Tag Archives: counseling theories

Person-Centered Spirituality

Rogerian Spirituality

Most of the distinct figures who developed major theories of psychotherapy also had distinct views about religion and spirituality. As you may recall, Freud was antagonistic toward religion. One of the interesting parts of exploring how each theoretical orientation deals with spirituality has involved learning a bit more about the religious and spiritual perspectives of people like Freud, Adler, and others.

In chapter 5 of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice, the focus is on Carl Rogers. Other than knowing that he was raised in a conservative Christian family, I didn’t know much about Rogers and his personal spirituality. Here’s a sampling of what I discovered.

Person-Centered Spirituality

On his journey to developing person-centered theory and therapy, Carl Rogers renounced traditional Christianity. Given that all religions, including Christianity, can be viewed as directly imposing judgmental conditions of worth, Rogers’s renouncing Christianity as antithetical to his beliefs is not surprising. In particular, Rogers may have been especially reactive to religious dogma because of his childhood experiences in an extremely conservative Christian family. Thorne (1990) proposed that Rogers broke from Christianity, at least in part, over the doctrine of original sin.

Although he died an agnostic, toward the end of his life, Rogers began speaking about transcendental or mystical experiences (Thorne, 1992). These spiritual statements were mostly made in the context of interpersonal mutuality and human connection, derived from person-centered or I-Thou experiences. Within the person-centered world, his statements about spirituality have been viewed as controversial (Fruehwirth, 2013). In an interview with Elizabeth Sheerer, one of Rogers’s early colleagues at the University of Chicago Counseling Center, Sheerer was asked about why Rogers never formally addressed spirituality. Her response included:

That’s Carl. This was an area of difficulty for Carl. We learned early in the game not to talk about religion with Carl … it was uncomfortable for him …. But, of course, his work is so profoundly influenced by his background in Christianity. I don’t think he could have developed without that background. (Barrineau, 1990, pp. 423–424)

There have been contemporary efforts to build a bridge between spirituality and PCT. One example is Fruehwirth’s (2013) work connecting PCT and Christian contemplation. He proposed that if wordless contemplation can be regarded as “the heart of the Christian spiritual tradition” (p. 370), then parallels can be drawn to wordless contemplation and the PCT experience. Similarly, a case can be made connecting the acceptance doctrine of Christian, Buddhist, and other religious viewpoints with the PCT process.

Overall, it seems reasonable that, for some therapists and clients, the deep interpersonal acceptance inherent in the PCT experience might have religious, spiritual, or mystical components. Spiritual-based acceptance is probably the main place where an integration of PCT and religion/spirituality can occur. In contrast, wherever and whenever judgment flows from religious doctrine, religion and PCT are incompatible.

 

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On Becoming a Counselor: What’s a Rogerian, Anyway? by Lauren Leslie

carl-rogers

IMHO, more people should read Carl Rogers. But I understand, sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to fit in your Yoga class, mindfulness meditation practice, cardio workout, meal prep, work and family-life, and other responsibilities. So here’s an option: Below you’ll find a review of a classic Carl Rogers work: On Becoming a Person. It was written by Lauren Leslie to fulfill an assignment I give in our Counseling Theories class. It’s a fun read and gives you an abbreviated glimpse of the amazing Carl Rogers from the perspective of a first-year graduate student in clinical mental health counseling.

On Becoming a Counselor: What’s a Rogerian, Anyway?

Lauren Leslie
University of Montana

            Carl Rogers’ On Becoming a Person is a collection of essays and edited speeches written between 1951 and 1961, while client-centered humanistic therapy was being simultaneously embraced and challenged by the establishment. Rogers states he intends to write to professional psychologists, members of the counseling profession, and informed laymen, different populations who nonetheless have at least one thing in common:

. . .while the group to which this book speaks meaningfully will…have many wide-ranging interests, a common thread may well be their concern about the person and his  becoming, in a modern world which appears intent upon ignoring or diminishing him. (Rogers, 2012, “To the Reader” para. 8)

Throughout the text, Rogers offers a picture of himself as a person and a therapist. He provides insights into the growth of his theoretical framework as well as therapy transcripts to flesh out central elements of client-centered practice. Ultimately, the text crystallizes the effectiveness of empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard within a therapeutic relationship, and it is difficult to argue against Rogers’ persuasive and clear writing. Critics insist Rogers’ model is incomplete or insufficient, but the core tenets remain central to the practice of contemporary psychotherapy.

