Look what I found

I think this was the draft I sent. And so, the paper that (along with my other merits, of course) secured my position in this graduate program.

I’m surprised to see that I wrote about Jung. I must’ve been reading him because of the therapy I was in at the time. I thought I mentioned Don Quixote, but apparently not. I’m also struck by how much I read then. Not that I don’t read a lot now, but I do a lot of things other than read. Well, nostalgia trip.

January 2006
Application for the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program at Duquesne University

“Write a personal essay in response to the following: Trace the development of your thinking with respect to psychology, emphasizing which theorists and which of their contributions have had the most important impact on you. Then discuss the convergence of your career goals and scholarly interests with the human science orientation of the Duquesne psychology graduate program.”

My undergraduate education took place at St. John’s College in Annapolis, a Great Books program made up almost entirely of all-required courses consisting of discussions of primary sources. I have read and discussed works by Plato, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Rilke, Shakespeare, St. Augustine, Pascal, William James, Freud, Jung, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, among others. My education was general and emphasized no particular interpretation or school of thought. However, it was this education and my own experience from which blossomed my desire to study psychology with Duquesne’s human science orientation, and to become better acquainted with this field and enter into it. Herein, I will describe what led me to these conclusions, and why I believe that Duquesne is the best place for me to learn more.

Every year at St. John’s, students write a major essay on a particular text or question followed by an oral examination. My freshman essay was on a section of Plato’s Symposium, in which Socrates and various interlocutors make speeches about love. I wrote on the relationship between Alcibiades and Socrates in an attempt to discover what made Socrates the object of Alcibiades’ love alongside the broader question: What makes a person lovable? As I was writing, I observed that I was saying much more about Alcibiades, the lover, than Socrates, the beloved, in determining what made Socrates lovable to Alcibiades. “Lovability” was not an intrinsic trait, but something determined by the one who loved—it was something in Alcibiades that made him find Socrates lovable, and thus, he was the source of Socrates’ lovability; he provided meaning and content in the relationship between subject and object. I shared this during my examination, and my tutor (professor) Ms. Eva Brann told me this reminded her of the work of a later philosopher. Later, when I read the Critique of Pure Reason, I knew she had meant Kant.

The Critique allowed me to think further about how the subject could be the source of reality, or how it could be that meaning is created in our witnessing what is, rather than flowing from things to be intercepted by us. Though Kant is speaking directly of how the physical world is cognizable by us, issues about human beings as the source of order and meaning come up at other levels: What does it mean to live in a world in which we provide the meaning, i.e., a world which lacks essential meaning? How do we attribute meaning to things around us and ultimately build lives based on meaning? Another problem arose as well after reading Kant: the self, or the soul, becomes more complex, for when we turn our eye back to ourselves in order to observe ourselves the same way we do the world, we split into a subjective and objective self. The self seems not to be one thing, and only partially knowable as an object observed by the subjective self with no way of knowing whether the two are the same.

I found a comrade in Kierkegaard. I wrote my senior essay on his Philosophical Fragments and the adjoining work named after its pseudonymous author, Johannes Climacus. The latter work is a fictional biography and presents Johannes trapped between the real and the ideal, himself an abstraction—“a stranger to the world.” Kierkegaard uses him as an argument against “purely objective thinking,” in which one tries to remove oneself from the situation in order to observe from a distance. When Johannes attempts this feat all at once he faints, or loses consciousness. That is, he entirely removes himself from the situation, which is supposedly what one attempts to do when one “thinks objectively.” Kierkegaard explains that all conflict takes place within the subject’s consciousness, and any attempt to remove oneself will be unsuccessful. Furthermore, the implication that one will know more and perhaps come in contact with a grand ordering schema if one exchanges one’s individual struggle for a view of oneself from afar is a delusion. It suggests a grand ordering schema which the individual could comprehend if he abstracts himself from his own life and instead takes the standpoint of this higher system and observes himself within it. Even if such a system exists, Kierkegaard explains, it is not ascertainable to human beings.

I drew from Kierkegaard’s work that philosophy should not deal in abstractions, but should concern itself instead with the human predicament and inner states of human beings. In other words, it must shift from an objective to an admittedly subjective stance. Throughout these works, Kierkegaard emphasizes that it is the individual who at stake in a problem, and what matters is the individual’s relation to philosophy and his being in the world. It became clear to me that the study of individual human beings, then, bears the most primary significance. I also understood that the way we study human beings must be different than the way we study anything else.

Later on, I found further concord with respect to how we are to study human beings (particularly myself) through Carl Jung. At the beginning of his autobiography, he writes, “I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.” I take this scientific method to be one in which we observe disinterestedly and according to a set system. But, when the object of study is ourselves the approach must be different than when we study something that is other, distinct and separate from us. It is not fitting to stand at a distance and watch ourselves; it is impossible for me to alienate myself from myself and become purely objective. It is that very humanness, the thing that we cannot separate out and that prevents us from being objective that we desire to know.

