Chapter 1: Growth Resources in Traditional Psychotherapies Sigmund Freud and the Ego Analysts
For a variety of reasons, it is important for growth-oriented counselors, therapists, and teachers to know the traditional psychoanalytic therapies well. Although their central focus is on psycho-pathology and its treatment, many of the traditional therapies have growth thrusts that provide
valuable conceptual tools. Some of the insights from these therapies can correct and complement the understandings of persons and their growth presented in more recent therapies. Knowledge of the historical roots of most contemporary therapies (in the psychoanalytic tradition) can help growth-enablers to evaluate and use the current therapies more critically and growthfully.
The growth contributions of the traditional therapies are, for the most part, concentrated in two areas — their illumination of the depths and complexity of human personality, and their insights about the nature and dynamics of deeply blocked growth (pathology). These insights are invaluable particularly when one is working with persons whose growth has been diminished deeply for many years. In my experience, the traditional therapies provide many valuable working concepts but relatively few growth methods that are as effective as those in some of the more recent therapies. In the first four chapters I will highlight the conceptual tools from traditional therapies that I have found useful for facilitating growth in the lives of those with whom I have worked as coun-selor, therapist, growth-group facilitator, and teacher.
Generic Growth Resources from Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia, a small town in what is now Czechoslovakia, May 6, 1856. When he was four. the Freud family moved to Vienna, where he lived until one year before his death. When he entered the University of Vienna, he chose to study medicine, mainly because he was moved by a deep curiosity about human beings, a curiosity that had been stimulated by reading Darwin and Goethe.(1) Throughout his life. his consuming professional interest was his search for greater understanding of the depths of the human psyche.
Following medical school, Freud did research in physiology for a while. He entered private practice reluctantly, in order to have enough income to allow him to marry. He worked as a surgeon and then in general medicine before taking a course in psychiatry. A travel grant allowed him to study in Paris with Jean Martin Charcot, who was using hypnotic suggestion to treat hysterical symptoms. Following this he explored the dynamics of hysteria in more depth, working with an older physician, Joseph Breuer.
Freud first used the term “psycho-analysis” to describe his methodology in 1896. His first and probably his most significant book, The Interpretation of Dreams, was based to a considerable extent on the self-analysis of his own dreams. When it was published in 1900, it was almost ignored by the medical community. But a group of young physicians were attracted to Freud’s ideas and they began to meet weekly at his home to discuss them. This circle, which eventually included Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Otto Rank, Ernest Jones, and others, established a professional society and began to publish a journal, thus launching the psychoanalytic movement. The influence of Freud’s ideas gradually expanded. In 1910 he came to the United States, accompanied by key members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, to lecture at Clark University.
Freud’s consuming passion was to develop a system for understanding human beings that would live after him and would eventually reorient all of psychiatry. He spent his professional life doing psychoanalysis with patients, developing his theories (which he continued to change throughout his life) and writing voluminously. Freud’s ideas drew intense criticism from the medical and scientific communities of his day. He rigidly tried to control the direction of developments within the movement and rejected most of those who radically challenged his views. When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, Freud was allowed to move to London, where he died the next year, after a long, painful struggle with cancer of the mouth. He continued to do analytic work until less than two months before his death. He refused to take pain-deadening drugs, except occasional aspirin, preferring “to think in torment to not being able to think clearly.”
My training in psychotherapy was strongly influenced by psychoanalytic concepts and methods. Although I have become increasingly aware of the limitations of these methods for facilitating growth and of the gaps and inaccuracies in Freud’s vast conceptual system, I retain a profound appreciation for the way his pioneering discoveries illuminate the depths and darkness of the human psyche. All of us who practice the healing-growthing arts owe a tremendous debt to this brilliant adventurer into the unconscious, this courageous explorer of the hiddenness of the human psyche. In this chapter I will give an overview of Freud’s major contributions to growth-oriented work with people and then identify some inadequacies of his system, when viewed from the growth perspective.
Many of Freud’s key concepts have become a part of the common heritage of Western thought and of our general psychological understanding of persons. In this section I will describe six of these generic concepts that have been accepted by most traditional therapies, concepts that are a part of our legacy from Freud.
The first generic concept is what can be called the developmental perspective(2)–the view that human personality develops through a series of stages each with its inherent conflicts and growth potentialities. This understanding of human personality as a process is taken for granted by most therapies today. There are significant variations among traditional and contemporary therapies regarding the nature and importance of various stages. But that there is such a growth journey is a part of their common understanding of human beings.
For obvious reasons, the developmental perspective is fundamental to all growth work. This perspective is invaluable as a resource for understanding and facilitating healthy development through lifelong education and growth groups as well as for doing growth-oriented counseling and therapy. For example, when working with children in the grammar school period and with their parents, it is important to understand the general growth issues and needs that are typical of the particular life stages of the children and of their parents. To be aware of these growth themes is to be in touch with the broad context of the unique individual problems and potentials of particular children and their parents.
The second generic concept from Freud is the blocked- development view of pathology.
Psychological disturbance is understood as being caused by blocked development at a particular early life stage when the developmental conflict of that stage is not resolved satisfactorily. This “fixation” of growth at that stage results in a diminution or distortion of development at all subsequent life stages. Freud helped to make us aware of the profound destructiveness that occurs when the orderly process of growth is seriously blocked.
