FOR NEARLY FOUR DECADES, I have sat and listened to people present their stories. I still marvel at how unique many of their problems are and how well these problems also function as solutions. The more I explore a situation to find out what is right rather than what is wrong about it, the more creativity I discover and the deeper is my conviction that the human mind has a genius for navigating life’s challenges.
As I continue to teach and lecture around the world, I am increasingly aware that most psychotherapists train and practice within a paradigm that sees patients’ problems as rooted in pathology. These therapists wait and watch for a symptom to see how it might fit into a category of identified disorders. That neatly solves the problem for the therapists, but not for the patients. Even the words “patient” and “therapist” stand as sentinels to the illness paradigm.
While an understanding of the science of psychology may be the basis for most therapy, a wider appreciation of psychology as art informs my practice. A therapist’s job may be less to cure problems than to identify, respect and even revere how they solve or rectify life’s dilemmas. Much of the satisfaction from my work is the inspiration I derive from seeing over and over again how imaginatively and often unwittingly we address each other’s fears, loyalties and love.
The field of psychology has struggled to legitimize itself as a science by turning away from its tradition – forefathers and foremothers who charted maps of the mind and models of therapy derived from their creative imaginations and anecdotal experience. Instead, it has swung in the opposite direction towards the “scientific method.” Research primarily funded by pharmaceutical and insurance companies has led to the codification of human behavior into neat diagnostic categories and to superficial goal-oriented, evidence-based and pharmaceutical therapies that – while they may help some – serve these industry’s economic agendas.
Psychology has lost the appreciation it once had for the mysteries of the human spirit. Practitioners are discouraged from the kind of complex thinking that honors the creativity of their patients’ attempts to balance life’s difficult paradoxes. Within a field of powerful colleagues who reduce patients’ solutions to bits of pathology that must be eliminated or medicated rather than whose purpose must be understood, how can practitioners achieve the artistry necessary to create interventions that are deeply meaningful and relevant to each patient’s situation? Furthermore, the question of whether it’s better for a patient to keep a problem or face the consequence of life without it is never raised.
Art, too, is an attempt to address life’s paradoxes. What an artist produces – whether it is a dance, poem, photograph, novel or painting – is a representation of a creative struggle to understand self and world. And just as a patient’s entire psychological history is reflected in a problem or symptom, so is an artist’s psyche reflected in a single work of art. I have frequently had the experience of conducting therapy with artists who are “stuck” in their work – repeating the same images or ideas for long periods without expanding and growing – only to discover that they are stuck at a similar intersection in their lives.
From this point of view, symptoms and art are indistinguishable. Both exist as artifacts of the author’s imagination; both grow from deep emotion and simultaneously move us to emotion, or in some cases, leave us feeling empty or confused. They may be as beautiful as a husband who begins to cross-dress in order to protect his wife from feeling the full pain of losing her twin sister, as provocative and political as the hunger strike of an anorexic young woman or as terrifying as solid black canvas painted by Mark Rothko.
Psychology Tomorrow Magazine reveres the intersection between psychology and art. Its content explores the practice of psychology as an art in all of its beautiful and complex possibilities. It showcases therapeutic approaches that demystify the therapist’s experience as well as the patient’s, and that honors the literary richness of the human mind rather than portray it as a cognitive or evolutionary caricature.
Our understanding of human behavior depends as much on our appreciation of creative self-expression as it does on scientific research. To that end, Psychology Tomorrow Magazine also presents original works of contemporary visual artists, photographers, designers, writers, poets, choreographers, performance artists and videographers that examine issues of identity, self-reflection, sexuality, consciousness, and relationships.
In my column Intelligent Lust, originally created for Psychology Today, I examine sexual fantasies and desires as they relate to the deepest levels of our psyches. Through case examples and personal experiences, I address the origins of our preferences and show how sex can serve as a healing force in repairing old conflicts and satisfying unmet needs. In this issue’s column, “Sex Worker or Therapist?,” I discuss how two patients healed past sexual wounds with the guidance of empathic sex workers, and I also interview sex workers who view themselves as healers.
