The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Our topic today is existential humanistic psychotherapy. With me is Dr. James Bugental, noted psychotherapist -- in fact the first president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Dr. Bugental is also the author of numerous books, including The Art of the Psychotherapist, Psychotherapy and Process, The Search for Authenticity, The Search for Existential Identity, and Challenges of Humanistic Psychology. Welcome, Jim.

JAMES BUGENTAL, Ph.D.: Thank you.

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you.

BUGENTAL: It's nice to be here, Jeffrey.

MISHLOVE: You know, humanistic psychology, including humanistic existential psychology, has often been referred to as a third force in psychology. I wonder if you can elaborate on what the term third force means in psychology.

BUGENTAL: Surely. It grew up because in the '20s, '30s, and '40s, the humanistic trend that's concerned with the human experience was subordinated by the rise of psychoanalysis and behavioristic psychology.

MISHLOVE: Those would be the first and second forces.

BUGENTAL: The first two forces, yes. All along there have been humanistic psychologies; it didn't just start in the Sixties. But in the Sixties there was a feeling that wes needed to represent that kind of psychology which was more concerned with the human experience, treated as uniquely human. And that often meant concerned with what is subjective, what goes on inside a person -- not just treating a person from the outside like a white rat or a pigeon or a computer or something. Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, George Kelly, and Rollo May were some of the people instrumental in bringing together a group to develop and enunciate a humanistic perspective.

MISHLOVE: I understand from what you're saying how humanistic psychology would be distinguished from behaviorism, which looks strictly at the externals of behavior, much like a rat. Behavioristic psychology is based a lot on experiments with rats.

BUGENTAL: We know more about the white rat, the pigeon, and the college sophomore than we do about human beings.

MISHLOVE: How do you distinguish humanistic or existential psychology, then, from the psychoanalytic tradition?

BUGENTAL: Well, it's not a complete separation, since many psychoanalysts are also humanistic, and many humanistic psychotherapists also practice some phase of psychoanalytic. But in the concept of the person, psychoanalytic psychology tends to be deterministic. Freud really had the model of nineteenth-century science -- the scientist in the white smock, standing removed, watching, introducing things to affect the object, the patient.

MISHLOVE: In other words, we're sort of controlled by these instinctive sexual and aggressive forces, and there's not much said, say, about the higher ranges of human potential.

BUGENTAL: Precisely so.

MISHLOVE: And as I gather, probably the biggest difference in your writings and the writings of other existential humanistic therapists is this enormous respect for the process that the client is going through -- an enormous faith that each person can solve their own problems with a little facilitation.

BUGENTAL: Let me enlarge on that just a little bit, Jeffrey, because it's sometimes misunderstood when we say that each person can solve his/her own problem. That's true, but very often our job is to make space for that power that's resident in the person to come out. I think of it very often like weeding the garden. You can't make a plant grow by pulling on it, but what you can do is clear away the weeds, be sure it gets nutrients and sunlight, water, and then the inward growth process will have a chance to operate. Well, it's the same with all of us, with human beings. We have weeds. We have habits of thinking, ways of seeing things, ways of defending ourselves, of trying to push ourselves to be something that maybe we're not. These things are the weeds, and they keep that healthful growth process from having a chance to operate. Now here's where psychoanalysis and at least my kind of psychotherapy have a lot of overlap, because we're concerned with weeding, with getting rid of what are called the resistances to the growth process.

MISHLOVE: There's a sense, then, that because we are hiding from our own inner pain perhaps, even though there is this natural urge within people towards wholeness and towards growth, many people may live their whole lives without experiencing the fullness of what it is to be a human being.

BUGENTAL: You know, I'd almost say everybody lives without experiencing the fullness. It's beyond us. It always stretches to a horizon that moves ahead as you move and grow. But that's encouraging. We don't have to do it all. We can keep growing, we can keep opening up new possibilities, and know that there's still always more.

MISHLOVE: You describe the psychotherapy work that you do, let's say as opposed to analyzing and providing some sort of intellectual insights for your clients, as more one of always kind of gently prodding, gently nudging your clients just to be in touch with their own deep experience.

BUGENTAL: Not always so gently, but yes. But to be more in touch with the subjective experience.

MISHLOVE: It seems as if in our normal life -- and I think I can attest to this in my own normal life -- there's a tendency to get caught up in looking at one's life intellectually, or not really feeling things fully.

