Millennium Madness and Psychotherapy -- We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy-And the World's Getting Worse by James Hillman and Michael Ventura

By Orange, Wendy | Tikkun, November 1995 | Go to article overview

Millennium Madness and Psychotherapy -- We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy-And the World's Getting Worse by James Hillman and Michael Ventura


Orange, Wendy, Tikkun


We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy--and the World's Getting Worse by James Hillman and Michael Ventura. Harper Collins, 1993, paperback. 242 pp. $13.

For decades, James Hillman, a Jungian and archetypal psychologist on the cutting edge of his profession, has infused psychotherapy with a poetic perspective arguing, in dazzling essays, for a shift away from the ego toward a psychology of soul. Yet his work--such volumes as The Myth of Analysis, Re-Visioning Psychology, and The Dream and the Underworld--has had only slight effect on practitioners. Embraced by poets, artists, and intellectuals, he has been marginalized in the discipline.

In We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy--and the World's Getting Worse, Hillman teams with Michael Ventura, a Los Angeles journalist, to investigate the chasm separating psychology from ecology and social action. Using street language, riffing like jazz musicians, moving away from academic discourse, they wake each other up to the blindness at the heart of psychotherapy, a profession whose theory and practice, they argue, deepens the dangerous schism between "self" and "world." They create a hot conversation that lights up new synapses on the edge of the mind, all from inside the "shipwreck," our world in extremis, littered with broken meanings.

On first reading this book, I was reluctant to follow Hillman out onto his latest limb--especially as he says himself: "I not only go out on a limb, I then cut it off." Yet who can disagree that the psychotherapy session is often a form of narcissism, treating our solitary souls as sick, focusing only on our own end of relationships, dreams, and fantasies, ignoring the reality not only of our intimate others, but of society as well. For it's not just the "self" or our relations that are in trouble--our world is having nightmares.

Psychology has paid lopsided attention to the agonies of the so-called private sphere at the expense of what's "public," refusing to connect our inner chaos and emotional extremes with the chaos and extremes in society. The talking cure, once a radical critique of the established order, has devolved into one of its main supports. As Hillman says, "There is a decline in political sense. No sensitivity to the real issues. Why are the intelligent people--at least among the white middle class--so passive now? Why? Because the sensitive, intelligent people are in therapy]"

The authors examine at what cost to society, culture, and our lives we ignore the communal shipwreck, whiie we work to get our individual "shit" together. "What if the shit is not yours to begin with, nor your parents', but George Bush's shit--and by that I mean a vast systematic denial of what truly matters to the heart and soul of us as citizens?" Hillman asks.

Ventura's journalistic concreteness anchors Hillman, whose genius resides in abstract language, synthesizing and re-framing everything he's read. These are not any two guys taking pot shots at a straight-laced profession. Each has spent much of his life in the consulting room: Hillman as the long-time clinical director of the Jungian Institute in Zurich; the forty-something Ventura as patient, in therapy, on and off, since age eleven. They well know that therapy is at times life-saving: "There is a place for the strength of character and subtlety of insight that the investigation of interiority produces. There are individual patients and individual therapists whose work, whose love, whose calling is clearly in this area," Hillman says. Tuming to himself, Hillman continues:

Imagine my predicament. I love therapy--and have come to hate it...therapy became more and more passive, boring, repetitive...propounding theories that carry no more weight than croissant crumbs and aren't even flaky...I can't bear the way

psychology

thinks and uses language."

Ventura adds: "We're not attacking therapy

but

trying to extend it, reveal its blind spots, begin the enormous task of redefining its premises. …

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