Psychotherapies Without Feeling
by Dr. Arthur Janov
Posted June 2005 on primaltherapy.com
Chapter 11: Humanistic Psychotherapy: Proclaiming Potential, Ignoring Pain
The Humanistic Movement is a perfect counterpoint to the Freudian heritage of turbulent Ids and erratic impulses. As such, it has provided a balancing opposition within the evolution of psychotherapy. The Humanists speak of human potentials and growth, of "self-realization" and "peak experiences," while being careful never to mention such words as pain, repression, or trauma. The personal realities of man's daily experience are overlooked in favor of philosophical and existential possibilities: what he could be rather than what he is and how he got that way. Kovel succinctly describes this departure:
Gone is the angst of European existential analysis. Gone too is the doubt and ambiguity, the skepticism of Freudian psychoanalysis. In other words, the demons have faded away. In their place is energy, flow, acceptance, nurturance, tenderness: joy.
The Humanistic Movement is best illustrated by Abraham Maslow and his "Psychology of Being"; by Carl Rogers and his "Client-Centered Therapy"; and by Roberto Assagioli and his "Psychosynthesis." What all three theorists have in common is a plurality of techniques and a singularly non-dialectic view. They focus on the potential for actualizing the self, paying little or no attention to the Pain and trauma of neurosis. This upbeat approach is undeniably appealing, yet skipping over Pain to arrive at a peak experience is the Humanistic Movement’s downfall as therapy.
Abraham Maslow is best known for developing the "Third Force Psychology": the psychology of self-actualization, human potentials, and peak experiences. The term "Third Force" referred to the Humanistic's Movement's departure from behaviorism on the one hand and orthodox psychoanalysis on the other. Maslow and others who founded the Association for Humanistic Psychology in 1964 felt that these two schools of psychology did not deal directly with human experience -- or with human potential. Maslow believed that we needed to study the best of mankind rather than the sick of mankind. Indeed, the thrust of his psychology is entirely on the best -- the utopia or "eupsychia" as he calls it -- of human potentials. Some of his concepts -- self-actualization, peak experiences, and the like -- have over the years have entered our popular lexicon.
Maslow, a past president of the American Psychological Association, has had a profound influence throughout psychotherapy. His ideas have been fundamental to the human potential and New Age movements.
As a historical backdrop, it is interesting to note that Maslow's own childhood was very painful. In 1968, two years prior to his death, he recalled being a "little Jewish boy in the non-Jewish neighborhood. It was a little like being the first Negro enrolled in the all-white school." Isolated and unhappy, Maslow "grew up in libraries and among books, almost without friends...With my childhood, it's a wonder I'm not psychotic."
As a young psychology student, he was initially drawn to Behaviorism, but that soon waned in favor of Gestalt and Freudian views. A turning point in his life came with the Second World War. Too old to enlist, Maslow vowed to devote the rest of his life to a theory of human behavior applicable on a worldwide basis -- a "psychology for the peace table." To explain why he undertook this project, he later said, "I wanted to prove that human beings are capable of something grander than war and prejudice and hatred."
Setting out to prove that man is grander than war or hatred sidesteps the forces that thrust him into such low pursuits. It sets ideals over reality. Potentials are only part of the picture; the positive side. Even for Maslow's best of mankind, Pain is the other half. If you want to prove there is more to life than Pain, you cannot do so by ignoring the Pain and proclaiming the potentials. To focus on the uplifting side of the picture is to fail to provide a viable theory of human behavior. This requires an understanding of the interplay of Pain and repression in blocking potentials. To focus only on ideals is praiseworthy but not scientific. It is a nice liberal weltanschauung.
Maslow's Theory of Needs
Maslow views the satisfaction of basic human needs as the cornerstone of healthy human development. He sees these needs as inherited, physiological, and instinctual in origin. Moreover, the needs form a hierarchy: the lowest level of need must be satisfied before the next level of need can attract our attention. In all of us, he says, there is a natural progression of need. Maslow also assumes that the first three levels of need in his system are generally satisfied "in civilized society." With the rubric of "civilization," he effortlessly sweeps away needs for survival, safety, and love despite daily realities of poverty and malnutrition
Even when there is enough food, enough water, enough clothing, enough touch, subtle but potent shades of deprivation are often still present. Fulfillment of survival needs is not neatly measurable; deprivation is not a simple matter of quantity, satiation, or availability. The infant who is pressured to eat more than he needs, for example, will suffer a trauma of fulfillment, just as will the baby who is jostled, tossed up in the air, and overstimulated. Indeed there can be just as much trauma in too much as in too little. Even for the infant at the breast, it is no simple matter of quantity. The nervous mother, the distracted mother, the resentful mother is not fulfilling that baby's need, no matter how much milk is produced. Likewise, the infant who is held to scheduled feeding over his own needs will feel a trauma of deprivation despite eventual satiation. In myriad ways, trauma occurs in the process of what Maslow assumes to be the fulfillment of basic survival needs.
The same problem holds true for level two of the hierarchy: safety needs. On one hand Maslow labels parental quarreling and turmoil as a threat to a child's need for safety, but he dismisses this level as generally fulfilled in a civilized society. In the United States, which purports to model both civilized behavior and high moral standards, child abuse, wife abuse, and violent crime statistics remain at high levels. With the addition of poverty and rampant addiction, one might guess that a large percentage of the US population does not have its safety needs met during childhood.
Maslowassumes that level three needs for love are also fundamentally taken care of: "Again, in our society such needs are generally well satisfied, and it is only in the neurotic or more severely pathological cases that serious deprivation occurs." We are faced with continual high rates of abuse, crime, drug addiction, and mental illness in the history of our country, yet we may continue to cling to the illusion that "serious deprivation" is not a commonplace phenomenon. If it is not, then what accounts for the seriousness and commonality of the problems we face? Why is it that one fourth of our population has taken tranquilizers? Why are doctors' offices filled with patients with a variety of psychosomatic afflictions? Neurosis is so commonplace, so "average," it looks normal.
Level four of our basic needs are, according to Maslow, the esteem needs. These needs are really bi-directional: we need esteem from ourselves (self-respect) as well as from others (recognition). Maslow actually includes a long list of adjectives to further delineate these esteem needs. To cite a few, we have needs for "strength," "achievement," and "mastery," as well as for "status," "glory," and "dignity."
Satisfaction of these multitude of esteem needs then leads to the crowning point on the hierarchy of basic needs: the need for self-actualization. This is the need "to become everything that one is capable of becoming....A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write."
In his last two levels on the hierarchy, Maslow confuses real need states with their symbolic derivatives. When our basic biological needs for love are not met we then find more sophisticated, more conceptual ways to express this deprivation. At first, as infants, we can only cry and scream. Then as toddlers developing a language capacity, we call for Mommy and Daddy. When that doesn't work we learn to act in ways that symbolically or metaphorically call for them. We get sick as a plea for attention. Or become "smart" to say, "Look at me. Approve of me." These behaviors, which are in response to unmet needs, are really sophisticated screams. This is equally true of the so-called needs for dignity and glory. These are the basic needs for love transformed. But Maslow gives them the name of real needs. Unravel the need for dignity and you will find someone who was derided, denigrated, or belittled in her early life.
Maslow's last two levels of needs, the needs for esteem and self-actualization, fall into this category. When all we can experience of our basic needs are its later derivatives, we come to assume the needs for prestige, status, and even for self-confidence are real needs. The force of the real past need is absorbed in symbolic needs which make them seem real. Then a professional comes along and says that these needs are indeed real. So many of us are so deprived that we come to believe that these so-called needs are not only basic but genetic...because so many of us have these needs. But there is no need for self-esteem. A parent who loves a child never has to say, "I esteem you," or words to that effect. It is built into the way the parent talks to the child, listens to her, the way the mother touches her, the way the father communicates, expressing his feelings and letting the child express hers. A child who is loved has no special needs for esteem. She feels good, period. She lives her life and isn't concerned about how she feels about herself because she is herself.
