Monday, August 26, 2019

Retrieving the Soul of Psychotherapy

I recall the first paper I wrote in college for a psychology course.  I don’t know where the idea came from, but I objected to any kind of psychotherapy that tried to make people ‘normal’.  I had no idea what normal meant and I had a feeling that most people who seemed normal were really quite crazy.  I have never abandoned that admittedly hasty intuition.  My idea was that any attempt to work on improving ourselves and our lives should go all out. The goal should not be to adapt to prevailing norms but to transcend mere normality and aim for the supernormal and the extraordinary.

A book I want to talk about gives voice to that sentiment I had when I first started college.  Based on forty years of clinical experience, Dr. Frank Pasciuti published (2019) Chrysalis Crisis: How Life’s Ordeals Can Lead to Personal & Spiritual Transformation.  Dr. Pasciuti has done us a service by sharing his wisdom and experience as a psychotherapist, a Greek word that means soul-doctor. Nowadays we think more in terms of brain-managers than soul-doctors.  It turns out that Pasciuti succeeds in bringing to life the root of psychotherapy, and appears to be a soul-doctor that actually believes in the soul.

A comment on the pregnant title, Chrysalis Crisis. Crisis is a Greek word that means discrimination, decision, turning-point.   A good word for the recurrent challenges we all face in life.  All of us are periodically forced to make crucial decisions, to try to recover from being broken in some way, and put ourselves back together again.  Crisis is endemic to the human condition.    

But Pasciuti has a saving thesis: every crisis is also an opportunity for growth and even, for some of us, radical self-transformation. Every crisis, small and large, is like a chrysalis, or quiescent pupa.  There is a preparatory, transitional state before a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.  There will be a radical change in the state of being and power, a sign of transcendence.   Aware that his metaphor and ontology are suspect in mainline quarters of thought, he is nevertheless determined to enlarge the framework for practicing psychotherapy and psychiatry, and his therapeutic philosophy is designed to respect the entire populace; nobody is immune to the shocking crises of embodied existence. 

The populace has all kinds of crises.  A virtue of this book is the comprehensive phenomenology of crises it presents--all kinds of situations that force us to make decisions and negotiate the turning points of our lives.  There are crises that center around our basic human reality; physical and intellectual crises, emotional and moral crises, and deeply crucial, social crises.  Each category is key and wide in scope; so many challenges, so many turning-points, and so many possibilities for rebirth and transformation. That is the tonic idea of the book.

In another section, the focus is on personal evolution, and we gain a tour of identity and intimacy crises, which for good reasons are pandemic; and we look at existential crises and those subtle but powerful crises of meaning, bound to multiply at a time when history is accelerating at break-neck speed. It seems correct to say that with the onset of modern capitalism and technology, world civilization is finally devolving into what could be the final crisis.  But hang on.

Pasciuti’s phenomenology takes us to crises associated with transpersonal experience.  What does that mean?  Well, we have a leap from caterpillar to butterfly, from being earthbound to flying. This points to new dimension and a new freedom of movement.   These stories come from special experiences such as mediumistic trance, mystical rapture, near-death states, death-bed visions, reincarnation memories, shamanic trance, Dionysian dance orgies (mostly women on ecstatic rampage), and of course we must not forget the many modes of psychedelic intoxication available to serious students of transpersonal states.

These are crises of self-identity and self-transformation.   The book provides a wealth of ideas and suggestions about the nature, depth, and complexities of inner life.  Brain science is important but tends to ignore psychological phenomena it cannot account for in material terms. That includes almost all the most interesting aspects of human experience, from the humblest sensory to the wildest extrasensory. We need to rethink the healing arts and prepare for the encroaching climate catastrophe.  

In order to be of help to people suffering from crises of meaning and spiritual distress, we need a more spacious, more subtle philosophy of healing.  Frank Pasciuti’s book is a contribution in this direction.  Reading it is like sitting down in a firm armchair and having a good conversation with a friend; but when you get up and walk away, you do so briskly and don’t fear the challenges that might come your way.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Grosso,
Thank for your brilliant and insightful review of the book, Chrysalis Crisis. You've captured the very essence of its meaning and intent. I am further inspired to read more of your writings.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your positive feedback!

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