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Those who approach Eric Greenleaf's interesting, yet difficult, new book, The Problem of Evil hoping to find a discussion of this problem as it is usually addressed within the Judeo-Christian tradition, i.e. the question of "theodicy" (how can a good and infallible God allow evil to exist?) will doubtless be disappointed. This is not what this book is about. Nor is it an in-depth discussion of the understanding of evil as a psychological phenomenon in the way that Jung, Neumann and others have approached it, Indeed, the title of this book is very misleading. While Greenleaf does discuss "evil", which he defines as those acts which occur when people are "forced to experience pain, humiliation, and confusion at the hands of more powerful persons" (p. xiv), he is less concerned with getting to the crux of what constitutes evil in these situations, or with discerning what ultimately constitutes an "evil act" than with the therapeutic treatment of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of others. This is a problem, because many who will be led to this book by its title will find it to be very different from what they expect. I would suggest that a more appropriate title might well have been "The Significance of Language in Hypnotherapy: Uses of Metaphor in the Treatment of Victims of Abuse."
Having said this, I would add that this book, nonetheless, gives us a rare and insightful glimpse into the work of a very skilled and empathic psychotherapist. The first two chapters, entitled "Dreaming and Healing" and "Difficult Therapy" constitute a kind of "book within a book," offering a cogent description of both the theoretical underpinnings and the process of hypnotherapy, especially when used with victims of abuse who may be resistant to the idea of psychotherapy. While Greenleaf clearly acknowledges the existence and importance of the unconscious, his approach to the deeper regions of the psyche differs greatly from the dynamic approach used by those trained in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically-oriented therapies. This distinction is very carefully spelled out in the following excerpt, which is worth quoting in full:
Dynamic therapies entertain the concept of resistance and hold that the goal of therapy is to make the unconscious conscious. Modern therapies utilize the unconscious as an ally in change... The method of dynamic therapy is interpretation, an analytic tool with which to conceptualize the past differently. The modern method is storytelling, a didactic tool with which to imagine different futures....Insight is held to yield change in dynamic models, whereas change is held to yield foresight in many modern ones." (p.84)
Clearly, this is a cognitive approach to psychotherapy. Following the example of his teacher, Milton Erickson, who first gave real credibility to hypnotherapy in this century, and Gregory Bateson and others who champion a cognitive approach, Greenleaf suggests that solution-oriented change is the most effective and economic approach to healing wounded psyches.
He makes a good case for this in the clinical case studies which abound throughout the book. In watching Greenleaf work with clients who have experienced extreme abuse, we see a very skilled and intuitive therapist at work. His use of storytelling and metaphor, which for him are the most effective linguistic tools for approaching the unconscious, which by its very nature is "unspeakable and indescribable", is masterful and at times almost magical. Chapters 3 and 4 -- "Evil Influence" and "A Narrative of Images" -- are comprised largely of these case studies. Most clinicians should find these studies to be rich and informative.
There are several arguments which adherents to a more dynamic approach to psychotherapy would doubtless raise with Greenleaf. Is his approach, which utilizes "active imagination" by the patient and a sharing of personal imagery between patient and therapist, appropriate to all types of patients? The patients discussed by Greenleaf would almost all seem to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (a more precise and accurate diagnosis, I would suggest, than "victims of evil"). His method seems to work very well with these patients. But what about borderline patients, or others who lack ego development and have permeable ego boundaries: would these patients be able to maintain a sense of "self" when using active imagination which, in essence, requires a kind of splitting of self using the perceived self to imagine a more evolved, healthier self? Such paitents might very well not be appropriate candidates for Greenleaf's metaphoric therapy, yet he fails to make this distinction. Furthermore, it is questionable whether all patients are capable of being put into hypnotic trance or withstanding the very slight splitting that occurs in trance, especially those who
suffer from dissociative disorders. (In fairness to Greenleaf, however, I would add that what he describes as "trance" sounds very similar to the state that most patients exhibit in the psychotherapeutic alliance when there is trust between patient and therapist. It would have been helpful if Greenleaf had discussed in more detail the nature of trance for those not familiar with hypnotherapy).
One would also be tempted to question whether long-term therapeutic change can be achieved as quickly as Greenleaf suggests. In many of the case studies he cites, the patient appears to have essentially been "cured" of his/her problem after 3, 5 or 10 sessions of hypnotherapy. Of course, this question remains one of the largest bones of contention between the practitioners of cognitive therapies and those who practice dynamically-oriented therapy.
The last chapter, entitled "The Structure of Healing" is the most difficult to understand. Here Greenleaf attempts to create a philosophical framework for his views on metaphorical language, or "dream language", as the most effective tool for approaching the unconscious. Drawing upon the theories of Wittgenstein, Piaget, Jerison and W.H. Calvin, among others, Greenleaf finishes on a very intellectual, analytical note, which seems contrary to the intuitive quality of the preceding chapters and seems to contradict the anti-analytic nature of the therapeutic modality that he employs.
For those not steeped in modern philosophy, this chapter will seem dense and difficult to make sense of.
The Problem of Evil is not a book that I would recommend to lay people. It is clearly aimed at professional clinicians. For the clinician who is willing to go with the somewhat disorganized and intuitive struture of the book, reading the clinical material, seeing a very gifted and empathic therapist at work, should be a very rewarding and informative experience as well as a useful introduction to the theory and practice of hypnotherapy. H. Kimball Jones is a practicing pastoral psychotherapist in New York City where he is Director of the Westside Centers for the Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute. His doctoral dissertation for the Dept. of Psychiatry and Religion at Union Theological Seminary was on the topic of "C.G. Jung's Theory of Shadow and Evil and Its Implications for Christian Ethics." Dr. Jones is a former Vice-President of the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York and has been a frequent teacher and lecturer in the New York City area on many topics including Death and Dying, Grief, Depression, Mid-Life and Couple Relationships. He has three grown children and resides with his wife on the upper westside of Manhattan.