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Ten Lectures on Psychotherapy and SpiritualityReview - Ten Lectures on Psychotherapy and Spirituality
by Nathan Field, Trudy Harvey, Belinda Sharp (Editors)
Karnac, 2005
Review by Lucia Teszler
Apr 10th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 15)

Ten Lectures on Psychotherapy and Spirituality takes us on a journey in the world of contemporary psychoanalysis, in the area of its coping with the problem of spirituality.  What is spirituality? What is the relation of spirituality with religion? How can we integrate it in therapeutic discourse and practice?  What is religious fanaticism and fundamentalism and how could they explained trough psychoanalysis?

The book consists of a series of ten lectures delivered in 2002 at the London Centre for Psychotherapy. The lectures are by 10 famous psychoanalysts or religious experts and are followed by responses by other specialists.

The spiritual experience recovered by psychoanalysis is not the  "oceanic feeling" that retrieves the "primary narcissism", in Freud's terms, but consists of the possibility of communicating from unconscious to unconscious, thus returning to the romantic idea of the universal sympathy. We exist through the spirit; we exist in the psyche, rather than the psyche existing separate in each of us (Chris MacKenna). Once the importance of the communicative space is emphasized, psychoanalysis distances itself from Jung's self-governing religiosity, already criticized by Martin Buber, and finds spirituality exactly in the relationship with the inalienable Thou.

What then is the spirit for British contemporary psychoanalysis?

The spirit is what keeps me alive, the capacity to have a hidden intimate space inside us where significant events are happening (Chris MacKenna); the spirit is what protects us from becoming a  stone; it makes our heart sing; we feel alive because of it (K. Wright). One could find it when listening to the music, looking the stars or when we are seeing the smile of a new born baby and especially when falling in love (Field).

 Following Winnicott's theory, we understand spirituality, this force that keep us alive, thanks to the mother's tender sights, in her smiles, in her cares, who is the first singing master of the soul (Wright).  Through her care, from this harmonious interpenetrating, our soul not only learns to sing but it learns the abnegation, the altruism, the self sacrifice, the ability to understand and to feel other's feelings without words.  Hence, we learn  the sympathy which, if we analyze profoundly,  is in fact the final spiritual goal of Darwinian's evolution (D. Black).

Furthermore the growth of these altruistic qualities, this preoccupation to understand others through sympathy, to love, is just what every great religion teaches (K. Armstrong). This philosophy  could be synthesized by Rabin Heschel words, If we put ourselves at the opposite pole of Ego we are in the place where God is .

The really encounter of  the other, the feeling of other's being, the mutual relationship between two persons, creates a new dimension which allows those two members of communion to become an Us, a co-existence: different from the individual members of couple. That spiritual dimension is called by Field the fourth dimension. J. Klein draws a history of this concept, naming it this common space, the space  where the two persons are recognizing themselves in the same us, an experience that is similar to Jungian conjuctio: where two persons are profoundly united, an intense mutuality of feeling (Silverstone).

Discussing psychoanalysis and contemporary physics, R. Gordon claims that the spirit is the secret relation between things, between humans and nature, between observer and observed. And the spirit in its worm form penetrates every minor part of everyday life, even the profane one.  (A. Samuels)

The spiritual experience is not always a joyful experience, writes J. Klein and N. Field. It could be a very disturbing experience, a devastation that wakes us from the everyday life's dreaming and its innocent illusions, leading to respectful terror about ineffable experience (Field).  That is the main reason why the meeting with the spirit could become a problem to be discussed in psychiatry.

One of the most important contemporary issues discussed by the authors is religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. The spiritual, religious quest grows up partly from the desire to find  sense in life and on other part from the desire for ecstasy, to break the one's individuality (Armstrong). Spirit by definition is an eternal transformation. In spite of this, we find in religion the desire for  the concrete,  the narcissist desire to have the certitude of being on the right way (R.Gordon). We should also mention that although spirituality is reevaluated, religion as an institution is not. Religion is seen as equivalent to dogma, to conformism, to certitude and narcissist pleasures. The dogmatic stance stems from the goal to maintain an identity when a person feels is in danger of disintegration. Fanaticism and fundamentalism are based on this fear, on the anger, on the feeling of being threatened permanently (Armstrong). Britton's lecture provides a profound psychoanalysis of fundamentalism as a worship of the word, where the word becomes a concrete object, an idol and at the same time the concrete object becomes a sign. This process is similar to certain psychoses.

Ten Lectures on Psychotherapy and Spirituality helps us understand why the psychoanalysis played and continues to play a significant role in the evolution of human spirit.

© 2007 Lucia Teszler

Lucia Teszler is a PhD student in Philosophical Hermeneutics at the University of Turin,


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