign of agency from the sub-inspiring function is treated as an encroachment, to be forcefully buried back in the unconscious.


The sub-inspiring function, as a result of its repression, gives birth to even more degenerate versions of itself, which haunt the personality at its roots.

Positions and Oppositions

The sub-inspiring function is marked by a peculiarly negative character. It is as though the inspiring function cut all ties with it, in a fit of jealousy over the ego. This is part of why the inspiring function appears naïve (that is, one-sided and shallow) because its complement was banished. This banished complement (the sub-inspiring function) returns from its exile as the personality’s nemesis and foil — and not as an opportunity for growth, as with the sub-primitive function. For, the sub-primitive function comes as the disguised god calling for hospitality, dressed in rags and smelling of inconvenience, testing their would-be follower’s patience. But the sub-inspiring function does not offer any reward for its defeat other than the right to continue living. It is no friend to the self: it is the riddling Gollum, the Oedipal sphinx, or even the awful “accuser” who plumbed the depths of Jesus’ heart in the lonely desert.[3]

According to Carol Shumate

The archetypal complexes

The trickster is characterized by manipulation, deceit, and paradox.

The relationship to the self and to others

The arms—functions

According to Beebe, the trickster is the only archetype able to stand up to the senex and the witch, which have the capacity to enforce a static self-concept.
The trickster is the opposite of stasis; it is a shape-shifter (Kalsched, 1996, p. 159). Beebe’s unique contribution to the concept was the recognition of the double bind as the signature tactic of the trickster: It pinions us on the horns of a dilemma. It can even trick us into seeing suicide as the only exit. However, it can also be an agent of transformation. The trickster can puncture ego inflations with a joke or prank. When a personality gets caught in a puer complex, the individual can cling to youthfulness and the halo effect of the divine child, refusing to engage with or become conscious of trickster manipulations. If this situation persists beyond middle age, the individual can be overtaken by age (witch/senex) almost overnight, going directly from a third-function crisis to a sixth-function entrapment (Beebe, 2013a). Beebe referred to the character played by James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo as an example of a man caught in a puer complex who descends directly into “psychological senescence” brought on “when the anima is irretrievably lost” (Apperson & Beebe, 2008, p. 197).
The task of midlife, Beebe (2010) said, is to integrate the trickster with the anima, but what many do instead is to develop the witch/senex at the expense of the anima.[4]


[1] Beebe J. (2016), Energies and Patterns in Psychological Type: The reservoir of consciousness
[2] Thomson L. (2019), Personal communication to Shumate C.[4]
[3] Pierce M. (2020), Motes and Beams: A Neo-Jungian Theory of Personality
[4] Shumate C. (2021), Projection and Personality Development Via the Eight-Function Model
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