Psychotherapy and Religion
(Investigator 44, 1995 September)
Religious organisations and communities have traditionally served a number of functions. From the point of view of individuals holding political power, religion has been an effective means of keeping the oppressed 'in their place' by convincing them that it is to their advantage to remain where they are in the social pecking order:
"Jesus then said to his disciples: 'It will be very hard, I tell you, for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I tell you something else: it is much harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle'."1Almost always, religious ideologies function as a means of mobilising their adherents to accept the status quo in both theory and practice. It is the same St Paul, the model for all evangelical Christians, who insisted so emphatically that: "Everyone must obey the state authorities; for no authority exist without God's permission and the existing authorities have been put there by God. Whoever opposes the existing authority opposes what God has ordered; and anyone who does so will bring judgement on himself."2and who in his final letter 'To Philemon', when joined by a runaway slave Onesimus sends the fugitive, now a changed character because he has become a Christian(!), back to his master, Philemon. The slave is now reconciled to the fact that as a disciple of Christ his duty is to serve his master.
Religious communities serve other, psychological, functions. For the individual member a facet of participation in the congregation activities is not only the provision of a means of relating to others, for building up friendships founded upon shared community objectives (often quite modest objectives to match the timidity of those lacking self-confidence), but also the opportunity to share with others personal problems, feelings of inadequacy and un-fulfilment – and by sharing, to lighten them.
The starting point for any religious psychology is the belief that 'all men are sinners', that all persons 'know' that they could and ought to be 'better' (ethically/morally) than they are. For many community members, the essential function of the minister or priest is pastoral. As already indicated, whatever life problem confronts the individual, the anxiety so generated, is readily diminished by sharing it with another.
But for many lonely and alienated souls it may not be easy to find a friend. Joining the community, per se, may not be sufficient for the forging of a relationship. In situations such as this, the power of the slogan that assures that all 'have a friend in Jesus' becomes evident; and as most 'converts' require some form of 'two-way' communication, the friendly vicar, the representative of Jesus in the flesh, can become a satisfactory substitute for the intangible supernatural 'friend'.
Recognition of the pastoral function of churches provides insight into one of consequences of the decline and fall of traditional religion in western society: namely the meteoric rise and growth of the counselling and therapy industry. Throughout the super-structure of today's society, in commerce, in education, however critical the down-tum in economic terms, the one area of steady and impressive expansion is that which comes under the general heading of 'psychotherapy'. Colleges of Further Education everywhere are jumping into this new multi-million dollar industry. The number of places available to interested students appears to increase in geometric progression from year to year while within the same institutions offering the training, the staff, at every level, are forcibly indoctrinated into this new 'caring' ideology.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the success of the 'therapy business': the increasing alienation generated by twentieth century society, the 'loss of faith' amongst the more educated (hence the greater perceived need for pastoral care) and the decline of the more sober religious communities that once, traditionally, provided this care.
For those servicing this new 'industry', counselling is a 'winner'. There are enormous sums of money to be earned for those who devise and teach, the courses. The compensation for those who enrol as students is that the process transforms the powerless and alienated individual into a confident 'achiever' clutching a 'qualification' that offers recognition, status and the enhanced possibility of being a 'power-holder' in regular future encounters.
A multitude of so-called therapeutic approaches are peddled under the general heading of 'counselling' - there are the Freudian, Kleinian, Jungian, existential, Gestalt, humanistic, even eclectic schools. The names may differ, but essentially there is a basic similarity in their underlying assumptions.
The common starting point is the realisation that to a greater or larger extent every individual in today's world finds it difficult or impossible to cope with the demands of everyday life. However, the therapists continue, people's inability to cope is due not to the absurdities of the inhuman class society which alienates individuals from themselves, their comrades and the physical world they inhabit.
In the ideology of the therapist, the fault lies with the victim. Rather than the world, it is the failure of people to develop all their potentialities, failure to 'actualise themselves', which is the root of the problem. And here is the rationale for the therapist's intervention. For a substantial fee, the counsellor/therapist offers to assist the client 'become his real self'! The client's 'problems' must be faced 'head on', must be 'worked through', supported by the therapist. Future happiness lies not in changing the world but in changing oneself! (An identical argument will be found in the declarations of every fundamentalist evangelist.)
