The Schopenhauer Cure (9 page)

"Well, the first statement doesn't sound like much, but it had some power. I had been telling you about one of my typical evenings--you know, picking up a woman somewhere, taking her to dinner, the seduction scene in my bedroom with the same routine and the same mood music. I remember asking your opinion of my evening and whether you found it distasteful or immoral."

"I don't remember my answer."

"You said you found it neither distasteful nor immoral, only boring. It jolted me to think that I was living a boring, repetitious life."

"Ah, interesting. So that was one statement. The other?"

"We were discussing tombstone epitaphs. I don't remember why, but I believe you had raised the question of what epitaph I might select for myself..."

"Very possible. I've used that question when I feel at an impasse and need some shocking intervention. And...?"

"Well, you suggested that I might have my tombstone engraved with the phrase "He liked to fuck." And then you added that the phrase could be a good epitaph for my dog too--that I could use the same stone for both me and the dog."

"Pretty strong stuff. Was I really that harsh?"

"Whether it is harsh or not is irrelevant. What's important is its effectiveness and persistence. Much later, maybe ten years later, I made use of it."

"Time-delayed interventions! I've always had a hunch they're more important than usually thought. Always meant to do a study of that. But for our purposes today tell me, why were you reluctant at our last meeting to mention these, to acknowledge that I had in some way, even some small way, been useful to you?"

"Julius, I'm not sure I see the relevance of this to the issue at hand--that is, whether you are or are not willing to be my psychotherapy supervisor? And to permit me in return to be your Schopenhauerian adviser?"

"The fact that you don't see the relevance makes it all that more relevant. Philip, I'm not going to attempt to be diplomatic. Here it is straight: I'm not certain you're basically equipped to be a therapist, and hence I have some doubts that supervision makes sense."

"You say, not 'equipped'? Clarify please," said Philip with no trace of discomfort.

"Well, let me put it this way. I've always regarded therapy more as a calling than a profession, a way of life for people who care about others. I don't see sufficient caring in you. The good therapist wants to alleviate suffering, wants to help people grow. But I see in you only disdain for others--look at the way you dismissed and insulted your students.

Therapists need to relate to their patients, whereas you care little about how others feel.

Take the two of us. You tell me that, on the basis of my phone call to you, you made the assumption that I had a fatal illness. Yet never did you utter a word of consolation or sympathy."

"Would that have helped--mumbling some vacuous words of sympathy? I gave you more, much more. I constructed and delivered an entire lecture for you."

"I understand that now. But it was all so oblique, Philip. It made me feel like I was being managed, not cared about. Better for me, much better, if you had been direct, if you had sent some message from your heart to mine. Nothing monumental, maybe just some simple inquiry into my situation or state of mind, or, Christ, you might have simply said, 'I'm sorry to hear you're dying.' How hard would that have been?"

"If I were sick, that's not what I'd want. I would have wanted the tools, the ideas, the vision that Schopenhauer offered in the face of death--and that's what I delivered to you."

"Even now, Philip, you still don't bother to check your assumption that I have a fatal illness."

"Am I mistaken?"

"Come again, Philip. Say the words--it won't hurt."

"You said you had significant health problems. Can you tell me more?"

"Good start, Philip. An open-ended comment is by far the best choice." Julius paused to collect his thoughts and to consider how much to reveal to Philip. "Well, I've very recently learned that I have a form of skin cancer called malignant melanoma which poses a serious threat to my life, though my doctors assure me that for the next year I should remain in good health."

"I feel even more strongly," Philip responded, "that the Schopenhaurian vision I offered in my lecture would be of value to you. In our therapy I remember you once said that life was a 'temporary condition with a permanent solution'--that is pure Schopenhauer."

"Philip, that perspective was meant in jest."

"Well we know, don't we, what your own guru, Sigmund Freud, had to say about jesting. My point still stands: Schopenhauer's wisdom contains much that will serve you well."

