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Russell, J.M. (1978). Sartre, Therapy, and Expanding the Concept of Responsibility. Am. J. Psychoanal., 38(3):259-269.
    

(1978). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 38(3):259-269

Other Voices

Sartre, Therapy, and Expanding the Concept of Responsibility

J. Michael Russell, Ph.D.

Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, said:

As long as you fight a symptom, it will become worse. If you take responsibility for what you are doing to yourself, how you produce your symptoms, how you produce your illness, how you produce your existence—the very moment you get in touch with yourself—growth begins, integration begins.1 (p. 193)

I take Perls to mean that we may sensibly be held to be responsible for headaches, ulcers, depressions. Such a view seems to make the concept of responsibility cover more ground than we are used to, and in that respect bears comparison with a remark by Sartre:

… Man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being.2 (p. 553)

As striking as Sartre's claim may be to many, the idea that we are responsible for much more than we ordinarily suppose is fairly central to much insight psychotherapy. In therapy, people often come to see themselves as active in and responsible for matters that they formerly felt they underwent or suffered. Citing Perls again (with Hefferline and Goodman):

… Most persons escape by accepting as their own—by identifying themselves with—only those processes which are deliberate. But bit by bit you are to take increasing responsibility for all your experience (we do not mean blame for it!)—including your blocks and symptoms—and gradually to acquire both free acceptance and control of yourself.3 (p.

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