Claude Barbre, PhD
December 2-4, 2022
Seminar Title: Only That Breath Breathing Human Being: Psychoanalysis, Religious Ideation, and Spiritual Experience
Seminar Description: Late in his life, Peter Heller, Anna Freud’s first child patient from the 1920s, critiqued the psychoanalytic movement for its “misjudgment or doctrinaire disregard of cosmic, spiritual, or religious dimensions in a way that limited and diminished humanity. In my child analysis this is suggested by the manner in which religious themes were ignored or set aside, and by blindness or withdrawal vis a vis major nonsexual aspects of existence, the prime instance being the interpretation of my preoccupation with and fear of death as ‘nothing but’ the expression of fear of the father and of my (aggressive, guilt-laden) relationship to him” (Heller, 1992, p. 57). Otto Rank echoed Heller’s experience by writing in 1930s that psychoanalysis was in need of reclaiming “a psychology of soul”—a view that respects and corresponds to the spiritual life of human beings that seek to create meaning in their lives through creative expressions. Rank argued that “a psychology with a soul” underscores that quality in our psychic life is not reducible to material existence or simply the determination of past experience; rather, Rank found an acausal freedom of the human spirit that transcends the principles of strict deterministic causalities-- the so-called “applied objective psychology.” In comparison, Edward Reed remarked, “a science as William James advocated, one based on lived experience, remains conspicuous by its absence,” further saying, “Once the science of psychology arrogates the right to reject out of hand the content of a person’s experience---because it is too inchoate, mystical, or whatever—it can no longer pronounce on the meaning of that experience. Psychology in its present divided state applies at best intermittently and incompletely to the lives most of us lead" (Reed, p.220).
Echoing these comments, Gerald May once lamented that when psychology and religion become engaged, religious views are more often than not annexed by psychology, ending up as “psychologized religion, a religion denuded of its legitimate transcendent focus” (1955). Charles Gerkin suggested a dialogical perspective and hope, saying that “theology is a unique and self-defined mode of discourse with its own traditions, its own rules of language, its own ways of viewing the cosmos and human behavior…. Yet, the languages of other disciplines can be of great assistance to theologians in what has come to be called a mutually critical dialogue" (Gerkin: 1997). Clearly, psychotherapy and spiritual experiences have much to gain by a critical mutual dialogue especially in regard to their shared worlds of hope and healing.
Keeping in mind James Joyce’s remark that “one needs to have a crossroad mind,” we can say that together these great rivers of psychoanalysis, religious ideation, and spiritual experiences create a contextuality constructed from an “intellectual commons” made possible by our views of the individual in a wider socio-cultural setting—a context suggesting a larger, more complex dimension of experience.
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