9th International Conference
for Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy and Counseling
PCE Conference 2010
Empowerment: The politics of the helping relationship
Rome, Italy, 30th June - 4th July 2010
Robert Waldl, Vienna
It was a long Way from Mysticism to Dialogue – are we going back again?
- a critical Comment on Esotericism and Spirituality in Psychotherapy
The history of treatment of individuals with mental problems is the history of
emancipation from religious dominance and prejudice. Dynamic psychiatry, which
developed in the 19th century, led to psychoanalysis. It took a few more decades until
a taboo was broken when Carl Rogers recorded and studied the intimate dialogues
between counselors and clients. What Rogers and his colleagues found culminated
in the so-called necessary and sufficient conditions required for therapeutic change.
This was a revolutionary demystification of the therapeutic situation.
There is an ongoing discussion as to what extent a human desire for spirituality might
be fulfilled by a therapeutic process. In Rogers words we could ask "where do we find
outcome studies for the efficiency” of a spiritual dimension of psychotherapy?
When our clients talk about spiritual issues we are often facing their most vulnerable
sides. Answering them, in the way we personcentered psychotherapists learn to do,
opens the way to their self-development, helps them move away from superstition
and from feelings of guilt and anxiety. A reaction on an esoteric or spiritual level may
offer quick answers, and lead away from painful questions but it stops the dialogue
and the therapeutic change.
From existential philosophy we know that we human beings have an awareness of
ourselves and the adverse world. Only by entering a dialogue with our counterpart,
we become human beings. If we psychotherapists work in a mystical and not
dialogical way, we are in danger of missing the main challenge with our clients.