A baby is not born with a need for dignity. She does not need "self-actualization." These are adult inventions. If a child is treated as an object, a thing, something to be given orders to, she will grow up struggling for "dignity." She will struggle mightily for high corporate position or for just the right desk and office, or for the best table at a restaurant, or a moment of public acclaim (because she wasn't "noticed" properly when young) -- all to feel like "someone."
In Maslow’s model, self-actualization comes after the satisfaction of the love and esteem needs. It is thus primarily an adult pursuit, the last basic need on his hierarchy.
Self-actualization is not the last need to emerge; it is the first, natural state of being we are born into. We are born self-actualizing. Observe the infant reaching out for life at every possible moment. He reaches as naturally as he breathes. Watch the toddler explore his new world of locomotion with total conviction and glee. Babies manifest self-actualization continually. It is precisely what they do: they play, look, ponder, and move about with delight, purpose, and fulfillment. What then thwarts that natural process is the deprivation of its basic needs to be loved. If this did not happen then the adult would still be in touch with his youthful feelings of enthusiasm, delight, curiosity, and glee.
To actualize the self one has to be oneself. To be oneself one has to have minimal repression. To have minimal repression one has to have little Pain. To have little Pain means to have been loved. One is born self-actualizing; only when one is not loved does the drive to self-actualize emerge. This is not a natural need but an offshoot of Pain.
Maslow's Theory of Inertia
Maslow himself admitted to a deficiency in his theory of motivation. He recognized the paradox that, "It has seemed inadequate to explain why, when the human species is growth-oriented, many individuals fail to develop their potential." [italics added] Indeed, he admitted, probably "only a fraction of one percent" ever achieve self-actualization. This in itself would seem to point up the inadequacy of Maslow's view. If nearly no one reaches the ideal -- indeed, if non-self-actualization is all-but universal -- wouldn't it be necessary to take a closer look at why this might be so?
Maslow's solution to this gap in his theory was simply to add on another idea to it. The idea is that, in addition to our natural tendency toward growth, we also have an innate tendency toward inertia. This inertia tendency is partly physiological, as in the need for rest, and partly psychological, as in our need to "conserve energy" (whatever that means). Because of this new pull toward inertia, we need "challenge as an additional precondition in the external environment."
While it is true that man has an innate tendency toward growth, lack of growth is not due to some other counterbalancing tendency. What Maslow inadvertently does is provide a justification for Pain by making the repression of it -- what he mistakes for inertia -- into an immutable given over which there is no control. What is innate in us is a life process, not an inertiated one. Rest is as much a part of the growth process as is activity. There is no inertia in the sleep state. In fact, dynamic activity is going on throughout all the cells and systems of the body during sleep. It is a time of restoration and replenishment. The fact that we are not conscious of this activity does not lessen its dynamism. The same holds true for psychological rest. Growth does not mean a constant state of activity; it means being who you are. When that happens you literally grow.
Children reared in orphanages often do not grow to their destined height. When placed into a loving environment they begin to grow again. This is literal growth, not figurative. Growth, therefore, should not be confined to a psychologic concept. It is a natural state. We must recognize that the reasons we fail to develop our potentials are man-made reasons, not innate tendencies. Failure to grow is due to conditions created and fostered out of ignorance and Pain. Inertia may well be an imprint..."I can't move any more. I'm all out of energy." Deep repression can suppress energy stores so that inertia sets in.
As long as we believe that an inertia for which we (or those who shaped us when we were young) are not responsible accounts for failed potentials, we will continue to fail. And we will continue to pass on that failure to succeeding generations.
To make inertia a given, rising out of some genetic tendency is to ignore the dialectic which demonstrates the dynamic interplay of the real forces at work.
Evolution is not a static process of passing on unchanging tendencies. What was innate one millennium is extinct in the next. Evolution is a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or "worse" state to a higher, more complex, or "better" state. Consciousness is man's special evolutionary tool. It alone can advance the human condition. It alone can revolutionize our very notion of innateness. But when we ascribe our deficiencies to some unchangeable force, we are, in fact, freezing our own evolution and ensuring the transmission of failed potentials.
Maslow's View of Neurosis
Maslow's view of neurosis is surprisingly contradictory. In Toward a Psychology of Being he asserts a clearly biological view of the deprivation of love:
Love hunger is a deficiency disease like salt hunger or the avitaminoses...It would not occur to anyone to question the statement that we "need" iodine or vitamin C. I remind you that the evidence that we "need" love is of exactly the same type.
Yet Maslow's definition of neurosis in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature makes no mention of any connection to love deprivation. In fact, he contradicts his above view and even implies a certain disdain for those who view neurosis in psychophysiological terms:
Strictly speaking, neurosis means an illness of the nerves, a relic we can very well do without today. In addition, using the label "psychological illness" puts neurosis into the same universe of discourse as ulcers, lesions, bacterial invasions, broken bones, or tumors. But by now, we have learned very well that it is better to consider neurosis as rather related to spiritual disorders, to loss of meaning, to doubts about the goals of life, to grief and anger over a lost love, to seeing life in a different way, to loss of courage or of hope, to despair over the future, to dislike for oneself, to recognition that one's life is being wasted, or that there is no possibility of joy or love, etc.
While this is a perfectly adequate description of some of the symptoms of neurosis, it illuminates only manifestations, not origins. It is a slightly more elaborate way of saying that neurotics suffer from neurotic symptoms. "Loss of meaning" develops from a very concrete and physiologically-mediated dissociation between levels of consciousness. The meaning that there is "no possibility of love or joy" is laid down in the infant long before it can even pronounce the word spiritual. The child dissociates meaning from the behavior of his parents so that their constant neglect is never felt as, "They don't love me." The feeling, however, sets in motion a constant struggle to get them to love him. He is polite, smart, well-behaved, athletic, or whatever it takes to fulfill their needs. That is what conditional love means. The condition is that the child make up for whatever was missing in the parent's childhood. If the parent as a child was derided and belittled then the child is going to have to be very respectful.
What exactly "spiritual" means to Maslow is unclear. It is one of the wonderful ideals that cannot be defined or subject to rigorous scrutiny. It is as imprecise as the "id." Once neurosis is something "spiritual," it is removed from biology, and becomes a vague psychologic illness devoid of physiologic concomitants.
Maslow claims neurosis and psychosis are "cognitive diseases" which contaminate all cognitive functions of perception, learning, remembering, attending, and thinking. In another source, Maslow calls neurosis the inability to "choose wisely."
Such a neurotic person behaves as if a great catastrophe were almost always impending, i.e., he is usually responding as if to an emergency...that is to say, a neurotic adult may be said to behave as if he were actually afraid of a spanking." [Emphasis added]
Here Maslow hits the target but doesn't know it. Like others, he correctly observed the outward signs of neurosis but did not really take them seriously. He did not search out the physiological counterparts of what was observed. If the neurotic behaves "as if a great catastrophe were almost always impending," there must be something going on in his body and brain to make that all so real. And indeed there is. In the neurotic adult, actual childhood catastrophes are still reverberating throughout his system. The catastrophe is still real because it is still intact as it originally occurred, via neurobiological processes.
