Sunday, September 13, 2015

Fantasy impromptu #2: Stages

I have always had a visceral revulsion to the pap concepts always – always – found in the nose bag of Intro Psych courses – operant conditioning, reinforcement, “learned helplessness,” Erikson’s “identity crisis,” Adler’s “inferiority complex,” Gestalt psychology’s figure-ground, Piaget and his cognitive stages and Kohlberg and his moral stages and oh horrors, Wolpe’s “systematic desensitization” and Maslow’s hypocritical hierarchy (look that faker up).  Even writing these terms now, I hear my gut yelling at the universe, “What unusable bilge!  Who in the name of the God of Trite Oleaginous Shit gives a damn?”

Nevertheless . . . I glance at Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development (that include “basic trust versus basic mistrust” and the famous “identity crisis”) and am reminded that there are indeed different psychological stair steps in life, and know that they require different therapeutic approaches.

This isn’t just that a thirteen- or seventy-five-year-old shouldn’t be led to primal scream, descending into her childhood unfulfillment and horror.  It’s that a 22-year-old adolescent-man will have a different quality of existential distress from a 28-eight-year-old.  The 26-year-old still living in his parents’ basement will feel different from the 29-year-old in the same place.  My client, 43, who is depressed that her medical records job is a dead end is encouraged to see her life as young and consider returning to college.  One with similar fears at 48, might see and be seen differently.  Their place on the timeline is not nuance, but number as dread, and I have to be there with them.

Age itself may not be a determiner of therapeutic moderation.  A 54-year-old man with a very toxic ADHD syndrome* has, through aggressive psychoeducation, slammed on his brakes and slid over the cliff, crashing into his childhood invisibility and expelling the rages of his injustice.  This great shock – My parents, it was all about them! – is the one thing likely to bring him peace, and quiet.

I see in my stage – sixty-four years – a future that can’t be described; where there’s a kind of “hope for hope,” but the material of it will still have to be discovered (I don’t believe in “inventing” oneself).  Aware, thankfully, of the fundamental flaws of my roots, upbringing and entire life, I have to be mired in them while searching above the waves for mountains.  Where I will soon be living, there are some small ones.

Were I to see a psychotherapist, I would want to treat her like a god, or the Mother, in this way: a person before whom everything can be revealed, who understands and accepts it.  The child always present; futility with no redemption; my sense of my goodness; the unusual marriage.  The self that no one has ever seen.  I’d make her my friend, knowing she’s not.  And leave the office feeling more substantial, no longer just a mind-dwelling person.  That seems to make for hope: leaving the nest of oneself.

What is there about one’s ages that makes psychology different?  While I will always believe that real therapy is a grieving of the timeless, there is the simple fact of death that shapes each age, curving, like space-time, the flat plane of our pained existence.  Death differently immanent in each age, clashing with life, forces us to be creative or desperate (maybe that's a kind of birth).  Psychotherapy rides the curves, looking for life and desperation, and offering friendship.

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* By this I mean the features of inattention and chronic tension in addition to related developmental aborts – lost-boy immaturities including naïveté about life and self-sabotage.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.