Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Freud’

Our initial task as client and therapist – our work during the first few sessions – resembles cartography.  I begin, like a map-maker, drawing a square or a rectangle, then sketching the outlines of landmarks visible from afar – the mountains, the sea, the rivers.  In limning a life, the prominent features are obvious – where you were born, and when, where you grew up, what you do for a living, who your parents were and what they do, your siblings, if you have any, and your relationships with them, your partner, if you have one, and your relationship with him.  I get the big stuff down, then step back, and try to make sense of it all – take “the lay of the land.”  Later, I’ll add shading and nuance, and fill in the details – tiny inlets and hillocks, copses and rills.

I conjure a map from blank parchment.  It returns the favor – conjuring a New World from my collected observations, and serving as a trusty guide.  The expanse charted in shorthand on the map permits me to “rack focus” (as they say in film-making) – alter my gaze to take a fresh perspective, observe an unaccustomed vista. The map, as it develops, assumes a shape of its own.  Disparate regions are drawn together by common threads – the length of a river’s course, a shared coastline or mountain range.  My attention drifts to objects on the edges of boundaries, features I might have missed.  The elusive “big picture” – awareness, the ultimate goal in psychotherapy – begins to coalesce.

The first step in the process comes as a question from the therapist.  The phrasing of that “first question” gets debated when therapists gather.  I trained with a colleague who invariably asked the same thing at each first session:  “So what brings you here today?”  That feels twisty and indirect to me.  I usually start with “So how are you?” or, depending on my mood, or yours, “So how’s it going?”  Sometimes there’s serious upset taking place in the here and now, that needs attending to right away.  Before I sketch the background – the mountains and the sea and the rivers – I need to know if there’s a battle occurring on that stony plain, a castle under siege, a forest caught fire.

This is an historical map.  I am mapping a quest – an epic voyage.  You are the hero. Ours will be the sort of map with crossed swords to mark battlefields and mythic beasts to guard those unexplored zones at the edges of awareness.

The first question doesn’t matter much, because your unconscious feelings function like a compass.  Wherever you start, you’ll find yourself where you need to be.

I have a good sense of direction, too.  If I sense we’re drifting off-course, I’ll lean my elbow on the tiller.

Your compass is guided by emotion, drawn to it as to a magnetic pole.  If I detect an increase in feeling, I might grow cautious, slow our pace and sniff the breeze, comb the sky for a cynosure – fear, anger, sadness, hurt.  Emotions guide our way.

(more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Albert Einstein was puzzled by the mystery of his own fame.  He was forever pondering with friends and associates why he – a physicist whose work was a mystery to most non-scientists – should have become the recipient of full-blown Hollywood-style celebrity.  For whatever reason, Einstein chose not to discuss this issue with the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, either when they met in person in 1927, or in their later correspondence.  As one of Einstein’s biographers, Denis Brian, put it:

Einstein…missed the chance for a Freudian explanation of why hordes of people incapable of understanding his ideas threated the quiet contemplation he craved to pursue his work by chasing after him.  Are they crazy or am I?  he wondered.

I suspect Einstein never asked Freud why people hounded him as a celebrity because it seemed a silly and self-indulgent question.  Most of Freud and Einstein’s correspondence concerned serious politics – the Nazi threat, Zionism and the like.  It was also a pretty obvious question.  People flocked to Einstein for the same reason they flock to any celebrity – because they want to be that celebrity. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be Einstein – by popular acclaim, the smartest person in the world – and have everyone associate your name with the very definition of genius?

Einstein might have been loathe to admit it, but he was rich and famous – and we all want to be rich and famous.  In fact, if you were asked what you wanted to be right now, more than anything else – and you didn’t stop to reflect – you might just answer “rich and famous.”

Why?  Because that’s what most people assume they want, until they stop and think, and maybe come up with an answer that’s a little more meaningful.

Even if they do stop and think about it, they still might want wealth and fame, without realizing it – like Einstein.