The Freudian Origins
Most counsellor/therapists trace their ancestry to the founders of 'depth psychologies', Freud and Jung, or to the later 'third force' psychologies of Rogers and Maslow. It is proposed to briefly examine the teachings of these four gurus and to illustrate how their ideas so neatly 'fill the gap' left by the decline of conservative religion. I shall then consider why it is that although there is no evidence that any of these therapies 'work', they nonetheless continue to represent an impressive growth industry.
Although Freud and Maslow were self-declared atheists, the belief systems they were to develop serve the same functions as the systems of their God-worshipping allies, Jung and Rogers, and have much in common with the aspirations of traditional religion.
Talk therapies originate with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). From its early days, psychoanalysis (the name given to the 'philosophy' founded by Freud) bore most of the characteristics of a religious cult.
As early as August 1912, Freud set up a 'secret council' (his terminology!) composed of himself and "the best and most trustworthy among our men"3. The undeclared aim of this committee was to monitor the activities of the renegade Jung and to ensue that Freud was kept up-to-date vis-a-vis those activities. At one of the first meetings of the council, Freud gave each of his five stalwarts an, ancient intaglio from his antique collection, which were subsequently mounted on gold rings which are often conspicuous on the fingers of the council members (including Freud) in photographs that have survived. The rings were perceived as symbols, of an eternal allegiance to the symbolic father, Freud.
Entry into the 'secret circle' of psychoanalysis continues to take the form of a mythical initiation. A person can only become an accredited psychoanalyst by first undergoing several years of analysis by one who has already attained 'elder' status. As today's Catholic priests trace their ancestry, by succession, back to St Peter, so today's analysts are 'descended' from Freud – only the founder, Freud is excused from this process...he analysed himself.
The basic assumption of Freudian-style theories is that we all suffer from unconscious, unresolved childhood mental conflicts which generate 'neuroses'. The neurosis, then, is the "disguised and unrecognisable substitute"4 for something that has been repressed in the unconscious layers of the mind: the substitute for the repressed idea is the neurotic symptom. The neurosis, then, is proffered as a new disease category with its own natural mental history and its own identifiable physical symptoms.
An example of a neurotic symptom, which we all experience, is the dream. In the language of psychoanalysis, dreams are repressed sexual symbols.* We are all neurotics then and, according to Freudian theory, can benefit from analysis – it only becomes essential when the neurosis is so bad that it prevents the individual living in an acceptable lifestyle in society.
Freud insisted that persons who had not themselves been psychoanalysed could not be expected to understand the truth of his doctrines; thus were his critics disarmed in advance ... 'only when you are one of us will we consider your criticisms seriously!'
Psychoanalysis and Science: myth and reality
As psychoanalysis is the cornerstone of the therapy/counselling industry, there is a need to critically evaluate its claims apropros of its providing a 'cure'.
In science, theories or hypotheses, generated by theory, must be testable. Suppose I produce a pill which I claim will cure cancer. In a sane society, before I could market my discovery, the pill would first be tested in a number of carefully controlled clinical trials. Most commonly, two large samples of people suffering from cancer would be used. One group would be given my pill, the other group a placebo. The doctors administering the pills would not know which patients were receiving which pill. Following a series of trials of this kind, the researchers would be in possession of data which would indicate whether my pill appeared to be beneficial to cancer sufferers.
Psychoanalysis, which has been a growth industry for almost a century, has never been tested scientifically. Some would argue that Freudian theory is 'untestable' in principle and hence necessarily unscientific. The nature of Freudian theory is such that, by definition, no finding can ever prove it to be false. To remind the reader of just one, often cited, example: Scodel (1957)6 used 169 undergraduates to test the claim of psychoanalysis that 'orally dependent' males will prefer females with large breasts. Scodel's findings were exactly the opposite – those subjects who scored high for dependency, on a Freudian-based psychometric test, were found to 'prefer' photographs of small-breasted women! However, the production of data that seemed to go in the opposite direction to that predicted posed no problem for the committed Freudian – a suggested 'explanation' was that the findings indicated the presence of a 'reaction formation' defence mechanism, i.e. a fixation (unconscious) with big breasts may be a preference (conscious) for small breasts!7 In other words, whatever the findings from the research, Freudian theory is supported.