BUGENTAL: Well, I think a lot of things in our life experience teach us to objectify ourselves, make ourselves into objects, and to lose the subjective center that is really where we live. To be alive physically but in a coma is not to be very much alive, psychologically at least, and most of us would not regard it as very much vitality. And all of us reduce to some extent our vital awareness to preserve a stable world and a stable self definition.

MISHLOVE: You suggest as well that most of us develop self images that are not really accurate, in a sense. One is the idealized self image, where we tend to think of ourselves as perhaps a little more perfect than we really are, and then concomitant with that the despised self image -- we hate ourselves at some level. Both of these get in our way, and in order to maintain both of them we often live away from the here and now, away from our real experience.

BUGENTAL: We blame ourselves for not being that idealized self. We fear and hate ourselves sometimes because we feel we are close to the despised image. That was Karen Horney's division, and a very useful one. Many times it's not conscious in those extremes, and it's only as one works with the person, and finds with a particular patient that he never can be content with himself -- although he succeeds reasonably well in his work and he has a feeling of accomplishment, it soon fades because it's not the perfect accomplishment. Or another person who no matter what the kinds of rewards or recognitions from the outside, never feels really clean, like they're really deserved, because that despised image is hidden back there.

MISHLOVE: How do you deal with that as a therapist?

BUGENTAL: Well, that's where helping the person to become more aware of that internal life is so important -- to get past making oneself into an object. Let me take a step back from your question to try to illustrate. A new person comes in for the first time, and I say in effect, "What bothers you? Why are you here?" The person starts to tell me, let's say, of a tragic incident in his life, but he tells it with a laugh. See, he's objectified his own experience. He doesn't let the pain of the tragedy come in. Instead he stands apart, sort of dismisses it, makes it impersonal. Now when that happens, he can't really find all that's going on inside himself. He's built an artificial wall between his awareness and his genuine experience. So the first job is to help him really let that experience through -- to discard the need to distance from the pain, to let the pain come through. He'll say, "Well, if I ever let that through, I'll never get out of it, it will be too much." That's where the therapist can say, "Hang in; we'll find our way through it. It's not all you are" -- having someone who can really stay with you and go through the pain, go through the fear, and then emerge on the other side. Sartre says at one point, or has Orestes say in The Flies: "Human life begins on the far side of despair," and only by going through the despair do we get to that opening of awareness, that creative possibility of life.

MISHLOVE: Now I have to think that as a psychotherapist -- and of course I also practice psychotherapy -- there's an enormous risk, not just for the client, in going through the pain, but for the therapist as well. Each client brings a new kind of pain, and it's always unknown territory.

BUGENTAL: Exactly so.

MISHLOVE: Can you talk about how that affects you personally, or how it has affected you in your years of practice?

BUGENTAL: Well, I think cumulatively it's changed my life immensely. What I think of first when you ask the question is how in earlier years I was trying to be what I thought I should be as a therapist, a psychologist, whatever, but not trusting. It was always like I had to hammer myself into the shape I should be. But as I was trying to help the people who consulted me to be more genuinely in themselves, in their own lives, it was holding up an unrelenting mirror to me, with the result that I went into classical analysis, later into psychotherapy, group therapy, individual therapy. I've done a lot of that sort of thing, because this work continually says, "And what about you?"

MISHLOVE: Would it be fair for me to say that you are a human being who has spent decades at this point dealing with human pain, much of your waking life?

BUGENTAL: Yes, I'd like to amend that, though. Human pain and human joy, fulfillment. People sometimes say, "How can you stand to listen to so much unhappiness and pain?" The answer is that that isn't all I hear. I also hear courage and joy and growth. So there are both sides to it.

MISHLOVE: Is there a sense that with your clients, and I should think also with yourself, that one can't really quite get to the joy without going through a lot of the pain?

BUGENTAL: That's very true. So long as we're denying our experience, happy or sad, the other part is being denied too. So that we laugh without the full laugh, we weep without the full tears. It's only as we open -- I'm making this too either/or; I don't like what I'm hearing myself saying, because it's a matter of movement in the direction of greater fullness of being, not something where you turn a switch: "Now I'm really authentic; now I'm not." And to help someone else get more in touch with their genuine experience is to call on oneself to be there too. You can't do it like to a rat or to a college sophomore.

MISHLOVE: You've written about therapy as basically a long-term process. You're not a therapist who sort of patches up things, or gives people counseling for short-term problems, but one who really helps people to go through the many layers of the onion, to reach deeper and deeper into themselves, and in that process discover a larger and larger sense of themselves. One of the things that you describe, as we get deep inside the self, beyond some of the superficial resistances, within some people is an enormous level of loathing and self hatred.