No one was more consciously self-effacing or less interested in money than Albert Einstein.  He was constantly reminding people that he was only one of many talented physicists, including many great predecessors who laid the groundwork for his theories.  He was also fiercely determined to live unostentatiously – giving much of his money away and using a good deal of it to help others, including fellow Jews who needed to be sponsored financially in order to escape Nazi persecution.

Deep down, though, Einstein sensed something was going on with his relationship to fame and fortune.  As Brian puts it:

Einstein half-seriously speculated that he himself was to blame;  that elements in his makeup of the charlatan, the hypnotist, or even the clown inadvertently attracted attention….He suspected that he might unconsciously be inviting the hunt…

Well, of course he was inviting the hunt.  That’s because, while Einstein’s adult self disdained wealth and fame, his child, given the chance, drank it up.

Your child craves it, too.

To understand why, let’s take a look at what “rich and famous” really means.

Rich means loved.  Famous means paid attention to.  The same things you have craved since the day you were born.

Money, in psychotherapy terms, is a surrogate for security in love.  A patient once told me if he won the lottery he would build a brick house that needed no maintenance and would stand for five hundred years, then he’d create a fund to guarantee that the taxes and every other possible expense would be paid for in perpetuity.  He’d have a place, a safe place, forever, that no one could ever take away.  He could finally feel safe and breathe free.

Of course, that’s a dream.  First, because you’re going to die, eventually, even if you’re hiding inside a brick house.  And second, because sitting alone in a house isn’t a satisfying way to spend your life.  Feeling secure boils down to more than money or a big house – it’s about feeling safe in someone’s affection, and it starts with learning to love yourself.

As a child, you can gauge your parents’ investment in you – their love – by whether they are paying attention.  You learn to do everything you can to keep their eyes on you as much as possible – like a kid at the playground, calling to his mother, making sure she watches each and every trick he performs on the jungle gym.  Attention is like food for a young child.

There’s evolutionary history behind our desire to be rich and famous.  It traces back to the fact that humans, with their gigantic brains, take a long time to reach maturity. An orangutan reaches adolescence at about age four.  He’s in contact with his mother’s skin almost without break for much of that time, then soon becomes independent.  A human doesn’t reach adolescence until thirteen.  He requires more than a decade of childcare – too many years to rely solely on the care of parents.  The human child senses instinctively that his life might depend upon summoning care and attention from others.

No wonder you work hard to become rich and famous.

The problem with chasing wealth and fame is that it’s a child’s mission, not an adult’s.  At some point you must step out of childhood – that long, helpless period of your life – and move onto the independence of maturity.  Instead of needing reassurance that you are loved, you can achieve independence by learning to love yourself.  That big step into adulthood is an affirmation that you deserve love, and deserve to receive it from those you call friends or partners.

You needn’t crave attention as an adult, either.  It feels nice, now and then, to receive praise for your work.  But if you have your own attention – you’ve done the job of living consciously as your best self and winning your own respect – you no longer have to cry for mommy to watch you perform on the jungle gym.  You can learn to feel safe and secure in your own abilities and achievements.

Security within yourself is worth more than being rich and famous.  The ultimate goal is security in the knowledge that you have friends who deserve you and care about you, meaningful work that you enjoy and a partner who is a true friend and ally.

That beats wealth and fame any day.

It’s interesting that one of the most famous photos of Albert Einstein features him sticking his tongue out.  You’ve probably seen it a million times on postcards or posters on dorm room walls.  It seems to speak volumes about Einstein’s naturalness and lack of pretension – his being in touch with his child. Perhaps that’s true.  It was photos like that – and his crazy hairdo – that helped make Einstein an icon of approachable, lovable brilliance.

On the other hand, that photo, which was taken in December 1948, captures Einstein shortly after he was operated on at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital for a large and potentially life-threatening aneurysm of the abdominal aorta.  Brian describes the circumstances of the photo:

After overhearing a doctor say that the hospital was short of private rooms, Einstein insisted he was “getting much better” and asked to be moved to the ward.  That way, his room could go to someone who needed it more.  He was talked out of it when told he would be more trouble in the ward.  Helen Dukas [his private secretary] came to collect him a few days later, and they left by the back entrance through a gauntlet of reporters, newsreel cameramen, and almost the entire hospital staff, who were there to wish him well.  On the way home, pestered by photographers, he was snapped by one of them, sticking his tongue out at him.

