Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guruism and psychological dependency

We love teachings from learned people, we adore gurus, try to imitate their behavior, try to think like them. The act of modeling is an act of learning, and we benefit from such good learning experience.  When a person has psychological or personality troubles and want seek healing from a guru, the path however might be paved with possible dangers, or possible negative side-effects.  Why?

In the practice of psychoanalysis, a patient has to be honest and truthful with his (or her) therapist, in the strongest sense.  The patient sitting and relaxing on a couch, with the therapist, usually not within sight, encourages him to formulate a narrative around the issue that is troubling him.  The therapist however does not act like a totally blank wall (otherwise a blank wall will be good enough), without adding any leading questions, the therapist is essentially there to allow the patient to develop a transference, a personification of the therapist as actual or imagery figure that the patient can narrate and develop a relationship, be it love or anger or anything.  Without such a personification, the narrative will be empty of emotion and hence of meaning (I have to add that an imagery personification is possible for a seasoned "practitioner", like an experienced therapist healing himself).  The transference may last for more than one session, and it is the therapist's responsibility to end such transference after the healing exercise, which may take many sessions.  The problem is such transference might be difficult to sever once set, even for experienced therapists and in particular for those patients who are psychologically more prone to seek psychological dependency.

In Taoist, Buddhist and Sufist tradition, guru-guided healing (and enlightenment which is the ultimate objective) has been practicing for centuries.  Like the practice of psychoanalysis, such guru-assisted healing requires a complete trust on the part of the patient (or believer).   And indeed, a review of these religious practice will show us that they are in congruent with modern psychological principles. Though their primarily objective is religious, their methods can deliver good psychological well-being.  

I shall discuss this method in some future posts, suffice to say here the religious healers do not allow a psychological dependency situation to develop (such dependency is very easy to develop because the initial healing stage demands total trust and therefore dependency!).  We would expect such enlightened religious gurus to be able to do this, if we assume that they are truly enlightened religious gurus.  What makes an enlightened religious guru?  It is the combined quality of acceptance (frequently called resignation, or total acceptance of one's existential situation),  non-attachment (like not seeking worldly fame or worth) and equilibrium (a secure base that a patient can rely on at all times).  My alert readers can probably appreciate the immense difficulty for anyone to achieve the above in perfection in our contemporary society. 

In conclusion, assuming everything else being equal, it would indeed be safer to seek the services of a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist for personality disturbance rather than seeking the services of a spiritual guru in a downtown mall or some hide-away in an out-of-town residential block, not affiliated to any reputable religious chapter.  I mean at least a shrink is regulated.

Sigmund Freud - the father of psychoanalysis

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