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Maximizing Effectiveness in Dynamic Psychotherapy Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy101 Healing StoriesA Clinician's Guide to Legal Issues in PsychotherapyA Map of the MindA Primer for Beginning PsychotherapyACT With LoveActive Treatment of DepressionAffect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of SelfAlready FreeBad TherapyBecoming an Effective PsychotherapistBecoming MyselfBefore ForgivingBeing a Brain-Wise TherapistBetrayed as BoysBeyond Evidence-Based PsychotherapyBeyond MadnessBeyond PostmodernismBinge No MoreBiofeedback for the BrainBipolar DisorderBody PsychotherapyBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBrain Change TherapyBrain Science and Psychological DisordersBrain-Based Therapy with AdultsBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Child Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Therapy Homework PlannerBuffy the Vampire Slayer and PhilosophyBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCase Studies in DepressionCaught in the 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The title of James F. T. Bugental's Psychotherapy Isn't What You Think is a play on words. While not repudiating the normal course of psychotherapy, Bugental takes issue with the constant focus on a client's past. Rather, Bugental, one of the leaders of the humanist / existentialist school of psychotherapy, teaches his intended readers-practicing therapists-that the key to a client's improvement lies in diligently probing the emotional state of the client in the counseling session.
Bugental's central thesis is this: "The difference between a psychotherapy that is chiefly concerned with information and a psychotherapy that centers on the actual experience of the client in the living moment has great significance for life-changing psychotherapy." Psychotherapy isn't centrally about what you think; it's about what you are experiencing now. It is easy to hide from problems or pain by trying to articulate one's biography or to reconstruct childhood memories. Even descriptions of one's current life are, in the end, fabrications (if not mere fabrications). What is crucial is the present moment, the now.
For Bugental, "Psychotherapy is, at its root, the artistic product of two human personalities engaged in a life-changing enterprise." Thus it is vitally important, in his view, to conduct "the work" (i.e., psychotherapy) in "the living moment." As evidenced by the encomiums appearing in the Fall 1996 edition of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Bugental has been an effective partner in the artistic productions of more than a few lives-therapists and lay folk alike. These works of art are crafted in the Heraclitean flux of constant change and are always unfinished.
In fact, there is an Eastern flavor to Bugental's underlying metaphysics of subjectivity. In a passage that could have come from Ken Wilber, Bugental writes, in his 1981 work, The Search for Authenticity: An Existential-Analytic Approach to Psychotherapy: "Our truest nature is our contentless being. It has no habits or patterns, no neurosis or, for that matter, health. It is pure awareness, pure subjectivity." The concept of true-self-as-pure-awareness is another reason for Bugantal's arguing that psychotherapy isn't what you think it is; effective therapy must be less Freudian, less Western, more (although he doesn't say the words) Buddhist or even Hindu. Essentially, the self is "neither this nor that," and one ought not to be attached to artificial identities-even the work of art under construction in the counseling session.
This engaging book comes from the pen of a master teacher and therapist. Psychotherapy Isn't What You Think is chock full of sample counseling sessions meant to illustrate the strategies Bugental is advancing, and each dialogue commends itself by capturing the subtlety of the interplay between therapist and client. Were therapy as Bugental envisions it, some conclusions can be drawn [p. 260]:
1. The people with whom we [therapists] are engaged are living all the time they're with us. They bring that-with-which-they-are-not-content to us. They live it out in our offices.
2. We are not physicians, repairpersons, or substitutes available to direct others' lives.
3. We are coaches for those who are not satisfied with their experiences of being alive.
4. The only change agency that produces lasting results is the change in a person's perception of his self and world.
5. Change will only occur when we help clients to see more fully how they are living their lives right now, right in the room.
6. The only reality about one's self is that which is actual in the moment. All else is static, is without power, is only information.
7. Recognition, insight, interpretation, and similar, familiar therapeutic products are often mistaken for the goal. They are useful to the extent that they evoke or express an immediate experiencing.
My own circumstances made reading this book a particularly provocative experience. As a client of a psychotherapist, I became aware of the traps of psychotherapy-as-usual. After reading Bugental, I more easily caught myself trying to be the "good client," the "witty and insightful and entertaining" client, the "profound" client. I realize that it is easier to concoct a narrative than to recognize and deal with what I was experiencing in the course of therapy. My therapist is not a "Bugentalian," and I find that the interplay of traditional "investigative work" and "fact finding," coupled with a heightened awareness of my experience of the present moment made for a more substantial session.
And that realization serves, I think, as a counterbalance to Bugental's seven "reflections" noted above. I am not fully persuaded that the "the true self" is the tabula rasa that Bugental, Wilber, existentialists, and a preponderance of New Agers think. Each of us in our essence is more specific, more unique than that generalized Being, and the Western, Judeo-Christian insight into the soul shows that we are not merely social constructions that can be "deconstructed" into no-thing-ness.
But Bugental's urging of a sensitivity to the present experience of clients is a necessary reminder that our lives are lived now.
© Eric Weislogel, 2001 Eric Weislogel, Ph.D., taught philosophy at Penn State and the Indiana University of PA. He currently works as manager of business process consulting for a manufacturing consulting firm. He has written for industry trade publications and philosophical journals, and has published music reviews and feature articles. His particular interests, besides philosophy and theology, include philosophical counseling, integral studies, psychotherapy, vocation and work, and organizational excellence. He loves music and sports. He and his family reside in Pittsburgh, PA.