Observe yet another view of neurosis according to Maslow:
People who fail to develop their talents, who live dull, uninteresting lives, who never develop workable methods of relating to other people, subconsciously know that they have wronged themselves for it. From this, "neurosis" develops. [Italics added]
So here we have it. Neurosis does not develop from the lack of attention, the pressures, the rejections, the humiliations, the beatings. Instead it is self-perpetuated. The neurotic, in all his guilt over his failed potentials and uninteresting life, develops his own neurosis. Worse, the neurotic has wronged himself for leading such a life, says Maslow -- as if there were no concrete reason, no prior cause, to account for it. There are few neurotics who feel that they have wronged themselves. They go on living as if on automatic, carrying out the program set out for them in childhood. They never ever put themselves or their lives in question.
The only way the neurotic wrongs himself is by believing that he has self-generated his neurosis out of childish fears and failed potentials. Neither childhood attitudes nor undeveloped talents nor uninteresting lives is responsible for the creation of neurosis. All of these are merely unfortunate results of a much deeper process.
A final contradiction in Maslow's theory bears discussion because of its far-ranging and harmful, implications. Maslow says that evil qualities such as destructiveness, sadism, and cruelty, and so forth "seem to be violent reactions against frustration of our intrinsic needs, emotions, and capacities." The individual gets sick when his "essential care" is suppressed or denied. But then he concludes the paragraph with a paean to neurosis by saying that discipline, deprivation, frustration, pain, and tragedy are all necessary for our greater growth.
To the extent that these experiences reveal and foster and fulfill our inner nature, to that extent they are desirable experiences. It is increasingly clear that these experiences have something to do with a sense of achievement and ego strength and therefore with a sense of healthy self-esteem and self-confidence. The person who hasn't conquered, withstood and overcome continues to feel doubtful that he could.
Ironically, much of Maslow's "peak experience" psychology is actually a philosophy of denial which supports neurosis. Maslow suggests that the ultimate paradox of neurosis is to become convinced that you need what you do not need and, in fact, you need that which does you harm. In this way a severe deprivation becomes necessary as "character building." There are adults who end up believing that every beating they received as children was good because it taught them how to endure pain, or that isolation was of value because they learned to cope on their own.
Maslow has fallen into a contemporary trap, laid for him by the prevalent denial of Pain. Unlike other animals, humans have tremendous power in determining their world. That world in turn helps to determine the quality of their humanness. Neurotic humans construct a neurotic world. For example, childhood traumas become transformed into invaluable lessons in the school of hard knocks. One generation of harshly disciplinarian parents teaches the next that if you spare the rod you spoil the child. A parent who is supposed to nurture and protect his child ends up abusing her, then rationalizes her catastrophic feelings by saying something like "suffering is good for you." If it's not direct physical abuse or emotional terror it's a more subtle form of need deprivation, such as in a family where open expression of feeling is frowned upon. Thus, neurotic perceptions, values, and lifestyles both find and create their own justifications.
An anti-pain, anti-feeling world calls for a population numbed against feeling. This is achieved in a number of ways. One possibility open to us as intelligent beings is to make ourselves invulnerable through self-deception. So instead of feeling angry at our parents for not loving us, we thank them for "toughening us up." We are grateful that we couldn't go out and play, instead were forced to practice and do homework. We have bought the "program." We have succeeded in our work but we have colitis or migraines; and we never connect the early pressure to later symptoms.
Maslow encourages this process by elevating rationalizations that value Pain to theory. He has elevated a personal liberalism to the level of a theory; a kind of do-gooder philosophy where one imagines one can love neurosis away.
If you pursue Maslow's argument that discipline, deprivation, frustration, pain, and tragedy are necessary for our greater growth, then you are bound to conclude that what we need is more discipline, deprivation, frustration, pain and tragedy. We are put through all manner of weakening experiences so that we have to develop ersatz strengths: a lonely child "learns" to be an "independent" adult, an abused child becomes someone who can "dish it out just as well as he can take it." These strengths are then seen as real, while the threatening experiences -- the neglect, the denial of needs -- are seen as valuable, strengthening ones.
The great experiment for mankind would be to give up the belief that suffering is necessary for ego strength and self-esteem (two abstract notions) and to see what happens when love -- a non-neurotic love based on fulfillment of early need -- becomes the starting point and the guiding principle of life.
The person-centered approach...depends on the actualizing tendency present in every living organism -- the tendency to grow, to develop, to realize its full potential.
Carl Rogers has a primary position in the Humanistic Movement and a prominent place in psychotherapy in general. Some have even called Rogers "the most influential psychologist in American history." A psychology professor at the University of Chicago, Rogers credentials are impressive: president of the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Psychotherapists, founder of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (in the 1960s, with Abraham Maslow and Rollo May), leader in developing "encounter group" therapy. Some consider Rogers to be the Humanistic Movement, so pervasive has his influence been among humanists and in the human potential movement. Rogers' theory and his therapy are unmistakably pastoral in flavor, which is not surprising considering his background in evangelical Christianity. The key focus of his work is the relationship between patient and therapist, with the critical ingredient being the therapist's "unconditional positive regard."
Rogers is best known for his "non-directive" techniques and his "client-centered therapy," also known as "person-centered therapy." Indeed, he felt it important to use the term "client" instead of "patient," ostensibly in an effort to transform the dominant/subordinate nature of the therapeutic relationship. Also, "client" removes neurosis from the medical model, implying that the illness is not really physiologic. However, "client-centered" and "non-directive" may be misleading. What appears to be non-directive on the surface may be compelling (read "directive") underneath. Additionally, what is considered client-centered therapy can be, in many ways, more of a "therapist-centered" therapy.
Interestingly enough, Rogers proceeds from the starting point that while therapists cannot give insights or knowledge, or teach a better way to patients, they can provide safe therapeutic environment essential to healing. "The failure of any such approach through the intellect has forced me to recognize that change appears to come about through experience in a relationship." Rogers maintains that at the heart of a potentially-curative therapy is therapist inputs such as "genuineness," "unconditional acceptance," and "communication to the client of the therapist's empathetic understanding and unconditional positive regard." He sees the therapist's role as one of being "a midwife to a new personality." Rogers writes:
If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur.
From this viewpoint, the sole condition for change rests on the therapist's ability to relate to the patient rather than on the patient's ability to connect to himself. The therapist is then the hub of Rogers' process, making the therapy more therapist-centered than client-centered. Rogers' position is no different from the Neo-Freudians who also believe that improvement comes through the doctor-patient relationship, via transference. In psychoanalysis it is called a "corrective emotional experience." It implies that any real warmth and consistent love will help resolve neurosis. But how many neurotics cannot take love, prefer the struggle for it, and are then are adept at finding ways to destroy it?
While it is true that a certain type of relationship must be created between patient and therapist, that is just the beginning. To re-word Rogers' above hypothesis to a dialectical framework: If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to connect to his own repressed Pain and thus free himself for change, growth, and personal development.
Rogers says that the first phrase in his hypothesis, providing a certain type of relationship, means that the therapist behaves in a genuine and real way. He rightly points out: "It is only in this way that the relationship can have reality, and reality seems deeply important as a first condition [for therapy]." Next Rogers says that "the more acceptance and liking I feel toward this individual, the more I will be creating a relationship he can use." This means accepting each "fluctuating aspect of the person" and communicating an "unconditional self-worth...no matter what his condition, his behavior, or his feelings." It also means communicating a "basic trust in the person" in order to counteract society's basic "distrust of the person."
The tricky part of this condition is that warmth, liking, acceptance, and trust are hard to knock. While the patient needs to feel that he or she is a trustworthy person, the focus cannot be on the therapist providing that worth. All the acceptance in the world cannot undo the trauma of being rejected by one's parents. To repeat: we cannot love neurosis away. That is asking too much of love—to undo years of living with unfeeling, indifferent, preoccupied parents. The underlying theme they ascribe to is that neurosis is only mental and can be undone by mental processes. Neurosis is neurophysiologic and is everywhere in our systems.