I gained some insight into the nature of these human problems from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Herein, the vulgar, pleasure-seeking, buffoonish Fyodor is told, “above all, do not lie to yourself.” The thought that this man’s outward superficiality and disregard for things meaningful to others might ultimately be a lie raised many interesting thoughts and questions for me, primarily, what does it mean to lie to oneself? A duplicitous self reminded me of the split subjective and objective self, in which one self lives and the other self observes the living without engaging in life. A self formed this way seems an expression of uncertainty that life is wholly worth living, or that one is wholly worth living life. This self is only partially engaged in life while a part persists in doubt; a condition I have come to think of as “tentative existence.” I saw that the most important, basic problem a person faces is deciding, or discovering a reason, to live wholly and authentically.

Another question arose alongside this one, regarding the consciousness a person has of his lie. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche describes “philosophical prejudices,” the prejudged end to which a philosopher directs his philosophy while claiming to make an inquiry with the unknown and undecided truth as the end. These philosophers certainly would not admit to lying, and I wondered to what extent they are aware of their lies. If they are not intending to deceive others for another end, they themselves must be deluded. The possibility of an obscured part of the self, especially a motivating part, inspired further questions, regarding how to get past this complex to the rest of the self that the complex had hidden away.

Again, I later found elucidation from Jung, particularly his description of complexes: automatic patterns of behavior that make a person into an automaton, robbing him of his freedom and engaging him in a determining script. Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych, living a life directed toward an outward appearance of success, seems a prime example of a person consumed by a complex. It is not until his last days that the realization awakens in him that he has not really lived. It became clear to me that one of the most important things a person can do is to learn one’s lie and reclaim his life. To get back to the obscured self, one had to attentively and artfully find ways for this self to come to consciousness, for it was already clear that the self could not be approached in the manner of other objects of study. Dream analysis as a way for obscured parts of the self to come to light was especially interesting to me. I even became the patient of a primarily Jungian analyst for a few months this past year in order to look for any aspects of myself that I may have obscured and explore techniques for recovering it.

Alongside my own brief experience as a patient, I explored clinical psychology through reading case studies. The most inspiring, and what ultimately made me take an interest in becoming a practitioner, were those of Irvin Yalom. He provided detailed, moving accounts of helping patients assume responsibility for their problems, thereby restoring freedom to them and enabling them to live more authentic, meaningful lives. This freedom, this ability to be in the world fully, seems to be the origin of a great deal of other problems. I became convinced that the skilled therapist did not offer mere coping strategies for these offshoots of the fundamental problem, nor take responsibility for the problem himself (which would simply reinforce the patient’s problem), but could travel alongside his patient and explore the problems of living.

For the past six months, I’ve been guiding students of all ages through intensive programs to increase language expression and comprehension, including reading and sometimes speech therapy exercises. This experience has reinforced my belief that it is best to treat clients individually. Many of my students have been diagnosed with learning disabilities and ADD/ ADHD or are on the autistic spectrum. I am often struck by how much my students are able to accomplish despite their diagnoses. When treated as individuals rather than offered a prescribed course for their particular diagnosis, i.e., regarding them not as utterly determined by their diagnosis, they could achieve more than they were thought able. Some of these students had even been diagnosed prematurely. For example, some children diagnosed with ADD were, in fact, having difficulty comprehending language at some level and so appeared to be distractible.

This shows me that psychology has become too focused on quick diagnosis and often fails to sufficiently explore the source of a patient’s complaint. The present emphasis in treatment seems to be on brief therapy and psychopharmacology. I see clinical psychology facing further limitations and pressures if psychologists are granted the ability to prescribe medication. The job of the therapist seems especially important now because individuals have more freedom and a greater range of choices than ever before. The burden of this freedom is great, and the transformation of this burden into a source of meaning is an urgent and extremely important duty. I want to preserve the great traditions in psychology and psychotherapy that help human beings make use of their potential.

This is also what leads me to Duquesne: the human sciences approach recognizes the dignity and complexity of the subject matter of psychology and recognizes the uniqueness of psychology’s approach as a science. My scholarly goals are broad. I wish to become better acquainted with various traditions which arise from psychology as a human science and become better acquainted with the field up to recent times, enough that I may make my own contribution. I have explained my interests in this paper and the strands leading me to psychology as a human science, and I am certain that further interests within this field will arise as I become more knowledgeable within it and refine myself as a specialist.

I wish most of all to explore clinical work and different types and developments in therapy. I am currently attempting to secure an internship in clinical psychology and plan to spend time later this year as a patient, as I believe that this is an indispensable experience for anyone wishing to become a therapist. I am fascinated by the extraordinary challenge and intricacy of psychotherapy, a calling in which one is an educator, a friend, an explorer, a doctor, and mostly, as Irvin Yalom says, “a fellow traveler,” because, as he explains, “there is no therapist and no person immune to the inherent tragedies of existence.” (The Gift of Therapy). I also wish to make psychotherapy more affordable and widely available, since I notice that many communities do not adequately care for the mentally ill, and insurance coverage makes it difficult for most people to engage in the long-term therapy that would be most beneficial to them. I am also interested in teaching and someday adding my own insights and innovations to the field. Above all, I want, of course, to make a study of the human soul.

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