The Courageous Imagination and the Future of Therapy


I. Introduction.

I am honored to be here. And anxious. I am not certain I belong. I feel like an onion in a petunia patch. Or like Za Za Gabor’s fifth husband on his wedding night. I know what I should do, but I don’t know if I can make it interesting. Or pleasing to you.

First a disclaimer…Like on a cigarette package. This analysis might be hazardous to your professional health.

I am by training and disposition a philosopher not a therapist although I have hung out with all kinds of therapists, especially when I was writing for Psychology Today.  I have been a consumer of many kinds of therapy. I have been therapized by Freudians, Jungians, Adlerians, Rogerians, Gestaltists. I have been Rolfed, bio-energized, Feldecrised. I did not attend EST and have never completed reading the complete works of Ken Wilber. I was in and out of so many kinds of therapy that I finally said to myself “If things don’t start getting better, I am going to have to ask them to stop helping me.” I finally quit therapy when I realized that the problems in the world around me were much greater than any of the problems in my little psyche,.

Tonight I want to offer my observations about the therapeutic enterprise. It is as a meta- voyeur that I want to speak.. A meta-voyeur is someone who watches voyeurs. So if a therapist is a watcher, a philosopher might be called a watcher of watchers.

What I see is not altogether a pretty sight. Or rather is a much too pretty sight. When I read the menu of offerings for this weekend I feel like I am an inhabitant of Mars who has stumbled into a conference that is being conducted on Venus. There is a great deal about healing the individual psyche, about couples, the body, difficult clients, emotions, empowerment, attachment, managing anxiety, passion, the brain, the life force, creativity.  All good things.

But something is missing?

There is not much here that reflects the world I live in, not much that links me to what I hear on the morning news or the front page of the NY Times, not much that reflects the major agonies of the current world situation.

Maureen O’Hara hits it on the nose.. Heeding the Call: Therapist in the Wider World. What is missing is the agony of the body-politic that is largely absent.  The therapy scene is feverishly creativity in inventing a thousand new therapies, but it ignores the major dis-eases of our time. It neither gives a diagnosis of the disease of our time nor dares to imagine a path toward healing. As James Hillman has charged, we have now had a hundred years of therapy and the world is getting worse.

As a philosopher–a clinical political therapist–my diagnosis is that the therapeutic enterprise is suffering from a failure of imagination, or worse, a refusal to imagine the contemporary human condition.

The question I would like to explore is: What must we have the courage to imagine for the therapeutic enterprise to make a creative leap?


II. My method:

Paul Tillich said that any philosophical, theological or psychological system of thought had to ask and try to answer three questions—-ie all are therapeutic..

1.Whats wrong—diagnosis or dis-ease

2.What possible– a vision of health

3.What medicines, nostrums, healing modalities do we have available?

I willl shape my remarks around these questions.

III. Diagnosis. The Dis-ease.


Healing begins with the courage to name and imagine the disease.


The disease affluent people in the developed world suffer from comes less from a Thorn in the flesh than a vacuum….. Something crucial is missing from our awareness ? Ignored! Repressed!  And the therapeutic profession is not helping us to re-member what lurks in the shadow. We are all too concerned with enlightenment and peace and harmony.

What does the Shadow know?” Years ago in the orient, Lamont Cranston leaned a strange hypnotic power to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him.” How have we been hypnotized? What lurks beyond the therapeutic imagination?

A. Injustice. I  stumble on the Void—The last time I did a seminar at Omega, I noticed that the word “justice” did not appear in the catalogue of offerings designed to increase the human potential. Same here..

For me this raised serious philosophical questions about the therapeutic enterprise. To quote Tillich again—love, power and justice are inseparable triad. Therapists are concerned with love and power—but not justice.  What kind of love? What kind of power are we talking about when the consideration of justice is not even raised? What is repressed when the justice is ignored? “What does the Lord require of you but to love justice…etc..

B. Poverty--2 billion on$2 while we are consumed in consumerism–The mall and Nieman Marcus in a world of undernourishment. Catalogues–pornography for consumers…

C. Hopelessness. Unemployment… South Africa. A majority are not included in the global economic economy.,

D. Violence, growing politics of anarchy

E. Emergence of a theo-politics of resentment, rage and revenge. Radical Islam, Fundamentalist Christianity….

Results: The New Psycho political Pathologies.

What inevitably and necessarily happens to the psyche,the imagination, the spirit when we ignore the suffering of the majority?

1.The refusal to imagine results in the refusal of empathy which leads to the refusal of compassion which leads to the refusal to care—irrevocably!!! Corderize the heart. Notice: The golden rule: Love, empathize, have compassion for, care for your neighbor as yourself—it not a nice sentiment—it is an iron law of the psyche.

2 From this follows: Individualism, isolation, cultivation of the illusion that there can be individual healing without participation in community. We live increasingly in fortress America 14% have passports.