The dialectic pertains: feeling the repressed feelings of worthlessness finally restores one's sense of worth...without any words such as "worth" entering the equation. Self-worth and trust cannot be superimposed on someone else. Like the phoenix, they must rise out of the ashes of their own opposite. States of worthlessness and mistrust lie within the patient. It is the patient's internal dialectic that must be activated, not just the therapist's warmth and acceptance and trust. That is, the old feelings pushing against the gates of repression must enter into the fray. Neurosis doesn’t lie between people; it is manifested between people, but it is an internal state. It cannot be cured between people no matter how nice we are, and by the way, Carl Rogers was a truly kind, wonderful person.
A child constantly ignored and never answered or talked to develops feelings of not being worth talking to: worthlessness. When he feels what "they" had done to him, the neurotic feelings of worthlessness disappear and are simply replaced by a self who feels capable.
In short, there is no self-esteem, no self-confident feelings nestling inside and waiting to be let out. It is not anything one is going to search out and find. When one feels the worthlessness it immediately turns into its opposite; it is then finally over with.
Another problem with the therapist projecting unconditional acceptance is that it can easily clash with Rogers' previous point about the therapist being real and genuine. If one is repeatedly confronted with acting out behavior or endless verbal harangues by a heavily defended patient, one is not being real and genuine by simply communicating warmth and acceptance. Here Rogers confuses reality with fairy tale; he confuses being warm with being real. The two are not necessarily the same. In the real world, people do not radiate warmth and acceptance no matter how we behave. This is not a realistic attitude and hence not one that is necessarily therapeutic. I can be stern with an acting-out patient and still accept him. I accept that his behavior is a result of Pain, and that somewhere in there is a real and worthwhile person. I bring those assumptions to all patients. But I don't radiate warmth in the face of confronting or obnoxious behavior. I treated a woman who complained about everything. She was obnoxious and I told her so. I got her to the feeling: “I don’t know what is wrong. Complaining keeps the fact that something is wrong alive. If I give up complaining I lose all hope to find out.” I tell this patient she is obnoxious not out of any moral stance but for her good and for the good of her therapy. I think Dr. Rogers elevated his own sweetness to the level of a therapeutic principle. Many patients need to be called on their act-outs. Accepting their defensive behavior indefinitely would only perpetuate the neurosis
While "warmth, liking, and acceptance for all" is an appealing rule, it is not necessarily a therapeutic one and it is definitely not a realistic one. Being real on the part of the therapist may mean not accepting unreal behavior on the part of the patient. The point is that one rule does not apply in all cases.
The third element Rogers stresses is "a deep empathic understanding which enables me to see his private world through his eyes." This again overemphasizes what the therapist must communicate to the client, for it also suggests a misguided corollary: the client arrives for therapy focused on what the therapist will provide. What Rogers describes as crucial is not only of secondary importance but basically impossible. How can one individual possibly see another's reality through that other's eyes? What is important is that the patient connect with his private world. Naturally, the therapist must have a general sense of understanding and empathy, but the crucial point is not how well the therapist perceives the patient's private world, but how well the patient herself feels it.
What Rogers means by the individual discovering the "capacity to use the relationship" is that in a suitable climate the person will simply "move forward toward maturity." He will be freed to exhibit that which is innate in him: "The urge which is evident in all organic and human life -- to expand, extend, become autonomous, develop, mature..." Rogers admits that his urge may be buried by layers of "encrusted psychological defenses," or it may be covered by "elaborate facades," but the urge does exist in every individual and "awaits only the proper conditions to be released and expressed." This declaration actually contradicts what happens in Rogerian therapy. Rogers believes people’s innate tendency toward growth and maturity occurs when acceptance and warmth are provided by the therapist.
Nothing that the therapist gives the patient, be it ever so unconditionally warm, will of itself secure health. Rogers talks of acceptance but he apparently does not accept what is basic to all neurosis. According to Jeffrey Masson, in Against Therapy, Rogers neither acknowledges the existence of childhood abuse nor ascribes it any importance. In Rogers view, early need deprivation -- the seeds from which later neurosis grows -- is not a reality. Masson writes that Rogerian theory and practice are "lacking in sensitivity to people's real suffering."
In reading through the many case histories that Rogers provided in his books, I was startled to see an almost total lack of the reporting of genuine traumas. Rogers, though he rejected most of psychoanalytic theory, clearly believed that "troubles," as he called them, came from within, not from the real world. And just as clearly he conveyed the message to his clients, as surely as any psychoanalyst conveyed it to his patients. This is why such reports are lacking in almost all accounts of both kinds of therapy, in spite of the frequency of traumas in the actual lives of the people undergoing the therapy.
Furthermore, not only does Rogers not accept the reality that our early experiences cause deep continuing anguish, he does not trust our ability to know what this reality was. Accurate memory, according to Rogers, does not exist. To explore our past, the best we can do is think about it subjectively:
We can never know the past. All that exists is someone's current perception of the past. Even the most elaborate case history, or the most complete free association about the past, reveals only memories present now, "facts" as perceived now. We can never know the individual's past.
This very position -- one which rejects the role of the past in curing neurosis -- ensures that healing will be elusive.
Rogers' Ideas in Therapy
How does Rogers translate his principles into therapy? The Rogerian therapist simply rephrases what the client has just said. He doesn't try to tell the client anything. He reflects back only what is given, with "no interpretations given and no evaluations made," with the added ingredients of warmth and acceptance. It is an elaborate rationale for therapeutic passivity.
JAN (Client): The fear of getting married, and being committed, and children -- I find very, very frightening. And it's getting stronger as I get older --
CARL: It's a fear of commitment, and a fear of having children? And all that seems to be a growing fear, all those fears seem to be increasing.
JAN: Yes, I'm not afraid of commitment. For instance, when it comes to my work, to friendship, to doing certain things. But to me marriage is very --
CARL: So you're not a person who's irresponsible or anything like that --
JAN: No, not at all.
CARL: You're committed to your work, you're committed to friends. It's just that the notion of being tied into marriage -- that's scary as hell.
Seeing this reminds me of the old joke about Rogerian therapy. The patient says, "I feel sad." The therapist says: "You feel sad." Patient: "I am so depressed." Therapist: "You feel depressed." Patient: "I am so depressed I feel like killing myself." Therapist: "You feel so depressed that you want to kill yourself?" Therapist walks over to the window sees the patient flying through the air. "There he goes!"
Rogers' concern is to get people to feel better by pitting the therapist's "unconditional positive regard" against the patient's bad self-image. Marilyn Monroe was loved by millions, adored, praised and exalted and still felt unloved and unworthy. She couldn't feel loved because she couldn't feel. Kovel describes Rogers' therapy as "unabashedly inspirational":
The Rogerian therapist is an active transmitter of regard to [the patient]. He does this in the simplest way possible, not by probing beneath the surface but by reflecting that surface back to the client, rephrasing the client's words so that the statement he has just made is relayed back to him, charged this time not with the masochistic self-hatred of neurosis but with the positive esteem of the therapist.
Rogers deals simply with what is occurring in the therapeutic transaction. In fact, the transaction is his Mecca of cure. What he fails to perceive is that it is precisely the past holdover in that transaction which determines how it goes. It is the past reality which, unrecognized, makes Rogers' therapeutic relationship only a symbolic one. A warm father figure is going to be reassuring and alleviating but hardly curative. It's like getting a fix of a painkiller twice a week. It "works," but not for long, because after one leaves the empathetic, reassuring father figure behind, need and Pain are still present.