The original, un-cropped version of the photo gives a slightly different impression from the familiar cropped version.  The original includes the people around Einstein, who are trying to hurry a sick man home through a crowd of reporters.  Perhaps, when he stuck out his tongue, Einstein the adult was simply annoyed and exasperated at a mob harassing an aging, unwell physicist whose work none of them could even understand.

On the other hand, maybe Einstein’s child was having a bit of fun and enjoying the attention.

Probably both were true.  Einstein might not have been certain himself of exactly how he was feeling at that moment, or why. But however much he unconsciously basked in the glow of wealth and fame – or fled from it – the father of relativity devoted the majority of his later life to ignoring his wealth and avoiding attention while working hard to achieve nuclear disarmament and world peace.  Being rich and famous wasn’t enough.  Einstein the adult needed a more meaningful dream.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

The first researchers to observe chimpanzees in the wild were left with an idyllic impression of our close ape cousins.  They appeared to be a peaceful tribe of vegetarians, who cuddled and groomed and cared for one another in extended family units, sharing fruit and showering their young with affection.

Only later, when in-depth studies were attempted, did it become clear that this was merely part of the picture.  These serene vegetarians were also capable of shocking violence towards members of their own species, including murder.

Chimpanzees are gentle, loving and family-oriented within their own territorial mating group.  But with chimps from outside that circle, they can turn vicious.

In this respect, chimps resemble humans.

You, for example, would never display intentional cruelty towards another human being.

That is – unless you knew that other human being wasn’t like you.  Then you might be surprised at what you could do.

Welcome to in-group/out-group psychology.

Consider the guards at Auschwitz.  They thought of themselves as nice people.

An album of photos was made public in 2008 containing photographs taken by members of the SS who worked at Auschwitz. These pictures are not what you would expect.  Dating from 1944, they show laughing, singing, smiling people reveling at Solahütte, an SS recreation home located just outside the death camp.

There’s even a shot of an SS officer lighting the Auschwitz Christmas tree only a few miles from the place where millions were being starved, beaten and gassed.

The question becomes how you convince yourself that other human beings are not like you – that they are outsiders.

One common method is to place them outside of your religious system.  Religion is often credited with teaching morals and enforcing good behavior among human beings.  More often, it is used to justify the abuse of out-groups by defining the parameters of an in-group.  As Freud put it:  “a religion, even when it calls itself the religion of love, must be hard and loveless against those who do not belong to it.”

Freud watched Hitler march into Austria during the Anschluss in 1938, as the powerful Roman Catholic church stood by offering no resistance whatsoever.  As Peter Gay describes it:

“The Austrian prelates, keepers of the Roman Catholic conscience, did nothing to mobilize whatever forces of sanity and decency still remained;  with Theodor Cardinal Innitzer setting the tone, priests celebrated Hitler’s accomplishments from the pulpit, promised to cooperate joyfully with the new dispensation, and ordered the swastika flag to be hoisted over church steeples on suitable occasions.”

Freud managed to escape to England with his immediate family.  Four of his sisters, each of them over 70 years old, were not so lucky.  These helpless elderly women were murdered in concentration camps.

In-group/out-group psychology, coupled with religion, explains a lot about wars, inquisitions, crusades, burnings at stakes, pogroms, terrorism and the ugly history of mankind in general.

Another way to ostracize a group is to link them to disease.  When Glenn Beck calls Progressivism a “cancer” in America, he implies that Progressives, those people like myself who believe in Progressive causes, are the embodiment of that cancer.  He is borrowing a page from Adolf Hitler’s playbook.  One of the Fuehrer’s favorite tropes was to compare Jews to tuberculosis bacilli infecting the German nation.

If people are tuberculosis bacilli – or cancer cells – it becomes much easier to abuse them.