On Becoming a Person collects texts of varying genres into a sort of holistic catalog of Rogerian thought. Due to this variety of genre, Rogers’ tone and subject matter shifts; he addresses his own personality and life, includes transcripts of counseling sessions, and tries to systematize examples of his practice into stages of client development to analyze effectiveness of treatment. Rogers philosophizes on the human condition and therapeutic practice, Kierkegaard and Buber, and scientific research and personal change. It is a sweeping book which attempts meaningful understanding and data-driven conclusions. At one point, Rogers claims “There is no general agreement as to what constitutes ‘success’ [in psychotherapy]…. The concept of ‘cure’ is entirely inappropriate, since … we are dealing with learned behavior, not with a disease” (Rogers, 2012, p. 227). He consistently moves in opposition to the kind of concrete, experimental thinking favored in certain parts of the psychological community and comes off far more as a philosopher studying existential questions than as a data-driven scientist.

In considering himself, Rogers (2012) states, a client “discovers how much of his life is guided by what he thinks he should be, not by what he is. Often he discovers that he exists only in response to the demands of others…” (p. 109). In the same passage, he muses on the insight of Kierkegaard on this point: “He points out that…the deepest form of despair is to choose ‘to be another than himself.’ On the other hand, ‘…to be that self which one truly is, is indeed the opposite of despair,’” (p. 109). If this isn’t existential philosophy, the reader must ask, what is? In his own practice, Rogers (2012) characterizes a fundamental shift from “How can I treat, or cure, or change this person?” (p. 32) to his later, fuller question “How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” (p. 32). From his training in psychology, Rogers claims to have followed his own instincts into client-centered therapy. His writing overtly embraces that exploration.

Despite his philosophical bent, in large sections of his writing, Rogers draws on established scientific structures or language. He writes a whole chapter which tries to formulate a “general law of interpersonal relationships,” then launches into a lengthy and example-laden consideration of the firmness of knowledge and conclusions within the behavioral sciences at the time. His cognitive resting place seems to be that the behavioral sciences are in their infancy, and while practitioners may rely on a lot of interesting information now being discovered, exploration, philosophy, and instinct still hold places of honor within the field. More than fifty years after the book’s first publication, the situation seems to have changed very little, though there is more data in certain areas. Though Rogers seems to have viewed psychotherapy as a scientific practice, his person-centered view showed him countless variables with which to contend. Perhaps in an environment without controls, philosophy and instinct present better-formed or more immediate solutions than experimentation can.

Rogers seems to boil complex situations down to essentials wherever he can: relationship is his central theme, and empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard are the three relationship components. This pursuit of simplicity may be attentiveness to the broad audience of On Becoming a Person or may be indicative of Rogers’ own worldview. Whatever its source, it leaves Rogers open to criticism from those who see things as unsimplifiable. In a similar way, the individual variation and client focus implicit in Rogers’ therapy leave him open to criticism from those who see him acting only as a clarifying mirror for clients, not as a truly congruent party to change-spurring relationships. In one example of a common critique, Ralph H. Quinn (1993) contends that “[a] fully person-centered therapist…would feel compelled to stay with the client’s lead…[and] trust that the client knows best” (p. 20) rather than confronting the client in a moment of genuine human response.

Genuineness in psychotherapy…does not mean simply the willingness to confront a client…. More than anything it means that the therapist must strive to be fully present with the client, to bring all of himself or herself to the therapeutic relationship. As therapists, we must be willing to risk as much as we ask our clients to risk, to be as transparent and courageous as they must be, if the therapy is to produce real life change. (Quinn, 1993, p. 20-21)

This section includes the assertion that bold congruence and full presence are not already parts of person-centered therapy, and Rogers was remiss in not addressing them. Quinn (1993) later implies a fully person-centered approach can easily be seen as practicing “Pollyannish optimism and therapeutic passivity” (p. 21). Such criticism is valid enough, and points out elements of Rogers’ work that may be over-simplified. However, the complexity with which Rogers addresses each essay, idea, and client interaction suggests he did not see humanity or psychotherapy as simple, and did not approach them passively. Rogers may not have dwelled enough in his writing on the practice of congruence; perhaps it was an element that seemed also to contain infinite variables and defy simple definition. I tend to think this criticism stems from a misinterpretation of Rogers’ intentions and practices. In the final analysis, even critic Quinn (1993) only suggests practicing more (riskier?) congruence on the part of the therapist, not abandoning Rogers’ principles.