The more intelligent Freudians are somewhat embarrassed by this problem. Indeed, Arnold Cooper, past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, was reported in the New York Times (15th January 1985) as feeling that "... the time has come to recast psychoanalytic assumptions so they can be tested scientifically"! After all, Freud claimed to have discovered the 'science of mind' and his followers have continued to propagate this myth. (As will be seen when we look at the research that has been carried out to test Freudian theory, it will be apparent why not all analysts support Cooper in this respect.)
That the 'successes' of psychotherapy are fictitious has been apparent since the middle of this century. In a magnificent five-page article in 1952, Hans Eysenck8 destroyed the cosy, self-congratulatory world of the analysts. First, Eysenck drew attention to the work of Landis who reported in 1938 that 72% of 'neurotics' discharged from state hospitals in New York recovered or improved without any treatment at all. Secondly, he spotlighted the report made by Denker a decade later who had followed up 500 psycho-neurotic patients over a five-year period. None of them were receiving psychotherapy, yet after two years 72% of them had recovered and after five years the recovery rate increased to 90%. Eysenck concluded from these studies that it seemed likely that more than two-thirds of neurotic patients recovered just with the passing of time.
For comparison, Eysenck analysed the data from nineteen studies (over 7,000 cases!) that reported on the effects of psychotherapy, five of which related to treatment based on Freudian practice. Eysenck's findings were staggering. At the end of a two-year period only 44% of 'Freudian' patients had improved as opposed to 64% of those under alternative talk therapies. If anything, the evidence was that psychotherapy in general, Freudian psychoanalysis in particular, slowed down recovery – a somewhat disturbing discovery for those earning voluptuous livings from their consultation practices.
For his pains, Eysenck received much abuse. Incredibly, the popularity of psychoanalysis appeared unaffected by his findings. An important question must be addressed. If psychotherapy doesn't work and if research demonstrates this, how can one explain the untarnished popularity of the process? Eysenck offers a reasonable explanation.
Not only are neuroses 'cured' by the passage of time, so also is the common cold – normally after the passing of three or four days. Nevertheless, many individuals will take a Beechams powder at the first sign of a sore throat or will visit their GP and swallow whatever medicine he prescribes. And the patient recovers a few days later – yet more 'evidence' of the value of Beechams powder or the brown-coloured medicine. If we took the trouble to check out a 'control group' of people infected with the common cold virus but who did nothing about it apart from going to bed early, our faith in doctors and drugs in this respect would undoubtedly be destroyed.
Developing Eysenck's argument further, much contemporary psychological research has investigated the process whereby we tend to believe in our actions much more determinedly if those actions have cost us much in terms of cash or in terms of commitment. The client who spends £5,000 on psychoanalysis (or on Dianetics!) is by his action strongly biased in favour of the course he has taken. The fanatical dedication found in those who have been through analysis is more to do with what has been spent than with rationality.
Since Eysenck's study the evidence against the effectiveness of psychoanalysis has continued to amass. Permit me to detail just two more studies…
Wolfe (1981)9 reported the unpublished findings of the American Psychoanalytic Association on a study that that body had mounted to investigate the outcome of 595 of their patients. They reported that only 60% of those 'completely analysed' and 31% of those 'partially analysed' were cured or greatly improved. Remember! These figures were produced by 'the club' itself for internal study and are therefore hardly likely to be without bias. The reader will be conscious of the monumental unimpressiveness of these figures when compared with the spontaneous remission rates which vary from 70% to 90%.
In 1975, R. B. Sloane10 randomly divided 94 patients diagnosed as suffering from 'anxiety neurosis' or personality disorder into three groups. One group was treated by behaviour therapy,* one group by psychoanalytically orientated psychotherapy and the remaining group was kept waiting for treatment which, in fact, they were never to receive. The third group received an occasional telephone call to tell that there would be a vacancy soon and that they would then be contacted.
At the end of one year, of those undergoing behaviour therapy 93% had improved. Of those receiving psychotherapy 77% had improved. Of those receiving no treatments 77% had either recovered or improved. Amazingly, this and studies with similar findings are quite often used by psychotherapists to support the effectiveness of their methods!
