Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where is the Soul 26?

A copy of one of the Riace Bronzes at Caulonia
Hillman’s next letter to Michael Ventura is complex, provocative, radical and subversive. As I have said in many of the preceding posts, that is what makes anything written by this great archetype psychologist so interesting in the first place. In this letter, Hillman discusses the topic of recovery, especially recovery as it pertains to recovery groups. He also discusses community versus individuality in connection with our identity as human beings. Somewhere within these two poles he ranges over such wide topics as rape and other forms of sexual abuse. He even suggests that he himself may be a recovering psychotherapist and we note his irony, if not sarcasm, but probably self-deprecating humour here.


The Recovering Rapist and the Recovering Victim

Hillman discusses rape as it pertains to a letter he read in a newspaper about a man who described himself as a “recovering rapist” attending an Incest Survivors Twelve-Step program. His former girlfriend was reported to be in a support group for women who have been raped. Now the issue as to whether the woman had been raped or not was in itself questionable for a number of reasons, the main one being that it was the man himself who told his girlfriend that he had made love to her while she had passed out from drinking alcohol. The woman in question “felt raped” and the man consequently felt he had been a rapist. Now, one would possibly need to speak to the couple in question to get at the whole truth of the matter, but I believe Hillman has reported its essence as recounted in the man’s letter very well for us. Of course, the sexual encounter here was non-consensual, but it was also obvious that there was no force, terror or pain as the man reported the incident. Again, our psychologist marvels at the fact that the woman in question is in a recovery group to slowly heal from something she did not experience. Again, it’s important to note that it is the need for support groups our psychologist friend is exploring, and not rape per se.

Ethics Needed

Ethical issues relating to counselling that Hillman brings up in his letter are how far do therapists influence their clients with respect to date rape? Is there a new Puritanism creeping into therapy and counselling? Our psychologist further suggests that there may even be what he terms “a creeping therapeutic invasion of private relations.” (Op.cit., p. 133) He then compares such therapeutic invasion to the statist propaganda that persuaded children to denounce their parents, and lovers to denounce each other in Germany in the 1930s. A reduction of “what really happened” to “I feel X or Y happened” is not good enough to stand up in any court in any land. In like manner even in therapy such feelings must be questioned in the hope of bringing out the truth of what really happened for the client to become whole again. Now these sentences here, I aver, are mine only, my construal of what I believe Hillman is saying in his letter to Michael Ventura. As I say, his letter is complex and provocative and I certainly do not want to be guilty of putting words in his mouth. He is too much of a scholar, expert and sensitive writer for that.

Rape and Power

I will quote in full the following paragraph as it shows us yet again how nuanced and provocative Hillman’s mind is:
Of course the rape issue has been complicated by power struggles between the genders. Always it is discussed as happening between strong males and weaker females. As Weiss says, [I]f all sexual relations took place within the context of potential violence against women... [then] it follows that the individual man is always responsible for the general problem...” But recast the scene. Let it be played out by two lesbians or two gays; then it is not a gender issue at all, but one of who initiates, and all responsibility falls on the initiator. Result: Don’t initiate, make no sexual advances, for any move can be felt as rape, even if it is not actually felt. Puritanism wins again, achieving its aim of controlling the sexual impulse through internal fears. [Ibid., p.134]

A Very Complex Letter

As I have stated this is a complex, long and nuanced letter with some radical things to say about support groups. Please note that I’m not so sure if I am doing Hillman justice in my assimilation of what he is saying, because I like the posts in this Still Point blog to be anything but a verbatim summary. It is also worth re-stating here that our psychologist friend is in no way denying the seriousness of all forms of sexual attack whether rape or other forms of sexual abuse. His concern is with the ethics and practice of therapy as well as the nature of the powerful phenomenon of recovery groups which are now literally universal.

Let all the Gods in:

One of the "stone" Riace bronzes from behind
Another thing that I love about Hillman is his passion for archetype psychology and his deep and wide knowledge of mythology from all cultures, though ancient Greek and Roman mostly. I love the fact that when speaking about these mythologies he quite rightly speaks in a wide plurality of gods, each of which represents the various aspects of the human psyche in its breadth and depth. I am in agreement with him, now as I grow older, that monolithic (I use this word purposely) and monotheistic religions - obviously I’m viewing religions here as a purely psychological phenomenon - have concentrated way too narrowly on one or two aspects of the human psyche only. Polytheistic religions allow for wider and fuller descriptions of our psyche.

In this regard I believe that Hillman is very correct in saying that Logos (intellect/the word) (Apollo) all too often represses (Eros) Dionysius in the more Christian/Puritan take on counselling and psychotherapy. When the Dionysian element is repressed I suppose it would be correct to say that it rears its ugly head in all forms of sexual crimes from rape to the various forms of sexual abuse. If I am interpreting Hillman correctly, we must find healthy ways of allowing the powers of Eros or Dionysius to express themselves. [Presumably also that’s why legalized and well-monitored prostitution is the healthier option to driving it underground into possible and likely violence and most definitely into the largely unmonitored sexual health problems associated with the illegal variety.]