The photographs of famed artist Bill Hayward are part of a life-long project called The Human Bible. Hayward engages his subjects, from all over the country, in a conversation about who they are, providing them with paint and paper as tools to help them express the essence of their humanity. Geof Gehman captures this experience in an interview, in which Hayward describes how his subjects deepen their understanding of themselves by creating “portraits of the collaborative-self” that are as beautiful as they are profound. The Human Bible tells the true story of who we are as Americans.
In Jeff Warren’s extraordinary column Inscapes, he explores the shifting landscape of consciousness – the mind as a series of destinations. Author of the classic Head Trip, Jeff bridges neuroscience with other modes of looking at the mind, from yoga to Buddhism to deep ecology and more. For his first column he writes about the science of lucid dreaming and the logic of the dream world, something anyone can learn to explore on their own. Jeff’s work and personal journey challenges us to think more existentially about the nature of reality.
What does a therapist think and feel during her work with a particular patient? How does she use her personal experiences to benefit the therapy? In her column The Dance of Therapy, Alyssa Siegel examines the emotional experience of the therapist as she is confronted with the fantasies and projections of patients. In her first column “Duets,” she discusses a series of challenging encounters with patients including a young man who has intrusive thoughts of murdering her.
The Patient’s Room presents the narratives of people engaged in therapy. With anonymity to protect its authors, this column reaches a level of intimacy and honesty rarely found in the pages of psychology magazines. In our first column, a gay man takes us on an unchartered journey through his erotic life from his molestation at age six to his present life of polyamory. Through therapy, he confronts shame and self-judgment as he sets about to experience and understand the meaning of his deepest desires even when they terrify him.
In an excerpt of her original, brilliant and widely acclaimed new novel, “How Should A Person Be?” Canadian writer Shelia Heti dramatizes how the challenges of an intimate friendship can have a profound influence on shaping the identity of a character. Part autobiographical, part fiction, part novel, part play, boundaries are transgressed at every level, producing a superbly satisfying and acrobatic literary accomplishment.
It is said that Joan Larkin is a poet “of flashing clarity and intimacy and pitch perfect enunciation.” I also admire her for her bravery in revealing her interior life with all of its terror, mystery and sensuality. “The Dress” and “In Your Side-Railed Bed, Faces” transports us, with few exquisitely crafted words, to places we might not be inclined to go willingly.
What does fashion mean to designers? Is fashion art? Neeraja Viswanathan gives us her perspective on the work of two stellar designers, Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli, while taking us on a walk through the current costume exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Glimpses of a fictional “conversation” between these women provide insight into the context in which each created.
Choreographer Susan Slotnick fearlessly jumps prison walls to create dances with convicted murders, rapists, and other inmates. Writer Anne Pyburn Craig discovers how Slotnick’s daring project Figures in Flight has changed the lives of prisoners even after their release.
What does it feel like to keep a journal that chronicles the ebb and flow of 40 years of your life. Psychoanalyst James Carnelia re-reads his journal and examines his relationship with it from both a personal and theoretical perspective.
In Bethany Schneider’s review of “The Origins of Sex” we learn about the sexual revolution that radically changed our view of sex. The book presents an enlightening story about how modern attitudes toward sexuality grew out of the politics of the later 17th and 18th centuries.
Former Knopf/Canada associate editor, Michael Schellenberg writes an open letter to his musical hero that best explains my reason for this magazine. “Stephen Sondheim, you gave me the conviction that art just might save us because your musicals have saved me. They showed me the way.”
On a final note, I chose Radka Salcmannova, a young artist from the Czech Republic to curate the magazine. I was taken by Radka’s work because, much like the theme of Psychology Tomorrow, the provocative images she creates transgress all categories and boundaries — painting, photograph, installation. From this same point of view, Radka selected art for this issue that best challenges conventional narratives, time and space, exactly what Psychology Tomorrow hopes to achieve.
Traditionally, a curator does not include her own art in an exhibition, and though, Radka insisted on maintaining that convention, as Editor-in-Chief, I used my prerogative to include two images of hers that I feel are essential to conveying the purpose and meaning of the magazine. As I view the gallery now, I am certain that it would not be complete without them.