The basic psychoanalytic aim — to provide opportunities to complete in a healthier relationship the unfinished growth tasks from the past which continue to distort the present — is still viable and important. This concern should be a basic goal of all therapy and all growth groups, whatever their other goals. Use of the long-term, regressive methods of psychoanalysis, however, is not the most efficient or effective way to accomplish this regrowthing in most cases.
The third generic concept is the emphasis on the crucial influence of experiences during the earliest life stages on all subsequent development and functioning. As Freud persisted in asking the searching question “Why?” concerning the problems of his patients, the answers he got pointed further and further back into the early years of their lives. He discovered that the foundation of the building of personality is created during the first six years of life by the quality of a child’s close relationships with need-satisfying adults. Freud’s heavy emphasis on the profound influence of the earliest years is seen as extreme by several of the traditional therapies. But there is general agreement among them (as among developmental psychologists generally) that, for better or for worse, human growth is most rapid and crucial during these foundational years.
This emphasis on the early formative years has profound implications for growth-oriented approaches to people. To illustrate, the realization that parents of young children literally have the future at their fingertips is an awesome awareness pregnant with potentialities. It is essential for society to provide an abundance of growth-nurturing classes, workshops, and seminars for youth and young adults so that they will become more capable of satisfying, in personality-nurturing ways, the basic heart-hungers of the children they have or will soon have. Nothing could have a greater impact on the wholeness of the next generation than providing in every community a network of readily available growth and growth-repair (therapy) opportunities for parents of young children and parents-to-be. Members of all the counseling-therapy professions should take active leadership in developing such a network in the churches, high schools, colleges, adult education programs, and in all health care and counseling agencies of their communities!
The fourth generic concept from Freud is that the unconscious has a powerful influence on all aspects of our lives. The existence of the unconscious was discussed by more than fifty writers between 1680 and 1900. Freud’s great achievement was to explore its structure and contents and to demonstrate how it influences our thoughts, feelings, fantasies, beliefs, and behavior.(3) By so doing he changed irrevocably the basic self-understanding of humankind. It was his illumination of the unconscious that makes Freud the conceptual grandparent of all “depth psychologies.” As he discovered, it is through the repressed memories, wishes, conflicts, and impulses in the unconscious that painful experiences and unfinished growth from the early years continue to cripple the ability of many people to live creatively in the present. He demonstrated that bringing these repressed elements into the light of conscious awareness often facilitates healing and growth.
The idea of the unconscious is threatening to many people because it implies that we human beings are not in complete control of our own personalities. Yet, there is clear evidence that there are memories, wishes, and feelings that we cannot recall at will that do influence our behavior. As many people are at least dimly aware, there is a stranger within us. From both the psychoanalytic and the growth perspective, the inner stranger is a potential ally and friend. Until we begin to get to know the stranger, our unconscious resistances to change will tend to sabotage our conscious growth intentions. Bringing these defensive resistances to growth into the liberating light of consciousness can be a necessary part of the process of helping some people free themselves to grow. The more we establish open communication with our unconscious, and hear its messages (e.g., by understanding what our dreams and daydreams are telling us about ourselves), the greater our ability to live choicefully in the present and thereby move more intentionally into the future. Freud’s view that dreams are the “royal road to the conscious” contributes a valuable awareness that can be used to help people develop the hidden growth resources of their psychic depths.
The psychoanalytic heritage has led to the discovery that the mind is like a vast house with many rooms on many levels. Our minds are much more powerful, intricate, and potentially creative (as well as destructive) than our conscious self-understanding can even imagine. The depth discoveries of psychoanalysis constitute an invaluable resource for understanding how our potentials for wholeness are imprisoned and how they can be liberated.
The fifth generic concept from Freud’s thought is the principle of psychological causation (often called “psychological determinism”). This view holds that all human behavior has a cause or, in most cases, multiple causes. As Freud demonstrated, the most trivial and the most bizarre behavior is meaningful if we learn to understand its unconscious causes. Strange thoughts, fantasies, dreams, slips of the tongue, the jokes we think are funny, the place we sit in church, the way we feel when someone is angry, the things we remember, the people we like or don’t like — all make sense when we understand their hidden meaning. The fact that the human psyche is an orderly, cause-and-effect realm is what makes psychology as a science possible. This fact also makes it possible for psychotherapy to facilitate growth by enabling people to change the causes of their life-constricting feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. For growth-crippled people it can be tremendously energizing to discover the hidden dynamics of their diminished potentializing. By illuminating the causes of their repetitive, self-damaging patterns, therapy with a depth dimension can help them move toward liberation from the tyranny of the past, which continues to operate through these patterns.
The sixth generic insight from Freud’s thought (closely linked with the fifth) is the recognition that all behavior is motivated by drives and needs.(4) Deeply disturbed people are torn by unconscious conflicts between different needs and drives. The findings of psychoanalytic research reveals that even the self-damaging and crippling behavior of severely disturbed persons is somehow functional. It serves some defensive need of which they are consciously unaware. For example, the functional paralysis of a middle-aged man’s arm expressed the immobilizing conflict between the unconscious desire and the fear of striking out in rage at a person on whom he felt passively de-pendent. The paralysis served the purpose of blocking the acting out of his long-repressed rage, which would have led to overwhelming guilt (from his superego) and probably resulted in retaliation by the other person. Psychoanalytically informed growth therapies aim at helping people face and resolve their energy-depleting inner conflicts and satisfy their appropriate needs in ways that are constructive for themselves and others.
