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Book Review 

We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy
And the World's Getting Worse

James Hillman and Michael Ventura
Harper, San Francisco $14.00 


[Book Review By Carol Maxym, Ph.D.]



When I first decided to attend the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, CA over the Memorial Day weekend, sponsored by the Milton H. Erickson Foundation, I did not plan to spend my time listening to James Hillman. After all, I had spent enough time studying at the Jung Institute in Zurich, I have read volumes of the works of C. G. Jung, and have read several of James Hillman's books. I had more or less come to the conclusion that while exhilarating and fascinating, Jung's thought-and Hillman's by corollary-was not something that could be useful to me in my everyday professional life. But then when I arrived in Anaheim, somehow I found myself drawn to his talks, drawn to the idea of exploring ideas instead of looking for better techniques. As is so often the case, following my intuition turned out to have been a wise decision, for I found myself seeing connections, implications, nuances, and directions that had become elusive in the workday environment. 

Hillman was not there, as he never is, to give answers-indeed he is curt and almost sarcastic when asked for specific advice about almost anything, and specifically, how to do psychotherapy. A notable exception was his answer to a young woman just beginning her studies for her Ph.D. to whom he suggested reading literature, biography, and studying art instead of reading and memorizing the DSM-IV. Hillman understands his role to be the one who raises questions and provokes others to think, to question, and to wonder. That is exactly the role he takes in: We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse

The title is clever and catchy-again typical Hillman, who, by the way, refers to himself as a "pagan" due to his radical (?) environmentalist views. But Hillman has chosen to do this book with a co-author, Michael Ventura, a journalist and novelist, and there is no doubt that Ventura is also a radical and incisive thinker and writer. The book was a best seller when it first came out almost a decade ago, but unfortunately, the kind of radical change which the authors seek: upsetting of therapeutic norms and breaking through the ever-increasing sense of false security building around the profession of psychotherapy, does not seem to have been much effected by this book. 

The format of the book is wonderfully old-fashioned, consisting of conversations and letters, delightfully reminiscent of an earlier time in the history of psychology when wondering discussions among monumental thinkers took precedence over seeking quick solutions to complex problems. And so, if you are looking for answers or solutions or how-to's, this is not your book. If you are looking for a book to help you find or keep a comfort level, this is not your book. If you are looking for a book to make you question, to wonder, to consider, to work towards moving psychology and psychotherapy into new and more human and productive realms, then this is your book. Hillman and Ventura have produced a book that makes Peter Breggin's work look tame. This book is disturbing, and I appreciated that very much. 

We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse is about turning the therapy consultation room into a cell of revolution instead of the ever self-involving, individualizing, and isolating experience it has traditionally been. But, no, that does not mean that the authors instead move towards family therapy concepts-oh, no! Rather, they explore the idea of therapy and politics being [becoming] intertwined. The example I give below is one that Hillman referred to many times in his talks in Anaheim. He describes the therapy client on the way to therapy, driving along the highway, terrified in his small car by having to deal with huge 18-wheelers in the other lanes. So, when the client arrives at therapy, he wants to talk about his feelings:

So we begin to talk about it. And we discover that my father was a son-of-a-bitch brute and this whole truck thing reminds me of him. Or we discover that I've always felt frail and vul- nerable. . .so this car is a typical example of my thin skin and my frailty and vulnerability. Or we talk about my power drive. . . And we convert my outrage-at the pollution or the chaos or whatever my outrage is about-into rage and hostility. Again, an internal condition whereas it starts in outrage, an emotion. Emotions are mainly social. Emotions connect to the world. Therapy introverts the emotions, calls fear "anxiety." You take it back, and you work on it inside yourself. (pp. 11-12) 

And, Hillman and Ventura say, you miss the point. You've taken yourself out of the world instead of noticing that you are in it. 

I was much taken by Hillman's and Ventura's letters to each other which read like a finely crafted essays. There is one in particular to which I would like to direct potential readers: "Empty Protest." In this essay Hillman discusses the usefulness of knowing something is wrong but not feeling, therefore and necessarily, obliged to come up with a solution or remain quiet about the problem. Hillman quotes the Hindu concept of "neti, neti, neti-not this, not this not this. No utopia, no farther shore toward which we march, only the march, the shout, the placard, the negative vote, the refusal." (p. 106) This book is not a "quick read" because you just have to stop and ponder line after line after line. 

The third section of the book, the "Second Dialogue 'Pick Up If You're There'" is the weakest part of the book. It smacks of radicalizing the already radical thought to prove the authors can become increasingly radical in their ideas. At times, unfortunately, it reminds me all too much of some of the conversations I experienced in college dorm rooms back in the late sixties. While I think I can appreciate Hillman's and Ventura's direction, and indeed, there are a few wonderful passages in this section, too, for me this section seemed loud and controversial with too little point, beyond, of course, empty protest. 

But to return to the more practical, knowing how contrary that line of thought is to the meaning of the book, I wish to observe that for those of us who work with teens in turmoil and their parents, and for the parents of those teens in and around the residential programs, I think this book has a special meaning. Hillman and Ventura, suggest a new direction of therapy that is rooted in the community and therefore expanding into the whole of the world. It is one that recognizes and comprehends the 19th and early 20th century roots of psychology and psychotherapy, but a therapy concept that is no longer mainly self-involving, salvational in direction, technique-oriented and seeking a place in the medical world. Is it possible that the emotional growth/therapeutic programs we are familiar with may be a whole new wave of psychotherapy. Or not? I'm not sure? Maybe. . .it's worth thinking about. . .writing about. . .discussing, wondering.