Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A New Concept of Therapy

Freud was a miserable guy.  He was deeply insecure, heavily addicted, and ultimately died from medically assisted suicide.  He had developed mouth cancer from all the cigars, had part of his jaw removed in an attempt to excise the growing tumor, and just basically gave up.    I can't help but think, "We gotta do better."

Freud's contribution to the excavation of our unconscious mind is massive.  But he was WRONG! (about the important stuff like Happiness, Well Being, etc, mostly because he never even thought to shine his light on that area.)  Hindsight is famous for being 20/20, which is to say, perfectly clear.  The clear-seeing on Freud, for as much Insight as he offered, is that Insight sometimes cures nothing but Ignorance.  Was Freud any Happier doing it his way? The Historical hindsight says no.  He was a miserable guy, who studied and theorized about misery, and died a miserable death.  That's why we need to adopt a new concept of therapy, one that focuses more on what's working for people, and less on what's WRONG with us.

In 2012 we have this amazing opportunity to see the big picture.  Technology allows us to learn and come to know things that were once totally out of reach or hidden.   It's a big shift, one that requires us to grow and shift with it, or be left behind.  Many of the myths we've been running on have been disproven.  And it's only now that we can really integrate all that data and make that determination.

One example: The pervasive Myth in psychology, from a Freudian perspective, is that there is something wrong with us, it can be understood or interpreted, and through this interpretation it can be removed.  Like Freud's jaw, our unconscious past can be removed, and this is the proper treatment for every individual.  It sounds silly today because we have so much more data than we used to.  But in Freud's time, this was a revolution.  Today, we have a collection of not only theories, but actual scientifically rigorous findings that point us in a different direction about treatment.

My favorite part of this evolution of our thinking is the Positive Psychology movement.  Let me tell ya about that.  And you be the judge.

Martin Seligman is this really stodgy researcher at Penn.  When I was coming up in the field, especially at UCLA, we revered this man for his excellence in scientific discovery.  He was part of the lineage that busted the Freudian mythology, and drove the field away from theoretical ideas, and toward actual bits of scientific knowledge.  We loved him for his contribution to the work, for loving it enough to be bothered to spend his life studying it, and ultimately validating the field as a whole.  UCLA, like most academic environments, loves experimental design, double-blind studies, high validity scores, and anything that can be measured or involves Statistics.   So, like millions of other undergrads we studied Math, Science, and narrowed our focus ever more on what was wrong, and how we could fix it.  Our intention was noble.

One problem: all the attention on scientific rigor, and all the focus on pathology did not make Martin Seligman, or anyone else, any more fundamentally Happy.   From the time that the German pioneers (Wundt, Freud, et al) began their study of psychology in the early 20th century to the dawning of the new millennium when Seligman reigned over the American Psychological Association, our rates of Happiness had not improved.  In other words, Seligman, and the rest of us had to concede that we were WRONG.  The experiment hadn't proven what we set out to prove.    In fact, we seemed to have disproven our thesis in many ways.  It was humbling.  And if we had been "belief-based" in our approach, we would have stayed the course, insisting that we were RIGHT, even though the science, the numbers, the facts and findings did not support that conclusion.  Instead, good old stodgy Seligman is a man of Reason.  And he said, it's time for a new course.  Thus he began studying Happiness, not Pathology.  What was born of that revelation is the now celebrated field of study known as Positive Psychology.  No longer do we think it's as useful to study what's WRONG, as it is to study what's RIGHT.  

What do Happy people, Happy couples, Happy companies, Happy countries have to teach us about Happiness?  And wouldn't it be nice to be able to integrate all this information from all over the globe and all over the socio-political spectrum into our modern understanding and concept of our Selves and our Healing?   Now that we have 20+ years of data, maybe we can effectively derive a better therapy.

Here's the kicker: Stodgy Seligman, now that he's been focusing on Happiness for this long, is Happier.  He is decidedly less stodgy!  He can be seen on YouTube giving TedTalks and making humorous remarks.  It's amazing!!  The guy is Happier.  And, it turns out, as a finding of all this research, the vast majority of people who study Happiness increase their Happiness too.  As radical as it may have seemed once upon a time, Focusing on Happiness, seeking out  Gratitude, talking about the Meaningful aspects of our lives, makes people Happier.

So, let's play my favorite game, "Would You Rather...?"  Would you rather buy into a therapy system derived from a miserable guy who suicided?  Or, would you rather explore a therapy derived from all the previously acquired knowledge, vetted by rigorous study, that was born of a guy who got Happier?

For me, the choice is clear.