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The Between: Antidote to Psychotic Loneliness

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Length: 30 minutes

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Mary Tibbetts-Cape, LICSW

“…the isolated psyche…the self-encapsulated patient…must and can be broken through, and a transformed, healed relationship must and can be opened.  A soul is never sick alone, but always through a between-ness, a situation between it and another existing being.”

- Martin Buber


Harry Stack Sullivan, founder of The Washington School of Psychiatry, identified loneliness as an important contributing factor in the development of the psychotic predicament. Shortly before her death, Sullivan’s colleague, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann further articulated this insight when she described the “incommunicable” anguish of loneliness among those suffering from psychological disorders.

Fromm-Reichmann’s understanding of the remedy for the predicament of loneliness was largely informed by her spiritual orientation. Her friend, Martin Buber, the existential philosopher of dialogue, was a crucial influence on this orientation.  Buber emphasized the importance of mutuality in “healing through meeting” and he stressed the need for “swinging over” and “feeling into” the other.  Buber’s concept of “the between” was derived from the value placed on community in the Jewish Hasidic tradition and the method of healing through dialogue practiced by Hasidic spiritual leaders.  As such, Buber’s “I-Thou” reflects a contemplative spiritual understanding that locates the sacred in the intersubjective field, rather than in the intrapsychic.

This focus on intersubjectivity characterized the clinical approach of the Washington School of Psychiatry and the work at Chestnut Lodge.  Ed Podvoll, M.D. entered training analysis with Harold Searles and joined the staff of Chestnut Lodge in the mid-sixties.  He went on to bring the importance of the interpersonal realm to his study of Buddhist philosophy with Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, Trungpa Rinpoche, at Naropa University in the late ‘70’s.  Founder of Naropa’s program in Buddhist and western psychotherapy, Podvoll developed an approach to mental disorders, informed by his practice of meditation and his work with Trungpa.  This therapeutic work, currently practiced at Windhorse Associates,  underscores the importance of  the symbiotic nature of relatedness, the permeability of self,  the natural infrastructure of compassion and the idea of the “spontaneous ebb and flow of exchange” in the healing process.

In this presentation, we will trace the development of this contemplative, relational view  in the history of Chestnut Lodge and in its contemporary manifestation in the clinical work at Windhorse Associates.


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