A Short Talk to the Stony Brook Psychology Society, November 1990

The therapist is defined as someone who is an artist. He is well-rounded, well-read in art, music and literature. He is aware of the culture he swims in. He is not asleep in life. he is seeking meaning with all its patterns and curlicues. He has an existential flavor to himself — carpe diem. He has a powerful interest or two, be it the cinema, theater or photography, all of which inform his work as a therapist. He has struggled to find love within himself as well as learning to love others. He has experienced delay, thus, frustration, and has persevered. He is no stranger to adversity. This person has struggled; moreover, he has given the gravity of meaning to his effort.

The therapist is an outsider, for society is essentially corrupt and corrupting. He is constantly deconditioning himself. He is alive, filled with an enthusiasm for simply being alive. This infects his clients. He thinks, he acts in terms of choices. He is not into winning — sorry! rather, he turns his face to the wind; he will not be defeated. Oh, yes, there is a decided air of passion about him — a passion for living, a passion of the mind. This person is everlastingly curious. He empties a good deal of himself as he pursues his task, to work within the realtionship. He is there. He has a tragic sense of life, but he is not pessimistic. His laughter rings out amid his own desperation. He does not deny his death. The realization that he is finite makes him reach daily for the infinite. All in all, I see the therapist as the creative artist. He is who he is. . .He is no other. The ring of his spirit resonates.

Some comments about the relationship with the client. Try as hard as you can to be truthful to yourself and the client — and how you tell the truth is a creative act because truth cannot only heal and liberate, it can also shock or traumatize. It requires a sensibility and tact of a high order. Listen to the other as if Moses hearing the first commandment. This comes with experience. As you fade, the client becomes clearer. Think of yourself as the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.

Use yourself as an instrument. Use images, analogies, metaphors; be nimble on your feet. Use words gracefully, cunningly, but never deceitfully. Be multiplex. Think and be in large, not small, measures. To turn that around a bit, I urge you to use whatever you excel in; give the client the rich mud of your life experience. All of you is at the client’s use. Give and ye shall receive twice-fold.

As you feel, sense and intuit the client, feel his impact upon yourself. Think of meteors raining down upon the moonscape and the lunar quakes that ensue and that seismic waves that are issued deep down to its core. Trust these tremors and use them later. Ride these tremors into the client’s heartland. Be prepared to be profoundly touched and moved by your clients; be willing to share these feelings with them at the service of their treatment.

Engage and motivate. Existentially be the “I,” be the “Thou,” in dialogue. Read Martin Buber. (A technician will not underastand what I have just said.) Listen not only to the client’s content which can be octopus ink, a screen; listen and sense the underlying taste of it, the feeling under the stream of words. And connect yourself up to it; for example — “So you are saying to me that you want your money’s worth. Something is due you.You are owed.” Learn to decode.

The client makes an impact upon the therapist. If the above has generally been followed, not rigidly so but in the spirit which I have given it, that is, one of good will and caring, you might come upon the following.

The client will in a thousand different ways show you, supervise you, educate you as to your flaws and strengths. Stop busying yourself, fussing about, with the idea you will “do” something with the person. Do not act upon the person. Collaborate. Listen to your client — he is the best teacher you will ever have. Listen as he gives you his pain, and remember that god cures.

As a therapist, as a person, you might fall in love all over again, with life, as you did before you were five. You will be stretched and massaged, if you allow that, and you will find yourself growing, enlarging upon your own pasture upon which you feed and grow. Even your loved ones will see the changes. You will discover that therapy is not method, but process; it is not something you do to other people, much like a hammer hitting a nail. You are in a relationship, grounded in word and dialogue. You might come to the profound realization that the observer is the observed, to cite Krishnamurti. On purpose, I introduce a spiritual comment — think on that.

You will learn to molt, to constantly decondition yourself; to be more understanding, more forgiving, less judgemental, more accepting and loving than you have ever been. You will grow and the taste of it goes beyond sweet; it is empowering.

You will question all authority. Jefferson said: “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal enmity against all tyranny over the minds of men.” This is your charge — your life work as a therapist. I have been moved to tears by Jefferson’s universal challenge to all the forces of darkness, conscious and unconscious. If you can’t feel the majestic spirit in these words, practice law or some other honorable calling. We need individuals who feel and who use their intelligence so as to make it a telling mixture; I loathe therapists who are technicians.

You will come to love in a non-saccharine, non-romantic way. I can tell you all this — and it is only a bit useful. You will know it when it shakes you to your foundation.

Finally, you willl become your own master and you will nurture no disciples. For a disciple is always in a state of dependency. “Die” to the forces that condition — philosophies, causes, methods, teachers, systems, schools, religions. “Die” to your college teaching and learnings. Put it all away and bravely strut into life, into the future, drum and fife playing a very cocky air. You will do it if you choose to. You will make it. Be a hero unto yourself — and be free. . .Yes, be free of me, as well, after this talk.

And here are a few books that have moved me; perhaps you might want to sample them.

–Buber’s, I and Thou.

–Krishnamurti’s, The Flight of the Eagle; Think on These Things

Kazantzakis’, Report to Greco; The Last Temptation of Christ

Camus’, The Myth of Sisyphus

Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

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