Other Growth Resources from Freud
What is often called Freud’s “tragic vision” is an accurate and valuable (though painful) perception of the dark, irrational, destructive side of human life. Freud’s remarkable tough-minded realism enabled him to become aware of the truncated freedom, entrapment by the past, profound inner conflicts, resistances to change, ambiguity, and paradoxes in the human psyche. Like many great thinkers, he grappled with the absurdity and tragedy that are a part of the human situation. Freud saw that we cannot have everything we want in life — e.g., that in order to develop our full capacity to love we must lose in our first love affair (the so-called Oedipal and Electra conflict).
Freud identified the universal tendency to self-deception in human beings, showing that human motivation is seldom as simple or as pure as it may seem on the surface.(5)
Freud’s tragic vision, though incomplete from the growth perspective, reveals a dimension of human reality that cannot be ignored by anyone who wants to facilitate growth. Our effectiveness as growth enablers will be enhanced if we see and understand persons through the glasses of growth. These glasses must be bifocal!(6) The psychoanalytic therapies make a significant contribution by providing the bottom lens for these bifocals. This is the lens that enables us to see and understand the psychopathology and unresolved conflict that are present in “normal,” functional people, as well as in dysfunctional people. Our work with people will be growthful only if it is based on an open-eyed awareness of the reality, depth, complexity, and tenacity of human broken-ness. Approaches that perceive persons only through the upper lens of the bifocals (which enables one to see the strengths and positive potentials in everyone) sabotage their own effectiveness by their incomplete vision of human beings. Freud was accurate when he insisted that we must look at the truth about ourselves, whether we like it or not, if we are to grow. His realism is a salutary corrective for any tendencies we may have toward easy optimism. Respect for reality, including its tragic dimension, is the only solid foundation for human potentializing. It is important to recall that there is a heroic quality about Freud’s commitment to helping people salvage all that they could of productive living in the midst of life’s trappedness and tragedy. When asked about the central goal of his therapy, he responded that it was to enable people “to love and to work.”
Freud’s discoveries concerning the parallelism and interaction between psychological and sexual factors in human development have profound implications for understanding blocked growth. Many of his insights concerning the power and pervasiveness of human sexuality from the beginnings of life are useful for growthful parenting as well as for therapeutic repair work later in life. We can be grateful for the courage it must have taken to continue exploring the taboo-shrouded area of infantile sexuality, in spite of bitter attacks from the scientific and medical communities of his day. The healing and growth insights that are available from the psychoanalytic understanding of psychosexual development through adolescence, particularly as these insights have been extended by Erik Erikson and corrected by feminist psychologists, offer valuable conceptual tools for understanding and facilitating human growth. The recognition of the vital role of sexual crippledness and diminution in general psychological and interpersonal problems (and vice versa) is, in itself, a crucial concept for helping people develop their wasted potentials for fulfillment, ecstasy, and joy.
Freud’s concepts of transference and countertransference are valuable growth resources.(7) In psychoanalytic therapy, transference is understood as the projection of repressed wishes and feelings from early-life relationships onto the analyst. The “transference neurosis” thus established is used as an opportunity for the person to relive and redo the unfinished growth work from the past. As one becomes aware of the transference projections and lets go of them, the grip of the past on the present is gradually diminished. Countertransference is the unconscious projection by therapists onto their clients of unconscious material from their own early relationships. Transference and countertransference factors are present to some degree in all therapeutic and teacher student relationships. If therapy is to be growth-enabling, therapists must become aware (through their own therapy) of their counter- transference projections so that they can withdraw these and relate to clients authentically in the present. Transference is a way of trying to continue past relationships by recreating present relationships in their image. It also serves to block awareness of the newness present in today’s relationships. As Freud made clear, effective therapists must frustrate the transference needs of their clients so that they can become aware of and change the growth-inhibiting way in which they are attempting to live in past relationships. Transference dynamics also operate in other close relationships. For example, the most common unconscious growth-blocking factor in marriages is what has been called “parentifying one’s spouse” — i.e., seeing one’s spouse as a good or bad mother or father figure. Chronic problems with bosses, min-isters, and other authority figures often root in unconscious transference projections. (People often project infantile, magical transference feelings about God onto ministers.) All of us who work closely with people need to be aware of transference dynamics so that we can facilitate growth beyond them.
Though not the first to do so, Freud viewed religious behavior, attitudes, and beliefs as legitimate objects of psychological investigation. Thus he helped to lay the foundation of the contemporary discipline of psychology of religion, an essential resource in counseling on spiritual issues. He made a profound contribution to our understanding of the many forms of pathogenic, growth diminishing religion that constrict the wholeness of so many people today. Recognizing that our religious ideas and feelings are deeply influenced by early experiences with need-satisfying adults, he saw accurately that we tend unconsciously to project our need for a perfect parent figure onto the universe as we create our perception of deity. Freud pointed to the magical, infantile feelings and longings that continue to dominate many people’s religious lives long after the reality principle has gained ascendancy in other areas of their lives. He saw the obsessive-compulsive dimension that is very prominent in many conventional religious practices. He threw light on the growth crippling effects of such unfree, infantile, reality-denying religion. All of us who are committed to nurturing spiritual growth as an essential dimension of human potentializing stand in Freud’s debt for these contributions.
Freud accurately identified the process by which the conscience is developed and its initial contents determined. He saw how the values of a culture, as these are incarnated in the attitudes and behavior of parents, are internalized by children as they experience these values in the rewards punishment, praise-blame responses of their parents. When dealing in counseling and therapy with problems of immature or distorted conscience — e.g., neurotic guilt or lack of appropriate guilt — these insights, as they have been refined and developed subsequently by other psychoanalytic thin-kers, are invaluable working concepts.
