Despair And The Return Of Hope: Echoes of Mourning In Psychotherapy (Book Review)

Author:  Shabad, Peter
Publisher:  Northvale: NJ: Jason Aronson, 2001
Reviewed By:  Harold Davis, Winter 2003, pp. 53-54

Peter Shabad’s book, Despair and the Return of Hope is an essay in the truest sense of the word. It is “A literary composition, analytical or interpretive, dealing with its subject from a...personal standpoint” (Webster’s Collegiate). He has managed to take many literary, philosophical, and psychoanalytical ideas and concepts and present them in his own personal formulation that has meaning for others. From Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Freud, Sullivan, Winnicott, Rank, Becker, Loewald, E. Singer, Buber, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, and Ortega y Gasset, to name a few, he weaves a fabric of man’s role in relatedness and selfhood. Interwoven are clinical vignettes that aim to relate his conceptual views with everyday clinical practice. Shabad’s capacity to write clinical vignettes is exemplary. Throughout the book and in his clinical material Shabad reveals clearly, cogently, and emphatically where he stands. While a number of his ideas and statements have been present in the oral and written tradition of psychoanalysis, he nevertheless is able to state his views of them in clear tones, especially when these ideas are challenging and critical of some contemporary views.

A leitmotif throughout this book is the way a person in despair regains hope and strength in facing the vicissitudes of life. Mourning is an essential part of this transition. From an existential viewpoint Shabad discusses mourning as a grieving of loss and finiteness experienced through death in its actual and symbolic meanings. It also has to do with the letting go of fantasies and patterns that inhibit a person from living life fully. The change can only take place in a relationship (therapeutic) in which the therapist is authentic. The mourning process will deal with affects such as guilt, shame, spite, regret, and remorse, the last two to be more fully discussed below. A mourning process in psychoanalysis is not new although not frequently emphasized. Zetzel (1970) makes the ability to mourn a criterion for psychoanalytic treatment. Shabad brings an experiential view to the process and illustrates the therapeutic interactions that bring it about through clinical examples. His view on hope is consistent with earlier writers such as Schachtel (1959) who distinguished two forms of hope. One is compared to Pandora’s box, which is often the way a person comes to treatment. This form is a passive one and close to despair. A second type of hope stems from a person’s capacity to actualize his life. Mitchell (1993) makes a similar but more detailed distinction. He cites Boris for the regressive hope of Pandora, and Erikson, Winnicott, and Kohut for the productive form of hope. In his many clinical vignettes Shabad illustrates how this productive hope is kindled. A person comes to therapy with the Pandora’s box form and leaves with the more productive type. Shabad describes the clinical process by which this change comes about. It is in the experiential nature of his book that Shabad contribution shines, i.e., in relating his experience and evoking the reader’s experiences about the mourning process and its way of helping a person actualize himself. Shabad notes that the mourning process is a paradoxical process in which a person needs to acknowledge his “orphaned desires” that are unrealistic in order to give up their irrational demand for fulfillment.

In addition there are point and counterpoint subsidiary themes. Some of the themes are as follow: Authenticity is essential and with it a courage to be oneself. A disembodied self is consistent with a talking heads approach to therapy where the communications are simply intellectual and non-experienced. He is critical of Freud’s metapsychology and is critical of treatment that overemphasizes the transference neurosis (everything being between the analyst and patient) since this lessens the real events in a person’s life. His position is consistent with an approach in psychoanalysis that emphasizes that the positive transference masks a negative one. The therapist needs to be spontaneous in contrast to always being controlled in the session. Spontaneity would be in keeping with authenticity. Technique may be antithetical to authenticity and spontaneity. For example, if empathy is used as a technique it would be antithetical to spontaneity and authenticity. Shabad does indicate that the analyst has to remain his own center of gravity to allow the patient to grow. He also notes that how a therapist has dealt with his own disillusionment will be reflected in his clinical work. This list of sub themes is merely a part of the wide range of topics Shabad addresses.

