The heart of psychotherapy: ‘All-healing, all-consoling thought’ (2020)


The heart of psychotherapy

All-healing, all-consoling thought 

Anthony Stadlen

Copyright © Anthony Stadlen 2020, 2021

Thomas Szasz (15 April 1920  8 September 2012) and I enjoyed what he called our years of fruitful conversation’ (Szasz, T. S.Antipsychiatry: Quackery Squared, 2009: ix), starting in 1982 and deepening from the end of the twentieth century until his death in 2012.

On 8 February 2010 I mentioned Samuel Becketts (13 April 1906 – 22 December 1989) translation of a maxim of Sébastien de Chamfort (6 April 1741 – 13 April 1794):
 Ask of all-healing, all-consoling thought
 Salve and solace for the woe it wrought.
I wrote:
I was startled by this. It says everything about mental illness.
Szasz replied:
Yes, it is startlingly to the point. [...] Is this a piece of that truth modern, scientifically-enlightened man cannot afford to acknowledge? Cannot be fitted into a cause-and-effect model.
Szasz died on 8 September 2012.

On 18 November 2016, John Heaton (11 November 2025 - 3 May 2017), who had been my teacher of phenomenological psychotherapy in the early 1970s and remained my colleague and friend, spoke at the Society of Psychotherapy in London on Becketts interest in the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951), which Heaton and I thought helpful for the practice of psychotherapy.

I wrote to Heaton, asking if he knew the Chamfort/Beckett maxim, and telling him of Szasz’s response to it. I commented:
Chamfort’s original maxim is much feebler and more long-winded. But Beckett goes right to the heart of the healing that true psychotherapy facilitates.
Heaton replied:
I do know it well. I entirely agree with Szasz so thanks for telling me of it.
Heaton died on 3 May 2017.

Szasz, Heaton and I saw most ‘psychotherapy’ as a well-meaning and sometimes helpful but often confused travesty of what psychotherapy might be. The foundations of such a psychotherapy are hinted at by the Chamfort/Beckett maxim. I know that it was such a possible, and even in blessed instances actual, psychotherapy that Thomas Szasz meant when he answered Angela Buxton’s question, what he thought of psychotherapy, in his seminar Addressing Your Questions (Inner Circle Seminar No. 117, 16 September 2007):
Psychotherapy is one of the most worthwhile things in the world.

But such a psychotherapy has to be free from the reifying of psyche as ‘mind’ and from the medicalising of therapy as ‘treatment’. 

Psyche means soul. Therapy means attending. A true psychotherapist attends souls. He or she does not ‘treat minds’.

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