THE PSYCHOLOGICAL BASIS OF PSYCHOTHERAPY
THE AIM OF PSYCHOLOGYContents
The only safe basis of psychotherapy is a thorough psychological knowledge of the human personality. Yet such a claim has no value until it is entirely clear what is meant by psychological knowledge. We can know man in many ways. Not every study of man's inner life is psychology and the careless mixing of different ways of dealing with man's inner life is largely responsible for the vagueness which characterizes the popular literature of psychotherapy. It is not enough to say that a statement is true or not true. It may be true under one aspect and entirely meaningless under another. For instance, a minister's discussion of man's energies may be full of deep truth and may be inspiring; and yet it may not contain the slightest contribution to a really psychological knowledge of those energies, and would mislead entirely the physician were he to base his treatment of human energies on such a religious interpretation.
Can we not look from different standpoints even on any part of the outer world? I see before me the ocean with its excited waves splashing against the rocks and shore, I see the boats tossed on the stormy sea and I am fascinated by the new and ever new impulses of the tumultuous waves. The whole appears to me like one gigantic energy, like one great emotional expression, and I feel deeply how I understand this beautiful scenery in appreciating its unity and its meaning. Yet would I ever think that it is the only way to understand this turmoil of the waters before me? I know there is no unity and no emotion in the excited sea; each wave is composed of hundreds of thousands of single drops of water, and each drop composed of billions of atoms, and every movement results from mechanical laws under the influence of the pressing water and air. There is hydrogen and there is oxygen, and there is chloride of sodium, and the dark blue color is nothing but the reflection of billions of ether vibrations. But have I really to choose between two statements concerning the waves, one of which is valuable and the other not? On the contrary, both have fundamental value. If I take the attitude of appreciation, it would be absurd to say that this wave is composed of chemical elements which I do not see; and if I take the attitude of physical explanation, it would be equally absurd to deny that such elements are all of which the wave is made. From the one standpoint, the ocean is really excited; from the other standpoint, the molecules are moving according to the laws of hydrodynamics. If I want to understand the meaning of this scene every reminiscence of physics will lead me astray; if I want to calculate the movement of my boat, physics alone can help me.
As long as we deal with outer nature, there is hardly a fear of confusing the various attitudes; but it becomes by far more complex when we deal with man and his inner life. We might abstract entirely from æsthetic appreciation or from moral valuation, we might take man just as an object of knowledge; and yet what we know about him may be entirely different in accordance with our special attitude. Each kind of knowledge may be entirely true, and yet true only from the particular standpoint. Let us consider two extremes. If I meet a friend and we enter into a talk, I try to understand his thoughts and to share his views. I agree or disagree with him; I sympathize with his feelings, I estimate his purposes. In short, he is for me a center of aims and intentions which I interpret: he comes in question for me as a self which has its meaning and has its unity. The more I am interested in his opinions, the more I feel in every utterance, in every gesture, the expression of his will and his purposes; their whole reality for me lies in the fact that they point to something which the speaker intends; his personality lies in his attitude towards the surroundings, towards the world. Yet I may take an entirely different relation to the same man. I may ask myself what processes are going on in his mind, what are the real contents of his consciousness, that is, what perceptions and memory pictures and imaginative ideas and feelings and emotions and judgments and volitions are really present in his consciousness. I watch him to find out, I observe his mental states, I do not ask whether I agree or disagree; his will is for me now not something which has a meaning, but simply something which occurs in his inner experience; his ideas now have for me no reference to something in the world, but they are simply contents of his consciousness; his memories now are for me not symbols of a past to which he refers, but they are present pictures in his mind; in short, what I now find is not a self which shows itself in its aims and purposes and attitudes, but a complex content of consciousness which is composed of numberless elements. I might say in the first place that my friend was to me a subject whom I tried to understand by interpreting his meaning, and in the second case, an object which I understand by describing its structure, its elements, and their connections.
Both ways of looking on man are constantly needed. We might alternate between them in any experience. In the heat of argument, my friend will certainly be for me the subject with whose meanings I try to agree or disagree, whose emotions carry me away, whose ideas open the world to me. Yet in the next moment, I may notice that his ideas were shaped and determined by certain earlier experiences; that they linked themselves in memory according to certain laws of mental flow; that the vividness of his ideas made him overlook certain impressions of the surroundings; and that may turn my attention to an entirely different aspect of his inner life. His feelings and emotions, his volitions and judgments now have for me simply the character of processes which go on and which are observed, which coincide and which succeed each other, which fuse and overlap, and which are composed of smaller parts. My interest is now no longer in the meaning and intentions of this self, but it belongs to the structure and the connections in this system of mental facts. At first, I wanted to understand him by living with him, by participating in his attitudes, and by feeling with his will; now I want to understand him by examining all the processes which go on in his consciousness, by studying their make-up and their behavior, their elements and their laws. In one case I wanted to interpret the man, and finally to appreciate him; in the other case I wanted to describe his inner life, and finally to explain it. The man whose inner life I want to share I treat as a subject, the man whose inner life I want to describe and explain I treat as an object.
I might express these two standpoints still otherwise. If my neighbor is to me a subject, for instance, in the midst of an ordinary conversation, he comes in question only with reference to his aims and meanings: whatever he utters has a purpose and end. I understand his inner life by taking a purposive point of view. On the other hand, the man whose inner life is to me an object can satisfy my interest only if I understand every particular happening in his mind from its preceding causes. I transform his whole life into a chain of causes and effects. My standpoint is thus a causal one. No doubt in our daily life, our purposive interest and our causal interest may intertwine at any moment. I may sympathize with the hopes and fears of my