BUGENTAL: That despised self, yes.

MISHLOVE: You described it so elegantly in one of your books as the kind of thing that if it's not handled therapeutically may lead a person to run amok. And it happens from time to time.

BUGENTAL: Indeed so. Let me back up a little bit to comment on what you're saying. We have to create a self, a definition of who I am. We create a definition of what the world is. Different people create different world definitions and self definitions. That's not as surprising today as it was at one time, because television and other sources help us see how different it would be if we were born in Hong Kong or in Uganda or something. We know there are different world views and ways of constructing who and what I am and who and what this world is. But the work of depth therapy inevitably leads us to question the way we have constructed the world and defined who we are.

MISHLOVE: In other words, you're getting beneath the level of social conditioning.

BUGENTAL: Exactly so. And as that questioning comes, it's very much like feeling the ground is shaking under you, questioning the ground you're standing on, and it's a very frightening experience. In the spiritual traditions it's referred to often as the leap of faith or the dark night of the soul. In our work we think of it as the existential crisis, the crisis of existence. And when we come to realize how arbitrary, in a sense, is the way we have defined our own identities and our world, then comes that period of panic sometimes, of fright. If there's not a therapeutic container, and someone gets to that point, there's a feeling of desperation, of impotence. Sartre describes it Nausea -- that nausea of finding the arbitrariness of things. That's when feeling helpless to change that, helpless to find something that will rescue one from that nausea, people can run amok.

MISHLOVE: When you're describing this as really an existential crisis, you seem to be suggesting that in all people, not only those who go to psychotherapy, that this is implicit, or somehow latent within us. We all are confronted with an existential dilemma, even if we choose not to look at it.

BUGENTAL: It's always latent; I like your word there. I think that possibility is there, and if life is reasonably congenial, and the established ways of doing things work out well, we may never have to confront that crisis. In the latter part of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth, the world was a pretty stable place. You knew your place in it. You knew who you were. The latter part of the twentieth century, all of our world definitions are in question, our idea of what's the good and the true is debated now, it's not taken for granted. So we're much more apt to come up against that nausea, that feeling of world-sickness, and I think it's one of the reasons that there's been such a great number of people seeking therapeutic help now, compared to the past -- the feeling that there must be some truth, some anchoring point, to make things steady down, because they're too wavery.

MISHLOVE: As a psychotherapist, do you seek to comfort people who are going through this search and this nausea, or rather to just help them, to facilitate them moving through their own journey, without any pre-expectation as to where they'll lead?

BUGENTAL: Absolutely the latter. It just would not be helpful to kind of promise there's a rosy outcome if you'll only hang in. But to stand steady with someone going through it, and to portray less in words of comfort or reassurance and more in attitude, that you know that they can find their own way through it. Because you come out in very different places when you do that. That I think is a support, a container, again -- I like that idea of container -- which makes it possible for people to go through. But not everyone needs to. I don't want to sound like I'm prescribing this as a uniform prescription. For some people it's the only way to get to a real sense of their own strength and potential. For others, other shorter-term things -- and I don't want to put those down; those are very important. They serve an important role. I tend to work in one part of a very broad dimension.

MISHLOVE: You know, I'm a little puzzled in the field of psychotherapy, how some therapists will see clients for five or six times, others maybe for twelve to twenty, others for three years, others for six years; sometimes twice a week, or four times a week, sometimes once a month. How do you know when you're really involved in psychotherapy, and how do you know when it's over?

BUGENTAL: Good question. The trouble with the word psychotherapy is part of the answer to your question. It's sort of like saying, "What's a good form of transportation?" Well, where are you going, and what's your time schedule? There's a lot of questions you have to answer to know which transportation means we're speaking about. And so it is with psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be -- you may remember when Carl Rogers was first writing, he published at least one case, or one of his students did, that was a single-interview successful therapy case.

MISHLOVE: We should mention Carl Rogers is the author of Client Centered Therapy, and one of the founders of the humanistic psychology movement.

BUGENTAL: Yes -- founders of the new recognition of the movement. And of course for many of us, the number of hours went up into the hundreds. I had a classical analysis, five hundred and some hours.

MISHLOVE: That would be once a week for ten years.

BUGENTAL: No, five times a week for three years, I think it was.

MISHLOVE: But that's an enormous investment.