In spite of its unscientific and untested procedures, the language of Freud has to a large degree been integrated into western culture. The 'Freudian slip' or the 'defence mechanisms' that are widely accepted – 'repression', 'sublimation', 'denial' – were known about long before Freud articulated them. But he is credited with their discovery and thus turned into a guru. In the United States, professors in psychiatry departments expect their junior colleagues to come up with insights and interpretations based upon psychoanalytic assumptions and to use this 'knowledge' in patient treatment. Psychoanalysts are frequently called as 'expert' witnesses in courts of law!
Jung, ghosts and Nazis
As indicated earlier, Freudian theory is the cornerstone of the psychotherapy industry. The Jungian therapy which is an important alternative is more overtly religious – indeed Jung's writings are riddled with mythology, superstition and religion. Jung describes himself as manifesting 'schizoid characteristics with compulsive tendencies'11 and throughout his life fantasies of a most intense kind became a real world to him.
He was constantly troubled by 'voices', the basic symptom of schizophrenia, most often associated with founders of religion (Jesus, St Paul, Mohammed...) In his autobiography he described a number of occult experiences – once his doorbell rang without any sign of human agency and a throng of spirits took possession of his home:
"...crammed full of spirits...they were packed deep right up to the front door and the air was so thick it was scarcely possible to breathe."He found himself quivering with questions, but fortunately the spirits explained themselves: "We are come back from Jerusalem where we found not what we sought."12Mystical experiences of this kind continued throughout his life. Later in his autobiography he describes how he visited Freud in Vienna in 1909 and while there heard 'spirit noises' coming from a bookcase. Freud scoffed at his guest's imaginings and clearly Jung never forgave him for this: "Freud only stared aghast at me... I do not know what was in his mind or what his look meant. In any case this incident aroused his mistrust of me and I had the feeling that I had done something against him."13Mystical beliefs remain fundamental to the Jungian approach. If a person is in need of 'therapy' it is because that person has lost touch with their spiritual heritage, the Jungian would argue. The individual unconscious forces suggested by Freud become secondary to the all-powerful collective unconscious which is shared by all human creatures. Separation from the collective spiritual roots results in mental illness. As Jung himself puts it: "During the past thirty years, people from all the civilised countries of the earth have consulted me. I have treated many hundreds of patients ... among all my patients in the second half of life - that is to say, over 35 - there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that everyone of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook."14The reader may experience a slight deja vu in Jung's ramblings about 'collective' (or 'folk') unconsciousness. We heard twaddle of this kind from Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler in their philosophical moments when they harangued their listeners with folk culture.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Jung managed to live in reasonable comfort with the Nazis, editing a psychotherapeutic journal published in Leipzig during the early years of, and with the blessing of, the Hitler regime. A few quotations from Jung's contributions to that journal:
"The differences which actually do exist between Germanic and Jewish psychology and which have long been known to every intelligent person are no longer to be glossed over, and this can only be beneficial to science."15The rationale of Jungian therapy is openly religious. He shares with Freud the view that the dream can be a major means of access to the unconscious - but for Jung the dream is not necessarily revealing unresolved sexual, lusts from the Oedipal stage of development - rather they are a means whereby the deep, collective unconsciousness can be confronted. The 'solutions' sought by mankind are not to be found in the world of rationality:
The 'Aryan' unconscious has a higher potential than the Jewish ... it has been a grave error in medical psychology up till now to apply Jewish categories ... indiscriminately to Germanic and Slavic Christendom ... my own warning voice has for decades been suspected of anti-semitism. This suspicion emanated from Freud. He did not understand the Germanic psyche any more than did his Germanic followers. Has the formidable phenomenon of National Socialism, on which the whole world gazes with astonished eyes, taught them better? Where was that unparalleled tension and energy while as yet no National Socialism existed?... A movement that grips a whole nation must have matured in every individual as well ... that is why its scope must be widened to reveal … the creative powers of the psyche labouring at the future..."16
"Man is never helped in his suffering by what he thinks for himself, but only by revelations of a wisdom than his own. It is this which lifts him out of his distress.In a sentence, then, the Jungian analysis sees the dream as a resource for gaining access to the sources of the psychic life and this marks the beginning of a cure.
