My own approach to psychotherapy, developed over three decades of clinical practice, can best be described as existential depth psychology: a (for some, unlikely) fusion of existential psychology (especially that of my former mentor, existential psychoanalyst Rollo May) and the psychodynamic depth psychology (Tiefenpsychologie) of Freud, Jung, Adler, Rank, et al. While I would consider myself theoretically and practically more a Jungian than Freudian psychologist, Freud's writings influenced me profoundly from a very young age. As a somewhat intellectually precocious child, I started reading Freud--whose birthday is tomorrow, May 6-- around the age of twelve or possibly even earlier. It was Sigmund Freud's fascinating, flowing, lucid and penetrating prose that inspired me to later pursue a career as a psychotherapist, following brief flirtations with medicine, art, acupuncture, and more enduringly, music in my teens. By the time I turned twenty-six, I was a fully licensed mental health professional practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Two decades later, during my 40's, I was fortunate to be able to spend most of my summers traveling around Europe, sometimes studying, teaching or lecturing there. In the summer of 1999, I was invited to speak about my book, Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic, at the Second World Congress for Psychotherapy in Vienna, Austria, Freud's hometown. (Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia, now the Czech Republic, in 1856, but his family moved to Vienna when he was three.) The admittedly Freudian-sounding title of my talk was "Myths of the Unconscious." Vacationing, as was my luxurious habit then, in Kusnacht--the impossibly beautiful Swiss lakeside village where C.G. Jung lived and practiced and the quaint location of the C.G. Jung Institute, where I had both previously studied and taught-- I decided to take the scenic ten- hour- train-ride from Zurich to Vienna. Once settled in the romantic city, prior to delivering my lecture, I set out to visit Freud's former residence and office on Berggasse 19 in Vienna‘s ninth district, now the Sigmund Freud Museum. It was mid-summer, with unusually high temperatures and humidity, even for that torrid time of year. I unwisely walked a considerable distance from my hotel to find Freud's apartment in the mid-day swelter, sweating profusely. Finally I arrived at the unassuming but architecturally ornate apartment building in which Freud and his family lived from 1891 through 1938 before forced to flee to London from the Nazis, and where he first analyzed recumbent patients on his now famous couch in the formative days of psychoanalysis.
By the time I climbed the stairs and entered the impressive second-story apartment, I was parched and dehydrated by the heat. Stepping through Freud's restored waiting room for patients--and where members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Freud's famous "inner circle," met every Wednesday evening--and approaching the minimal museum staff, I inquired as to whether it would be possible to purchase a bottle of water. They apologetically informed me that the museum did not sell bottled beverages. We were standing just outside of Freud's original kitchen, which was totally off-limits to visitors, while having this mundane interaction. Apparently taking pity on my overheated condition, a compassionate female staff member stepped into the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water--the very same water from the very same faucet from which Freud drank during the dawning days of what we today more generically refer to as "psychotherapy." Sigmund Freud's "psychoanalysis" is the seminal fount from which all modern psychotherapy more or less springs. (Actually, it was Otto Rank, one of Freud's closest disciples, who popularized the term psychotherapy, and even today‘s ubiquitous cognitive-behavioral therapy was created by a psychoanalyst.) This simple act of kindness and its heady historical context seemed deeply meaningful for this once pubescent imbiber of Freud's prodigious insights some thirty years earlier. Both as an inquisitive boy, and many times thereafter, Herr Doktor Freud had once more furnished much-needed nourishment to this thirsty admirer, perennial refreshment from Freud's faucet.