BUGENTAL: It is, yes it is, and I don't think it's necessary for everyone. But it depends what one seeks to accomplish. For some people the opportunity to take a very long, tough, full look at their lives, to decide is this the way I want my life to go, is an engagement of tremendous pull. They're drawn to it -- sometimes by the pain of the way their lives are going, sometimes by a kind of seeking for the more that they sense is sleeping within them. And for that kind of person, once a week is really very difficult to carry it off, as far as I can see. Twice is minimal. Before inflation made it so hard, I'd like to work three and four times a week.

MISHLOVE: Well, we're dealing now with something vastly different from what behaviorists are doing when they look at symptom change. The behaviorists would advise any client going into psychotherapy to develop concrete, specific objectives that they want to get out of the therapy. You seem to be suggesting that therapy is going to result not necessarily in a symptom change, but in an existential shift which might be even metaphysical in nature, not measurable really.

BUGENTAL: You're right on, yes. I don't want to put down what the behavioral therapists can do for dealing with certain phobias, with habit patterns that are intrusive. It can be very valuable. It's just a different task. Our kind of work doesn't seek to change symptoms. The symptoms may or may not exist when we're through.

MISHLOVE: In other words, a person could spend three years coming three times a week, and still be as phobic or anxious or neurotic as when they came in?

BUGENTAL: Ah, no. The word "as" is the trick. They could still have that pattern. I don't think we change basic patterns. Think of it this way. I worked with a lady that's described in one of the books, who whatever she was doing, that was the thing that should be. At one point she was into carrots for eyesight, and nothing would do but she had to tell everybody she knew they must have lots of carrots. Moreover when she was feeling well, she thought, "Well, it's going to be this way from now on," and she didn't see why she ever had to feel bad again. In her work, when she came to me this kind of way, it was like an iron mask fastened on her. Everything she saw was in terms of this extreme, it was distorted by this. Our work gradually moved that mask out, like this. It was still there, but she could see other possibilities around it. It wasn't dominant. It didn't control her life.

MISHLOVE: She had more of a perspective on herself, in other words. Even if the behaviors were similar, maybe she could laugh at herself a little more, or have a little bit more twinkle in her eye about it.

BUGENTAL: Exactly so. I went to see her one time some years after we finished our work, and at that time it was shiatsu massage, and nothing would do but I must have shiatsu massage. She would find out who was the best shiatsu-er in my home town, and so forth. Then suddenly in the midst of it she stopped and laughed and said, "I'm doing it again!" See, it was out here; it wasn't controlling everything. Earlier, not only would she have had to insist no matter what, she would have had no perspective on it, wouldn't be able to see it in relation to the rest, but if I didn't do it she would feel her worth was gone. Now she could laugh and I'd say, "Well, maybe I'll do it and maybe not, Kate." "Well, you ought to do it," she'd say. It didn't control her.

MISHLOVE: There's a sense, then, that existential humanistic work is helping people to get in touch with the core of themselves underneath their behavior, underneath their conditioning, so that even if the behavior or conditioning doesn't change, the core somehow comes through a little more.

BUGENTAL: It's an art, if you will. When our work goes well the person feels life is bigger -- there are more opportunities, more possibilities; I have more power. And those patterns that have been part of me are probably still there, but I'm not in their control, I have more choice about them.

MISHLOVE: And I suppose it's in this sense, when one looks at this kind of an outcome of humanistic existential psychotherapy, that then we begin to move into the transpersonal possibilities of life.

BUGENTAL: Indeed so, indeed so -- particularly as we look at the ways we've defined our own identities, and look at the way we've defined the world, and begin to see that it doesn't just have to be that way. Then for some people -- and not for everyone -- there's a sense of greater fluidity of being. Krishnamurti says at one point, "You have to have an ego to get to the bus." We've got to have a self definition to get around in the world. We can't just strip and run around naked without a self. But we don't have to be its creature; it can be our creation. And knowing it as our creation, then we have much more choice.

MISHLOVE: So at this point a person might open up to mystical or peak experiences, or to telepathy.

BUGENTAL: All of these sorts of experience -- and there's a tremendous range of them -- are potential. I don't pretend to know what's true and what's false. I do know that some of the people that I've worked with have really moved to realms of experience that I only partially understand. There's an old saying, "You can't take anybody anyplace you haven't been yourself." That's not so; they've taken me places I haven't been. I've seen them make trips I haven't.

MISHLOVE: Dr. James Bugental, thank you so much for being with me.

BUGENTAL: Thank you. I enjoyed being here.


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