"I'm not your supervisor, Philip, that's still to be determined, but I'll give you psychotherapy lesson number one, gratis.
It's not ideas, nor vision, nor tools that truly matter in therapy.
If you debrief patients at the end of therapy about the process, what do they remember?
Never
the ideas--it's
always
the relationship. They rarely remember an important insight their therapist offered but generally fondly recall their personal relationship with the therapist. And I'm going to venture a guess that this is even true for you. Why did you remember me so well and value what happened between us so much that you now, after all these years, turn to me for supervision? It's not because of those two comments--however provocative they were--no, I believe it was because of some bond you felt with me. I believe you might have some deep affection for me, and because our relationship, however difficult though it might have been, was meaningful, you are now turning to me again in the hope of some form of embrace."

"Wrong on all counts, Dr. Hertzfeld..."

"Yeah, yeah, so wrong that the mere mention of an embrace sends you scurrying back to formal titles again."

"Wrong on all counts, Julius. First, I want to caution you against the error of assuming that your view of reality is the real thing--the
res naturalis
--and that your mission is to impose this vision on others. You crave and value relationships, and you make the erroneous assumption that I, indeed everyone, must do the same and that if I claim otherwise, I've repressed my relationship-craving.

"It seems likely," Philip continued, "that a philosophical approach may be far preferable for someone like me. The truth is--you and I are fundamentally different. I have
never
drawn pleasure from the company of others--their drivel, their demands, their ephemeral petty strivings, their pointless lives--are a nuisance and an obstacle to my communion with the handful of great world spirits who have something of significance to say."

"Then why sign on to be a therapist? Why not remain with the great world spirits?

Why busy yourself offering help to these pointless lives?"

"If, like Schopenhauer, I had an inheritance to support myself, I assure you I would not be here today. It's entirely a matter of economic need. My educational expenses have depleted my bank account, my teaching pays a pittance, the college is near bankruptcy, and I doubt that I will be rehired. I need to see only a few clients a week to meet my expenses: I live frugally, I wish to acquire nothing except the freedom to pursue what is truly important to me: my reading, thinking, meditation, music, chess, and my walks with Rugby, my dog."

"You have still not answered my question: why come to see me when it is clear I work in quite a different fashion from the way you want to work? And you haven't responded to my conjecture that there's something about our past relationship drawing you to me."

"I didn't respond because it's so far off the mark. But since it seems important to you, I'll continue to ponder your conjecture. Don't conclude that I'm questioning the presence of basic interpersonal needs. Schopenhauer himself said that bipeds--his term--need to huddle together by the fire for warmth. He cautioned, however, about getting singed by too much huddling. He liked porcupines--they huddled for warmth but used their quills to keep their separateness. He treasured his separateness and depended on nothing outside himself for his happiness. And he wasn't alone on this; other great men, Montaigne, for example, shared this way of thinking.

"I also fear bipeds," Philip continued, "and I agree with his observation that a happy man is one who can avoid most of his fellow creatures. And how can you not agree that bipeds create a hell here on Earth? Schopenhauer said, 'Homo homini lupus'--
man is a wolf to man
; I'm certain that he was the inspiration for Sartre's
No Exit.
"

"All well and good, Philip. But you're confirming my very point: that you may not be equipped to work as a therapist. Your point of view leaves no room for friendships."

"Every time I reach out to another, I end up with less of myself. I have not had a friendship in adulthood, nor do I care to form one. You may remember I was a solitary child with a disinterested mother and an unhappy father who eventually took his life. To be frank, I've never met anyone who has anything of interest to offer me. And it's not because I haven't looked. Every time I've tried to befriend someone, I've had the same experience as Schopenhauer, who said he only found miserable wretches, men of limited intelligence, bad heart, and mean disposition. I'm referring to living persons--not to the great thinkers of the past.

"You met me, Philip."

"That was a professional relationship. I refer to social encounters."

"These attitudes are visible in your behavior. With your contempt and lack of social skills spawned by this contempt, how can you possibly interact with others in a therapeutic manner?"