Some Inadequacies in Freud’s Thought
In spite of Freud’s enormous growth contributions, there are serious weaknesses, gaps, and in-accuracies in his thought when viewed from a growth perspective. The fundamental inadequacy from which the other weaknesses are derived is his impoverished view of the nature of human beings. He saw human personality in biologically reductionistic, pathology-centered ways. He illuminated psychopathology in brilliant ways, but he neglected the healthy dimensions that are pre-sent in all persons, even the most disturbed. When he attempted to create a general psychology of personality, based on his findings from studying neurotic patients, he did not see that health is much more than the absence of gross pathology.
Freud helped to provide the pathology lens of the growth enabler’s glasses, but he was not aware of the need for another lens. He failed to see fully the profound strivings and resources for growth that people can use to transcend or transform their brokenness. This fundamental gap in his per-ception of people reinforced his deep pessimism. From the growth perspective, the pathology lens functions most therapeutically when the other lens is present to enable us to see pathology in the context of the people’s potentials for wholeness. The pathology lens prevents shallow optimism, while the top lens allows one to see strengths and growth possibilities in persons who otherwise appear hopeless. The two lenses together function in ways that energize a reality-based hope for creative change.
Freud’s instinctivistic and biological reductionism led him to a mechanistic model of human beings reflecting nineteenth-century Newtonian physics. He viewed the ego as a puny being caught between powerful instinctual drives and id impulses, on the one hand, and the harsh demands of society, intemalized in the superego, on the other. This conception left little room for seeing the possibility of a strong, unifying self that can enable persons to orchestrate their own conflicts and growth struggles effectively. Freud’s understanding of psychological causation smacks of hard determinism. He rightly emphasized the unconscious trapped- ness of human beings. But he did not believe that people have the capacity to increase their self-awareness significantly on their own, or to function out of the “conflict-free” areas of their personalities. The working concept of psychological causation can be retained, however, without surrendering to rigid determinism, by showing that the self, the center of our being, can become the most important cause of behavior. Growth in inner freedom consists of becoming more self-causing, more free to rearrange constructively the unchangeable givens of one’s life.
Freud accurately described the primitive, impulsive, and destructive aspects of the unconscious. He did not emphasize (as did Jung) the potential riches and creativity that are also available in the depths of the psyche. He dichotomized the rational and the nonrational, mythic and intuitive sides, and invested reason (divorced from these resources) with an exaggerated faith. His fascination with origins caused him to exaggerate the influence of the past. He rejected the notion that the future can energize human intentionality by luring people (teleologically) toward new possibilities. Freud reduced all the cultural achievements of humankind — art, philosophy, religion, and so forth — to sublimated sexual energy. This reductionism implied a rejection of any height dimension in human personality having its own inherent integrity in the functioning of personality.
The hyperindividualistic, instinct-centered view of Freud reduced human development to what is essentially the intrapsychic evolving of the instincts. He underestimated the powerful influence of interpersonal relationships in all human growth. This error was compounded by the paucity of
cross-cultural studies which led him to assume inaccurately that he could extrapolate from the characteristics of mid-Victorian Viennese patients in describing a universal psychology. Many of his generalizations about psychosexual development have been challenged and corrected by subsequent developmental, feminist, and cross-cultural studies.
Because of his intrapsychic focus, Freud’s depth psychology lacks a breadth dimension, which would have allowed him to see that we human beings are also interpersonal in our very essence and that therapy must also deal with the interpersonal systems that nurture or starve our growth. His individualism and his pessimism apparently caused Freud to misunderstand the relation between the individual and society, seeing these as essentially antagonistic. He rejected Adier’s view that people have a basic striving to satisfy their needs for power and worth in ways that do not alienate them from others. Consequently Freud was not interested in developing an ecological ethic based on the awareness that, in the long run, the real good of individuals requires cooperation, not conflict and competition. Today, our ultimate welfare and even survival depend on developing such an ethic and discovering the basis for such cooperation in personal and intergroup relationships.
Because Freud’s understanding of human beings reflected a nineteenth-century energy theory, he did not see that interpersonal transactions are different, in some basic ways, from the exchanges of physical energy. His view that self-love (narcissism) somehow depletes the energy available for loving others caused him to miss the key insight (developed by Erich Fromm and others) that genuine self-love, self-respect, and self-caring provide the only firm foundation for genuinely loving others. Chronic narcissism, rather than being self-love, is really a symptom of self-doubt, self-rejection, and lack of ego strength.
With all his brilliant insights into pathogenic religions, Freud was unaware of the fact that growth nurturing, salugenic (wholeness-fostering) religions even existed. He generalized on his appropriate critique of the infantile, obsessive-compulsive, wish-dominated religions (with their roots in tribalism and totemism) that he encountered in his patients, assuming that he was describing all religions. He was unaware of the fact that human beings are inherently transpersonal and that we cannot fulfill our basic potentialities fully unless we develop the spiritual dimension of our lives. His world view was derived from nineteenth-century scientific rationalism which made reason his god. Freud’s understanding of the superego, the immature, authority-centered con-science, stopped short of recognizing that there are other stages of moral maturing beyond this early stage. Persons who continue to grow in this area gradually learn to evaluate and partially transcend the values of their parents and culture, which they internalized during early childhood. Freud does not help us understand the more mature, autonomous conscience, whose values are based on the ego’s perceptions of what is authentically good for oneself and for others, rather than on the dictates of one’s superego.(8) His use of the “death instinct” as an explanation of all human evil and destructiveness prevented Freud from understanding the complex and varied sources of this negative side of human life.
