Buber and Marcel on treatment considerations

Many of Buber’s notions connected to his philosophy of dialogue have been briefly discussed or referenced in a few publications reflecting mainstream psychoanalytic clinical practice (and more so in existential and Gestalt psychotherapy). The emphasis has been largely on how Buberian notions correlate, if not foreshadow, seminal ideas circulating in contemporary relational psychoanalysis. For example, Buber is briefly referenced/discussed about mutuality and reciprocity (Aron, 1996), dialogue (Ehrenberg, 1992), the interhuman, the between (Aron & Starr, 2013), and the imagined real (Cooper, 2000).20 And Buber’s notion of what the “end of therapy” is resonates with relational theorists: “The specific ‘healing’ relation would come to an end the moment the patient thought of, and succeeded in, practicing ‘inclusion’ and experiencing the event from the doctor’s pole as well” (1958, p. 133).21 For the most part, however, as the psychoanalyst/philosopher Donna Orange (who wrote a short, appreciative chapter on Buber) puts it: “the philosopher of dialogue [versus monologue], inclusion [aka imagining the real versus psychoanalytic empathy], and confirmation [the interhuman], has gone largely unnoticed in the psychoanalytic world,” and Buber’s clinical understandings ought to “embrace us and inspire us in our work with those who have rarely if ever been really met with the interhuman” (2010, pp. 15,33). Indeed, as I have noted throughout this book, for example, Bubers aforementioned notions, especially “healing through meeting” all speak to what any version of psychoanalysis must effectively enact over and over again to help the analysand fashion a flourishing life. For as Friedman has correctly pointed out, Bubers assertion in I and Thou that “All real living is meeting” stresses the key “element of human existence in which we relate to others in their uniqueness and otherness and not just as a content of our experience” (Friedman, 1992, p. 55). That is, the psychological, the intrapsychic, is only a correlate or accompaniment of the dialogical, which is the most important touchstone of what Buber (and Marcel) view as reality (ibid.).22 Dialogue thus suggests a “new kind of mind,” as David Bohm aptly put it,23 it moves through the analysand and analyst and is not lodged “in any or even in all of the individual participants”; instead, it resides “in a whole that is incommensurable with the sum of the finite parts.” This is the soulaltering shift from identity logic to the openness of genuine dialogue (Metcalfe & Game, 2008, p. 345).

What Orange said about Buber being “largely unnoticed in the psychoanalytic world” is even more true when considering Marcel. For example, Hoffman (2011), who discusses relational psychoanalysis and the Christian narrative (i.e., the redemptive notions of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection), including liberally drawing from Marcels admiring student Paul Kicoeur, never once mentions Marcel’s work. Though Marcel did not engage in any specific psychological/psychotherapy studies as far as I know, as 1 have tried to show in a previous publication, his work on the intersubjective has a grossly underappreciated positive significance for psychoanalysis, especially when conceived as a spiritual discipline (Marcus, 2013).This being said, rather than mainly correlate Buber/Marcel’s understandings of various psychoanalytic concepts as they relate to clinical practice (Oppenheim, 2017; Hoffman, 2011; Jewish and Christian narratives, respectively),24 I want to focus on how their specifically spiritual insights (as defined above and throughout this book) can be helpfully integrated into mainstream clinical practice, such that they become part of the answer to the question, how does psychoanalysis, specifically a Buberian/Marcelian-inspired philosophy of dialogue, help an analysand artfully fashion a flourishing life? This is a life that Buber and Marcel would regard as consummated, culminated, and existentially grounded in the eternal/ Absolute Thou and instantiated in a skillfully and wisely lived holy life (that implies autonomy, integration, and humanity).