An example: Someone who sacrificed her life for a sick mother now goes on sacrificing for others to the neglect of her own life. It was the way she got love as a child. But for a therapist to warmly encourage her to pay attention to her own needs without feeling why she did not in the first place and has not until now will be a herculean exercise, a constant struggle against the imprint. The dialectic dictates that the damage must be experienced so that repair can take place. No access to the damage means no repair, only amelioration. Only by deeply feeling, "I gave up my life and my desires in order to feel loved" will she be freed so that she can stop the sacrifice and pay attention to her own real needs. The dialectics of consciousness means that the experience of the Pain turns into its opposite the second it is felt.
Rogers runs parallel to neurotic reality, never really touching it. On one layer we have neurotic reality formed out of specific past events and held in the system via repression. On the other layer we have Rogers superimposing empathy over the neurotic's reality without ever dealing with it specifically. Because there is no interface between the therapy and the neurosis, there is no resolution. Rogers' present-day reality goes on in the life of the patient while the patient's past neurotic reality goes on in its own direction. The neurotic reality and the therapy continue independently and irrespective of one another, and never the twain shall meet.
Another problem with Rogers' technique is that it is primarily (if not entirely) verbal. The implication is that we get well through language. The reality is that we got sick as a result of experience, with language coming along much later to label the experience. Clearly, neurosis is possible without language. Indeed, consciousness is often thwarted long before the baby begins to talk; and unconsciousness is what neurosis is all about. A totally nonverbal trauma such as major surgery is an example of injury without words It can be such a shock to the system that the gates of repression are called into action, and the seeds of neurosis sown. All of which is to reiterate that neurosis is a force, not a concept.
Language is in fact a late development both phylogenetically, in the history of the species, and ontogenetically, in the history of a single individual. That is why just talking cannot make anyone well except on the level of language -- i.e., intellectually.
In the case study excerpted above, Rogers' client is trying to deal with her fears of marriage, having children, and getting older. Toward the end of the case study, Rogers explains that in his interactions with this patient, he "walks with her, psychologically, along this path of discouragement." This allows her, he says, to "experience the full depth of her hopelessness, her inability to deal with her fears, her desire for a helping relationship with another...the laughing face with which she hides her pain." [Italics added]
Rogers is certainly on the right track regarding what underlies this woman's neurosis, and regarding how she attempts to keep it from overwhelming her. But the notion that helping her to gain "awareness" in a purely talk-oriented therapy will actually allow her to "experience the full depth of her hopelessness" is extremely questionable. Finally, Rogers quotes his patient, regarding what she has discovered in therapy, that she needs "to face life as a whole person, I need to find those missing parts of myself."
Let's look more closely at a patient's experience of Rogerian therapy. The following excerpts are from a statement written by a client to her Rogerian therapist. Rogers includes this statement in his book Client-Centered Therapy. What especially comes across is the inordinate degree of focus on the therapist:
It's hard to explain what has happened to me in the past months [in therapy]...One of my first, strongest, and most persistent feelings was pain -- all through the months I was in pain; not just mental pain, but actual physical pain, nausea, rapid heartbeat, poor circulation, headaches, and so on. I remember saying once that I felt as if I was putting a knife into myself and turning it around and around so that my blood and all of my insides would gush forth.
Here the client indicates that her Pain is all right there.
...My first reaction to you, I think, was one of surprise at your sensitivity and awareness of what and how I was feeling, even when I expressed it very inarticulately or not at all...Then I began to get the feeling that not only were you sensitive and understanding of my feelings, but you also cared and cared very much. This is the feeling which I think I fought vigorously for the whole time. It simply emanated from you -- from your hands as you handled the cigarette lighter, from your foot as you stretched it out in front of me and moved it slowly back and forth and particularly from your eyes, when I had the courage to look at them. Because of the strength of this feeling, I usually found it necessary to talk to the wall or the window, but I was always painfully and acutely aware of you.
Her pain and acute awareness do not belong focused on the therapist. By putting so much focus on warmth and acceptance, the therapist is really compelling the patient to be aware of him and to pick up his message of care and concern. The therapist may well be acting out his feelings..."I am a loving person; kind, gentle and sensitive..." This creates so much pressure for the client that she "usually found it necessary to talk to the wall."
Once I remember you attended a class (that day I felt particularly awful) and sat near me. I didn't want to see you at all that day. Then, you stretched out your foot and it almost touched mine. I don't know whether it was intentional or not, but to me it said, "I know how miserable you are and I care about how you feel because I care about you." I almost screamed. I wanted to get up and run out of the room. Since I couldn't do that, I closed up in a shell and waited until I could go. I couldn't talk or do anything but be aware of you.
Here again she can't do anything but be aware of her therapist. In the meantime, all the material of her own feelings is overlooked. What is important is that the presence of her caring therapist triggers a deep, painful response in her. She wanted to scream, she wanted to run out of the room, but she could only freeze up inside herself. None of this is attended to. All of the focus is on the therapist's message of "I care about you." (I am a very caring person) This caring seems to repeatedly force the patient out of her own feelings; it is a way of forcing a person not to feel badly because you love them so much -- something parents frequently do to children to cut off their "negative" emotions.
But what of the rage in the patient? Where does that go in the face of a loving, sensitive therapist? It is suppressed while the patient reaches for altruistic ideals. After all, who can scream and shout and pound the walls when confronted with this ethereal atmosphere?
What this kind of environment does is leave no room for the expression of feelings of extreme anger. The ambiance militates against it and for suppression of anything negative. It means that, in the name of therapy, the patient cannot be herself. I spend time on Rogers because there are any number of psychotherapies that use the technique of love and warmth as a tool.
The client continues to describe her experience in Rogerian therapy:
Throughout all of my sessions I was focused on my relationship with you. Whenever I made any attempt to pull away from it, to discuss other relationships on an intellectual plane, I felt compelled to come back to you. I simply could not shake you.
The therapist compelled all of her attention. As her statement continues, the patient begins to give vital clues to the history of her feeling. At first she makes general and oblique references, but with the proper probing they could be defined and specific. The past would become present.
I was firmly convinced that to give love meant to sell my soul, to become completely dominated by and dependent upon the loved one, and that love could not be received without paying this high price. Therefore, I fought desperately against any love you might give to me.
The issues are evident: Feeling loved meant risking being dominated by someone else. Evidently, what passed for love and caring was parental domination, something she carried forth into adult life. Unfortunately, none of this is dealt with.
I tried telling you how unworthy I was -- how selfish, inadequate, nasty. I tried hating and attacking you. You could not possibly love me, therefore you were being deceitful and cruel in pretending you did.
I tried wearing you down by demanding proof of your affection. I even tried 'curing' myself and raving about how wonderful it was. But you were always there, like a firm rock which I beat upon to no avail and which merely said, "I love you."
The therapist's unfailing attitude of "I love you" really forms a kind of denial of the patient's negative feelings. She beats upon it "to no avail" -- i.e., those feelings are again left incomplete. The pressure to accept the therapist's love for her cuts her off from her own reality of feeling completely unlovable. She does not need a surrogate parent to insist that she is lovable, thus again denying her repressed feelings. She needs to complete her own dialectic: to experience how unloved she felt as a child so that she can at last be free to feel lovable as an adult.