... at the culmination of the illness, the destructive powers were confronted into healing forces. This is brought about by the fact that the archetypes (i.e. the contents of the collective unconscious) come to independent life and serve as spiritual guides for the personality, thus supplanting the inadequate ego with its futile willing and striving. As the religious-minded person would say, guidance has come from God."17
An interesting observation that is often made by researchers into the Jungian and Freudian use of dream is that the patients regularly provide the 'appropriate' dream – Freudian patients produce the symbols that fit the problems of the Oedipus complex, Jungian clients dream archetypal constructs.
Humanistic psychology - secularising religion
The final counselling/therapeutic approach to be considered is the 'humanistic' (because it claims to be concerned with the 'whole person', spiritual and physical!) or 'third force' psychology which usually underpins approaches less 'psycho-dynamic' (i.e. Freud and Jung).
Carl Rogers, the, founder of 'client-centred therapy', grew up in what he described as a "very strict and uncompromising religious and ethical atmosphere ... no alcohol, no dancing, cards or theatre, very little social life and much work".18 He went to college to study agriculture (he grew up on a farm) but became involved in student religious groups and decided to train for the ministry instead. In 1922, still a student, he was a delegate to a six-month international Christian conference in Peking: the disagreements he found amongst the other delegates led to a break with the fundamentalist beliefs of his parents. Returning to New York, he spent two years in a theological seminary where he developed a 'broader' religious approach to life – directing his interests towards psychology, psychiatry and child guidance. He soaked up the ideas of Freud but rejected his mentor's atheism and following graduation was appointed to the newly established Institute for Child Guidance in Rochester, New York. It was there that he came to realise:
a) Freudian interventionary procedures were not objective – the analyst imposed ideas on the client.
b) Freudian therapy didn't work.c) That in every encounter, therapist and client, the client knows best.
In effect, Rogers re-wrote religion into secular terms – especially those areas of teaching that were concerned with the pastoral function of religion.
The real problem between people in general, client and therapist in particular, is one of communication – Rogers 'discovered' that the essential prerequisite for being able to relate to another are that one should:The declared objective of Rogerian therapy is to achieve the 'personal growth' of the client. Genetically embedded within each of us is a potential self waiting to grow, to 'actualise' – and the role of the counsellor is to help the individual become conscious of this capacity and tendency. This urge is to be found in all organic life – indeed Rogers illustrates this 'actualising tendency' in anecdotal reminiscences from a holiday spent on the Californian coast watching the breakers beating on the rocks near the shore:
a) 'Be oneself' – not to 'put on a face' not 'inauthentic' in order to 'create an impression'.
b) To 'trust' oneself – one's instinct tells one what is 'right', what 'feels right'.
c) To accept others for what they are – and try to understand them.
d) Reality, although constantly changing and 'becoming' has 'meaning' - one should endeavour to understand the 'meaning' of life – 'the facts are friendly' insist Rogers.
e) People are essentially 'good'. This is where Rogers makes his 'revolutionary' contribution to understanding humanity. Where religion teaches that 'man' is born in wickedness (because of Adam's sin) and salvation is only attainable by forces beyond humanity (i.e. the sacrifice of Christ), Rogers insists that people are emotionally "socialised, forward moving, rational and realistic". There are 'problems' between people only because they are misunderstood.
"…the more fully the individual is understood and accepted, the more he tends to drop the false fronts with which he has been meeting life and the more he tends to move in a direction which is forward."19 "Through my binoculars I saw ... some type of seaweed. As one examined a specimen in the intervals between the waves it seemed clear that this fragile, erect, top-heavy plant would be utterly crushed and broken by the next breaker. When the wave crunched down upon it, the trunk bent almost flat, the leaves were whipped into a straight fine by the torrent of the water, yet the moment the wave had passed here was the plant again, erect, tough, resilient. It seemed incredible that it was able to take this incessant pounding hour after hour, day and night, week after week, perhaps year after year, and all the time nourishing itself, extending its domain, reproducing itself, in short maintaining and enlarging itself in this process which, in our shorthand, we call growth. Here in this palmlike seaweed was the tenacity of life, the forward thrust of life, the ability to push into an incredibly hostile environment and not only to hold its own but to adapt, develop, become itself."20Mental health, in Rogerian terms must be correlated with 'growth', acceptance by others, acceptance by self, i.e. self esteem. As a response to Eysenck's evidence that psychotherapy 'doesn't work', Rogers attempted to make his theory 'scientific' by making it 'testable', by using a 'Q-sort', a statistical procedure where clients sort 100 cards bearing descriptive statements to be categorised as being applicable to them, the sorter, or not. In an incredibly contrived procedure, the client must arrange these cards into a number of piles which are made to form a 'normal distribution'—and must then repeat the exercise to represent the aspired-to 'ideal' self. Rogers argued that the discrepancy between these two distributions was less after therapy than before therapy, thus providing evidence supporting the effectiveness of 'client-centred' methods. Subsequent independent studies have failed to support Rogers.21
Most major companies in today's advanced 'industrial' societies make provision for 'counselling' within their structure. It is no philanthropic concern on the part of our betters that has brought this about – rather, whereas in the past religion could be relied upon to keep the lower orders in their place, today that responsibility is being passed to the therapists.