In terms of my own use of this book, its variety in tone and subject matter makes it a uniquely useful text. Each section and each essay can be read independently, and dipping into Rogers’ world is a clarifying and centering experience that could bring me back to the core of therapeutic practice in times of questioning and uncertainty. Reading this book now gave me a window into the complexities inherent in a model that can be seen as very simple (by Rogers’ design, admittedly). Considering this approach in my own attempts to define or grasp client “distress” has been helpful in placing myself in the wide world of this human-helping profession, and has helped me frame my own conception of what I am doing here and what a client might want or need from me in this role. This reading has been one new way of incorporating personal change into myself: deliberately approaching the self I am discovering myself to be.

 

References

Quinn, R.H. (1993). Confronting Carl Rogers: A developmental-interactional approach to

person-centered therapy. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 33(1), 6-23. doi:

10.1177/0022167893331002

Rogers, C. (2012). On Becoming a Person. [Kindle Voyage version]. Retrieved from

Amazon.com

Check Out These Blogs about Counseling Theories

John and Jon on M

Over the past five years I’ve written over 50 blog posts linked to teaching and learning the theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. While procrastinating on another project, I decided to organize these blog posts by topic. If you follow the links below, they’ll take you to blog posts relevant to specific theories. Included in some of these are a few links to short (and free) theories-based video examples. If you teach a theories course, you could select some of these links to assign students outside readings or you could peruse them yourself to stimulate a few lecture ideas.

Please note that if you use our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice textbook, there’s a bit of redundancy with the textbook’s content. However, if you don’t use the text, the material will be new to you and your students.

Chapter 1 – Opening and Overview

A Plan for Maximizing Positive Counseling and Psychotherapy Outcomes: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/09/07/a-plan-for-maximizing-positive-counseling-and-psychotherapy-outcomes/

Teaching Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories: Reflections on Week 1: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/29/teaching-counseling-and-psychotherapy-theories-reflections-on-week-1/

Reformulating Clinical Depression: The Social-Psycho-Bio Model: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/09/03/reformulating-clinical-depression-the-social-psycho-bio-model/

What’s the Difference between Counseling and Psychotherapy? https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/07/14/theories-highlights-i-whats-the-difference-between-counseling-and-psychotherapy/

Neuroscience New Year’s Resolutions: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/01/15/neuroscience-new-years-resolutions-for-2016/

Evidence-Based Relationships in Counseling and Psychotherapy: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/09/29/evidence-based-relationships-three-new-case-examples/

Chapter 2 – Psychoanalytic Approaches

Attachment-Informed Psychotherapy: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/08/12/attachment-informed-psychotherapy/

The Story of Freud’s Seduction Hypothesis: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/07/15/theories-highlights-ii-the-story-of-freuds-seduction-hypothesis/

The Working Alliance in Counseling and Psychotherapy: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/04/06/five-recommendations-for-developing-a-positive-working-alliance/

Chapter 3 – Adlerian Approaches: Individual Psychology

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/09/23/the-three-step-emotional-change-trick/

A Parenting Homework Assignment on Natural and Logical Consequences: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/11/30/a-parenting-homework-assignment-on-natural-and-logical-consequences/

More Than Praise — Other Ways Parents Can Be Positive With Their Children: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/16/more-than-praise-other-ways-parents-can-be-positive-with-their-children/

Chapter 4 – Existential Approaches

Reflections on Listening to Irvin Yalom at the ACA Conference: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/03/25/reflections-on-listening-to-irvin-yalom-at-the-aca-conference/

A Short Existential Case Example from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories . . .: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/08/25/a-short-existential-case-example-from-counseling-and-psychotherapy-theories/

Fun with Existential Theory: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/08/01/fun-with-existential-theory/

Chapter 5 – Person-Centered Approaches

Reflections on Magic: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/11/28/reflections-on-magic/

