Wuhan: The Beginning of an End by Arlene Kramer Richards

lil'ArleneChina

Click Here to Read:  Chinese version of this presentation in Chinese.

I have just finished teaching in a a three year program in psychoanalytic psychotherapy in Wuhan, China. The following is a brief summary of what this meant to me and how I see the meaning of this program for psychotherapy for me, my fellow teachers and our Chinese students..

Arlene Kramer Richards
Opening ceremony, farewell session, Wuhan Psychotherapy program
September 2014

The Beginning of an End

We have come to the start of an ending of a wonderful experience. For me this training has been the adventure of a lifetime. I have cherished learning a culture that seemed almost new to me. I have come to care deeply for my fellow teachers, For the wonderful administrators who take such great care in organizing our program, for the students in this program, for the patients I have known, and even for the patients you see whom I never met, but whom I learned to know in an intimate way through your case presentations. The intimacy and warmth we have experienced together has moved me, changed me, re-configured patterns in my brain and enlarged my mind. Your questions have given me a new perspective on my own influence in opening doors to understanding in other people. For all of this, I am thankful.

In this psychotherapy program, I have learned and re-learned the importance of humility, the capacity to not know, to recognize my own not knowing and to let it be seen by others. The capacity to not know leads to the freedom to learn. I learned this in an important way while at graduate school. My boss on a research project was a funny looking round little man who always asked questions. We had many meetings with scholars in other fields. Some of them were highly esteemed professors, some were lawyers skilled in making arguments; but my boss was always the one who learned the most in each meeting. By situating himself as a student, not as an authority, he was free to learn. At the end of the research project, he and I wrote a book together about what we had learned. That was a formative experience. It taught me how to learn from China.

Here I have been eager to learn about Chinese people’s experiences, motivations, wishes and fears, their ways of protecting themselves from the pains and losses that living brings to every person. I have been motivated to read, to watch movies, to follow TV series and to talk with everyday people to learn more about how Chinese people feel and think.

And what did I learn? I learned that the family is more important than anything else in life. I learned that being close to people, that really caring about them makes a person vulnerable to anger and even rage at the ones we love the most. I learned that the greater the love, the greater the anger. I learned that when we give to others whom we love what we would have wanted ourselves, we often do them more harm than good. I learned that to “Do to others what you would want them to do to you” which is a major ethical proposition in Western philosophy and religion, is not necessarily so. I learned that it is better for the other if we do to them what they want done rather than what we wanted them to do for us. This now seems to me to be the central law of doing good psychotherapy.

I learned that ending, is as Shakespeare said “such sweet sorrow”. At the same time as it is sad, it is also painful and as Melanie Klein said, losing the presence and attention of the mother lets loose the rage of pain. That, I have been thinking is why we always speak well of the students at a graduation and the dead at their funerals. We have to remind ourselves of the love and admiration we had for them so that we do not let ourselves be swept away by the rage caused by the pain of their leaving us. I think that is important for therapists and patients to know in their inevitable partings, both when they plan to meet again and when the parting is the last contact that we will have with each other.

I learned that the depth of our feelings makes them not purer but more mixed, that letting go means letting the bad feelings come to the surface in small doses mixed with the good ones. I think that this is the process of psychotherapy, allowing the hidden shameful fears, sadness, and anger, the disappointments and losses to come to awareness in the context of a safe and caring environment.

I also learned that Proust was right that losing a loved person is a spur to valuing that person even more; that loss adds value to what we love and that having a loved person inspires jealousy so that to love is to suffer pain while having the loved one and painful pleasure in loss.

It is not that I did not know any of these emotional truths before coming to China and sharing the experience of teaching and learning psychoanalytic psychotherapy with one hundred and fifty people, it is that i re-learned them in a new setting and with new peoples they were now stronger and more poignant than ever. Having learned them again recently made them more available in my mind for the next encounter with a person in pain who comes for help with that pain.

I originally came to China with the wish to share with therapists the experience I had of learning from my patients, from the poets, from reading psychoanalytic theory, from novels and from my own experience what Freud had called “the dark continent”, the thing he could not learn. He asked women to teach him “What do women really want?” He famously asked women to teach it to from from their point of view. That took almost a century. But as a result of his and some of his students and colleagues respectful attempts to learn about the female experience from the female point of view , I had helped build a newer theory of female psychology. If there is one thing I wish you all can take away from the experience of learning something about female psychology from me, it is that woman are people who need to be understood from their own point of view. The corollary to this is what I have learned from my experience with China: that all people need and deserve to be understood from their own point of view.

For me what makes psychotherapy so endlessly interesting is that no therapist is the same as any other, no patient is the same as any other, and no combination of patient and therapist is the same as any other. As we finish learning together, I hope that we can enjoy our own curiosity. I hope that we can endure our own pain and the pain of witnessing that of our patients and that we can appreciate the great honor people do us by trusting that we can and want to share their pain so that they are no longer alone with it.

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