Still another way to justify dehumanizing a group of people is to isolate them because they have a different ethnic background, or physical appearance. This country began as a slave colony, based on the firm notion that people with dark skin could be beaten, abused, tortured, murdered, and bought and sold as chattel because they weren’t really “human” at all – they were more like animals.  This is another example of in-group/out-group psychology at work.

The Tea Party movement lends itself to in-group/out-group psychology because it is a homogenous population – an excellent candidate for an in-group.  According to a CNN poll, active supporters of the Tea Party, those who have attended a rally or donated money, are much more likely to be wealthy, male, have graduated from college and reside in rural areas that are already GOP and conservative strongholds.  According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 88% of the Tea Partiers are white.  They are also almost entirely Republican.  It’s a fair guess that most of them are Christian, too, and probably fundamentalist.

This might explain their obsession with attempting to prove that Barack Obama, the President of the United States, was somehow not born here or is somehow not American.

He’s different from them.  That makes him a member of an out-group.

Mr. Obama’s out-group status, in turn, permits the Tea Party people to justify treating him in ways they would never treat one of their own.  That explains shouting “You lie” at him in the middle of a joint session of the US Congress, or flaunting firearms at events where the President is speaking.  Since he is an out-group member, they can justify treating Mr. Obama with a level of disrespect that might otherwise be difficult to fathom, especially from people who claim to respect the office he fills.

More disturbing, perhaps, is the way the Republicans treat their fellow Americans who happen to lack healthcare.

If another human person were injured or ill, and needing to be taken to a hospital, it is hard to imagine anyone, whatever their political or religious beliefs, refusing to come to that person’s aid.

But the Republicans have managed to convince themselves that denying healthcare to their fellow Americans is morally defensible.  Perhaps it’s a Christian doctrine that an atheist outsider, like myself or Sigmund Freud, could never comprehend.

More likely, for the Republicans, it’s simply that any American living without healthcare must be a member of an out-group.  Perhaps they are all Socialists, African-Americans or Progressives, or even part of the “cancer” that Glenn Beck battles on tv.

The latest example of in-group/out-group psychology at work has appeared in the form of threats of violence by radical Right-wingers against Democratic politicians who supported the healthcare bill and voted it into law last week.  Black and gay politicians have had nasty names shouted at them.  One Democratic congressman was called “baby killer” by his Republican colleague on the floor of the US House of Representatives.  There have been death threats and acts of vandalism.

You wouldn’t do these things to someone whom you considered an equal.

The truth seems to be that, for the Republicans, anyone who disagrees with their political agenda is an outsider.  The code word for “outsider” is that you are not a “real American.”  Sarah Palin warned you about those people, the “fake Americans” – the outsiders.  You can place gun targets over their faces.  You can threaten their lives.

As I’ve said time and time again, this column is strictly without political bias.

But perhaps it is time for the Republicans and their Tea Party minions to rise above the level of chimpanzees and Nazis, and to recognize the humanity of their fellow citizens.  For decades, tens of millions of us have been denied access to decent healthcare.  As a result, each year tens of thousands of us have died.

The issue of healthcare is finally being addressed with a mainstream political solution, thanks to President Obama and the Democrats.

But the Republicans still need to learn a basic lesson in citizenship.

They are not the in-group, and everyone else is not the out-group.

There is no out-group.

There is one America, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

My patient sounded bewildered.

“It was like I was watching myself going through the motions – repeating the same old pattern.”

He’d just broken up for the umpteenth time with a woman he’d been dating for over a year.

“It’s always the same thing.  I do something nice for her.  Then she tries to do something for me, but I freak out, and insist she doesn’t like me.  Then I do something mean, like flirt with someone else in front of her, just to prove she doesn’t like me,  and she gives up and we break up again.  So we’re back where we started, and I do something nice again, and off we go.  Eventually, even the women who hang on give up.  Then I find someone else and start over.”

He was caught in an endless loop – around and around and around.  The same thing had played out with every women before this one.

Freud might have called this a “repetition compulsion.”  I’ve heard other therapists refer to it as a “learned behavior.”

Whatever it is – it’s very common.  Left to your own devices – in other words, acting unconsciously – you will keep doing the same thing over and over again.