Listening as Meditation on Psychotherapy.net: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/02/25/listening-as-meditation-on-psychotherapy-net/

An Interview with Natalie Rogers (Daughter of Carl Rogers) about Person-Centered Therapy: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/08/04/an-interview-with-natalie-rogers-daughter-of-carl-rogers-about-person-centered-therapy/

Why Therapists Should Never Say, “I know how you feel”: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/05/30/why-therapists-should-never-say-i-know-how-you-feel/

Carl Rogers and Brain-Science do an Empathy Smackdown in Chapter 3: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/07/09/carl-rogers-and-brain-science-do-an-empathy-smackdown-in-chapter-3/

An Invitation for Collaboration: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/03/27/using-an-invitation-for-collaboration-in-counseling-and-psychotherapy/

Chapter 6 – Gestalt Approaches

Go Go Gestalt: The Theories Video Shoot, Part I: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/04/24/go-go-gestalt-the-theories-video-shoot-part-i-2/

Chapter 7 – Behavioral Approaches

A Black Friday Tribute to Mary Cover Jones and her Evidence-Based Cookies: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/11/25/a-black-friday-tribute-to-mary-cover-jones-and-her-evidence-based-cookies/

Behavioral Activation Therapy: Let’s Just Skip the Cognitions: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/06/30/behavioral-activation-therapy-lets-just-skip-the-cognitions/

Imaginal or In Vivo Exposure and Desensitization: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/05/19/imaginal-or-in-vivo-exposure-and-desensitization-2/

A New Look at Time-Out for Kids and Parents: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/04/a-new-look-at-time-out-for-kids-and-parents/

Information on Using Time-Out — Part II: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/08/05/information-on-using-time-out-part-ii/

Talking with Parents about Positive Reinforcement: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/09/06/talking-with-parents-about-positive-reinforcement/

Backward Behavior Modification: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/12/02/backward-behavior-modification/

Behaviorism for Everyone: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/10/06/dont-let-your-philosophical-beliefs-make-you-less-professionally-competent/

Chapter 8 – Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches

Positive Thinking is Not (Necessarily) Rational Thinking: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2011/12/06/positive-thinking-is-not-necessarily-rational-thinking/

How to Use the Six Column CBT Technique: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/02/18/how-to-use-the-six-column-cbt-technique/

A Quick Look at the Collaborative Cognitive Therapy Process: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/09/30/a-quick-look-at-the-collaborative-cognitive-therapy-process/

Tomorrow’s Election and Confirmation Bias: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/11/05/tomorrows-election-and-confirmation-bias/

Confirmation Bias on My Way to Spearfish, South Dakota: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/04/30/confirmation-bias-on-my-way-to-spearfish-south-dakota/

Chapter 9 – Choice Theory and Reality Therapy

The Seven Magic Words for Parents: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/12/23/the-seven-magic-words-for-parents/

Give Information and then Back-Off: A Choice Theory Parenting Assignment: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/07/09/give-information-and-then-back-off-a-choice-theory-parenting-assignment/

How Parents Can Use Problem-Solving Power: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/10/23/how-parents-can-use-problem-solving-power/

Chapter 10 – Feminist Approaches

Opening Thoughts on Feminism: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/04/03/opening-thoughts-on-feminism-3/

The Girl Code by Ashley Marallo: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/12/03/the-girl-code-by-ashley-marallo/

A Guest Essay on the Girl Code and Feminism: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/12/07/a-guest-essay-on-the-girl-code-and-feminism/

Feminist Culture in Music: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/11/18/feminist-culture-in-music/

Chapter 11 – Constructive (Solution-Based and Narrative) Approaches

Is Solution-Focused Therapy as Powerfully Effective as Solution-Focused Therapists Would Have Us Believe?: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/07/01/is-solution-focused-therapy-as-powerfully-effective-as-solution-focused-therapists-would-have-us-believe-2/

Secrets of the Miracle Question: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/03/04/secrets-of-the-miracle-question/

The Love Reframe: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/04/07/the-love-reframe/

Constructivism vs. Social Constructionism: What’s the Difference? https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/12/05/constructivism-vs-social-constructionism-whats-the-difference/

Chapter 12 – Family Systems Approaches

None posted on this topic. Obviously, I need help here.

