Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Healing Madness and Despair through Meeting

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Healing Madness and Despair through Meeting

Article excerpt

Healing Madness and Despair through Meeting*

An existential perspective on human suffering suggests that the psychoanalytic view of the unconscious poses a difficult dilemma in regard to self-examination: On the one hand, not to pursue introspection may leave one as a person driven by untoward instinctual urges; on the other hand, to vigorously self-reflect, may result in inexorable despair in regard to the limitations and finitude of mortal existence. The author contends that the reason for the dilemma is rooted in Western psychology-a perspective that regards the human being as an encapsulated consciousness, set separately and competitively apart from other objects in the cosmos. This orientation is shown to pose difficulties in treating madness and despair. By the use of clinical material, the author shows how Martin Buber's notion of authentic dialogue can he useful in efforts to bridge the separation between the sufferer and the healer.

Given one wish in life, most people want to be loved-to reveal themselves entirely to another person and be embraced by the other's acceptance. But they know that taking the emotional risks that allow intimacy to occur is not easy-for example, one of two new marriages in the USA ends in divorce; countless others exist in name only.

Whereas intimate encounter is the singular human experience most desired, it is at the same time, arguably, the most feared and avoided. When psychotherapists closely examine the underlying motives that impel their most difficult cases, they find that serious addictions-alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders-are due to self-medicated attempts by their clients to inoculate themselves against seeking and failing at intimate relating. Similarly, child and spouse abuse, and every type of social phobia, to say nothing of sexual problems, such as the most common forms of male impotence and female frigidity, are indicative of clients' difficulties with emotional closeness.

Practitioners who treat these psychological problems find that their clients feel incompetent to create an intimate alliance-regardless of their facility in other areas of their lives: social, vocational, intellectual. Self-- esteem and the feeling of living well is dependent upon being desired, understood, appreciated by others. Repeated failures to foster caring from significant others leads directly to the feelings of inadequacy, intense loneliness, and destructive behavior toward self and/or others (1).

I posit that difficulties with intimate relating are responsible for much of the pervasive sense of alienation and existential exhaustion that characterize postmodern society. Reflective of this malaise, the first international study of major depressive illness by The Cross-National Collaborative Group in 1992 (2) reports that there has been a steady increase in clinical depression throughout the world in the present century. For example, people born between 1945 and 1955 were more than twice as likely to incur serious depression in the course of their lifetimes than those born between 1905 and 1915.


We are now in a century of modern psychology and psychoanalysis. Our culture is saturated with their theories. Vast numbers of people have been recipients of their treatment services. The increasing occurrence of serious emotional problems during the age of our greatest psychological sophistication should cause one to wonder if our sophistication is more illusory than real: a cover-up for the reality that psychological and psychoanalytic public education and treatment provide insubstantial help with society's serious problems.

Obviously, all our societal ills cannot be put at their doorsteps. These problems are overdetermined by a complex of social and cultural forces. Nevertheless, in this century, psychology and psychoanalysis have replaced the former pillars of society-religion, science, and education-as the sine qua non application in all matters in which human endeavor is involved. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.