Therapy as Conversion/Religion: Moralsim

Hillman goes on to quote yet another letter to a well-known newspaper where the correspondent informs the reader that she is in therapy to cope with the fear of flying after a plane crash. In fact, not alone is she and many of her friends in therapy, but she has decided to become a psychotherapist herself. She then informs us that she prefers to date men who are in therapy or who at least intend to enter it. In a superficial throw-away comment I would say she is certainly limiting her choices! Anyway, cheap comments aside, this is what Hillman thinks about this letter:

Is this the language of insight or conversion, of psyche or spirit, of therapy or religion? Does “recovery” know a difference? Notice the moralism, the exclusivity in her dating preferences. Eros trapped in the new church. Let’s move this in time warp back to Rome, the year 300 or 400: Most of my friends are in the new sect of Christians, and I prefer to be with men who are in the community or at least willing to attend our meetings. I am studying to be a minister of souls myself. (Ibid., p. 135)

Once again, what I marvel at here in the comments by our psychologist friend is his ability to question radically what he encounters in the world around him. Also, notice that there is very little or no moralism in what he himself says, as he keeps posing questions of us in order to sharpen the questions, give the axe of debate a sharper edge as it were.

Then Hillman lists the topics that appeared on an agenda at a Psychological Symposium he attended. One of the items listed was “Client Resistance.” Is it any wonder that clients often drop out of therapy after the first session – Hillman gives statistic here that varies from 20% to 50%, depending on the documents one reads. Maybe such clients take fright at therapy’s proselytizing approach.

Reading and Studying our Critics:

Once again, I also agree with Hillman in his call on therapists to read and study even those who question what mainline psychiatry and psychotherapy is at. This is very good advice indeed. He calls on them and us to read Ronnie Laing and Thomas Szasz, both of whom I have discussed already in this blog. Years ago, when I was studying philosophy we learned that it was a poor philosopher who did not study his opponents’ books. In like manner it’s a poor psychotherapist who does not study the books and writings of his critics. That’s why we need the likes of Hillman. They raise the thorny questions and make us question our beliefs and motivations.

Interesting Statistics:

Then Hillman gives us yet another brilliant statistic – and it’s hard to believe that it is one from around 1990 or so, yet it is so very relevant to society of 2011 no matter where in the world we reside. In Boston in 1990, the Pine Street Shelter housed half a thousand mentally ill people each night, making it the state’s then largest mental institution. Then he offers us another chilling statistic that the largest de facto mental hospital in the United States is the Los Angeles County Jail, 3,600 of whose inmates are mentally ill.

Another interesting statistic I have learned from this richly complex letter from Hillman to Ventura is that in the USA in 1990 some 20% of the populace moved every year. This meant that in a period of five years every statistical citizen had changed address, all 250 million of them. Are the statistics the same now, I wonder?

Community versus Individualism

This is a theme Hillman returns to again and again. He prizes community more than individualism. While admitting that recovery groups do lift men and women off their sofas and away from the riveting television set to meet regularly and faithfully with others who share the strength of their emotions he questions their long-term results. They are very much individual-focused or me-focused rather than community focused. One might say that they are group-centred, but they aren’t really, because the group only exists to help me, hence “support groups” are what they are called. Where does the community come into all this? The answer is “nowhere.” Hillman once again hits home with brilliant wit and perspicacity by saying that none of us can recover alone or even in support groups. We need our families and our communities to help us in the long run. He tells us that we urgently need communal recovery and I am at one with him here. We need a recovery of communal feeling.

Then Hillman returns to the early roots of psychotherapy by referring to the work of the great Alfred Adler, one of Freud’s early followers along with Carl Gustave Jung. Adler spoke about “Communal feeling” or “Gemeinschaftsgefuhl” (Isn’t the German phrase wonderful, even I know very little of that language?) as the very goal of all therapy. Adler broke from Freud as did Jung needless to say.

I am one with Hillman that individualism may be vastly over-rated and that the communal spirit and communal feeling are richer realities. However, I cannot agree with him at all in his assertion that meditation is a purely selfish act that can be at times obscenely so. That, to my mind is to miss the point of meditation which is to achieve an objectivity, a Watcher or Witness or Observer state, a Still Point of being which refreshes and renews the consciousness or awareness of the meditator which strengthens him or her to engage in community because it increases his or her compassion not alone for self but also for others and indeed for every sentient and non-sentient being in the universe. While I wholeheartedly disagree with Hillman here, I am glad he brought that question up as I had never really thought of it at all.

As I have stated too many times here, dear reader, this is a rich and difficult letter, which repays its reading and contemplation many times (I have now read it at least five or six times to write this rather fulfilling if tortuous blog entry.) Apologies for its length, but you see I had not simply got the time to write a shorter more succinct entry.

As we say in the Gaelic language here in Ireland, “Beannacht leat, a scríbhinn!” which translates, “May all blessings go with you, o letter!”

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