In view of limited space, I have selected to comment on two topics. First, throughout, Shabad emphasizes the indebtedness one owes to others and the need to be useful. I consider this an important point that is often overlooked. Shabad also stresses the importance any two people have for each other while each maintain a sense of self. Second, his next to last chapter deals with a most important issue: regret and remorse. Shabad emphasizes the regret for the road not taken as opposed to acts done. For Shabad regret “...has to do with omitted actions...” and remorse “...to committed actions...” (p. 286). He makes a further distinction in that regret refers to a wrong to oneself and remorse is to another. Both constitute a “...fleeing from one’s conscience...”(p. 286). While I agree that the conscience in an existential and in an ethical sense is important for a sense of regret and remorse, the distinction between regret and remorse that he makes between to oneself and to others is a personal one, which does not hold in my view. Both are an essential part of regret for we can be sorry for the sins of omission as well as of commission. Remorse is an acute gnawing pain, a “biting back,” as Shabad notes, associated with conscience and guilt. He discusses the issue of generosity and reparation as fundamental to reconciling the conscience of people who are regretful and remorseful. Generosity and reparation are important concepts. His emphasis on conscience, guilt, reparation and generosity stem from an existential approach via Kiergegaard, Buber, and Sartre and differs from a postmodern view in its emphasis on these very subjects. While Thompson (2002) has recently stated his view that postmodern thought can just as readily be viewed as existential in its focus, I think the topic of regret along with the others Shabad mentions makes for a distinction between these two viewpoints and places Shabad clearly in the existential view. Edith Piaf’s song, Je ne regrette rien, expresses somewhat celebratory, and maybe defiantly, having no regrets. Often the inability or refusal to regret is due to underlying pain. In his last paragraph Shabad states, “Psychotherapy has provided humankind with the tools to fulfill Kierkegaard’s (1843) ethical injunction of self-acceptance, ‘to choose oneself.’ Although I still have some distance to travel myself, I believe there is something profoundly satisfying about attaining integrity in the twilight of one’s life, and in facing oneself in all one’s unembellished truth accepting what one sees with a degree of serenity.” So it may be possible from a position of self-acceptance and serenity to say I regret nothing. If this is too ideal then it may be possible to say I have a few regrets but I did it my way.

I can readily recommend this book for it expresses the essence of psychotherapy, its ethical base, and of self-actualization in the context of human interaction. Reading this book is a challenge. At times one muses about Shabad’s personal take and where one agrees, disagrees, or is uncertain. Winnicott, whom Shabad quotes frequently, is not read for “...logical argumentation, but rather to experience an invitation to muse and to create along with him.”(Gargiulo, 1998). So too for this book. Each reader will respond on a personal level and may well find other aspects of this book more relevant than those I have. Shabad presents an encompassing view to current discussions of long standing issues in psychotherapy.

While reading the book I found myself admiring Shabad’s bold task of integrating a wide range of authors with whom I was largely familiar. Then I read the following quote from Leslie Farber that Shabad cites in his book, “Whereas true admiration keeps its distance, respecting the discrepancy between admirer and the admired one, envy’s assault upon the object with a barrage of compliments serves not only its need to assert itself in the costume of admiration, but also the lust of the envier to possess the very quality that initially incited his envy” (p.171).

I trust my admiration is the former one although I can admit there were moments when the latter was present. However, envy is only destructive when it is unacknowledged.

References

Gargiulo, Gerald J. (1998) D.W. Winnicott’s psychoanalytic playground, In Paul Marcus & Alan Rosenberg (ed.), Psychoanalytic versions of the human condition. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Mitchell, Stephen A. (1998) Hope and dread in psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Schachtel, E. G. (1959) Metamorphosis. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Thompson, Michael Guy. Nietzche and psychoanalysis: The space between postmodernism and authenticity. Delivered at the Thirteenth Annual Conference of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education. Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Oct. 26, 2002.
Zetzel, E. (1970). Capacity for emotional growth. New York, NY: International Universities Press. 1970

Reviewer Note

Harold B. Davis is a supervisor in the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, faculty and supervisor at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, and in private practice in New York City. He is currently Section V Representative to the Division 39 Board and is the President of the International Federation for Psychoanalytic Education.

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