For both Buber and Marcel, the key mechanism of change is to actualize transcendence in the healing dialogue between the analyst and analysand and, more importantly, enacting this transcendence-pointing outlook and behavior into one’s everyday life. Transcendence, at least in its most elemental sense, means reaching out towards the other and his unique otherness. Such a centrifugal movement also implies a centripetal movement, one that is away from selfcentric ways of being-in-the-world. This is the difference between an existential orientation that is mainly being for the other versus being for oneself. Like all Axial-inspired thinkers, Buber and Marcel assume there is a “transcendent dimension in the core their [human] being,” of which love, justice, peace, and other celebrated ethical/moral virtues were its instantiation (Armstrong, 2006, p. xvii). For Buber and Marcel, both believing humanists, transcendence was lodged in the intuitively sensed source and power of the eternal and Absolute Thou, respectively, the word God being its symbol, not the other way around. For example, in I and Пюи Buber says that God “is the Being that is directly, most nearly, and lastingly, over against us, that may properly only be addressed and not expressed”; he is the “Absolute Person” who is encountered every time we meet our fellow human being or the world as “Thou” (Friedman, 1986, p. 15). Marcel was committed to what he called the “authentic, vertical transcendent, that is the transcendence, holiness, and sanctity of Christ and the martyrs”; he too believed that a life of holiness was the overarching goal of a well-lived life (Heffernan, 2017, pp. 17,20). Says Marcel,

When I myself speak here of a recourse to the transcendent, I mean, as concretely as possible, that our only chance in the sort of horrible situation I have imagined [the materialism and degradation associated with the broken world] is to appeal, I should perhaps not say to a power, but rather to a level of being, an order of the spirit, which is also the level and order of grace, of mercy, of charity..

(Sweetman, 2011, p. 115)

Moreover, transcendence means “the absolute, impassable gulf which opens between the soul and Being whenever Being refuses us a hold” (e.g., giving oneself up to God as in the joined hands of the believer, who is amidst an unchangeable ordeal of suffering, or the non-believer, like the artist, who experiences the transcendent in “the most authentic and profound way”) (ibid., p. 72, 116).

As I have said, for Buber and Marcel, transcendence, the reaching out to the other as a Thou, always implicates the absolute/Eternal Thou, in fact, they are mutually implicative (“meetings stand,” said Buber, “under freedom and under grace” (1964, p. 20)). It is this aspect of their thought that is often underplayed, if even stated (or rejected) by most of the aforementioned contemporary relational psychoanalysts.25

Overall, I have tried to suggest that human existence, including problems in living and psychopathology', is best illuminated in terms of Buber and Marcel’s spiritually animated dialogical philosophy and believing humanism (Bubers self-description). In this context, psychoanalytic treatment becomes a way of helping analysands move from ethical disablement or impairment towards a fuller, deeper, wider, and freer expression of their transcendence-pointing striving for holiness (a word/placeholder that one should not be afraid of using in analytic circles). In such a view, the individual is, at least in some sense, consciously or unconsciously always moving towards the transcendent, towards something more, higher, and better, conceived in ethical/moral terms as the Good, which implicates the eternal/Absolute Thou, as Buber and Marcel have suggested. For Buber and Marcel, while experiencing the transcendent is in some sense doable, this in no way means that it is conceptually understandable or can be accurately and completely described, for by definition it is beyond our human ways of thinking and speaking (it is only intimated). Marcel puts the matter just right:

There is an order where the subject finds himself in the presence of something entirely beyond his grasp. I would add that if the word “transcendent” has any meaning it is here—it designates the absolute, unbridgeable chasm yawning between subject and being, insofar as being evades every attempt to pin it down.

(1973, p. 193)

In this context, the self’s responsibility for and to the other is central, and while its purest expression is possibly in martyrdom, it can take on many different forms, including the mutuality and reciprocity that both Buber and Marcel have described. What matters for Buber and Marcel is that the movement is toward the Thou, with its eternal and infinite echoes. That is, it is through the encounter with the eternal/AbsoluteThou, through revelation that mainly takes place in the interhuman realm, that the homo viator finds/creates his unique destiny. This destiny is potentiated and instantiated by the love justice, and peace he shows towards others in his earthly existence.26

