Metaphorical Use of Alchemy’s Retort, Prima Materia, and the Philosopher’s Stone in Psychotherapy


  • Sukey Fontelieu Pacifica Graduate Institute



This essay shares my experience of the usefulness of alchemical understandings of the retort, the prima materia (first matter), and the philosopher’s stone in the practice of therapy. I discovered that these suppositions offer practical insights into how to be an effective clinician. The retort correlates with the therapist, the process of therapy, and eventually the client as container; the prima materia correlates with the unconscious material that the client brings to therapy; and the philosopher’s stone correlates with the healing function of the psyche. The quality of the therapist’s presence is likened to the qualities the alchemists aspired to live up to in themselves. I also found parallels between psychological transformation and the alchemical understandings of the structure of the retort as exemplified in the axiom “like cures like.” * Author