Love, Praxis, and Desirable Therapist Qualities

By Shamasundar, C. | American Journal of Psychotherapy, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Love, Praxis, and Desirable Therapist Qualities


Shamasundar, C., American Journal of Psychotherapy


Until recently, both love and praxis as therapist qualities have not enjoyed the attention they deserve. The components of praxis and the derivatives of love (namely, empathy and good-will) are important ingredients of therapeutic behavior. They are also capable of promoting mental health. Inculcating the trainees with these qualities should become foci of training in psychotherapy.

Mental health literature has been subject to a kind of academic "untouchability" in respect of such routine and practical issues of life as mind, will (in the sense of "will power"), love, wisdom, etc. In view of this attitude, two recent papers in the American Journal of Psychotherapy, one about love by Bergner (1) and the other about praxis by Berger (2) deserve praise. I like to add to each of the two topics a few concepts or ideas borrowed from Indian mythology, folklore, and spiritual literature hoping that they would complement and enrich the topics. I will present how love and praxis are depicted in them, and then draw a few inferences that I consider relevant to psychiatric practice. It will become evident that the components of empathy (a derivative of love) and praxis are desirable therapist qualities. I was unable to reference the sources of several narratives from mythology and folklore because I have heard them but do not know their published source. However, I believe that their essential message is more important than their authenticity or origin.

1. ABOUT LOVE

Love as described in Indian mythology and folklore, including Sufi folklore, and love as used in everyday language seem to represent two ends of a continuum of the phenomenon of love. In order to fully appreciate the nature of this continuum, we have to have an idea about the process of creation as described in the Indian mythology by Ganguli (3) (Shanti Parva, chapts. 182-4, 217) and Shastri (4). I have rendered below my understanding of this creation in the simplest possible manner, noting the essential paradigm of the continuum and ignoring the details. From the most subtle Unmanifest Absolute emerged the Conscious (Universal Mind or Lord Brahma) from which, in turn, emerged the manifest existence by a process of successive differentiation and "condensation" into names, forms, and identities of physical existence. Thus, there is a continuum of the most subtle spirit, the Unmanifest Absolute, at one end, becoming numerous varieties of gross, living physical matter, at the other, both existing within each other in different proportions between the two ends. This schema has a parallel in modern science : the space with its Higg's field (5) and zero-point energy (6), the "big bang," and the emergence of material particles with disproportionately vast spaces within them that eventually develop into galaxies, suns, planets, and life, etc. According to Indian philosophy, the spirit end of this spirit-matter (physical matter) continuum represents the highest ideal for a human being to achieve, to become one with one's origin called God-realization. The other end represents the degenerate state of the human being, immersed in sensual pleasures with physical matter functioning at the level of an animal. In between is the infinite number of stages of human evolution during the progress of the human soul towards its origin.

The phenomenon of love also lies on a continuum, overlapping the spirit-matter continuum mentioned above. At the spirit end is the state of ideal love. At the materialistic, egocentric end is its grossly distorted state. At the ideal end, love represents a state of oneness, maximum empathy, sacrificing and unselfish generosity, transcending senses and sex, unconditional acceptance of the beloved, and unassailable loyalty to the beloved. At the distorted and materialistic end, love represents an adulterated state, adulterated by egoistic pride, lack of empathy, ever-changing likes and dislikes with attendant attachments and repulsions, manipulative and exploitative selfishness, predominantly sensual and sexual orientation, and multiple loyalties based on one's own pleasure.

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