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Wait...One more opinion - looking backward for discovery

Posted Nov 17 2006 12:00am
Even prior to my previous post I preferred the pro-active present.

Interestingly most I heard from agree. I happened to stumble upon this article today.

Can We Simply Ignore our Personal and Collective Past?
By: David A. Crenshaw, Ph.D.

There is nothing new in this trend of elevating scientifically and empirically derived knowledge and devaluing what can't be quantified and studied using the scientific method. The same people who would argue that the personal history of the individual is not important and can be ignored would not likely assert, especially at this point in time, that it was unimportant for our government prior to invading Iraq to have an understanding of the history of that part of the world, its peoples, its culture, and its religious beliefs. Yet they would maintain that we can proceed with modifying attitudes, feelings, and behaviors of an individual without really taking the time to appreciate and honor her/his unique life experiences. An individual's idiosyncratic experiences interact in a complex way with her/his biological make-up, family, social and cultural context to shape the person he or she has become.
My psychodynamic feathers would not have been ruffled if this article ("More and More, Favored Psychotherapy Lets Bygones Be Bygones," NY Times, 02/14/06) had simply stated that the obsessive rehashing of the past for years on end as depicted in Woody Allen's character in the movies for apparently no benefit or gain is out of favor. I don't know any competent psychoanalysts who would be co-opted in such a boring and unproductive activity. If the article had simply stated that for some clients and some problems exploring the past is not helpful or needed, I would not feel the need to write this article. I take exception, however, with such sweeping statements as "That relatively new school (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) holds that reviewing the past is not only unnecessary to healing, but can be counterproductive." To be fair to Alix Spiegel, the writer, for those readers that persist to the end, she states, "New research suggests that psychodynamic therapy exploring the past can be as effective as cognitive work. In the last three years, psychodynamic therapists have started to subject their approach to the same vigorous research as that used for cognitive therapy. The studies show similarly good results." Yet, this assertion seems to completely contradict the previous one quoted.

Academic psychology and cognitive-behavioral therapy deserves great credit for their dedication to research and validation of their methods. Cognitive behavioral therapy has developed some wonderful tools that indeed most contemporary therapists use as a part of their repertoire. Logical questioning, cognitive restructuring, reframing, and disputing of negative, pessimistic belief systems are all valuable methods along with exposure therapy and response prevention for treating phobias. If only man was guided and motivated by conscious, logical, rational thoughts or conscious distorted beliefs and misconceptions that lend themselves so well to this approach. Unfortunately, there are dynamic forces outside of our awareness, sometimes positive and healthy, sometimes irrational and destructive that motivate a significant portion of human behavior. It was hard for the early psychoanalysts to ignore that a great deal of behavior is motivated by factors, all too often irrational and destructive, outside of our awareness. As Carl Jung stated, “We are never sure that a new idea will not seize either upon ourselves or upon our neighbors. We know from modern as well as from ancient history that such ideas can be rather strange, so peculiar, indeed, that not everybody can agree with them. The result may be that all dissenters, no matter how well meaning or reasonable they are, get burnt alive or have their heads cut off or are disposed of in masses by the more modern machine gun.”—Carl Jung (Psychology and Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1938, [copyright renewed 1966, by Marianne Niehus-Jung], p. 15). He was writing after the castastrophic loss of human life in World War I and the build up of the horrific evil forces that coulminated in World War II. Even more frightening than the irrationally or destructively motivated person who rises to power are the number of seemly rational folks influenced by motives and emotional factors outside of awareness who join with such a person. If we don't recognize forces largely out of awareness, how do we explain the actions of the ordinary solid citizen who engages in the most deplorable actions when caught up in the mob frenzy of a crowd and commits destructive acts including hideous violence?

In deploring the mentality of the academic community to focus on just the conscious life, Jung perhaps anticipated that in present times our scope would become even more restricted and include only the present manifest conscious behavior. “The very common prejudice against dreams is but one of the symptoms of a far more serious undervaluation of the human soul in general. The marvelous development of science and technics has been counterbalanced on the other side by an appalling lack of wisdom and introspection.”—Carl Jung (Psychology and Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1938, [copyright renewed 1966, by Marianne Niehus-Jung], p. 18-19).

When we only address present, quantifiable behavior and cognitions, and not the whole person, we devalue a huge part of unawareness that dynamically influences and shapes not only our present but our destiny. When we ignore history whether a single person's, or mankind's we do so at our own peril. We do so at a price that dooms us to replicate the hurt and pain of our personal and collective past. For me, it is too great a price.

David A. Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP is a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Rhinebeck Child and Family Center, LLC (website: He specializes in treating children and families and is the author/co-author of four books: Understanding and Treating the Aggression of Children: Fawns in Gorilla Suits; A Handbook of Play Therapy with Aggressive Children; Engaging Resistant Children in Therapy: Projective Drawing and Storytelling Techniques; and Bereavement.
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