Human suffering and psychiatric symptoms are the expression of damage to our play of consciousness. Our consciousness is organized as a drama in the theater of the brain with personas of ‘self’ and ‘others’, feeling relationships between them, scenarios, plots, set designs and landscapes. Each of us writes a specific play from how our nature - our genetic temperament, digests our nurture – responsiveness, deprivation, and abuse.In order for psychiatry to be meaningful, it has to be consonant with the development and operations of the play of consciousness. With good-enough loving, our adult selves are sufficiently infused by the Authentic-Being, which fosters authenticity and the capacity to love. The Authentic-Being is the earliest coalescence of ‘self’ in the rudimentary play. It is purely a feeling of our being, without representational form. Representational form consolidates as our brain matures, when we are between two to three years old. When our character is too damaged, the Authentic-Being is diminished or absent as a presence in our adult selves. Our character plays then traffic in the currency of anger in the context of sadomasochism. This is the source of human suffering and symptoms, the subject of psychiatry. The proper focus of psychiatry is to grapple with the powerful hold our problematic internal plays have over us. Psychotherapy is that avenue, consonant with the workings and processes of the theater of consciousness, to foster recovery from the damage done to our characters. We are prisoners of a drama we can’t even see. Psychotherapy is a kind of living theater that gives form to and access to our invisible internal play. Psychotherapy responsively addresses the cause of suffering and symptoms and ameliorates them in exactly the way they were constructed in the first place. Through boundaries and the context of genuine emotional holding, it allows for the mourning of our problematic plays and fosters the writing of a new play grounded in authenticity and love.
Psychotherapy has many features in common with the art form of regular theater. In order to appreciate the unique attributes of the living theater of therapy, let us first look at the operations of its first cousin, regular theater and its plays. Let’s go now into the theater and take our seats. The lights dim as the play is to begin. The curtain rises. One first sees a set design, which initially may seem artificial. It may be a literal rendering of a Victorian drawing room, or a minimalist suggestion of a setting, or even no staging. Likewise, when the actors first appear, they may seem stiff. Their costumes may seem artificial. The language might feel stilted. You, in the audience, may be conscious of sitting in an uncomfortable seat with not enough leg room, and maybe you are subject to an off ending cologne. Relatively quickly, if the play is well written, well directed, and well acted, you join the art trance.
Within the art-ifice of the art form and within the boundaries of the theatrical production, the drama becomes alive. It comes to feel real. It can make you laugh or cry. It can make you be afraid. Since art is a partial trance, you aren’t completely absorbed, as in the full trance of a dream. In the partial trance, one foot is inside the trance and the other foot is outside it. You, sitting in the audience, are both absorbed in the play and remain separate, reflecting on it. You are a participant-observer of the play. What does it mean to be a participant? Inside the boundaries of the art form, you enter the trance state of the play reality. You enter the drama and feel what a character feels. Feelings aren’t stand-alone things. They always take place within a scenario of personas. If you witness a character suffering from unrequited love, you may resonate with the forlorn character who is rejected. You may identify as the character who rejects but may not want to hurt the rejected one. You may resonate with one or the other or both of these characters, depending on your predilection. You may resonate with a character and any potential feeling he has towards an antagonist— love, hate, repulsion, etc. Or you may identify with a hero, or a villain, or a victim; you may identify with a quest for courage or with any of the various characters and plots that make up the whole spectrum of comedy and tragedy. As a participant, you enter the play reality and are swept away in it. You do so from your human image-ination (the making of images), which is organized in the cortex as personas, feeling relatedness, and their plots. By dint of our image-inations, we are capable of experiencing the entire scope of human experience. It is not necessary to have had the same experience as the characters to vicariously live their feeling and their plot scenarios. While watching a play, you may come through hope and despair and disappointment and consummation and victory and defeat and pain and loneliness and loss and treachery and fear and cruelty and sexuality and humor and love. As an observer, you remain outside the trance where you assess and analyze the goings-on. You watch what unfolds on stage, emotionally distanced from the drama and removed from the feeling and involvements of the characters. From this distance, you think about the play. Art communication is geared to affect our internal theaters through participation-observer experience. Our image-inations take in the figures of the theatrical art-ifice and feed them into our cortex as feeling persona experience. Like its cousin, regular theater, psychotherapy is a participant-observer experience. The therapist resonates with the play of his patient just as one does in regular theater except in the living theater of psychotherapy there is no stage, no costumes, and the actors and the actual plots are invisible. I relate to my patient’s invisible play as a participant by resonant feeling.
Next - The Art, the Science, the Wisdom of Psychotherapy II – Psychotherapy Begins
Robert A. Berezin is the author of “Psychotherapy of Character, the Play of Consciousness in the Theater of the Brain”