What you’re doing is replaying a pattern you learned as a child – clinging to it because no one has woken you up and made you ask yourself what on earth you’re doing.

My patient’s father was a frustrated scientist, trapped in a humiliating job, deeply insecure, very unstable.  My patient tried to please him by doing well in school, winning science prizes, trying to be the son he wanted.

Initially, the father would seem pleased and proud.

Then, once my patient allowed himself to relax in his father’s acceptance, disaster would strike.

The father would swing back into a frustrated rage – and take it out on his son.

It probably had nothing to do with the boy – it was the father’s own anger at his work situation – but the effect was devastating.

The pattern played out over and over again.  The son would over-achieve, and believe he’d won his father’s approval – then, as he relaxed into acceptance, the old man would turn on him with vicious criticism.

My patient learned it was okay to give his father – or any person – what they wanted.  But he could never relax and let down his guard.  That’s when the inevitable turn-around came.  He expected it – and braced himself for it – so he’d never again get caught by surprise.

You’ve probably heard of “Pavlov’s dogs.”

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who performed a series of experiments on dogs at the end of the 19th century.  One of his chief discoveries was the “conditioned response.”  When a dog – or a person – is trained through repetition to expect an outcome from a certain set of variables, it is difficult to un-train that expectation.  It becomes a reflex.

Pavlov trained his dogs to expect to be fed when he rang a bell.  Eventually, just ringing the bell would make the dogs salivate, as they came to predict food was coming when they heard it.  The bell and the food were firmly linked in their brains.

That’s what happens with people when they get stuck in a loop, like my patient.

He learned he could please his father briefly, but his father’s acceptance would soon be followed by a mood reversal and attacks.

Now, with his girlfriends, he once again sought to please, but then shut down.  He was certain the old pattern would play out, so he refused to let them get close.

The problem was obvious: my patient was not a dog – and his girlfriends were not his father.

The instinct that once protected him from the pain of his father’s rages now sabotaged his chances at a healthy relationship.  To shed this old conditioned response, he needed to become aware of it.

A psychotherapist doesn’t change you.  He creates awareness.  If I show you a pattern of behavior that’s not working for you, you’ll figure out how to change it on your own.

If I tell you that you’re standing in a pot of water over a fire, you’ll jump out of the pot.

I show you the situation – you handle the fix.

There’s something psychotherapists call “the observing ego” – it’s like a little guy who sits on your shoulder and watches you from the outside.  He represents self-awareness.

My patient was developing an observing ego.  He kept having “deja vu” moments.  He’d been down this path before, and he knew it.

Now he wanted to change the old pattern – and try going someplace new.

I’ve worked with enough patients over the years to recognize that human beings are flexible – they change.  When I meet someone I haven’t seen in a long time, I suspend expectations, because I know people are moving targets.

You can change, too.  You don’t have to walk in circles forever.

If you spot a pattern that feels like a loop, take a turn and head someplace new.  At least you’ll know it’s really you at the controls – not one of Pavlov’s dogs.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

Here’s further evidence that Sigmund Freud didn’t invent the concept of psychotherapy out of thin air:

There was a precursor, and his name was Charles Dickens.

Way back in 1843, thirteen years before Freud was born, Dickens wrote a book summing up the process of psychotherapy.

The title of this scholarly tome?  You’ve probably read it – or perhaps you are familiar with one of the film versions.  My personal favorite stars the legendary Scrooge McDuck.

I’m only half-kidding.  So let’s review the storyline of A Christmas Carol, and see how it relates to the process of psychotherapy.

The plot should be familiar to most of us:

It’s Christmas Eve, and the old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is at his office, being unpleasant to everyone around him.  Scrooge scoffs at his nephew’s invitation to a Christmas party, refuses to donate to charity and scolds his employees, letting everyone know his top priority is money, not relationships with other people.

The diagnosis is pretty clear.  Scrooge is unconsciously clinging to money as a surrogate for love.  He doesn’t feel cared for by anyone, and perhaps he believes he is undeserving or incapable of attracting the love he needs.  Scrooge discharges anger indiscriminately at whomever is nearby, chasing away anyone who attempts to offer him care.