"We're not in disagreement there--I agree I need to work on social skills. A little friendliness and warmth, Schopenhauer said, makes it possible to manipulate people just as we need to warm wax if we wish to work it."

Julius rose, shaking his head. He poured a cup of coffee for himself and paced back and forth. "Working wax is not just a bad metaphor;--it's about the worst goddamn metaphor for therapy I've ever encountered--in fact it
is
the worst. You sure as hell are not pulling your punches. Nor, incidentally, are you making your friend and therapist, Arthur Schopenhauer, endearing to me."

Taking his seat again and sipping his coffee, Julius said, "I'm not repeating my offer of coffee because I'm assuming you want nothing to do with anything except the answer to your singular question about supervision. You seem very strongly focused, Philip, so I will be merciful and cut to the chase. Here's my decision about supervising you..."

Philip, who had been averting his gaze throughout this discussion, looked directly at Julius for the first time.

"You've got a fine mind, Philip. You know a great deal. Maybe you'll find a way to harness your knowledge in the service of therapy. Maybe you'll end up making real contributions. I hope so.
But you're not ready to be a therapist.
And you're not ready for supervision. Your interpersonal skills, sensitivity, and awareness need work--a lot of work. But I want to be helpful to you. I failed once, and now I've got a second chance.

Can you think of me as your ally, Philip?"

"Let me answer that question after I hear your proposal, which I assume is imminent."

"Jesus! All right, here it is. I, Julius Hertzfeld, agree to be Philip Slate's supervisor if,
and only if,
he first spends six months as a patient in my psychotherapy group."

For once, Philip was startled. He had not anticipated Julius's response. "You're not serious."

"Never been more."

"I tell you that after so many years of sloshing about in the sewers I've finally got my life together. I tell you that I want to earn a living as a therapist and that to do so I need a supervisor--that's the one thing I need. Instead you offer me what I don't want and can't afford."

"I repeat, you're not ready for supervision, not ready to be a therapist, but I think that group therapy can begin to address your deficits. Those are my conditions. First, a course of group therapy and then, and only then, will I supervise you."

"Your group therapy fees?"

"Not high. Seventy dollars for a ninety-minute session. And, incidentally, that's billed even if you miss a meeting."

"How many patients in the group?"

"I try to keep it about seven."

"Seven times seventy dollars--that's four hundred and ninety dollars. For an hour and a half. That's an interesting commercial venture. And what's the point of group therapy--the way you do it?"

"The point? What have we been talking about? Look, Philip, I'll be blunt: how can you be a therapist when you don't know what the fuck is going on between you and other people?"

"No, no. I've gotten
that
point. My question was imprecise. I've had no training in group therapy and am asking for clarification about how it operates. How will it profit me to hear others describe their lives and problems en masse? The very idea of such a chorus of misery appalls me, although, as Schopenhauer points out, there is always pleasure in learning that others suffer more than you."

"Oh, you're asking for an orientation. That's a justified request. I make a point of providing an orientation to group therapy to every patient entering a group. Every therapist should do that. So let me give you my spiel. First, my approach is rigorously interpersonal, and I make the assumption that each member is in the group because of difficulties in establishing sustaining relationships..."

"But, that's not true. I neither wish nor need..."

"I know, I know. Just humor me on this, Philip. I merely said I make the assumption that these interpersonal difficulties are present--I assume it's the case whether you agree or not. As for my goal in the therapy group, I can be real clear about that:
it is to help each member understand as much as possible about how he or she relates to each person in the group, including the therapist.
I maintain a here-and-now focus--that's an essential concept for you to master as a therapist, Philip. In other words, the group works ahistorically: we focus on the
now
--there's no need to investigate each member's past history in depth--we focus on the current moment in the group; and on the
here
--forget about what members say has gone wrong in other relationships--I make the assumption that group members will manifest the same behavior in the group that has created difficulties for them in their social life. And I further assume that ultimately they will generalize what they learn about their group relationships to their relationships outside. Is that clear? I can give you reading material if you wish."

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