Chapter 13 – Multicultural Approaches

Four Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy—In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/01/16/four-good-ideas-about-multicultural-counseling-and-psychotherapy-in-honor-of-martin-luther-king-jr/

Good Ideas about Multicultural Counseling and Psychotherapy – Part II: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/01/22/good-ideas-about-multicultural-counseling-and-psychotherapy-part-ii/

Cultural Adaptations in the DSM-5: Insert Foot in Mouth Here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2014/07/08/cultural-adaptations-in-the-dsm-5-insert-foot-in-mouth-here/

Psychic Communications . . . and Cultural Differences in Mental Status: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2013/01/02/psychic-communications-and-cultural-differences-in-mental-status/

A White Male Psychologist Reflects on White Privilege: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/09/14/a-white-male-psychologist-reflects-on-white-privilege/

Tips for Counseling Culturally Diverse Youth: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2015/11/19/counseling-culturally-diverse-youth-research-based-and-common-sense-tips/

Chapter 14 – Integrative Approaches

Making Memories in L.A.: An Interview with Matt Englar-Carlson: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/05/20/making-memories-in-l-a/

My Response to a Petition from a Theories Class at Xavier University: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2016/04/29/why-xavier-university-students-in-cincinnati-sent-me-a-petition/

With Wubbolding

Readers Needed for our Counseling and Psychotherapy Textbook

Hello All.

We’ve just started working on the 3rd edition revision of our textbook, “Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy in Context and Practice.”

For each edition of this and our Clinical Interviewing textbooks, we ask interested students, professionals, and academics to provide feedback. This is usually a positive process for us and for reader-volunteers because we usually end up learning from each other.

This time around, to make things manageable on my end, I’ll be accepting the first two volunteers for each chapter. If you’re interested, take a look at the list of chapters below.

What do you get out of the deal? Well, you get that nice warm feeling . . . AND a complimentary copy of the text (when it comes out) and your name and affiliation listed in the acknowledgements section of the text, and a BIG THANKS from Rita and me for your insights and assistance.

Thanks for your potential interest and have a great weekend.

Below there’s an outline listing the existing textbook chapters. If you’re interested in reading and commenting on one of these or need more information, send me an email: john.sf@mso.umt.edu

Thanks again for your interest and support!

John

Chapter 1: Psychotherapy and Counseling Essentials: An Introduction

Chapter 2: Psychoanalytic Approaches** [Each of the subsequent theories chapters follows the same outline as this one]**  

Biographical Information: Sigmund Freud

Historical Context

Psychoanalytic Theoretical Principles

Evolution and Development in Psychoanalytic Theory and Practice

The Practice of Psychoanalytic Therapy

Case Analysis and Treatment Planning

Evidence-Based Status

Concluding Comments

Chapter Summary

Psychoanalytic Key Terms

Recommended Readings and Resources

Chapter 3: Individual Psychology and Adlerian Therapy

Chapter 4: Existential Theory and Therapy           

Chapter 5: Person-Centered Theory and Therapy             

Chapter 6: Gestalt Theory and Therapy 

Chapter 7: Behavioral Theory and Therapy          

Chapter 8: Cognitive-Behavioral Theory and Therapy     

Chapter 9: Choice Theory and Reality Therapy   

Chapter 10: Feminist Theory and Therapy            

Chapter 11: Constructive Theory and Therapy    

Chapter 12: Family Systems Theory and Therapy              

Chapter 13: Developing Your Multicultural Orientation and Skills              

Chapter 14: Integrative and Evidence-Based New Generation Therapies 

One Theory or Many?

Psychotherapy Integration: Historical and Theoretical Trends

The Practice of Eclectic and New Generation Integrative Therapies

Concluding Comments

Chapter Summary

Integrative Key Terms

Recommended Readings and Resources

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Theories Highlights II: The Story of Freud’s Seduction Hypothesis

Let’s put it this way: When it comes to the history of counseling and psychotherapy, there’s plenty of conflict and drama. In the following excerpt from Chapter 2 of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice, you’ll get to read about Freud and his formulation and then recanting of the seduction hypothesis. Is it all true and factual? Probably not. Is it fascinating? As Freud would have likely said, “Hell yes!”

