“If I hadn’t learned how to live without a culture and a society, the acculturation process would have broken my heart a thousand times.”
– Kurt Vonnegut in the voice of Kilgore Trout
I have to admit, I have strong reservations about “psychotherapy.” I always have. I was trained and practiced as a clinical psychologist for years, but was never very comfortable with the model. When I was in college in the late 60’s, I discussed my reservations with the chairman of the Psychology Department. I told him, that I didn’t want to be part of a profession that seemed to do no more than patch up people that society had screwed-up so they could resume their place within the society that screwed them up in the first place. I also had an intuitive mistrust of Freudian analysis and behaviorism. It all seemed to lack a deeper insight and compassion for the universal human condition.
Don’t get me wrong, I do see the value in psychotherapy for exactly the purposes I object to, and am not telling others to not practice or receive it, it’s just that I was and am interested in something else. I was and am interested in what the wisdom and sanity potential for a human being and the human species is. With that, in college, I chose to pursue Cultural Anthropology rather than Psychology.
That same professor, however, introduced me to the humanist psychology of Carl Rogers and Rogers’ student, Sydney Jourard, the existentialism of Rollo May, and the human potential Gestalt psychology of Fritz Perls. I came to know there were those within psychology who had a very different track than the analysts and the behaviorists I was suspicious of, and eventually, it was this existentialist/human potential modality combined with a strong training in clinical practice that I took professionally.
Over the years, however, my anthropologist beginnings called to me ever stronger, as my early concerns about the profession of psychology seemed to be increasingly confirmed, and the humanists, existentialists, human potentialists, and even the analysts of newer more insightful schools, were marginalized more and more. I became convinced that exploring non-Western wisdom traditions combined with an anthropological exploration of the evolution of human consciousness, rather than any traditional psychology, held the secret to personal sanity in the modern world.
In truth, it’s not the idea of psychotherapy in its purest sense that’s so unappealing to me; it is what the profession became. I see it now more than ever as an instrument of socialization rather than an exploration of healing the “soul/mind”, as the word “psychology” in its Greek origins implies. “Psychotherapy” as a healing of the soul/mind is exactly what I care about, but that’s not what you’re likely to get when going to a professional psychotherapist, so I stopped identifying myself as one. I really believe it would be more appropriate to call the profession as practiced today, mental/social habilitation. That is definitely not me.
So, when asked, I say that I do “personal evolution,” the exploration of the fulfillment of a person’s understanding of their placement and potential in an unfolding universe. This does, of course, have its implications for healthier relating in the social/family context, but not necessarily in a way most of today’s psychotherapists or counselors would relate to. I am back to being an existentialist/human potentialist. I am deeply curious and inspired by the question of what human potential really is, not in an intellectual, scientific sense, but in the dimension that can only be called wisdom, a deep knowing of our placement in this mystery of life. With that, must come an exploration of the phenomenon of consciousness, the core of who we are and our connection to life, with meditation and mindfulness as the necessary methodology.
I am drawn to the concept of evolution because it brings a macro-perspective that places the personal dimension of you and me living our ordinary lives within a truly liberating view. As a student of anthropology, I am drawn to the psychology of Buddhism because it is the exploration of “awakening” into a human being’s trans-cultural, trans-egoic place within the Universe in the eternity of the present moment and the unfolding of time. Buddhism, as a psychology, attracts me because it is primarily the exploration of the nature of human suffering, not only at a personal level with an insight that Western psychology lacks, but at an existential, transpersonal, universal level that really does address the evolutionary journey of being human.
This Buddhist “awakening” is the realization, as Kurt Vonnegut shares, of how heart-breaking it can be to believe that what society and culture have conditioned into us are the limits of who we are. It is the realization of an unfolding evolution of human consciousness that places the personal within a vast and grand perspective that includes the heart-break without breaking our hearts. It is about escaping the mental tread-mill of relentlessly reconstructing our mental/social programming, to awaken into a much larger, deeper and liberated identity, and that is what I am about. A liberating New Year to you.