Freud’s enormous blind spots regarding women produced major inaccuracies in his psychology of women. These distortions reinforced the sexism in most psychotherapy during and since his times. He assumed that what he saw in neurotic women patients (masochism and nonassertiveness, for example) was normative for women generally, rather than the consequence of the crippling effects of the patriarchal culture in which they lived. His unconscious sexism caused him to exaggerate the role of fathers and underestimate the role of mothers in the growth of children. As feminist psychologists are now showing, many of his theories about “normal” psychosexual development are actually descriptions of the ways in which boys and girls develop in a patriarchal culture. Unwittingly, by his assumptions, Freud reinforced the norms and values of a patriarchal culture in ways that have tended to increase its destructiveness for both women and men. Some of the traditional psychoanalytic methods for opening up blocked communication between the unconscious and the conscious mind, e.g., free association and analyzing the transference neurosis, are unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive and their therapeutic effectiveness does not seem to be confirmed by empirical research evidence. The use of psychoanalytic methods is justifiable mainly as instruments of depth research into the human psyche. As is true of all long-term intrapsychic, nonsystemic approaches to therapy, psychoanalysis has little relevance to the task of healing the brokenness of the masses of humankind. Freud himself was aware of this but saw no basis for a wider hope.
Growth Resources from the Ego Analysts
A movement toward more growth-centered understandings of human beings and of therapy has occurred in many traditional as well as contemporary therapies. The most creative thrust in psychoanalysis since Freud — the work of the ego psychologists or ego analysts — introduces a robust emphasis on health understood as growth.(9) This thrust has produced a radical, growth-centered metamorphosis within psychoanalytic thought, which has corrected many of the weaknesses in Freud’s thought.
Ego psychology has developed on two fronts, the first represented by Anna Freud (Sigmund’s daughter), and the second by Heinz Hartmann, David Rapaport, and Erik Erikson. In 1923 Freud introduced his “structural hypothesis,”(10) which stated that the personality is organized into three basic energy systems. The id is the seat of the primitive, instinctual sexual and aggressive energies, which provide the raw material out of which the entire psyche develops. The id is ruled by the pleasure principle rather than by logic, sense data, or moral considerations. The ego is developed from the id energies to allow the organism to cope with external reality and obtain maximum satisfactions. The ego is governed by the reality principle. The superego, a subsystem of the ego, develops by internalizing the culture’s values in order to guide the organism’s behavior in ways approved by that particular society. The id is entirely unconscious; major functions of the ego and superego also operate unconsciously. Freud concentrated his major efforts on understanding the id and the unconscious. Since he saw the ego as derivative from and the servant of the id, he believed that it was extremely vulnerable to id impulses and control. The ego psycholo-gists, as the name suggests, have focused their attention on understanding the functioning of the ego. As a result of their research, the ego is now seen within psychoanalysis as having a central and dynamic place in determining the psychic health of the whole person.
In her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, (11) Anna Freud explored in depth the ego’s unconscious defenses against anxiety (described originally by her father). She gave the ego
a new status by showing how the ego defenses are the key to understanding both healthy and disordered personality dynamics.
From a growth perspective, knowledge of the dynamics of the ego’s defenses is a valuable resource because it clarifies the ways in which people unconsciously isolate themselves from painful reality and from the growth that is possible only by dealing more openly with this reality. Among the defenses frequently encountered in counseling and therapy are repression (of painful memories into the unconscious); fixation (at a safer-feeling growth stage); regression (to an earlier, safer-feeling .stage); projection (onto others of the feelings or impulses eliciting anxiety); rationalization (giving oneself and others reasonable excuses for unreasonable behavior); denial (of threatening aspects of reality); introjection (seeking protection by identifying internally with a feared person or idea); reaction formation (denying threatening impulse by going to the other extreme in one’s behavior — e.g., denying repressed rage by behaving in super “loving” ways); intellectualizing (avoiding threatening feelings by chronic “head-tripping”).
All of us have and need defenses to cope with the pressures and crises of our lives. When failure feelings become too intense in me, my response is rationalization or projection of responsibility onto circumstances or other people. If my ego is relatively resilient at the time, my defenses relax as my self-esteem recovers. I gradually become aware of my own responsibility in causing or contributing to the failure experience, and eventually decide what I must do about it.
In growth enabling work, it is important to remember that people have defenses because they still need them, or believe they do, because they once needed them desperately to maintain even minimal feelings of worth and power. The problem with ego defenses is that they often function in compulsive, life-constricting ways, long after the original threat is gone, rather than being temporary defenses when self-esteem is too threatened. When they operate in rigid compulsive ways, the energy they consume is unavailable for growth. Growth can occur when people cope with painful reality by using and thus strengthening their personality’s coping “muscles.” People let go of energy-squandering defenses not when those defenses are attacked, but when their self-esteem and confidence grow stronger. Only then can they risk living more openly, vulnerably, and authentically.