Eventually Scrooge leaves his office and heads home, where he is confronted by the ghost of Marley, his old business partner, who has organized an intervention. Marley informs Scrooge in no uncertain terms that he has to do some work on himself or he’ll end up just like Marley did – dragging metaphorical chains around, miserable and unloved.  Marley recommends psychotherapy.

Plenty of my patients come to me on the advice of friends.  There’s something about hearing from a good old comrade for the one hundredth time that you “really should think about seeing a therapist” that eventually brings someone around.  That’s especially true when – like Scrooge – it’s clear that you’re miserable.  It also helps when the friend, like Marley, admits he’s had some of the same issues himself.

Marley goes so far as to recommend his own therapists – and to make the appointments.  He lets Scrooge know that three ghosts will be dropping by that night for some serious counseling work, and that it will be very experientially-oriented, probably with a Gestalt focus and incorporating some aspects of psychodrama.  Marley has even paid the fee in advance.  There’s friendship for you.

Scrooge is skeptical – after all, he’s never done psychotherapy before, so he figures he’ll play along, but doesn’t expect much.

The first ghost arrives – the ghost of Christmas past.  He’s an old school psychoanalyst and wants to start right off with deep psychodynamic exploration – digging deep into Scrooge’s past, examining the environment in which little Ebenezer grew up and how it shaped his patterns of behavior and the assumptions he makes about the world around him.

Scrooge learns that his fear of risking authentic contact – opening himself up in a way that would permit meaningful contact with others – resulted in his fleeing to money as a replacement for the love he needed.  Instead of being generous and open-hearted like old Fezziwig, his first employer, and containing his anxiety, Scrooge acts out on his unexamined feeling and flees from Belle, the girl he loves.  Scrooge ends up surrounding himself with money – a compensation for feeling that he is unloved and unlovable.

The next therapist (er, ghost) to visit is representing Christmas present.  This guy is probably from the Albert Ellis Institute – his orientation is clearly cognitive-behavioral.  He has no time to waste digging into the past and finding precursors for Scrooge’s behavior.  This therapist wants to work horizontally, not vertically – in the here and now, examining Scrooge’s thinking as it affects his daily behavior.  He takes Scrooge to see the folks who populate his life – Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit at their humble home, and Scrooge’s nephew at a Christmas party.

Scrooge realizes he’s been self-isolating.  This is depression – Scrooge has been acting in on unexamined anger he’s long harbored at not receiving the care he needs.  His cognition – “money is the only thing I can trust” – needs to be reality-tested, and counter-thoughts formulated, such as “maybe people are important, too” and “perhaps if I stop being such a grump people might give me a chance.”

The third and final therapist arrives looking like he means business.  This guy is hard-core, probably one of those French existential types who reads a lot of Lacan and takes no prisoners.  This guy isn’t messing around.  He puts death front and center – the eternal inevitability at the conclusion of every life ever lived.  Scrooge sees what death really means – that his life is nothing more than a brief opportunity for joy – and that human connection is crucial to attaining that goal.  He realizes that this isn’t a dress rehearsal – it’s his one chance at existence, and he doesn’t get another run-through.

That does it.  The session with the French guy cracks Scrooge’s resistance, and new awareness arrives fast and hard.  He wakes up a new man.  With consciousness comes the desire for change.  Now that Scrooge can see himself – the roots of his patterns of behavior, the distortions in his current cognition, and the pressing insistence of his mortality – he longs to express his authentic self, his best self – to become the man he truly is.

Voila!  Another happy customer.  Psychotherapy changes another life for the better…thirteen years before the birth of Freud.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

Two famous pilgrimages:

The Journey to the West – the legendary voyage of the Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, to India to bring the Sutras back to China and establish Buddhism there.

Another, less celebrated Journey from the East – Freud’s parents, Ostjuden (Eastern Jews), emigrating in a horse cart from the ghettoes of East Galicia to Vienna.

