Psychotherapy: East and West by Alan Watts

The Art of Psychoanalysis, continued:

Psychotherapy: East and West (1961) by Alan Watts 

Alan Watts (Psychotherapy: East and West, 1961), however, feels that the process is somewhat more complicated than this. In addition to the fact that the patient is trying to control the therapist through his symptomatic behaviour – unconsciously, of course – is the fact that he is trying to get help without having to become aware of himself. According to Watts, the patient is so disturbed by the discrepancy between his self-image and how he actually behaves that he dare not let himself become fully aware of it, although he wouldn’t be coming for treatment at all unless he were at least dimly aware that this discrepancy is causing him some problems. In psychotherapy, therefore, the therapist (in effect) taunts the patient by suggesting that he cannot really conceal himself, while demonstrating an attitude of complete acceptance and respect. At the same time, throughout this interaction, the therapist is implicitly testing two premises which the patient has assumed to be correct. The first is that some of his actions are his own, and that they proceed freely from the choices that he makes – which the therapist challenges by asking whether behaviour that the patient believes to be voluntary is really so. The second is that some of his actions are not his own, and that they happen against his will – which the therapist challenges by attributing intent to involuntary behaviour, by suggesting, for example, that there is meaning in the patient’s dreams. This places the patient in a double bind because it implies that however he behaves, either “voluntarily” or “involuntarily,” he reveals himself to the therapist. Again, if he leaves the field, he is resisting. If he blocks, the therapist will gently imply that this too is revealing, and that there must be something which he is anxious to conceal from himself. And if he aggresses against the therapist, that too is revealing. With repetition, the patient eventually learns that all his attempts at self‑concealment are absurd, and that his only escape is simply to be what he is without restraint. He does not simply learn to “be himself” as if that were something which one can do; he learns rather that there is nothing that he can do to not be himself.

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