The reason why the Rogerian branch of counselling therapy is so popular with the employing class becomes obvious if one examines his book On Personal Power. He describes a 'person-centred' workshop in action:
"There is no one in charge. No one called the meeting. We just came together... Then Vicente stands up and speaks, making an emotional statement about the desperately poor people he works with in the Mexican ghettos. His English is not good, but his message is that we must be more socially conscious. It will not do just to understand ourselves while enjoying an affluent life. He questions whether a person-centred approach has any meaning in our oppressed and poverty-stricken barrios. He is struggling to convey the pain and the urgency of his situation.Of course, we have heard this message before. It is the political message of all religion – change yourself, not the world. The Oxford Movement and later Moral Rearmament, founded by Frank Buchman (that self-declared friend of Heinrich Himmler!) taught the same message. In the workplaces of today, the factories, the colleges, it is the 'counsellors' who infect the institution like a virus and attempt to brainwash the rank and file worker into seeking the solution of increasing pressure to 'produce' more and the alienation engendered by his job in terms of his or her own 'inadequacies' – his or her failure to 'become a person'.
He makes the mistake of pausing for a moment and someone speaks up to rebut him. 'There are oppressors and oppressed here too. If we can make progress in ourselves, if we can get beyond the petty things here, we will be better able to deal with the petty things and the large things in the world outside.' Someone else clinches the rebuttal. 'By changing ourselves we are working to change the whole issue of wealth versus poverty in the world.' Vicente has been effectively silenced...22
The final 'hero' of contemporary therapy to be investigated is Abraham Maslow. The son of uneducated Jewish immigrants from Russia, he described his childhood in Brooklyn as "isolated and unhappy ... living in libraries among books but with no friends". While at university he studied psychology and dabbled in the opposing theories of Freud and Watson – his PhD under Harry Harlow on the sexual and dominance characteristics of monkeys (Harlow's work using 'surrogate' monkey mothers destroyed much Freudian theory vis a vis 'attachment'), for a time, however, Maslow was 'into' Freud and was himself psychoanalysed.
'Third Force' psychology arose during the early 1960s as an alternative to the other two forces' – psychoanalysis and behaviourism. Like Rogers, Maslow explains human behaviour in terms of the individual's 'innate' tendency to 'self-actualise'. But, unlike Rogers, he identifies an 'hierarchy of needs', arguing that there are 'basic' needs (food, water, oxygen, sex) that must be satisfied before the individual can progress through 'safety' needs 'belongingness' needs and 'love' needs and before 'self-actualisation' can appear on the agenda. This progression is genetically determined and his language is, at times, not unlike that epitome of the true American, John Wayne:
"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write ... what a man can be, he must be."23Yet only a tiny minority of people ever achieve self-actualisation, according to Maslow – he estimated less than 1% of the population – so the therapist has a tough job ahead of him.
The rationale of the 'third force' is that whereas psychoanalysis is grounded on the study of 'sick' people and behaviourism is based on studying the 'average' person, a truly human psychology must be based on studying the 'actualised' person. This requires, says Maslow, the need to identify the members of that elite 1% and to study their characteristics in order that we can emulate them.
We are not told exactly how Maslow selected the names on his list of 'probable' actualised individuals. Some were people he knew, many were people long since dead who could only be 'studied' by reading their biographies. Some of those he decided were the people we should be studying were: Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, William James, Baruch Spinoza, Eugene V. Debs, Martin Buber, John Keats, Adlai Stevenson, Robert Browning, Harriet Tubman, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Peter Kropotkin!24 By interviewing the living and reading about the dead, Maslow constructs the essential attributes of those people.