Historical Context

As suggested toward the end of Chapter 1, psychological theories are partly a product of the prevailing Zeitgeist and Ortgeist. Bankart (1997) stated:

To fathom Freud’s near-obsession with the sexual foundations of emotional distress is also to come to a fuller awareness of the sexual repression and hypocrisy in the lives of the Austrian middle class at the turn of the…[nineteenth] century and the effect of this repression on the mental health of adolescents and young adults during the time when Freud derived his theories. (p. 8)

A good illustration of psychoanalytic historical context and of Freud’s dominant persuasive powers is the dramatic story of Freud’s development and subsequent recanting of the seduction hypothesis. This story captures his psychoanalytic thinking along with the social dynamics of his time. Interestingly, there’s conflict over the truth of this story—which further illustrates the divisive nature of Freud and his legacy. As you read through the drama of the seduction hypothesis, keep in mind that certain points have been contested…but the unfolding of a spectacular drama around sexuality, sexual fantasy, and sexual abuse in a sexually repressed society is likely accurate.

The Seduction Hypothesis

In 1885, Freud went to France to study under the famous neurologist Jean Charcot. According to Jeffrey Masson, former projects director of the Freud Archives, it’s likely that Freud visited the Paris Morgue, observing autopsies of young children who had been brutally physically and sexually abused (Masson, 1984). Masson speculated that Freud’s exposure to the grisly reality of child abuse combined with stories of abuse he heard from his patients, led him to believe that hysteria was caused by child sexual abuse.

Later, Freud presented a paper titled “The Aetiology of Hysteria” at the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna (Freud, 1896). In this paper, he outlined a controversial hypothesis:

I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood, but which can be reproduced through the work of psychoanalysis in spite of the intervening decades. (Freud, 1896, cited in Masson, 1984, p. 263)

Note that Freud stated, “. . . at the bottom of every case of hysteria.” He was emphasizing a clear causal connection between childhood sexual abuse and hysteria. This presentation was based on 18 cases (12 women and 6 men), all of which included childhood sexual abuse. At least three key points are important in this presentation:

  1. Freud’s idea about the connection between childhood sexual abuse and subsequent psychopathology may represent an early formulation of the contemporary diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and/or Dissociative Identity Disorder.
  2. Critics contend that in Freud’s paper, “the ‘facts’ of specific case histories are never provided” (Wilcocks, 1994).
  3. Freud may have been constructing sexual memories both through a direct pressure technique and by distorting what he heard to fit with his pre-existing ideas (Esterson, 2001).

Despite a lack of supporting detail in his presentation and the possibility that he was building evidence to support his theory, Freud goes on to suggest that hysterical symptoms don’t arise immediately, but instead develop later:

Our view then is that infantile sexual experiences…create the hysterical symptoms, but…they do not do so immediately, but . . . only exercise a pathogenic action later, when they have been aroused after puberty in the form of unconscious memories. (Freud, 1896, cited in Masson, 1984, p. 272)

It appears that Freud continued to believe his clients’ sexual abuse stories (or perhaps he believed his own constructed version of his client’s sexual abuse stories) until the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Recanting the Seduction Hypothesis

Imagine yourself alone with a great and horrible insight. In Masson’s version of the seduction hypothesis story, this was Freud’s situation. Masson (1984) describes the reception Freud received after presenting his hypothesis (and this part of the seduction hypothesis story is not disputed):

The paper…met with total silence. Afterwards, he was urged never to publish it, lest his reputation be damaged beyond repair. The silence around him deepened, as did the loneliness. But he defied his colleagues and published “The Aietology of Hysteria.” (pp. xviii–xix)

Five days after presenting his paper, Freud wrote about the experience to his friend and otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat physician) Wilhelm Fliess. Freud’s anger is obvious:

[My] lecture on the aetiology of hysteria at the Psychiatric Society met with an icy reception from the asses, and from Kraft-Ebing [the distinguished professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vienna] the strange comment: “It sounds like a scientific fairy tale.” And this after one has demonstrated to them a solution to a more than thousand-year-old problem, a “source of the Nile!” They can all go to hell. (Schur, 1972, p. 104)