Thus, one way to see the role of the analyst is to expand the analysand’s awareness and understanding of what conscious and unconscious personal factors (e.g., thoughts, feelings, wishes, and fantasies) —and especially his strongly felt beliefs and values—impede, diminish, or take the place of his transcendent striving for something more, higher, and better (I have liberally drawn on Jacobs (2001) for the following comments). Drawing from Ogden, Aron, himself a Jewish believer who has “ideas about God with which I grew up and that continue to speak to me spiritually,” has implied a similar overarching goal of psychoanalysis when he noted that “the ultimate value of psychoanalysis is for the analysand to choose life, to choose vitality, meaning, and authenticity” (2004, pp. 445, 449).This includes, for example: (1) deconstructing the many ways that analysands defend, insulate, and deceive themselves from feeling appropriate guilt, shame, remorse, and self-reproach for their misdeeds towards others (e.g., Bubers existential guilt versus neurotic guilt);27 (2) understanding why the analysand is unmoved to reflect on, and critically reevaluate his selfish and immoral acts (not honoring the other), or even perceive that he has acted selfishly or hurtfully towards others. This involves analyzing the analysands beliefs and values, especially within the context of his personal background and moral history, including the vulnerability, anxiety, pain, confusion, and conflict

(i.e., the traumatic) that almost always sustains such ill-conceived and ill-fated beliefs and values and self-serving behavior;28 and (3) understanding why the analysand is often unmoved by constructive criticisms of his immoral actions and associated feelings and thoughts, why they do not self-correct. The analyst needs to help the analysand work through his conscious reasons and unconscious motivations for willingly causing suffering to others, for being unjust (e.g., unfair) in his relationships.This means encouraging the analysand to see how his various moral lapses, often rooted in interference by his selfishness and inordinate desire for self-affirmation and gratification, make his own and his loved one’s lives miserable. As Buber noted, “Where there is faith and love, a solution may be found even to what appears to be a tragic contradiction” (1957, p. 144).

Thus, we can say, that in such a Buberian/Marcelian-inspired form of psychoanalysis, we are always doing “character analysis.” “Great character,” says Buber, is “one who by his actions and attitudes satisfied the claim of situations out of deep readiness to respond with his whole life, and in such a way that the sum of his actions and attitudes expresses at the same time the unity of his being in its willingness to accept responsibility” (1965, p. 114). Responsibility is the response of the whole person to what addresses him in the immediacy of the lived concrete situation. The aim is to help the analysand recognize and deeply appreciate, in the widest sense, ethical/moral considerations (without moralizing) that negatively impact the other and oneself. Most importantly, this means being motivated by strongly felt, flexibly and creatively applied, transcendent-pointing moral beliefs and values that are primarily other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving, which according to Buber and Marcel is the “royal road” to holiness. In a Buberian/ Marcelian-glossed psychoanalytic language, this means helping the analysand become a morally autonomous and integrated individual, one who has the effective cognitive, emotional, and motivational capacity to be stably devoted and attached to the Beautiful, True, and most importantly, the Good. From the analyst s point of view, this means learning how to genuinely listen, a subject of great interest in analytic theory but beyond the scope of this chapter. For Buber and Marcel, genuine listening means motivating and encouraging in the analysand the will and ability to skillfully, artfully, and wisely create his own meanings (including beliefs, values, and truths) in the immediacy of the present, which quite likely will be very different than the analysts (Gordon, 2011, p. 207).29 Says Buber,

Genuine conversation, and therefore every actual fulfilment and relation between men, means acceptance of otherness. When two men inform one another of their basically different views about an object, each aim to convince the other of the rightness of his own way of looking at the matter, everything depends so far as human life is concerned, on whether each thinks of the other as the one he is, whether each, that is, with all his desire to influence the other, nevertheless unreservedly accepts and confirms him in his being this man and in his being made in this particular way.