These attributes turn out to be that these people are "more efficient perceivers of reality", more accepting of themselves and of others, more positive towards the world as it is, more spontaneous, more 'genuine'. They have a need for solitude, have the ability to fixate on a 'problem' and, most important of all perhaps, regularly enjoy mystical experiences.
As an atheist, Maslow insists he is not referring to a theological phenomenon, but a quotation from his Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (1964) will allow readers to judge this for themselves (apologies for this lengthy quotation, but it is felt necessary to capture the thrust of Maslow's thinking):
"Peak experiences ... are secularised religious or mystical or transcendent experiences; or more precisely, peak experiences are the raw materials out of which not only religious can be built but also philosophies of any kind: educational, political, aesthetic, etc... the whole universe is perceived as an integrated and unified whole…there is tremendous concentration of a kind which does not normally occur for instance, the mother examining in loving ecstasy her newborn infant may be enthralled by every single part of him ... one little toenail as much as another little toenail and be struck into a kind of religious awe in this way.
In the peak experiences, we become more detached, more objective and are more able to perceive the world as if it were independent not only of the perceiver but even of human beings in general. The world seen in the peak experiences is seen only as beautiful, good, desirable, worthwhile, etc., and is never experienced as evil or undesirable. The world is accepted.
In the peak experience, such emotions as wonder, awe, reverence, humility, surrender and even worship before the greatness of the experience are often reported. This may go so far as to involve thoughts of death in a peculiar way. Peak experiences can be so wonderful that they can parallel the experience of dying, that is of an eager and happy dying. It is a kind of reconciliation and acceptance o death."25
Again, one can appreciate the popularity of the approach of Maslow, and counselling based upon his doctrines, with those members of senior management who fear that 'their' organisations may harbour elements who might aspire, to challenge the status quo.
Acceptance of the world as it is, substituting 'surrender to creation' for social action to change reality, 'worshipping experience' – and even learning to look forward to a 'happy death'! No wonder that employers, ever short of the necessary cash to provide living wages for all, have so little difficulty finding the funds for management sponsored counselling sessions for the 'victims' of their system and courses to train more therapists for the future. Clearly the ruling class understands how the pastoral 'gap' left by the decline of religion can be well-filled by the 'secular' ''humanistic' psychologist.
Maslow's therapy 'works' in the sense that attending a Bible fellowship 'works' for the believer – the participant returns home feeling more positive about himself (somebody has been happy [?!] to spend the whole session listening to his 'problems'!) and more positive about his 'situation' in the world. Indeed the victim is re-educated to 'love' the system that oppresses him (or at least to ignore it). Meanwhile the real world and the problems of the real world remain unchanged and unaddressed.
Therapy lives – okay! But why?
There are, of course, spin-offs for the practitioner...
1. Every session convinces him more that his theory is true. The theory always comes first – the 'understanding' differs according to the viewpoint of the therapist. I have already drawn attention to the fact that dreams are found to support Freudian or Jungian or Adlerian or ... theory depending upon the type of therapy offered.
The satisfaction of the client (and the more he or she 'pays' the more likely that he or she will be satisfied, at least in the short term), whichever of the 400-odd therapy sects he has chosen, reinforces the 'belief' of the practitioner that he is in possession of some esoteric truth.
2. The Freudian and Jungian practitioners make lots of money. A typical session of 50 minutes could cost £50 or more. Ideally there will be two or three sessions a week and the process should continue for several years.
Other therapies will probably be cheaper - many will occur in groups, but precisely because they are cheaper they are less likely to engender the total commitment frequently associated with the psychodymanic cults.3. The counsellor therapist – client encounter is very much a power relationship. The situation offers a ready opportunity for persons of mediocre knowledge and ability to easily acquire *status' – there is a multitude of courses on offer to every applicant. Once enrolled it is virtually impossible to 'fail' – accreditation follows almost inevitably provided the student attends the sessions. Indeed, after one or two sessions the 'trainee' can put a brass plate on their front door declaring they are a 'therapist'. Many do just that!
