Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Psychodynamics of Self

This is that old picture of the author of this blog trying to look philosophical. I was told by a friend it looks like a mug shot after an arrest. You decide.

I'm busy working away at some things that I've been wanting to do for awhile about "double consciousness" but can't get to it at the moment as I'm doing my homework. I don't like to keep the readers of this blog waiting a long time for a post so I thought that I might offer a couple of little bits of the first paper I wrote as a doctoral student. It was entitled, "Divine Possibilities: A Baha'i Philosophy of Therapeutic Transformation." Here are a few quotes:

It is the integrated and dynamic interplay of soul and body that constitutes “the self”. “Self” is the word that will be used from this point on to refer to the individual. Because the self is essentially spiritual in nature, the potential for the development of its divine possibilities is unlimited. When the development of these possibilities is constrained or not adequately encouraged, it results in disorders of the self that can take on spiritual, psychological and biological forms. However, in Baha’i teaching the inherent capacities of the soul are not diminished by illness. Illness is viewed as being analogous to clouds that obscure the light of the sun. Behind the clouds, the sun shines as brightly as ever, but its full brilliance and warmth is hidden. Disorders of the self require healing through means that are both spiritual and material in order to harmonize with its true nature and have the greatest effect.

For a Baha’i the most significant relationship of the self is with God. Through prayer, meditation, study of scripture and investigation of physical phenomena through reason and science, the self strives to know more and more about its Creator. Meditation in particular leads to intuitive knowing:

...while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed...Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit -- the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation. The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration; through it he receives heavenly food. Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. (Abdu'l-Baha,)

This kind of intuitive knowing could be understood as a form of “attunement”. Self psychology, object-relations theories and contemporary neuroscience each emphasize the contribution attuning empathically to the emotional state of another has to positive development of the self.”

For a Baha’i, love is more than a feeling. Love is the force of attraction that holds the whole universe together, that makes all things possible. The self owes its very existence to love. This Baha’i scholar defines “therapeutic love” as the force of attraction that occurs between therapist and the client, based on consciousness of their common humanity and the beauty of God’s image that each recognizes in the other. This kind of love feeds and is fed by the love of both clinician and client for themselves as individuals. Assisting clients to experience giving and receiving this kind of love is another significant task of the transformative therapeutic relationship. The developing bond of mutual attraction and attraction to self described here could be understood as “attachment”. Like knowing, the generative potential of love is experienced early in life in the caregiver-infant relationship.

Because love is a force of attraction, it sets things in motion. Love motivates individual, communal and institutional behavior, expressions of the third power of the self, “will”. The exercise of will motivated by love and guided by knowledge is how this author defines “choice”. It is this capacity for choice, transcending biological, psychological, and social conditions, that distinguishes human beings from other forms of life. One of the dehumanizing aspects of the distress that may bring clients to therapy is the degree to which it has caused them to lose faith in the possibility of choice. Without recognition of the power of will, the power of choice, there is no ground for hope for our clients or for the therapeutic process itself. What practitioners sometimes refer to as client “strengths” often are examples of the clients exercising “will” making the best choices they could under the worst of circumstances. In transformative therapeutic encounters a significant task is for the client and clinician learn together how to exercise their will, in order to create a relationship motivated by love and guided by the knowledge they discover together in a cyclical and dynamic process similar to what the self experiences over the course of life.

Anyway, I don't know if I really have any idea what I'm talking about, but it was a fun exercise to try and articulate what a Baha'i understanding of the psychodynamics of the self might be. Hopefully my professor will think it was halfway decent writing as well! Wish me luck (smile).