The research of Heinz Hartmann and Erik Erikson moves far beyond Anna Freud’s focus on the defensive functions of the ego to examine the ego’s many capacities for constructive coping. In their thought, the ego is seen in ways that are very similar to the “self” in contemporary therapies — as the potentially effective coordinator of the overall integration and development of the whole personality. Hartmann focuses psychoanalytic thought on the healthy, conflict-free dimensions of personality. (12) He sees the ego as having a growing autonomy and strength of its own. Rather than being derived from the id, both the ego and the id develop from the more fundamental bio-psychic resources of the organism. The infant is born with resources that gradually mature into “ego apparatuses,” basic tools for handling both the inner instinctual drives and the demands of the external world. These developing apparatuses include thinking, perception, memory, language, and all the other psychological and neuromuscular skills of a growing person. Hartmann integrated psychoanalytic insights with developmental studies in psychology, showing that the human organism has a built-in timetable for the development of the ego’s potential abilities. This developmental timetable is influenced but not determined (except in case of extreme pathology) by unconscious, instinctual forces.
The implications and applications of this newer psychoanalytic understanding of growth are many and profound. For example, children learn to walk and talk according to their own neuromuscular
developmental timetable. This process can be delayed or disrupted only by severe unconscious conflicts fostered by severely depriving relationships with parents. Once children have learned to walk or talk, they have acquired ego skills of enormous value for coping with their physical and interpersonal environment in ego-strengthening ways. This principle can be used in doing re-educative, action-oriented counseling and therapy. Shy, socially inept adolescents may be helped to increase their self-esteem and sense of competence by being coached and encouraged in basic social skills that will allow them to experience success in peer relationships. Youth who feel trapped in vicious cycles of repeated failures may be helped to interrupt the cycle by being coach-ed and supported as they accomplish modest realistic goals. Acquiring practical skills for effective action (rather than insight) is the key to the growth that occurs in such counseling. Ego psychology illuminates the growth that occurs in crises and in supportive relationships within which new coping-with-life skills are learned. I have been impressed repeatedly with the remarkable growth I have seen in many alcoholics who, with no formal therapy, found in AA an ego-strengthening, growth-nurturing environment.
As a result of the more dynamic conception of the ego derived from the work of the ego analysts, Sigmund Freud’s tripartite model of personality has become more valuable as a resource for facilitating growth. It can be used as a shorthand way of understanding the therapy that is needed to overcome some common types of growth blockages. To illustrate, some people (called “psychoneurotics” in traditional psychiatric nomenclature) are tyrannized by cruel superegos (hairshirt consciences), which produce neurotic guilt and anxiety. They need to develop more accepting consciences, guided by what they genuinely value rather than by fear of punishment. Persons who are easily pushed around by the demands of others need to develop a stronger sense of their own worth and power so that they will not be manipulable. These two types of growth often occur as such persons experience the acceptance of and then gradually identify with the more robust self-esteem and accepting conscience of the counselor-therapist.
People with very weak egos and rigid defenses that cut them off from perceiving major areas of reality but do not protect them from feeling flooded by raw impulses from the id, need a different type of help. Such people (called “psychotics” or “borderline personalities” in traditional psychiatric nomenclature) often need a long-term supportive relationship that reinforces the effectiveness of their less reality-denying defenses and allows them to gain ego strength by coping better with everyday realities. Uncovering, insight-oriented therapy is usually contraindicated because it is too anxiety-producing. Within the safety of warm, supportive individual or small group counseling relationships, growth in coping-with-life ego skills often can occur.
Persons with immature or malformed superegos (called “character disorder” or “psychopathic personalities” in traditional psychiatric language) need a different type of growth and therefore a different approach to therapy. Such persons act out their inner conflicts with little insight or guilt. To help them the therapist needs to use behavior modification or “reality therapy” approaches aimed at helping them learn to control their destructive acting out.
Growth-enabling counseling and therapy must include two essential experiences — acceptance and caring, on the one hand, and confrontation with reality, on the other. I call these two ingredients together the growth formula.(13) A crucial decision in applying the growth formula involves deciding what balance between the two ingredients will be most likely to activate the growth elan in a particular person. Ascertaining the relative ego strength of clients is a prerequisite to making this decision. In general, the greater the degree of ego strength, the more confrontation can be accepted growth-fully by persons. The weaker the ego, the more support and acceptance are needed as the context of even gentle confrontation. When persons come for help, here are some of the questions counselors should ask themselves to gain a sense of their current ego strength:
What is the nature and quality of their ego defenses? Are they using heavy defenses (e.g., denial or extreme projection) or light defenses (e.g., rationalization or mild projection)? Do their de-fenses feel compulsive and rigid or relatively flexible? Do they have any self-awareness that they may be denying aspects of reality by their defenses? As the counseling relationship develops, do they gradually relax their defenses and become more open to awareness of reality? What is the quality of their pattern of relationships? Is trust, mutuality, continuity, or commitment present in them? Are they able to develop trust within the therapeutic relationship? How constructively do they handle everyday crises and frustrations? How quickly do they begin to mobilize new coping skills? How do they cope with the normal responsibilities? How well (including how flexibly) do they organize their lives as they cope with their situation? To what extent does their behavior reflect a sense of self-esteem, competence, and power?
In general, persons who use heavy, inflexible defenses, are unable to sustain relationships of trust and mutuality, cope ineffectively, become disorganized or regress quickly when confronted with everyday crises and responsibilities, and are very dependent on others for sustaining their necessary sense of worth and power, suffer from ego weakness and dysfunction. Ego weakness is present in many chronic alcoholics and drug addicts, persons with multiple psychosomatic problems, delinquents and criminals, and people whose lives seem to consist of one (or several) crisis after another. Social oppression and deprivation deplete the ego resources of many women and members of minority groups in our sexist and racist culture. One’s degree of ego strength changes constantly. Under sufficient internal or external stresses, anyone will show temporary ego dysfunction.