Although it’s clear that Freud’s lecture received “an icy reception” it’s less clear why the audience was unimpressed. According to Masson, the reception is icy because Freud is bringing up sex and sexual abuse and that psychiatry (and most professionals and citizens at the time) were uncomfortable with facts linked to high sexual abuse rates. Alternatively, others have suggested that Freud’s style, perhaps a combination of arrogance along with an absence of scientific rigor or detail, moved the audience to rebuke him. For example, Wilcocks (1994) wrote:

The inferential support offered—without detail, of course—is that in eighteen cases out of eighteen, Freud has “discovered” the same etiological factors. But since neither we nor his audience are/were privy to the circumstances of any of his cases, this claim—whatever it’s other inferential mistakes—is simply useless. (p. 129)

It may never be clear whether Freud’s motives in presenting the seduction hypothesis were noble or manipulative. However, regardless of motive, the ensuing years following his “Aetiology of Hysteria” lecture were difficult. Reportedly, his private practice was in decline and his professional life in shambles. It was at this time that Freud began what has been described as “his lonely and painful self-analysis” (Prochaska & Norcross, 2003, p. 29). His 2-year self-analysis included uncovering memories of yearning for his mother and equally powerful feelings of resentment toward his father (Bankart, 1997).

Eventually, Freud discarded his seduction hypothesis in favor of the Oedipus complex (where the child holds unconscious wishes to have sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex). Some suggest this was because he began noticing seductive patterns in so many parent-child interactions that it was unrealistic to assume that child sexual abuse occurred at such a ubiquitous rate. Others believe Freud was ahead of his time in discovering child sexual abuse, but buckled under the social and psychological pressure, abandoning the truths his patients shared with him. Still others contend that while Freud was constructing his theoretical principles, he was projecting and mixing his own fantasies into his clients’ stories. The following statement illustrates the highly personalized nature of some of Freud’s theorizing:

I found in myself a constant love for my mother, and jealousy of my father. I now consider this to be a universal event in childhood. (R. A. Paul, 1991)

Eventually, in 1925, long after he recanted the seduction hypothesis, he reflected on his struggle:

I believed these stories, and consequently supposed that I had discovered the roots of the subsequent neurosis in these experiences of sexual seduction in childhood.… If the reader feels inclined to shake his head at my credulity, I cannot altogether blame him.… I was at last obliged to recognize that these scenes of seduction had never taken place, and that they were only fantasies which my patients had made up. (Freud, 1925, cited in Masson, 1984, p. 11)

In the creation and recanting of the seduction hypothesis, it’s difficult to sort out fact from fantasy. Perhaps this is as it should be, as it illustrates at least one formidable lesson about psychology. That is, when diving headlong into the deep psychological processes of humans, it’s possible to elicit confused and confusing storylines and to knowingly or unknowingly (unconsciously) mix (or project) our own personal issues into the plot. In the end, it may be that we create Kraft-Ebing’s “Scientific fairy tale” or, alternatively, something with lasting and meaningful significance. More likely, we create a combination of the two. (See Table 2.1 for three possible conclusions about Freud and the seduction hypothesis.)

Table 2.1: Freud’s Seduction Hypothesis: Three Conclusions

The official Freudian storyline goes something like this: Sigmund Freud was an astute observer who had to discard his earlier views about child seduction and sexual abuse to discover the more basic truth of the power of internal fantasy and of spontaneous childhood sexuality.

Although he initially believed his clients’ sexual abuse reports, he later discovered that it was not actual abuse, but imagined sexualized relationships (fantasies) between children and caretakers—aka: the Oedipus complex—that caused psychopathology.

Masson’s (1984) version, subsequently labeled “a new fable based on old myths” (Esterson, 1998), suggests that Freud was ahead of his time in recognizing child sexual abuse. These abuses were real and it was correct of Freud to identify them and to develop his seduction hypothesis. However—and unfortunately—Freud abandoned his sexually abused clients by recanting the seduction theory. He abandoned them because of pressure from medical and scientific colleagues and because society was not ready to face the reality of rampant child sexual abuse. Freudian critics suggest that Freud was an exceptionally bright, persuasive, and powerful speaker and writer, but he was practicing bad science. He was more interested in building his theory than psychological reality. Consequently, he twisted his clients’ stories, mixing them with his own issues and fantasies, and created an elaborate theory initially around sexual abuse and later around sexual fantasy. His theories, although fascinating and capturing much about the projective potential in human thinking, are more about Freud than they are about his clients.

