This short piece credited to Sy Safransky (editor and Publisher of The Sun Magazine) is an excerpt from “Conversations with a Remarkable Man: Honoring the late James Hillman,” The Sun Magazine, by Sy Safransky, Scott London, and Genie Zeiger. The article collects three different interviews published in The Sun to honor Hillman on the occasion of his death in 2011.
Hillman argued in this interview (the order of the words have been rearranged by Safransky) that American culture is dominated by two errant philosophies - economics and psychotherapy. While I don't disagree, the model of therapy Hillman condemns is out-dated (despite its continued prevalence).
More and more therapists are adopting a relational model based more on social support and healthy relationships and less on the "individualistic, self-improvement philosophy," the "romantic ideology that suggests each person can become fuller, better, wiser, richer, more effective" model he criticizes here. Below this I offer a different quote from this interview, one which more accurately reflects the problem with therapy today - the insistence on a unique self.
Sy Safransky, 19 October 2012
There are therapists throughout the country, and they’re very important, because they pick up the refuse of the economic-political system.
We have mental health clinics all over the nation, in every city and county. And they all produce pamphlets about how to deal with the problems of addiction, battered wives, childhood disorders. Someone has to pick these people up, and therapy does it. But therapy operates with an ideology – an individualistic, must-learn-to-cope ideology. The individual has to learn how to cope, and the therapist helps that person stay in control. This ideology is based on the idea of individual growth and potential.
Most schools of therapy share the idea that there’s an inner world that can be made to expand and grow, and that people are living short of their possibilities, and that they need help to… what she we call it? Fulfill their potential. Therapy has become a kind of individualistic, self-improvement philosophy, a romantic ideology that suggests each person can become fuller, better, wiser, richer, more effective.
I believe we now have two ideologies that run this country. One is economics, and the other is therapy. These are the basic, bottom-line beliefs that we return to in our private moments – these are what keeps us going.
* * * * * * *I am in complete agreement with Hillman on what he says here, although I don't accept it as an either/or, but a both/and. We must be willing to "own" our experience, but we should not in any way get attached to our experience as a unique self - we are plural beings embedded in environments, cultural contexts, and relationships, which Hillman hints at here.
Hillman: There are many who have located the roots of the therapeutic movement in the individualism embraced by nineteenth-century modernism, in which everyone is the author of his or her intentions and is responsible for his or her own life. Own. Own is a very big word in therapy; you own your life, as if there were a self — an individual, enclosed self — within a skin. That’s individualism. That’s the philosophy of therapy. I question that. The self could be redefined, given a social definition, a communal definition.