Creativity and Psychological Health: Origins of Personal Vitality and Creative Freedom

Creativity and Psychological Health: Origins of Personal Vitality and Creative Freedom

Creativity and Psychological Health: Origins of Personal Vitality and Creative Freedom

Creativity and Psychological Health: Origins of Personal Vitality and Creative Freedom

Excerpt

I had not intended to become a psychologist, but in the summer of 1941 psychology came and got me. A college classmate who was then planning to be a psychiatrist had taken a summer job as an attendant in a hospital for the mentally ill at Norristown, Pennsylvania. He very much wanted to have a friend on the premises, and he persuaded me to accompany him. In those days, mental hospitals were terribly understaffed, and we found ourselves working a 13-hour day, seven days out of every eight; most hours of most days I was in sole charge of a locked ward with more than one hundred patients. In that summer between my junior and senior years in college I suddenly got educated in psychology without benefit of textbook.

The first thing I learned about the mentally ill in that hospital was that they weren't nearly so different from everyone else as common opinion would have us believe. I became well acquainted with forty or fifty patients and had many long conversations with them. They remain vividly alive in my memory and imagination today. I found that I liked most of them, if not all, and a lot of them liked me. The distinction between mental health and mental illness began almost imperceptibly to soften. Questions slowly posed themselves to me, questions about the meaning of fear and of anger, of apathy, self-abasement, suicide, delinquency, the whole mysterious drift of society, and the portent of intense though aberrant feeling. On the ward there was hurt and pain so big and so deep that speech could not express it. I had been interested in philosophy, and suddenly philosophy came alive for me, for here the basic questions of human existence were not abstractions: they were embodied in human suffering.

When I returned to college in the Fall, I knew I wanted to study psychology. It was my good fortune to begin by picking out from the shelves of the Philadelphia Public Library four musty but likely-looking tomes: the two volumes of William James, The Principles of Psychology, and the two of F. W. H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. All the work I have done since then shows the effect of my experience that summer and my reading during the ensuing year.

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