From here the woman describes a series of vivid images that occurred in the course of her therapy. Her imagery is extremely descriptive and the genuineness of the feeling behind it is undeniable:
I began to feel that I was facing a solid brick wall, too high to get over and too thick to go through. One day the wall became translucent, rather than solid, and I felt hopeful that I might really see through it...After this, the wall seemed to disappear but beyond it I discovered a dam holding back violent, churning waters. I felt as if I were holding back the forces of these waters and if I opened even a tiny hole I and all about me would be destroyed in the ensuing torrent of feelings...One day the water changed to tigers -- tigers who were straining furiously at the leash onto which I was holding desperately as I felt myself weakening.
This imagery is not merely poetic or metaphoric. There are specific events and experiences from this woman's past. Imagery is a doorway into unconscious memory. It is a barometer of the intensity of feelings and their degree of unconsciousness: the more symbolic, the more unconscious. Because the Rogerian format does not "probe" into the past, the images remain images, forceful pictures that point to a reality but do not fully reveal it. If they remain unconnected to real events, they cannot resolve the primal feelings these experiences engendered. The statement continues:
Several times I thought of quitting, but I was driven by the feeling that if I didn't find "it" this time I never would. I also began to realize that when I really found something, when I really had an experience, it was always when I attempted to express or keep from expressing my feelings toward you. I know that the pressure of your feelings toward me kept me working on my feelings toward you (and through you toward all others in my life).
The patient is in the position of having to "live up to" a standard set by the therapist. It does indeed require pressure to keep the focus of the patient off herself and onto the therapist. Finally, the patient describes her breakthrough experience toward the end of therapy:
Gradually the goal or end of my search became a light which was working its way to the surface...Last week it was right under the surface. I had one more layer to remove. I talked, intellectually, of my feeling of being unloved from birth. I gave several examples and tried to pin down and explain my feelings in relation to these examples. As I talked I kept getting more and more uncomfortable because you seemed to be feeling much more strongly than I did. Then I began to feel that you weren't even listening to what I was saying, but you were feeling all the things I was feeling, even more than I was aware of feeling, and you were caring. Suddenly I felt as if I had become a baby and was being held comfortably, securely, with warm understanding and a great love in my mother's arms. Then I realized that that was what I had missed and that was what I wanted now and had wanted all my life. I also realized that I had just been loved that way and that I could never have discovered what was lacking until I had experienced it -- completely.
The contrast between what the therapist has given her and what she had previously received from her parents has set the feeling unfolding, but it is not taken back to its original and curative source because the focus is still on the therapist. Even while the patient is beginning to fall into some real feelings, her attention is diverted to the therapist's empathy for her. So compelling is his empathy that he becomes a kind of surrogate mother. She then skips over her Pain of not being loved by her real mother and moves into feeling a symbolic comfort, security, and love. Her own dialectic has been short-circuited. Her Pain remains, and it will eventually corrode the symbolic relief of her therapy.
According to Kovel, built into Rogerian therapy's limited frame of reference are limited treatment results. He concludes that it is best suited to "relatively non-neurotic people of the middle class," and that it "works best where the person doesn't have to go very far or deep."
Rogers bypasses childhood trauma and unconscious Pain in favor of warmth, acceptance, and "unconditional positive regard." What he doesn't understand is that positive regard today cannot penetrate repressed disregard from the past. Unconscious Pain is prepotent over present realities, and endures long after those present realities have changed. That early disregard is an imprint -- a physiological reality. And these are measurable forces. The very early childhood trauma engenders radical alterations in hormones and electrophysiology. It changes brainwaves. To attempt to change a neglect in the first months of life through exhortation or insight in therapy is to use a water pistol to put out a raging blaze.
In essence, Rogers believes that cure lies in what happens between patient and therapist, rather than understanding that that very interaction is pre-determined by the patient's past. Until that past is dealt with, the therapeutic relationship remains a symbolic one. And symbols do not resolve neurosis; they uphold it. It is a logical error, however. Early relationships with one's parents made one neurotic. Therefore, a better relationship later on ought to undo the neurosis. Not so. Because the early relationship is still evident in the person. It is now internalized and responded to continually. We need to go back to where it started....in the original key relationship; and not to try sorting out how the patient relates in the present. We use the present difficulties in relationships as a vehicle to travel back in time to generating sources.
Although Rogers talks a good deal about experience, the kind of experience he discusses is of "growth," "values," and "self-actualization." There is no very little mention of Pain, and no mention at all of trauma or deprivation of need. To talk about neurotic experience without sufficient reference to Pain is not to narrow but to further the neurotic split. In Rogers' type of verbal therapy, you have two simultaneous but disconnected experiences. You have real experience, the subconscious processing of Pain, and you have unreal experience, the conscious talking about values and growth which implicitly overlooks the Pain. Talking "above it," as it were. The therapy makes changes in the unreal (consciously-aware) half of the experience without touching on the real (unconscious) half of it. In other words, it makes unreal change in a real way; or real change in an unreal way. It does not make real change in a real way.
It all comes down to this: understanding an illness still leaves the illness. Talking about illness never changes it. Having an illness accepted by someone else still keeps you sick. And neurosis is an illness no matter how nicely it is worded. It is an illness created by experience.
The transpersonal trend in the Humanistic Movement is best illustrated by something called "Psychosynthesis," an approach developed by the Italian psychologist, Roberto Assagioli. "Transpersonal" refers to transcending the person, or the person transcending himself. More than any other theorist mentioned, Assagioli departs from the real world of concrete experience for the land of mysticism. He speaks of the transmutation of energy, of super-consciousness, of higher Selves, and of harmonious coordinations. He speaks of "childish images," but not of childhood trauma; of "will" but not of feeling; of the "dark forces" of the unconscious, but not of trauma and deprivation in real-life experience.
Assagioli's theory focuses on the concept of will. He views the will as the basis of all decisions and choices. Accordingly, his therapy involves the use of many techniques for "arousing, developing, strengthening, and rightly directing the will." This direction of the will is crucial to healing what Assagioli terms "the fundamental infirmity of man." Actually, he lists a number of infirmities: the illusions and phantasms we are prey to, the unrecognized complexes that haunt our lower unconscious, the buffeting about by external influences, and the blinding and hypnotizing effect of deceiving appearances.
In Assagioli's Psychosynthesis, the will-strengthening techniques are applied to the above infirmities via a four-stage process aimed at Buddhist-like ideals of "harmonious inner integration, true Self-realization and right relationship with others." Before examining this process, let us first consider the nature of the will as the cornerstone of Psychosynthesis.
It is easy to see that Assagioli's concept of the will as man's capacity of choice is basically the same as Albert Ellis' formulations in his Rational-Emotive Therapy. The only difference is a superficial one of tone. "Man chooses his neurosis and he can choose to undo it" is presented to us through two different tints. Ellis gives us the erudite, intellectual tint, while Assagioli provides us with more mystical, cryptic shading. Nonetheless, the essential message is the same: learn to control this choice/decision-making force and you've got it made.
The problem is how do you make the decision to make the decision?
The force below the level of immediate awareness makes willpower ineffective. "Will" is an intellectual force which is never the match in power with the primal forces below.
When pain is overlooked the will indeed must be mastered and trained artificially as a thing apart from the whole human being. It's like the problem of having no desire for sex. How do you get the will to desire having sex?
In a unified, conscious person, free will and willpower are extraneous concerns. If the whole system were in harmony, the idea of a "will" as something apart would not be necessary. A deeply-disturbed child cannot focus or study in class. How does he get the will to want to study and focus? When the disturbing aspects in his environment and in his personality are removed. Then he might want to study. All the will power in the world won't be strong enough to overcome the suicide of a parent and the constant depression of the remaining one.
