Saturday, November 27, 2010

Going Beyond Fragmentation 5 - Towards Integration

The Healing Power of the Imagination

Sundown, Phoenix Park 2008
There is an old saying which runs:  "A picture is worth a thousand words."  This statement is a truism that can be verified in our experience on a daily basis, or as the great Romantic poet John Keats put it, it is an axiom that can "proved upon the pulses."  This opening saying above is certainly true in the case of visualization which I have used successfully on occasions myself to lift my drooping spirit.  Visualization, a form of self-hypnosis, is a tool anyone can use to help foster healing. By providing positive pictures (creative imagery) and self-suggestion, visualization can change emotions that subsequently have a physical effect on the body.

Our belief system is based upon the accumulation of verbal and non-verbal suggestions that have been gathered throughout our life experience. Through patterns of repetition and its associated rewards and punishment we learn to create our own perception of reality. In essence, we therefore become what we think. In healing, repetitive use of positive visualization allows access to the mind-body connection. This lets the mind and body work together to foster the healing process of the body on a physical level.

This is one type of Arts Therapy - namely Visualization Therapy.  There are many other kinds as well, obviously, viz., Drama Therapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Writing Therapy, Dance Therapy to name the most common forms.  Returning to Professor Levine's words, we read:

The arts are pathways or methods that take us deeper into ourselves and into our experience.  As we enter unreservedly into the depth of ourselves, we encounter healing energies and experience the hope of integration.  Though the ultimate wholeness is never given to us, it remains a vision that animates our work upon ourselves. (Poiesis, p. 24)
What Levine is arguing here is that all forms of Expressive Arts Therapy are healing or integrative by nature.  They work in such a way as to lead us further and further on the road to wholeness or integration.  However, we really never get there, indeed, and this should surprise no one.  There is never an end to self-development - quite obviously.  However, Levine points out that there is something in the human spirit that almost prefers the comfort of its brittleness and fragmentation and hides away in fear from being swallowed up in the whole.  People like to cling onto their old identities, even getting security in old mental fears and pains.  There is a comfort in the known and discomfort in the unknown.

Now this all too human flaw is also mirrored in the way the various practitioners in these various fields of Expressive Arts Therapy seek to standardize, certify and legitimize their own particular biases without acknowledging their interdepandence on a more holistic and integrative approach which could bind the whole Expressive Arts approach together.  To this extent, Levine argues that "the arts run the risk of becoming techniques, to be utilized according to standard operating procedures."  (Ibid., p. 24)  Consequently, our author calls for a common integrative approach to all forms of Arts Therapy.

The Ambivalence of Freud towards the Arts

I am "ad idem" with Levine here in his contention that Freud was deeply ambivalent towards the Arts.  Indeed, I have stated quite often in these pages that the founder of Psychoanalysis was a genius of vast learning.  He was a deeply cultured man who, while he was widely read in the classics and in ancient literature as well as in the Arts in general, considered himself to be primarily a scientist.  He also considered his therapeutic approach to be a scientific one, not an artistic one.  After all Freud was a medical Doctor and reseacher who had studied under the great Dr Charcot, a leading neurologist in Paris.  Indeed, artists, while wonderful creators, make their creative works without any real awareness of what they are doing.  The deeper meaning of their work, Levine argues, is only available to the scientific observer.  Freud, after all, was a child of the Enlightenment who wanted to find a rational explanation for mental life.  Levine's words are insightful here:

This ambivalaence in Freud has been noted before.  Paul Ricouer, in particular, has pointed out the tension in Freud's work between "archaeological" and "teleological" explanations, between reductive and expansive approaches to the psyche, between what Ricouer calls a hermeneutic of suspicion and a hermeneutic of generosity.  The source of this ambivalence, on a theoretical level stems from the peculiuar nature of Freud's discoveries...

On the other hand, Freud, as a medical doctor and a natural scientist, identified himself a sa child of the Enlightenment.  He wanted to find a rational explanation for mental life.  His task was to order the chaos of experience and discover the basic principles which render it comprehensible.  Such knowledge can lead to practiocal efficacy.  Only if we find a science of the psyche can we have an effective means of treating its dysfunctions.  (Ibid., p. 29)
There was, then, a fundamental contradiction in Freud's thought, namely that while he never ceased to search for an underlying scientific understanding of the mind, at the same time he held unto the irrational nature of the psyche.  Once again, Levine uses the term "irrational" and never enters the important distinction of how it differs from the non-rational.  OInce again, returning to Levine's interesting words by way of conclusion, we read:

He [Freud] was thus able to keep the tension bewteen Enlightenment and Romantic tendencies of knowing.  This is in part why disparate interpretations of Freud are possible and why psychoanalysis itself has been able to split into contrary directions. (Ibid., p. 30)

To be continued.

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