Essential to meaningful psychotherapeutic intervention in the life of another human being is an understanding of human nature. It is often outside of academic psychology that we find the deepest springs of insight.
In particular I value a massive three-volume work that I acquired when I lived in Germany during the 70s: Ernst Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung. On the face of it what this Marxist philosopher deals with is the utopian and social-revolutionary current running through history and culture. At its base, however, there is more. This is evident in the poetic and prophetic tone, especially of the opening passages.
Mankind begins empty, and is in restless pursuit of fulfilment. This is not so much Marx as Hegel. Our waking dreams are of improvement, of harmony, of a life worth living, of a home-coming to a society entirely humane: Heimat.
It is when this most basic desire is thwarted that humanity is bitterly disappointed in the world, and feeling rejected by it in turn spitefully rejects the world. Mankind is then ashamed of its own impotent being.
Our embeddedness in two worlds of causation, the physical and the teleological, is a key problem in psychotherapy. To understand ourselves and our fellows we have to grasp and comprehend both aspects of our contradictory nature.
We are up to a point determined by our physical nature. We are up to a point determined by the the imprints and models we have from our cultural environment and personal history. So far nature and nurture. But we are also up to a point self-determining by our creative responses. To neglect our self-determining and creative side means to see ourselves as predetermined and in lock-step with physical causation. That is to say to entirely miss our human nature. Psychotherapists gravitate toward this position whenever they succumb to reductionist temptations. Such a temptation was Freud’s adoption of instinct-determination, which contradicted and poisoned his more promising psychogenetic approach. [Rudolf Aller’s book The Successful Error is recommended as a clear exposition of Freud’s temptation to appear scientific.]
To neglect our physical and cultural determination means to overestimate our creative aspect and leave the real world entirely. There would appear then to be no limits or bounds to human possibility.
To operate with both feet on the ground we have to see our world as that of bounded self-determination. To see both sides operating within the individual is a difficult but essential undertaking. We have to be able to discern both aspects in the character, if we are to have any prospect of a healing intervention.
The philosophic foundation of Adlerian psychotherapy lies in its dialectical understanding of the soul in the world. This is expressed by Gustav Emil Mueller, who probably had no connection with Adler or his movement, in his book Dialectic: a way into and within philosophy.
An action is always perceived as being purposive. It is characterised by meaning or intending something beyond itself. Tell me what you believe in, what you strive for, and I can tell you what you are. An action begins with a feeling of discrepancy between my wishes and the situation. If my wishes are frustrated by an obstacle I am compelled to take a look, to form a clearer perception of the obstacle, whereupon I build my plans to remove or alter the obstacle in order to suit my desire. … The soul is perceived in its actions as individuated. Individual means unique and indivisible. You cannot separate any action of feeling, desire, thinking, dreaming, and so forth, from the self which is inseparable from them as their unity.
Psychotherapy, therapy of the soul, requires as its basis an understanding of the soul.
The Soul is singular in that it is both a part of the natural world of causation and a creative power exerting influence on and in that world. The soul is in the world of physical determination and in the world of self-determination, telos.
When our goals change a realignment begins. This is the real basis of psychotherapy, counselling, coaching, training and education. For the psychotherapist it is fundamental: the client, every client can change, providing that he can see the world and himself within it with different eyes. This new view changes the view of what is required and thus changes the client’s goals.
The Soul as the organ of awareness and action must respond to the impinging demands of the environment. The Soul responds from its particular awareness, limited by its time and place, by its experience and accumulated knowledge and belief. Thus its view of the world, and its view of itself in the world, is bounded, constrained, biased and idiosyncratic. Its response is likewise idiosyncratic.
Both the view of the world and the response are creations of the soul. The Soul is by nature creative. The child-soul creates its causal maps (Gopnik) and its maps of human interactions and relationships. Having done so, it then perceives or interprets the world through these maps.
The client who comes to psychotherapy and counselling brings with him his creation, a life plan elaborated from the causal maps and equipped with ingenious and highly individual strategies for preserving the self value feeling through all its trials.
Language can be our downfall. The question is posed as if we had three things to consider, a subject (soul), an object (what) and a verb (want).
There is no isolated soul. The soul is a locus of the world (what) and the soul is essentially wanting. The soul is a movement towards completion.
Just as the human body is in restless movement at the cellular level, so it is in its awareness. We are aware of our incompleteness and want.