For the conscious person there can be no dualism, no split, no involvement with an aspect of consciousness that operates separately from the totality of the organism. There can be no one agency that acts freely, unfettered by past experiences. Because we are total organisms and every bit of us is affected by our past, each decision we make is determined by this totality; there can be no mystical elan which can conquer it, just as no single "aspect" of ourself is free from its influence. When we think about free will, we usually mean "will power," the ability to control ourselves despite our circumstances. It is the normal person alone who can "control" himself because being totally himself, he is that control.
Assagioli's view of man's "infirmities” misses the central, unifying infirmity of pain, and instead, deals with its offshoots: the "infirmities" enumerated above. We are not prey to illusions, phantasms, and unrecognized complexes unless we are in Pain. For to be Pain free means to be in touch with reality -- not a euphoric reality, not a sorrow-free, transcendent, higher, blissful reality, but a human reality.
Assagioli's four-stage process of personality development, which seeks to rectify the infirmities he cites as the core problem of mankind. The four stages are:
1. Thorough knowledge of one's personality.
2. Control of its various elements.
3. Realization of one's true Self; the discovery or creation of a unifying center.
4. Psychosynthesis: the formation or reconstruction of the personality around the new center.
The first stage -- gaining a thorough knowledge of one's personality -- means taking an "inventory of the elements that form our conscious being." It also means diving into the pit of our "lower unconscious": defined as "the dark forces that ensnare and menace us -- the 'phantasms,' the ancestral or childish images that obsess or silently dominate us, the fears that paralyze us, the conflicts that waste our energies." Here again we see concrete causes of Pain are overlooked in favor of forces, phantasms, and ancestral obsessions. The only reference to childhood trauma is a diminution of it into "childish images." The only reference to specific repressed events is in the oblique and derogatory form of "fears that paralyze us" and "conflicts that waste our energies." As long as the unconscious is viewed as the culprit, whether it be a Freudian or a Psychosynthesis frame of reference, the true culprit of Pain will go free.
In the second stage of Assagioli's personality development, "Control of the various elements of the personality," his cognitive bias becomes strikingly clear. He says that after we discover the dark forces in our unconscious, we have to "take possession of them and acquire control over them." To accomplish this, he proposes a method called "disidentification," based on the following principle:
We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified. We can dominate and control everything from which we dis-identify ourselves.
In this principle lies the secret of our enslavement or of our liberty. Every time we "identify" ourselves with a weakness, a fault, a fear or any personal emotion or drive, we limit and paralyze ourselves. Every time we admit "I am discouraged" or "I am irritated," we become more and more dominated by depression or anger. We have accepted those limitations; we have ourselves put on our chains. If, instead, in the same situation we say, "A wave of discouragement is trying to submerge me" or "An impulse of anger is attempting to overpower me," the situation is very different. Then there are two forces confronting each other; on one side our vigilant self and on the other the discouragement or the anger. And the vigilant self does not submit to that invasion; it can objectively and critically survey those impulses of discouragement or anger; it can look for their origin, foresee their deleterious effects, and realize their unfoundedness. This is often sufficient to withstand an attack of such forces and win the battle.
Into the huge reservoir of psychotherapeutic explanations for neurosis, Assagioli adds his pet term, identification. He maintains that identification is the secret of our enslavement or our liberty. Yet if one really thinks about his key sentence -- "Every time we 'identify' ourselves with a weakness, a fault, a fear or any other personal emotion or drive, we limit and paralyze ourselves" -- one is left with the impression that Assagioli is saying nothing more than...if we feel weak we feel weak.
Identify is a psychologist's term, one of these safely abstruse concepts that prey upon the neurotic's need for mythology. Arid, analytic, objectifying, it implies the detachment of scientific and polite investigation. Surely it does not convey how life is subjectively experienced. People don't "identify"; they feel and respond and behave in certain ways. If people feel weak, they feel this way for a reason which lies within the feeling. A redefinition of terms by the therapist only succeeds in making the problem his possession -- which means that the patient now has to understand the therapist and not vice versa. Saying the same thing in two different languages doesn't clarify anything. Taking a layman's term and explaining it by professional psychologese also clarifies nothing.
In reality, people simply feel their suffering and talk about how it feels. This, I believe, should give us a very good idea as to the lines along which therapy should proceed -- as opposed to how it ordinarily does proceed. It seems that many theorists have so many concepts and formulations going on in their own heads and are so quick to interpret, translate, and restate that they can't hear what their patients are actually saying.
In the second half of Assagioli's quote he offers a solution which anthropromorphizes our emotions as forces apart from us, forces which are out to get us. The "wave of discouragement that is trying to submerge me" is not in entity in itself attacking one's "vigilant self." It is Pain arising directly out of one's personal history. It is not something to be battled and overcome; it is something to be felt and connected. For Assagioli, liberation comes from dissociating the self from its Pain. This is indeed a false liberation, similar to what we have seen in the critique of hypnosis. The neurotic has been disidentified all his life. He does not need a further prescription for it. Assagioli continues:
But even when these forces within ourselves are temporarily stronger, when the conscious personality is at first overwhelmed by their violence, the vigilant self is never really conquered. It can retire to an inner fortress and there prepare for and await the favorable moment in which to counter-attack. It may lose some of the battles, but if it does not give up its arms and surrender, the ultimate issue is not compromised, and it will achieve victory in the end.
It is hard to overlook the militaristic vocabulary: stronger, overwhelmed, violence, vigilant, conquered, fortress, counterattack, battles, arms, surrender, victory. Notice too the continuing anthropomorphic quality of the drama taking place. When the dark forces within us temporarily gain control, the vigilant self can retire to its inner fortress and there await the favorable moment in which to counter-attack! In an age in which the psychobiological and psychophysiological origins of mental processes are finally being discovered, it is hard to discern the usefulness of this type of outdated metaphor. Assagioli continues in the same vein [italics are added to underscore militaristic vocabulary]:
Then, besides repelling one by one the attacks that come from the unconscious, we can apply a more fundamental and decisive method: we can tackle the deep_seated causes of these attacks and cut away the roots of the difficulty. This procedure may be divided into two phases: a. The disintegration of the harmful images or complexes, b. The control and utilization of the energies thus set free.
He says that we can gain some measure of control over our dark forces by becoming conscious of them. This is just what psychoanalysis purports to do. If we really want to root them out, however:
We must employ cold, impersonal observation as if they were mere natural phenomena, occurring outside ourselves. We should create a "psychological distance" between ourselves and them, keeping these images or complexes at arm's length, so to speak, and then quietly consider their origin, their nature and -- their stupidity!
Assagioli is making the same mistake again, a mistake that echoes the shortcomings of Maslow's theories and Rogers' psychotherapeutic techniques. Because he does not understand how symptoms connect on a deeper level with a very personal pain, he makes the symptoms into a kind of impersonal enemy which require "cold, impersonal observation." But the true enemy is precisely what he prescribes as the solution: it is precisely the lack of feeling (read cold) and the disconnection (read impersonal) that rendered neurosis in the first place. Because he feels that the key to healing is building better defenses, he prescribes more of the illness, not less.
Assagioli's final error in the above paragraph comes when he prescribes an attitude of stupidity toward one's symptoms. The neurotic has felt stupid about his symptoms all his life. This only compounds his negative view of himself. After all, if his symptoms are so stupid and ridiculous, why has he not been able to rid himself of them? He can only conclude it must be because he is just as stupid, and very weak to boot.
Symptoms express disconnected Pain as long as it remains too catastrophic for the person to connect to. The most bizarre psychotic symptom can have an awesomely rational connection to the person's history. Context reveals that rationality.