Ego psychology has given supportive counseling, in its various forms, a new importance. The greater the degree of ego dysfunction, temporary or chronic, the more need there is for using supportive methods in counseling and therapy.(14) Growth in the ability to cope constructively can occur in supportive relationships as the counselor or the support group helps persons gratify their dependency needs; drain off powerful, ego-paralyzing feelings (e.g., guilt, failure, anxiety); review their situation more objectively; and plan and implement realistic ways of coping constructively with their situation. Confrontation must be gentle, and the need for ego defenses must be respected until the need for support diminishes.
Erik Erikson’s many-faceted ego psychology has enriched the developmental thrust in con-temporary psychoanalytic thinking and practice tremendously. With his growth-centered vision of what it is to be whole, and his profound respect for the ego’s creative capacities, he has redefined many of Freud’s working concepts. As Don Browning says: “Erikson believes that the ego, in contrast to the superego and id, is the human counterpart of those regulatory capacities of animals which assure their ecological integrity. It is the ego which is the real servant of evolution, adaptation, and the cycle of the generations.”(15) Like Freud, Erikson understands health developmentally. But he corrects Freud’s myopic view that most if not all major growth changes occur before the end of adolescence (unless one undergoes extensive psychoanalysis). Erikson extends the developmental view of wholeness throughout the life cycle. Each of his eight stages has its new growth tasks, conflicts, risks, and new ego strengths that develop as growth tasks are accomplished. To illustrate, adolescents are “healthy” to the degree that they are developing a strong sense of identity with the accompanying ego strength, fidelity. Mid-years persons are healthy to the degree that they are creating a life-style of generativity with its ego strength of care. In the companion volume to this one, I have suggested a variety of growth-enabling ways of using a modified version of Erikson’s growth schema with fourteen stages.(16)
Erikson adds an essential sociocultural dimension to Freud’s psychosexual understanding of human development, integrating the two with the light touch and sensitivities of an artist (which was his background before becoming a psychoanalyst). He thus provides the relational institutional-cultural context of individual development. Unlike Freud, Erikson does not see individual strivings as inherently antagonistic to the demands of society. He shows that there are vital resources for nurturing human growth in all cultures, even though there is also some necessary sacrifice of individual instinctual strivings. Individuals can become and remain strong
only in the supportive context of their culture’s institutions, the interdependency of the generations, and “a widening radius of significant individuals and institutions”(17) throughout their lives. Erikson criticizes Western culture because it provides an impoverished environment for nurturing the ego in its task of integrating experience and gaining mastery of one’s life situation.
One of the vital resources for growth-enablers in Erikson’s thought is his emphasis on the power of the future and of hope. Like Hartmann, he sees the infant as being born with a built-in ground plan and the necessary resources for growth in all the- life stages. He calls this the “epigenetic principle” and regards it as the energizing motif of all human growth. He reverses Freud’s attempt to explain the present by the past, making the pull of one’s growth potential toward the future the explanatory principle.(18) Hope, a basic orientation toward the future, is the most indispensable strength of the ego. Hope is nurtured in small children when faith and trust pervade their parents’ pattern of caring.
Erikson makes invaluable contributions to our understanding of spiritual growth. With the touch of an artist, he describes psychoanalysis as a Western form of meditation — a way of getting in touch with vital inner processes. Faith, like health, is understood developmentally. To be alive, faith must continue to grow. (19) The foundation of faith (and the cornerstone of healthy personality), is basic trust, the growth goal of the first life stage. In adolescence, faith must grow to include a meaningful ideology; in the mid-years, to include generativity; and so on throughout life. Erikson sees religious institutions as ò an important means of helping parents renew their inner trust regularly so that their children can experience and internalize trust from them. “Trust, then, becomes the capacity for faith — a vital need for which man [sic] must find some institutional confirmation. Religion, it seems, is the oldest and has been the most lasting institution to serve the ritual restoration of a sense of trust in the form of faith while offering a tangible formula for a sense of evil against which it promises to defend man.”(20)
In his studies of Luther and Gandhi, Erikson has illuminated the role of dynamic religious leaders whose personal and existential conflicts reflect the central conflicts of their age. Their resolution of these conflicts becomes a kind of universal drama that gives meaning to many people in their cultures. Such a spiritual leader becomes “a cultural worker who creates out of the conflicts of his time, a new identity for his age.”(21)
Erikson calls for the creation of a growth model of ethics. The golden rule, he suggests, could well be reformulated “to say that it is best to do to another . . . what will develop his best potentials even as it develops your own.”(22) He points to the need in our modern world for a universal ethic in which nurturing and caring for the growth of others (generativity) becomes the guiding motif: “The overriding issue is the creation not of a new ideology but of a universal ethic. . . . This can be advanced only by men and women who are neither ideological youths nor moralistic old men [or women], but who know that from generation to generation the test of what you produce is the care it inspires.”(23)
One significant weakness in Erikson’s thought is his psychology of women. As feminist psychologists have shown, his views of “inner space” reflect sex role stereotypes, even though they are far less blatant than Freud’s sexist biases.(24) In spite of this serious limitation, Erikson represents psychoanalysis in its most open, free, and growth-enabling expression.
For Further Exploration of Growth Resources in the Therapy of Freud
Fadiman, James, and Frager, Robert. “Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Personality and Personal Growth. Harper, 1976, chap. 1. A succinct overview of Freud’s major concepts.