(1998, p. 59)

What kind of inner attitude does the analysand need to fashion the aforementioned way of being in the world? First, it requires that the analysand ask different and tough questions of himself. While the typical analysand asks, “Why do 1 exist rather than not,” the Buberian/Marcelian—inspired analysand also asks,“Have I the right to be, am I worthy ofbeing?”The typical analysand asks, “What do I hope for, what do I desire to be happy?” The Buberian/ Marcelian—inspired analysand also asks, “What must I do?” In other words, the psychoanalyst prompts the analysand to ask additional existential questions, ethical/moral questions that cut deeper and are altogether more disruptive. The Buberian/Marcelian—inspired analysands words do not follow Descartes—I think or I want or even I feel—but rather, as Levinas says, are like Abraham’s response to the summoning call of God to serve Him, “Here I am.” In this context, the meaning, truth, and value of the analysands life are to a large extent approached in terms of his response to the other’s call; the analysand lives less in terms of his self-serving desire, as for power or acquisitions, and more in terms of the Beautiful, True, and especially the Good—a life devoted less to questing after fame and fortune and more to service to others. For Buber and Marcel (and Levinas), responsibility for others thus becomes the fundamental meaning of his self-identity. Put differently, it is a question of giving themselves/availability or withholding themselves/unavailability.To do otherwise is what Buber called “vegegnung,” a made-up word for “‘mismeeting’ or ‘miscounter’ to designate the failure of real meeting [sometimes traumatically so] between men” (1973, p. 18).

Psychoanalysis as a spiritual discipline can be thus viewed in terms of helping the analysand, conceived as a homo viator, to artfully fashion a flourishing life. That is, the analysand is a spiritual itinerant on a “journey” that leads from “appearance to reality, bondage to liberation, confusion to insight, darkness to light” (Erikson, 2006,p. 5). As Buber noted, the goal is in part the “regeneration of an atrophied personal centre” (1958, p. 133).30 That is, “inner transformation simply means surpassing one’s present factual constitution; it means that the person one is intended to be penetrates what has appeared up until now, that the customary soul enlarges and transfigures itself into the surprise soul” (Buber, 1957,p. 206). He begins with critical questions: How do I view myself? How do I find myself situated in the world? Answering these questions involves the analysand looking at himself as an object of study, based largely, though not entirely, on the frame and filter of his childhood experiences. In other words, these questions assume that what one takes oneself to be, shapes who we are and how we live our life (Kelly, 2013). Second, the analysand critically asks, how can I develop the will and ability to go about transforming myself into something I regard as better? This involves viewing one’s God-given freedom

(as Buber and Marcel might say) as a Foucauldian-animated self-transformative practice. Such a practice of freedom is both retrospective (how do I get free of myself, such as from my inordinate narcissism and egocentricity?) and prospective (how do I self-transform as an ethical commitment to becoming better, such as being for the other), based on what resources one has in the present (Koopman, 2013). For Buber and Marcel, these are mainly dialogical resources that implicate the eternal/Absolute Thou, and include freely embracing a way of life that is primarily other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving, a holy life, that in many ways is instantiated in the “best” of the Judeo-Christian moral outlook, as with the ethicality we associate with the Hebrew prophets and with Jesus.31 Exactly how this is done, what practices and processes are enacted, is of course up to the analysand and analyst to work out between them, though it typically depends on the “language game,” the version of psychoanalysis the analyst is allied with. The point, however, is that these practices of freedom become enmeshed in one’s way of being-in-the-world and represent a particular form of life reflecting the aforementioned self-transformative processes and ethical/moral commitments. For Buber and Marcel, such a spiritual outlook is grounded in the free, flowing, and unrestrained dialogical relation of I-Thou: “This fragile life between birth and death can nevertheless be a fulfillment—if it is a dialogue” (Buber, 1966, p. 19). From a dialogical point of view then, this so-called maturity, or what I would more aptly call practical wisdom, “is neither knowingness nor independence [though these qualities are not to be underappreciated], but an ability to live well in time and space, so that life is graced by a capacity for wholeness and wonder”—in other words, a spiritually animated form of dialogical mindfulness in which the aforementioned process “leads back to the holiness of the whole” (Metcalfe & Game, 2008, pp. 355,356).