Dancing Our Prayers: Dance, Technology, and the Art of Inquiry with Elizabeth Nelson, Part II of II

Dr. Elizabeth Nelson teaches courses in research design, process, methodology, and dissertation development as well as dream, archetypal psychology, and technology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her latest book is The Art of Inquiry: A Depth Psychological Perspective, and she also brings a background in somatics and dance. I’m delighted to speak with this eclectic scholar and hear more.

Angela: Writing is obviously another of your passions, as you both write your own work, oversee dissertations at Pacifica, and also offer writing groups to your clients. What is the process like for you to mentor a dissertation or book into being?

Elizabeth: A dissertation is a very different thing than a book. At the heart of dissertation mentoring is helping my students move from their fascination with a topic to finding a generative question, so that the dissertation is a discovery process. A lot of it is encouraging students to listen, to pay attention to the field they’ve entered. We have an idea at Pacifica that depth psychology is vocational, a calling, something Robert Romanyshyn taught beautifully. For me it’s important to help students realize that the field they walk into will shape not only what they say on the page but their entire experience of the dissertation process. They’re entering a lively archetypal field—and it will show up in all kinds of ways.

Angela: What have you found to be unique in the dissertations coming out of Pacifica?

Elizabeth: Pacifica dissertation are rarely or never a simple intellectual endeavor. They’re intellectually rigorous, but they also touch the soul, they move the student at a very deep level, often in a way that’s mysterious. Students know they’re drawn to a topic but they may not yet understand the complexity of the relationship. The journey is one of discovering the full nature of that calling. It often affects them at the personal level and at the professional level, and ultimately it’s transformative.

Someone said, if it’s not transformative, it’s not research. I’ve never seen it not be true at Pacifica. It’s deeply profound and emotionally challenging.

Angela: Is finishing your dissertation the hero’s journey?

Elizabeth: Yes, in the sense that students usually have no idea what they’re in for, as much as we try to tell them. They pass a threshold into a kind of underworld experience, which is lonely in a social sense for most students, but there are archetypal companions they discover along the way. So it’s not lonely in an archetypal sense, only a social sense. Do they come back with a gift for the community? Yes, ideally they do.

Some of my writing clients hire me to help them transform their dissertation into a book, so their gift can reach a wider audience. I love it. The one-on-one work allows me to work with their images and coax them forward and speak. That’s really exciting.

Angela: What do you most like about teaching at Pacifica? What about the institute is unique?

Elizabeth: I love the hearts and souls of my students. Pacifica has always been and, I hope, will always be a very edgy, weird place with a psychology that nourishes the mainstream because it remains outside of the mainstream. We’ve got to stay edgy.

Angela: Please tell me a little about your upcoming certificate course, Applied Somatic Jungian Psychology.

Elizabeth: The course combines residential and distance learning to bridge Jungian and archetypal thinking with somatics. I’m really excited about it. We’ll begin with core elements of Jungian theory, Jung’s comments on the body, and Marion Woodman and all the work she did in bringing the body front and center. It will be very practical and experiential for participants: How can we bring the alive body, the living, feeling, pulsing moving body into our work with clients? How do we remember the body and evoke its wisdom? How do we respect what our flesh knows and is telling us all the time? It’s so deeply, deeply important.

True, the body has returned to psychology in the last twenty years or so through trauma, and there are very good reasons for that. But I like to remind people that the body isn’t just a traumatized body. It is a subtle body, an eloquent body, a body that whispers and murmurs as well as screams for attention, which is how I think of trauma: screaming.

I’d like to bring what I call the somatic imagination into Jungian thinking. I’ve been teaching and writing about that for years. We’re so very good at dissociating from the body, good at perfecting the body, manipulating it, but that’s antithetical to a Jungian reverence for the body as the living expression of soul.

Somatics is my native language. I was a somatics person well before I knew that word, a long time ago with my first experience of psychotherapy, which was a combination of bioenergetics and gestalt work. So this certificate course is a kind of coming home for me. I’ve gathered together a group of fabulous instructors, all of us eager to collaborate as faculty and share our knowledge. There will be movement, dreams, art, all kinds of things!

Angela: Do you have any current projects underway?

Elizabeth: The big project is a book I’m co-authoring with Anthony Delmedico, The Art of Jungian Couple Therapy. Routledge will publish it in 2025. In the next few months, I have a new short story, a paper on Jungian field theory and the Sámi underworld, and a chapter in a book on technology entitled “Real Life, Simulation, and the Slide toward AI” coming out. A few different things.

Angela: You describe yourself as a “lifelong athlete: competitive swimming, gymnastics, martial arts, dance (performer, teacher, choreographer) hiking, mountain climbing, and cycling.” I felt out of breath just reading that list! But it caught my eye that you’re a performer, teacher, and choreographer of dance! How do you relate dance with depth psychology? Why is it important that we dance?

Elizabeth: When I was a kid I longed to take ballet classes, but with four children my family didn’t have the money for it, so I was one of those little girls with their nose pressed to the window of the ballet studio. But I took classes in high school and continued dance in college and for years after. I always took ballet for technique, but my primary experience was with modern, jazz, and Afro Haitian dance. I was practically living in the studio, studying, teaching, and choreographing all that time.

I loved teaching dance. It was about creating movement patterns that were both simple enough for students to learn in an hourlong class, but also challenging enough so that they felt invigorated, vitalized by the choreography. Creating a feeling of camaraderie, where everyone gave their best effort, and the music was loud and wonderful and invigorating, and you could feel the energy in the room vibrate. And for quieter pieces, things became more subtle, but still there was that movement of energy in the room.

The best moments in movements are when you become the movement, you’re no longer self-conscious. It’s active, creative self-forgetting. It’s a paradox, because your body is completely invested in what you’re doing.

Dance was one of the earliest ritual activities of humanity that expressed our profound interconnection with the earth and the cosmos. We danced our prayers. We danced our stories. The world needs a lot of prayers and better stories, so we should keep on dancing.

Angela: Thank you so much for speaking with me today, and I look forward to your future work!

You can read Part I of this interview here.  To learn more Pacifica Extension and International Studies’ certificates and workshops, visit here. 

Dr. Elizabeth Éowyn Nelson teaches courses in research design, process, methodology, and dissertation development as well as dream, archetypal psychology, and technology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her books include Psyche’s Knife: Archetypal Explorations of Love and Power (Chiron, 2012) and The Art of Inquiry: A Depth Psychological Perspective (Spring Publications, 2017), coauthored with Joseph Coppin. She is currently writing a new book, co-authored with Anthony Delmedico, The Art of Jungian Couple Therapy (Routledge, 2025). Dr. Nelson teaches and speaks internationally and has published numerous scholarly papers and book chapters on subjects including animals, dreams, feminism, film, mythology, research, somatics, and technology. She has been a professional writer and editor for 40 years, coaching aspiring authors across multiple genres.


Angela Borda is a writer for Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the editor of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Food & Home, Peregrine, Hurricanes & Swan Songs, Delirium Corridor, Still Arts Quarterly, Danse Macabre, and is forthcoming in The Tertiary Lodger and Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 5.