The Silk Road channeled a rich current of human activity across Asia from China to Europe.  Along with the merchants and their caravans of camels laden with spices and luxuries, ideas flowed back and forth across the continent.  In the center, there was India.

It was in India that the powerful concepts of Buddhism originated, then spread East, to China, and West – ultimately, perhaps, to Freud’s office in Vienna, where so many of his ideas about living more consciously seem to echo Buddhist philosophy.

I’ll touch on two issues:  first, why Buddhism doesn’t have to be intimidating, and second, some interesting stuff it has to say about our daily lives:

You don’t have to think of Buddhism as just a religion.  The ancient India of around 500 B.C.E.,where the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, lived, was a lot like the historically contemporary Ancient Greece – the existence of a pantheon of gods and goddesses was taken for granted.  Buddha wasn’t interested in being a god – there were already plenty of gods.  His goal was achieving human enlightenment – a condition of peace and serenity.  Over thousands of years, Buddhism spread all over Asia and splintered into a thousand different schools and practices.  Some of them espouse devotional practices, complete with temples and incense and kowtowing before fat, smiling statues.  You can disregard much of that, and concentrate on the ideas.

To give you a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s the most famous single story in Buddhism.  There are a dozen variations, but this covers the basics.  See if it doesn’t leave you thinking:

The Buddha was born a wealthy prince.  Upon his birth, a fortune-teller issued a prediction that the young prince would eventually renounce all his wealth, and become a monk.  To prevent this, his father, the king, ordered that Siddartha be prevented from leaving the walls of the palace.  For 29 years, the prince was permitted to see only wealth and beauty.

Finally, perhaps on an impulse – some say a mischievous god was involved – Prince Siddhartha escaped for the first time outside the palace walls. Almost at once, he saw four famous sights, which changed his life forever:

He encountered an old man, and learned that he would not remain forever young.

He saw a leper, and learned of the existence of suffering and disease.  

He saw a corpse, and knew that one day he, too, would die.

He met a monk, and realized there were other paths to joy than the pleasure garden within the palace walls.

From that day forward, the Buddha became a monk, devoting himself solely to the search for enlightenment.

I told you this was a powerful story.

Opening your eyes to the world around you, and the emotions you carry within, stirs something in the human soul, which could change your life forever.

That’s what we do in psychotherapy.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

This blog responds to two BAD things and one GOOD thing about psychotherapy.

First, the BAD things.

It’s expensive:  I slide my rate down to whatever you tell me you can afford.  And I mean it.  (If you don’t believe me, it’s on my website:  www.aquietroom.com.)   I’ve seen people for $200 per hour and I’ve seen people for $1 per hour, because that’s what they each could honestly afford.  They all get the same therapy.  But I can only see so many people at once, even with the groups.  This blog addresses that problem.  Here’s a space where I can share the ideas of psychotherapy with everyone.  Until I can get a book in print (which might be soon), this is what I’ve got – a public space, free to all comers, to spread the ideas I believe in – and to try to help.

It’s pretentious:  I keep a Sigmund Freud bobble-head doll in my office to remind me of two things – that Freud was a genius – and I shouldn’t take myself (or Freud) too seriously.  The ideas that change lives make you say “ah-ha!” and see something differently. Freud concocted some crazy notions (remember “penis envy”?) and some brilliant ones (the unconscious.)  The “Ah-ha” ones stuck around.  If you’re not getting an “ah-ha” from this blog, let me know.  As my old therapist, Lena Furgeri, used to say – “STAY ON MY ASS!”  Feedback is welcome.  I’m the People’s Therapist.  You’re the People.

And the GOOD THING:

Psychotherapy changes lives:  Louis Ormont, one of the inventors of group therapy, told me his dream was to make psychotherapy available for everyone – to put it in schools and all over the globe.  He started therapy groups in high schools in New York City.  “Imagine,” he said, “if children took an hour a week for emotional education, to learn to put their thoughts and feelings into words.  It could change the world!”

I agree with Lou.  There are a lot of ah-ha ideas here.  I want to get them out to you – and hear your thoughts.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »