A question about therapy that does not have "CBT" as its answer.
December 8, 2012 2:29 PM   Subscribe

Drama of the Gifted Child: does it have practical applications?

In Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller says: “Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood.” Are there schools of psychotherapy that still work from the premise that we must face and mourn our childhood losses in order to find our "true self?" If you have had this kind of psychotherapy, how has it worked for you? And if you are a psychotherapist, how has it worked for your patients? I don't think she's talking about true brain disorders here, btw, but just problems in living. Reason for asking: I resonated with the book strongly and want to take the next step, if there is one.
posted by Wordwoman to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. My therapist does a lot of work on what she calls "old scripts" where I (and I presume other clients) react to things in our adult lives in ways we were taught as children.

I think most eclectic talk therapists find Miller's work useful. At least, this is true of the ones I've seen as a client, the friends who do this work, and therapists I've interviewed for stories.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:06 PM on December 8, 2012

The idea of the 'true self' comes from the work of D.W. Winnicott. There is no 'Winnicott school', but his ideas have been widely influential, particularly in integrative psychotherapy. If you're not familiar with Winnicott's work, Adam Phillips's short introduction, simply entitled Winnicott, is a good place to start.
posted by verstegan at 3:27 PM on December 8, 2012

Dismissing Miller's work as simply derivative of Winnicott (whom I adore) would be a mistake. Both writers are highly influential within the therapeutic community today.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:01 PM on December 8, 2012

Mine is the opposite tack--Miller's book really hit home with me, but I felt unable to move on and get past all that stuff. And then, I discovered Constructive Living, which is based on Morita's work, and I felt so relieved to stop dwelling on the past.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:07 PM on December 8, 2012

The Self was actually first posited by Jung. I realize many people think he's been discredited, all the while psychotherapy continues to use his findings, simply without stating his name/crediting him for it. This begins as sounding like a derail, but will come around to answering your question directly: I've been reading Deirdre Bair's biography of Jung and am finally understanding why his work got such a bad rap: Freud and his followers literally had it out for him, merely because he dared to follow his own research rather than Freud's. Miller echoes many of his theories all while also echoing the same incomprehending criticisms of Jung as Freud and his circle. Essentially she says archetypes are escapism rather than therapeutic, and uses the baseless claim that Jung never worked on his childhood (in fact he did), as well as the assumption he was abused by his father. Read Bair and you'll see that there's no proof for it other than the Freudian school's widely-documented yet carefully-denied, fully aware efforts to discredit Jung.

It's a shame because archetypes-as-intellectual are not what goes on in actual therapy as lived by the analysand. I've been in Jungian psychoanalysis for three years now, and never once have we brought up "archetypes". But they certainly are present, as models we are taught/given as children and that we then carry into adulthood, unless we are able to accept them for what they were.

You can't have a theory of "true self" or "true nature" unless you accept the idea that it does indeed exist. And how can a healthy "true nature" exist in a child who was taught contempt and abuse, except as a theory; as an unreality? Unreality in and of itself is not negative; as with everything, it's what we make of it that matters. Miller really disserves her own theories when she mistakenly claims that archetypes are escapism. They are not. They are essential to the very process of constructing a healthier, more fulfilled self: you cannot heal unless you accept the potential of healing, and that potential is not real until it is made so. For instance anyone raised by abusive parents knows the torture of seeing their parents' potential so very clearly, and being betrayed/abandoned by the parent every time the parent chooses the path of hatred and denial rather than the potential for love and acceptance. The potential is true, but it is not made real.

Circling closer to a direct answer, then, yes, psychotherapy has helped me immensely. It began because I was indeed trapped in repeating childhood patterns: not creating situations out of thin air, of course, but experiencing situations as if they were "just something that happens to me because I bring it on" (as my parents always told me every time they punished me, but naturally, successes and achievements were random in their eyes). I needed to tell my childhood story. I do not say that as if my therapist said so: she never told me what to do or think. It was one of the reasons I chose Jungian therapy: all of my life, growing up in a fundamentalist Christian church and with controlling parents, I had been told what to do and think. What "scripts" to follow. That each divagation from script resulted in "natural" punishment.

Instead, the therapy has been a natural progression, guided by my own reactions, by what I identified as important (and less important; often the ignored and overlooked carries as much insight as the focus), by my experiences and what I thought of them. That first bit sounds egocentric, but in psychotherapy the key is the relationship between therapist and analysand: over time, my therapist would reflect to me how I had experienced things in the past. How my outlook was evolving. How stories that had seemed scattered and random, clearly showed a strengthening thread of meaning. How other stories that had also seemed scattered and random, simply faded away.

And that is how one circumambulates to gradually discover the contours of one's "true" self. The chaff falls away. The reality to which a person holds true and fast, grows stronger. Symbols are absolutely essential in speaking of this because everyone's reality is different. I could easily give specifics, but it would be meaningless because my story is not another's. And this is where archetypes come in. Not as a clinically removed analysis, but as a way of respectfully acknowledging difference and potential when speaking about analysis. We project ourselves onto symbolic slates, whether those slates are our parents or our jobs or our cats, and what we project is meaningful. Whether it has meaning as chaff or as seed/growth/etc. comes in time, with reflection, and with knowing guidance from a therapist.

Perhaps one concrete example can help: my parents raised me to believe I was hopeless and helpless. I'd never make it on my own. It was a good thing they were members of a strict church where women were expected to marry young, because the only thing I'd ever be good at was as someone to be married off. I would never have a career or be able to support myself on my own. This was one story I was raised with, and convinced it was true because, why, I failed at everything I tried! I could never get things right! I kept fucking up. I had to accept that I was evil and could only be saved by submission to saintly others.

But there were other stories. When I was three years old, I walked into the hundreds of acres of forests behind our house, accompanied only by our family's Cocker Spaniel, my faithful best friend. There were butterflies, singing streams, bright yellow daffodils, dark purple irises, hot sun and cold shadows, delightful-smelling trees, oh it was a wondrous place of discovery. My dog saved my life when, some time later, near a fence, the realization hit me: I was completely lost. I fell to pieces, sobbing, hungry, tired, and with no signs of humanity in sight. My dog went under the fence, looked at me, wagged his tail, and came back. He snorfled my hand, went under the fence again, looked at me, wagged his tail. "Oh! I can fit under the fence too!" and under I went. "Waf waf!" and mister dog led me to a house beyond that fence, where there was a man at home, who looked at my dog's tags and phoned my parents about the little girl wandering in his driveway, covered in tears and afraid to talk to someone she didn't know. Animals always approached me. Even animals other people said hated humans would approach me in friendship. I had friends (human :) ) too. Friends who are still friends 30+ years later (I'm 36).

My therapist, though the many trails and threads of my stories, reflected back to me, for instance: "you mention that your mother taught you to cook/sew/clean/handle money in such-and-such a way. Did you know that it's guaranteed not to work like that?" And on and on. They had sabotaged my independence. I had responded to their stories with anxiety and distrust.

But then there were the other stories (not just the sweet dog one; I tell it because it doesn't impinge on friends' privacy). Being curious and insightful. Trusting beings (whether dogs, cats, horses, or human friends) who did indeed help. Loving them because I believed in their qualities; they loved me because they believed in mine. I responded to their love with warmth, trust, support, and mutuality.

See the "true self" that comes through there?
posted by fraula at 2:53 AM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Sidhedevil, if you read my comment again, you'll see that I wasn't in any way 'dismissing' Miller's work as derivative of Winnicott (that would be absurd; the two are very obviously different). I just wanted to draw attention to Winnicott as a key reference point for anyone interested in exploring the idea of the 'true self'. And I think it's helpful to read Winnicott after Miller, because there is a sense in which Winnicott points (allusively) in many directions whereas Miller points (compellingly) in one direction.
posted by verstegan at 9:04 AM on December 9, 2012

My therapist (who favours mindfulness and ACT) uses those childhood stories to reflect on what are my true values. A small but excruciating example is that quietness is a value of mine. I enjoy it, I need it on a daily basis and it is something that nurtures me. My family are not quiet; the stereo or TV is ALWAYS on (sometimes both) and usually my father is on the phone and there were always pets and I also had siblings. My valuing of silence was never respected (it was 'rude' to think that someone should take a call outside during dinner, or turn the TV/stereo off if they were no longer watching and so on) and was something I was expected not only to never evince around them but something I was supposed to change. To work on in order to make myself a better human being.

Over the years I've gone through the process of trying to change my values to fit in with my family/society, being ashamed of and hiding it, apologising for but 'indulging' it to my current acceptance. But a childhood spent having one of my core values derided and unfulfilled makes a mark, which is why there was that process in the first place.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:09 PM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Schema Therapy.
posted by michelle lightning at 6:13 AM on December 17, 2012

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