Freud, Sigmund. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, vols. 15-16, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-66. A series of lectures to students at the University of Vienna.
—-The Interpretation of Dreams (Standard Edition of Freud’s Complete Works, vols. 4-5). According to Freud, contains “the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make.”
—New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Standard Edition, vol. 22). Includes Freud’s structural hypothesis.
Fromm, Erich. Sigmund Freud’s Mission. New York: Harper and Bros., 1950. An evaluation and analysis of Freud’s personality and influence.
Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books, 1953, 1955, 1957. The standard biography of Freud in three volumes. Vol. 3 includes a historical review of Freud’s thought on a variety of topics.
Rothgeb, Carrie L. Abstracts of the Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. New York: Jason Aronson, 1973. Brief synopses of all Freud’s writing with an introduction to reading Freud by Robert R. Holt.
For Further Exploration of Growth Resources in the Therapy of the Ego Analysts
Browning, Don. Generative Man: Psychoanalytic Perspectives. Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1973. A depth study of Erikson, Fromm, Hartmann, Robert White, Norman Brown, and Phillip Rieff and their views of wholeness and society.
Clinebell, Howard. “Ego Psychology and Pastoral Counseling,” Pastoral Psychology, February
1963, pp. 24-36. Discusses the basic concepts of ego psychology as resources for strengthening the effectiveness of supportive counseling.
Erikson, Erik H. Childhood and Society, 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1963. A ground breaking book that sets forth his eight stages of growth.
—Identity, Youth and Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968. Explains the identity crises of
adolescents in contemporary America. ù. Insight and Responsibility. New York: W. W. Norton, 1964. Essays on the ethical implications of psychoanalytic insights.
—Young Man Luther. New York: W. W. Norton, 1958. A psychoanalytic study of Luther’s developmental crises and their impact on his times.
—Gandhi’s Truth. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969. Shows how Gandhi’s childhood and youth prepared him to be the revolutionary innovator of militant nonviolence.
Gleason, John J., Jr. Growing Up to God: Eight Steps in Religious Development. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975. Applies Erikson’s stages to religious development.
Hartmann, Heinz. “Ego Psychology and the Problems of Adaptation,” David Rapaport, ed., in Organization and Pathology of Thought. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951, pp. 362-98. A basic statement of Hartmann’s perspective.
Parad, Howard J., ed. Ego Psychology and Dynamic Casework. New York: Family Service Assn. of America, 1958. A series of papers on the implications and applications of ego psychology in working with various types of clients.
1. Much of this biographical information is taken from the succinct biographical statement in
James Fadiman and Robert Frager, Personality and Personal Growth (New York: Harper, 1976), pp. 4-9; for an in-depth biography of Freud see the classical three-volume work by Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (New York: Basic Books, 1953, 1955, 1957).
2. Ruth L. Monroe delineates the first four of these generic concepts in Schools of Psychoanalytic Thought (New York: Dryden Press, 1955), chapter 2.
3. See Lancelot L. Whyte, The Unconscious Before Freud (New York: Basic Books, 1960).
4. In Freud’s thought, behavior is seen as motivated by instinctual drives and needs.
5. I am indebted to Rod Hunter for calling my attention to the importance of these points and to a variety of other contributions from Freud’s thought.
6. For a discussion of this concept see Growth Counseling, pp. 52-55, 63.
7. For a discussion of this issue see “Transference and Countertransference in Pastoral Care,” by E. Mansell Pattison, Journal of Pastoral Care, Winter 1965, pp. 193-202.
8. For further exploration of this issue see Donald E. Miller’s Wing-Footed Wanderer: Conscience and Transcendence (Nashville: Abingdon, 1977) and John Hoffman’s Ethical Confrontation in Counseling (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979).
9. Ruth Monroe describes the thought of the ego psychologists as “the mainstream of progress in Freudian psychoanalysis.” Schools of Psychoanalysis, p. 104.
10. See Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.
11. Translated by Cecil Baines (New York: International Universities Press, 1946).
12. Hartmann, using an analogy, points out that a full description of a nation must include much more than its conflicts and wars. To understand a nation one must know about all its peaceful activities, the development of its populace, its social structure, economy, peace-time traffic across its borders, and so on. The same principle applies when one is seeking to understand or help people.
13. Growth Counseling, pp. 55-56.
14. I have discussed four types of supportive counseling in Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966), chap. 8.
15. Generative Man: Psychoanalytic Perspectives (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), p. 155.
16. Growth Counseling, chap. 6.
17. Erikson, Identity, Youth and Crisis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), p. 93.
18. See Browning, Generative Man, p. 181.
19. For a discussion of religious development, using Erikson’s stages, see LeRoy Aden, “Faith and the Developmental Cycle,” Pastoral Psychology, Spring, 1976; and John J. Gleason, Jr., Growing Up to God: Eight Steps in Religious Development (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975).
20. Identity, Youth and Crisis, p. 106. (Sic in brackets is used here and in other quotations throughout Contemporary Growth Therapies as a device to call to the reader’s awareness the sexist connotations of the generic use of masculine nouns and pronouns.)
21. Browning, Generative Man, p. 149.
22. Insight and Responsibility (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964), p. 233.
23. Identity, Youth and Crisis, p. 260.
24. See Growth Counseling, pp. 160-61; also Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (New York: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 210-21; Erikson, “Inner and Outer Space: Reflections on Womanhood,” Daedalus, 93 (1964), pp. 582-606.