Why Xavier University Students in Cincinnati Sent Me a Petition . . .

Yesterday I had the honor of receiving my first-ever petition from a group of “disgruntled” graduate students. Actually, the petition arrived in my email in-box, but was addressed to my publisher, John Wiley and Sons.

I read it anyway. Here it is:

Petition for Wiley Publishing – 4/27/16

We, the undersigned and overworked graduate counseling students in Dr. Brent Richardson’s Counseling Theories and Techniques course at Xavier University strongly object to the inference on page 480 of “Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories” that  Dr. Brent Richardson only “thinks he is funny.” All of us have chuckled at least one time over the past 14 weeks. We declare that he is actually funny and demand that this phrase be amended to reflect this fact in future editions.

Sincerely,

The names and signatures of 14 students followed, along with an electronic copy of page 480.

I have the following response to offer the “petitioners.”

Dear Petitioners.

Your note to Wiley raises a number of concerns.

First and foremost, it makes me worry about the level of academic discourse that may or may not be happening in your class with Dr. Richardson. Here’s the passage toward which you are alleging offense:

As one of our colleagues who thinks he’s funny says, “Sometimes counselors mix up the words eclectic and electric—they think they can just do whatever turns them on” (Richardson, personal communication, November 2002).

I think a close reading of this passage makes it obvious that we’re just maintaining truth and objectivity. In no way are we claiming or implying that Dr. Richardson is NOT funny. We’re only staying within the safe harbor of direct observation. It seems indisputable that Dr. Richardson THINKS HE’S FUNNY. But is he objectively funny? We admit (a) we’ve laughed at him, (b) we’ve seen him laugh at himself, and (c) we’ve witnessed other people laughing at him during professional presentations . . . but how can we be sure that people (including Dr. Richardson) weren’t laughing out of their discomfort because he sometimes uses words like “piss” when he tells counseling stories. We just didn’t feel right privileging the text with our assumptive biases. Let that be a lesson to you in your future petition-writing.

Second, inasmuch as we respect your lived experience and it appears you signed your petition in solidarity, how can we be certain that each of you really think Dr. Richardson is funny? He obviously still has an evaluative relationship with you and, given that relational component, some or all of you may have felt compelled to sign said petition. This is of especial concern because the petition was delivered to me via email from the man who, quite obviously, thinks he’s funny.

Third, and I’m taking an educated guess here, but it shouldn’t be left unsaid that many alternative interpretations exist for you forwarding this petition to me through Dr. Richardson. One prominent alternative interpretation is that vicarious learning/imitation/modeling might have occurred.

In your case, because Dr. Richardson thinks he’s funny and you’ve been exposed to him for the past 14 weeks, you’ve probably started thinking you’re funny too. It’s natural. My evidence? The phrasing,  “We, the undersigned and overworked graduate counseling students . . .” This phrase appears to be an effort at humor. Am I correct? And so I am loathe, but forced to conclude, that you have absorbed Dr. Richardson’s way of being and consequently, are at risk for future incidents where you end up thinking you’re pretty darn funny.

And so finally, to the question of whether I’ll forward this to John Wiley and Sons and make corrections for the forthcoming 3rd edition? The answer: It depends on whether 14 students who may well have been coerced and who most certainly are under the impression that they’re funny, can provide me with more concrete and substantial evidence that either you or Dr. Richardson are objectively funny. . . because I’m really on the fence about that right now.

Sincerely yours,

John SF

Here’s a photo of Dr. Brent Richardson. Does he look funny? Just curious.

Brent Richardson

Doing an Internet Interview on IHeart Radio

Today I did an internet interview with Dr. Carlos Vazquez on his “Circle of Insight” show on IHeart Radio. A few minutes after we finished, I got an email from Dr. Carlos indicating it was posted and ready to hear. Wow. Technology is amazing and it’s especially amazing when it works.

Here’s the link to the interview. Check it out if you like. Or ignore it if you prefer.

https://www.spreaker.com/episode/7224462

The show is titled: A discussion about Psychological Theories and how to talk to parents so they Listen with Dr. Sommers-Flanagan

This is what I look like when I do radio interviews.

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