While the sessions continue, the relationship between counsellor and client is not one between equals. The client does the talking, exposing his or her most intimate anxieties; there is no reciprocal disclosure. The exercise of this power can be a real 'ego trip' – 'becoming a counsellor' can be an easy way for the previously 'rejected' individual to gain authority and status and to experience tremendous enjoyment through the exercise of this newly-acquired power.
At the beginning of every academic year, as a full-time lecturer in psychology for students at tertiary. level and beyond, I 'pick up' a number of students who have recently completed a counselling course and feel it appropriate to enlarge their understanding of 'the mind' by, say, enrolling for 'A' level psychology.
It is very rare for any of these individuals to complete the 'A' level course. It was clearly okay to sit in a circle and discuss their childhood sexual hang-ups or their 'personal growth', but the demands of an academic discipline are rather different.
Surely this encapsulates the greatest danger of the counselling fashion: not only is it 'filling the pastoral gap' left by the withdrawal of religion, but it is filling that gap with individuals who, in the majority of cases, when they take their turn in the seat of power, the analyst's chair, will become a very negative factor in the future lives of those who misguidedly go along to them seeking help... the majority of 'counsellors' are people using the perceived inadequacies of others as a means of bolstering their own inadequate self-esteem.
1. Matthew 19:23-24, Good News for Modern Man, Collins, 1974.
2. Romans 13:1-2, ibid.
3. Cited in Phyllis Grosskurth, The Secret Ring, Addison-Wesley, 1991, page 47.
4. Sigmund Freud, Two Short Accounts of Psychoanalysis, Penguin, 1968.
5. C. Fisher, J. Gross and J. Zuch, 'Cycle of Penile Erection Synchronous with Dreaming (REM) Sleep' in Dreams and Dreaming, Lee and Mayes (editors), Penguin, 1973, pages 235-260.
6. Alvin Scodel, 'Heterosexual Somatic Preference and Fantasy Dependence' in Journal of Consulting Psychology, 1957, 21:5, pages 371-374.
7. Paul Kline, Fact and Fantasy in Freudian Theory. Methuen. 1972, page 91.
8. H. J. Eysenck, 'The Effects of Psychotherapy: An Evaluation' in Journal of Consulting Psychology, 1952, 16, pages 319-324.
9. J. Wolfe, 'Behaviour Therapy versus Psychoanalysis: Therapeutic and Social Implications' in American Psychologist, 1981, 36, pages 159-164.
10. R.B. Sloane et al, 'Short Term Analytically Orientated Psychology versus Behaviour Therapy' in American Journal of Psychiatry, 1975, 132, pages 373-377.
11. See V. Browne, Freud and His Disciples: The Struggle for Supremacy, Caliban, 1984, page 77.
12. Ibid., page 78.
13. C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Fontana/Collins, 1974, page 179.
14. C.G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Routledge, 1961, page 264.
15. Cited in Jeffrey Masson, Against Therapy, Fontana/Collins, 1988, page 136.
16. Ibid., pages 140-141.
17. C.G. Jung, 1961, op. cit., pages 278-279.
18. Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person, Houghton Mifflin. 1961, page 5.
19. Ibid. page 27.
20. Carl Rogers, On Personal Power, Constable, 1986, pages 237-238.
21. Drew Westen, Self and Society, Cambridge University Press, 1985, page 113.
22. Carl Rogers, 1986, op. cit. pages 143-144.
23. Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personalty, Harper & Row, 1970, page 46.
24. Ibid, page 152.
25. Abraham H. Maslow, 'Religious Aspects of Peak Experiences' in Personality and Religion, William A. Sadler Jr (editor). SCM 1970, pages 168-179.
* Interestingly, research since Freud has provided some support for his claim. Work in sleep laboratories has shown that dream sleep is accompanied by sexual erection – a condition rarely found in non-dream sleep!5
* Behaviour therapy, the most effective comparative treatment available, is based on learning theory derived from the work of Pavlov, Watson and Skinner. The theory holds that emotions, like anxiety, can be learned and that anything that can be learned can also be unlearned. The methods used are intensely practical and involve such commonsense procedures as exposing people gradually, step by step, to feared situations so that new associations can be formed and fearful behaviour eliminated. The token economies to be found in many psychiatric institutions are another method – based upon changing behaviour by offering 'rewards' for actions that are approximately in the desired direction. Behaviour therapy which does 'work' should not be confused with psychotherapy which does not 'work'.
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