3. What happens when the illusion of the secure individual, the secure society collapses?

4. Post 9/11 American Psyche. Collapse of traditional myth of invulnerability.  The New Age of Anxiety…Anxiety become fear, become phobia becomes obsession with “security” at all costs.

If you can keep a people anxious you can control them.

Look at the use of the Threat Index.

The ignorant and/or cynical effort to use the fear of TERRORISM and the new all purpose enemy THE TERRORIST to justify anything we want to do,.

Preemptive war 6560,000 deaths in Iraq

Contemplated strikes on Iran

Result of the manipulaltion of anxiety…Mature Fear

Avoidance of what is really fearful. —

Anxiety is for people who are afraid to be afraid of something fearful–therefore they are anxious about everything.

Maturity–fearing the right things.,

Nothing to fear except fear itself.

Aldo Leopold

What is the real fear index?

Global warming and environmental pollution.

Nuclear proliferation and chemical warfare

Poverty and anarchy

Hateful religion

Unregulated global economy.

Epidemics–bird flu or……..

Growth of fascism and barbarism

5. Loss of civil rights. Civic apathy. We sacrifice freedom to the false god of security. The great American experiment is called off until further notice. To be continued once we have secured The New American Century. How can I come from my therapists office peacefully , knowing that my government has authorized the president to use torture, holding prisoners without due process, kidnapping… etc.

II. The Therapeutic Ideal–The Creative Leap

After a recitation of the dimensions of the crisis we face, what should the response of therapists be?

Much new age thinking suggests a sentimental, idealistic utopia.

Visualize World Peace

Concentrate on personal growth.

Think positively.

There is no evil, just the mistake of dualistic thinking.

The  Heroic response.. Spiritual Activism.

Doctors without Borders

Amnesty International.

Paul Farmer

No healing without action, but we are not all called to this kind of heroism

The Vocation of the therapeutic community.

What is the unique contribution therapists can make?

Courage to imagine a new definition of healthy identity–

What does a healthy person look like?

What are the defining virtues?

Not an individual who has fulfilled his or her full potential, not the old Boy Scout virtues. Trustworthy….etc.

These are necessary but not sufficient ..

Compassionate Cosmo/politan…..

Identity includes the Other—human and non human.

Marcel—With., The definition of ME includes YOU

The central word, the starting point for a therapeutic vision of the world is: WE. Not I (Cogito or I feel) Not Self. Not even Intimacy..  WE are: Therefore I am.

To carry the world in our imagination, to define our identity not in terms of self-realization, or the happy dyad, or the functioning family, or the patriotic citizen but as members of the commonwealth of  sentient beings. We belong to the polis and the cosmos.

This is not a matter of guilt but of identity.

To cultivate the virtues of this larger identity

The chief end and purpose of psychotherapy is to awaken our awareness of our linkage to others. Without the wave no particle. Without the particle no wave. A quantum view of the self involves an awareness of our neighbors—all sentient, suffering beings.  Conscience, compassion, communion, care.

And when our neighbor is oppressed, hungry, tortured what should we feel but outrage–moral, political outrage. A man or woman without outrage is less than half a person.

III. How? What is the healing agent?

What is in our medicine kit?

Is there a new technique?

Perhaps a drug? Maybe some secret overlooked by Buddha, LaoTsu, Plato, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed, Freud.?

No Only a person can heal a person. In the dialogue of therapy–the talking cure– what you bring as a person, your concern, your compassion, your empathy, your willingness to be a member of a caring community… is the great elixir… The person of the therapist–not the techniques.

The creative leap that will bring wholeness to a client must take place first in the imagination of the therapist.

What is the witness of your being?

Does your concern for the political agony of our time come across to your clients?What kind of periodicals  do you have in your waiting room? Amnesty International Reports? World Watch? Human Rights Watch. Save the Children? ( My chiropractor has a lot of soupy Christian magazines that I dislike—But I like his silent witness in having them there instead of old copies of People’s Magazine.That we can ignore this is to suggest that there can be individual healing without awareness of community.

In what mood should therapy end?

How do we imagine the healthy client?

Peaceful? Calm?

In the moment.


My  definition:

First noble truth—Life is awful. To be fully alive is to be willing to imagine and be engaged with the pain of others.

The second noble truth. Life is wonder-ful. Enjoy  it Immerse yourself in beauty and delight.

These two are strangely connected–like Siamese twins. Camus said it well: It is only when we have discovered the absurd that we can write a manuel of happiness.

What does it take to be genuinely creative—the willingness to wrestle with chaos,and engage the dark,destructive forces that threaten the psyche and the polis. Therapy does not leave us whole and unscared, but aware of our wounds. At best, as Freud said helps people exchange neurotic suffering for real suffering, neurotic anxiety for realistic fears.

Ending: Unamuno.. May God deny you peace, but grant you glory.