Character Chromatography

Chemical extraction as a metaphor for psychotherapy

Farid Alsabeh
4 min readMay 16, 2023
This image illustrates a connection between personality and chemical transformation (Source)

It took a creative genius on the level of Carl Jung to discover, in the ancient art of alchemy, an instructive metaphor for psychotherapy: to assert that the healing soul, like the basic starting materials of the alchemical technique, is transformed by a process no less noble and mystical than the one that searched for gold and elixirs of immortality.

If we wanted to update this metaphor for a modern audience, substituting chemistry for alchemy, it would serve us well to choose the technique of column chromatography, which is used by chemists to purify compounds from a given solution.

Let’s follow this metaphor and see where it takes us — and see whether we can, like the process itself, extract some useful material from it.

The basic setup is as follows. A compound of interest is already dissolved, as one of many, in a solution. The solution is then poured through the top of a vertical column. Down it travels through the column until, reaching the other side, it accumulates into a collecting flask.

It would only be a matter of moving the solution from one place to another, if it wasn’t for the fact that the column contains a substance, the ‘stationary phase’, that catches certain dissolved compounds, while letting…