Published semi-annually, the newsletter of Div. 32 (the Society for Humanistic Psychology) explores the intersections of psychology and the arts, humanities, and current events, and it captures the discussions, debates, and new ideas taking place in the research, teaching, clinical practice, and advocacy applications of humanistic psychology. Co-editors: Andrew Bland and Justin Karter.
I can see the moon.
Often, it is disruption—even tragedy—that begets the most meaningful growth because it shakes us out of our comfort zones and puts us in touch with our finitude and our values, especially when we have allowed ourselves to become distracted by minutiae. It prompts us to go beyond the known, to become more trusting of and open to our experience, and to better tolerate ambiguity. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided numerous opportunities of this order. As described in Zakaria’s (2020) "Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World" and in my Journal of Humanistic Psychology article, “Existential Givens in the COVID-19 Crisis” (Bland, 2020a), it has exposed numerous gaping holes in our social, economic, political, technological, and cultural systems along all sides of ideological spectrums. Accordingly, it has provided an invitation at the collective level to cultivate humility, to assume a more interdependent worldview in a global society, to become more caring and cooperative with nature, and to develop alternatives for a more sustainable future.
Of course, external change is spurred by self-change at the individual level. As difficult as social distancing can be for some, it is important to remember that it is in our ultimate isolation as human beings that we are bound together—a part of and apart from others, as the existential psychotherapist Jim Bugental aptly described (Bugental, 1976, 1981; Bugental & Kleiner, 1993). Indeed, it is tempting to want to return to our pre-COVID-19 routines as quickly as possible. On the other hand, rather than cling to the familiar, what creative potential has this experience held in the way you choose to live your life? What new perspective and possibilities have you developed? How do you see yourself carrying those forward?
Paradoxically, we do not gain strength via exercise and exertion. Rather, the activity itself serves to break down muscle, and we become stronger in the process of reconstruction. Similarly, the dance of Shiva in Hindu tradition represents burning out an obsolete way of being for something more effective to take its place. COVID-19 has afforded humanity a pause. What will be your role in heeding the call to embrace healthy tension and awaken to something greater?
The theme of sustainability has been central to humanistic psychology since its inception as the third force in U.S. psychology in the mid-20th century. Founding humanistic psychologists believed that the then-prevailing schools in the field (behaviorism/experimentalism and classical psychoanalysis) served to uphold a societal status quo characterized by mechanization, materialism, bureaucratization, authoritarianism, conformity, compartmentalization of experience, and disempowerment of the individual in society. They cautioned that the “limited and limiting images” (Frick, 1971, p. 10) propagated by “low-ceiling psychology” (Maslow, as cited in DeCarvalho, 1991) would seep into the greater culture and lower people’s expectations of themselves and their potential, and they set about developing a more “complete psychology” that addressed issues of “freedom and creativity, choice and responsibility, and values and fulfillment” (Resnick et al., 2001, p. 79) in the interest of developing a less precarious scientific ethic (DeRobertis & Bland, 2021) and of “turning out better people” (Maslow, 1971/1993, p. 55).
For just one example in the world of therapeutic work, consider humanistic psychology’s focus on transformative, second-order change (Bland, 2013, 2019, 2020a, 2020b; Hanna et al., 1995; Murray, 2002)—also known as existential liberation (Schneider & Krug, 2017)—as an alternative to mere tension and symptom reduction. Rather than attempt to homeostatically cling to the familiar (Bugental, 1981; Maslow, 1999), an ineffective way of being is relinquished in order to clear a space to create something more sustainable to take its place. This entails surrendering preconceptions and typical modus operandi, opening to new possibilities, and actively identifying, remediating, and reconciling underacknowledged and underactualized capacities within oneself—the denial or avoidance of which can be a significant source of psychological suffering (Bugental, 1981; Maslow, 1971/1993, 1999; May, 1967)—and committing to a more promising future despite the inevitability of limitations beyond one’s control (Schneider, 1990).
Sustainability has numerous other dimensions. Justin Karter and I will co-edit an upcoming special issue of The Humanistic Psychologist devoted to the topic of humanistic ecopsychology and climate change. In the meantime, this issue of the Society for Humanistic Psychology (SHP) newsletter features perspectives on additional issues related to the development of a more sustainable way of being. The issue commences with SHP president Jon Raskin’s reflection on the relevance of humanistic principles and practices (mind, self, empathy, equity, and social justice) for navigating the post-pandemic world. Next, Julie Kostrey applies existential-humanistic and existential-phenomenological lenses to promoting mindful sustainable aging in older adults in the interest of promoting an ethically-minded future. This is followed by a poem by Alan Nager intended to engage individuals’ self-examination and to engender acceptance of “who we are and what we mean to each other.” From there, three brief pieces employ a look back in the interest of a more affirmative direction forward: (1) Rosemarie Anderson offers a preview of her forthcoming book, "The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching", which applies ancient wisdom to promote the development of a culture of unshakable indebtedness to address the needs of the current zeitgeist; (2) Ken Feigenbaum implores our community to consider Maslow’s relationship with and contributions to psychoanalytic tradition; and (3) in his Humanitas column, Ed Mendelowitz reviews Bob Kramer’s writings on the relationship between Otto Rank and Carl Rogers. Thereafter, Ryan Wright explores the role of self-compassion to maintain stamina in humanistic counseling. Finally, the issue concludes with a bulletin board containing news from the division and upcoming events.