The person who has visions of "the savior," who sees his image everywhere, is considered someone who is hallucinating with delusions. But the deep feeling under it, as was true of one of my patients, was "There's no one to save me!" His life was a hell and there was nowhere to turn. Later, he saw the savior. He saw him so often and in so many places that he was considered crazy. We must also remember that neurotic symptoms have an important function that is far from stupid or crazy. They point to Pain -- and the more "stupid" or irrational they seem, the more catastrophic is the Pain they indicate.
The third and fourth stages of Assagioli's method get very mystical. In the third stage ("Realization of one's true Self"), what we have to do is "expand the personal consciousness into that of the Self; to reach up, following the thread or ray to the star; to unite the lower with the higher Self." At least Assagioli is consistent. Not only does he place the worst of us (the images and complexes in our lower unconscious) outside ourselves; he places the best of us outside us, as well! It seems the "higher Self" sits above us, not within us. Here Assagioli simply reverts to Christian mysticism. He again places "higher" knowledge and the good life in a God, a soul, or a higher Self.
We do not need to reach up to the stars but down into our unconscious. The individual's past is by definition real and true -- which is more than can be said for fields of consciousness, for higher consciousness, even for superconsciousness. Consciousness simply is; and what it means is that reality and our perception of that reality coincide. Nothing more, nothing less.
The fourth stage is the stage where the "psychosynthesis" -- "the formation or reconstruction of the personality around the new center" -- occurs. To achieve this we must "transmute" our unconscious forces. We must learn to utilize "the forces released by the analysis and disintegration of the unconscious complexes." We must develop the deficient and inadequate aspects of our personality (via auto-suggestion, evocation, or training). Finally, we must coordinate and subordinate the "various psychological energies and functions." Assagioli admits that all this appears rather formidable, but optimistically concludes:
In this way the new regenerated personality is formed, and a new and higher life begins, the true life, for which the preceding one can be considered as a mere preparation, almost a gestation.
Thus, the life we have is supplanted by a mysteriously higher and truer one. This again indicates to me how "heavenly" it is for a neurotic to conceive of the non-neurotic life. But let me be clear. We do not need to transmute, transcend, transform, or reach up to a star. We simply need to connect to the reality within us. We don't have to travel to India to find salvation. We have only to descend a few millimeters in our brain.
Personal psychosynthesis means perfecting the personality (ridding it of complexes and the like), and spiritual psychosynthesis means "unifying with the Self." The personal part comes first, so the therapy begins with a clinical assessment of the patient's "conscious complexes," "antagonistic traits," "ambivalences and polarities," and "sub-personalities." But, as with Rogers, nowhere is there mention of trauma, injury, deprivation, or Pain. Nowhere is there mention of specific concrete events and their effects. Although there is a probing into the patient's past to ascertain family influences, this consists of a "systematic questioning" geared toward uncovering the origin of the patient's traits rather than his Pain. It is a purely cognitive approach in which the patient studies himself as if he were a separate person and thus becomes separated -- the very thing that made him neurotic in the first place. Again, like in Freudian therapy, "understanding" and "insight" masquerade for consciousness. They reinforce repression rather than lift it.
The Humanist Movement is a backlash in the true dialectical fashion. To the Freudian thesis of man as impulse-ridden is added the humanistic antithesis of man as energy flow and tenderness. The problem with stopping the process here is that there is no synthesis. Without this synthesis, we are left with a one-dimensional, non-dynamic view of man.
According to Kovel, the Humanists have moved out of neurosis and psychosis and into "ordinary unhappiness and alienation." The Humanist Movement, he writes, has made "social alienation directly accessible to therapy." In effect, this gives neurosis a new name and a new source. It is now due not to specific events in our personal lives, but due to the conditions of our times.
Should we accept the notions of ordinary unhappiness and ordinary alienation? Are alienation and unhappiness ordinary conditions of mankind, with no special cause and no specific cure? I don't think so. The adult is alienated in his present life because he is alienated from the roots of his past. He has left his childhood behind and with it the free-flowing emotional expression that children have. Unhappiness is an existential condition now because it was a physically engraved experience then. To slough it off as the Zeitgeist or Weltanschauung of the times is to illuminate nothing at all. Social alienation comes directly from personal alienation and personal alienation begins with alienation from one's parents very early on. That alienation is accompanied by a profound feeling of aloneness and estrangement.
In their eagerness to throw off the pall of the Freudian Id, the Humanists have skipped blindly over the Pain and made the atavistic leap into bliss. They do not understand that man's negativity cannot be simply denied while his potentials are vigorously affirmed. On the contrary, both levels of reality must be reconciled if consciousness is to be truly "raised."
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Joel Kovel, A Complete Guide to Therapy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976, p. 109.
See interview with Maslow in Psychology Today, Jan. 1992, pp. 68-73.
Psychology Today, "A Conversation with Abraham H. Maslow", July, 1968.
See James P. Chaplin & T. S. Krawiec, Systems and Theories of Psychology (3rd Edition). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1968, P. 453.
*Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper & Row, 1954, p. 46.
Psychology Today, Jan. 1992.
 See Frank G. Goble, The Third Force: The Psychology of Abraham Maslow. New York: Grossman Publications, 1970, p. 43.
Quoted in F. Goble, The Third Force, p. 40.
Maslow A. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penguin Books, 1976, p. 30 (First published by Viking Press, 1971).
Goble, The Third Force, op. cit., p. 72.
Quoted in Goble, p. 39, from Motivation & Personality.
Goble, op. cit, pp. 71-72.
Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, op. cit., p. 3.
Ibid, p. 3.
Carl Rogers, "A Client-centered/Person-centered Approach to Therapy (1986), reprinted in Howard Kirschenbaum and Valerie Land Henderson, eds., The Carl Rogers Reader. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989, pp. 135-152.
Kirschenbaum and Henderson, The Carl Rogers Reader. Ibid, xi.
See Richard Evans, Carl Rogers: The Man and His Ideas. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1975, p. 30; Carl Rogers, "The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change," in Journal of Consulting Psychology, 21(1957), pp. 95-103.
From introduction to Client-Centered Therapy, 1951.
Rogers, On Becoming a Person, op. cit., p. 330.
Rogers, On Becoming a Person, op. cit., p. 33.
Ibid, p. 34.
"A Client-Centered/Person-Centered Approach to Therapy, op. cit, p. 136.
Ibid, p. 34.
Ibid., p. 35.
Ibid., p. 35.
Jeffrey Masson, Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing. New York: Athenaeum, 1988, pp. 201-202.
See "Rogers, Kohut and Erickson: A Personal Perspective on Some Similarities and Differences," in Jeffrey K. Zeig, ed., The Evolution of Psychotherapy. New York: Bruner/Mazel, 1987, p. 185.
Carl Rogers, "Reflection of Feelings and Transference," Person-Centered Review, 1(4), November 1986, 375-77. Reprinted in The Carl Rogers Reader, pp. 127-134.
"A Client-centered/Person-centered Approach to Therapy," op. cit., p. 142.
Joel Kovel, A Complete Guide to Therapy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976, p. 114.
"A Client-centered/Person-centered Approach to Therapy," in The Carl Rogers Reader, op. cit., pp. 147-152.
Carl Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951, pp. 167-171.
Joel Kovel, A Complete Guide to Therapy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1976, p. 116.
Roberto Assagioli, Psychosyntheses. New York: Penguin Books, 1965, p. 5.
Ibid., p. 25.
Assagioli, op. cit., p. 21.
Assagioli, op. cit., p. 21.
Assagioli, op. cit., p. 21.
Assagioli, op. cit., pp. 22-23.
Assagioli, op. cit., p. 23.
Assagioli, op. cit., p. 23
Assagioli, op. cit., p. 23.
Kovel, op. cit., p. 110.