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Davidson, L. (2001). Idealization and Reverence. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 29(1):127-136.
(2001). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 29(1):127-136
Idealization and Reverence
Leah Davidson, M.D.
As we move into the twenty-first century, we are once again witnessing an interest in the fusion of multicultural spiritual and psychoanalytic concepts. Such fusions have always been present in human history (e.g., The Confessions of St. Augustine, Kierkegaard's writings, etc.), but, as David M. Wulff points out in his book The Psychology of Religion, they became unfashionable with the advent of early Freudian metapsychology and psychoanalysis. Such speculations then moved into the new field known as the Psychology of Religion, which in the United States found its champion at Clark University in Stanley Hall, and later, others (Wulff, 1991).
There has always opposition on both sides to the crossing of such disciplinary boundaries, yet work with patients remains incomplete if the therapist ignores and does not explore or use the patient's belief system.
David Lukoff, Francis Lu, and Robert Turner (1992) stated: “In theory, research and practice, mental health professionals have tended to ignore or pathologize the religious dimensions of life. This represents a type of cultural insensitivity towards individuals who have religious and spiritual experiences in both Western and non-Western cultures” p. 673. It also represents, in my opinion, a type of ethnocentrism that manifests as selective inattention to the material that the patient brings into the treatment situation.
In work with the religious, themes of idealization and reverence frequently surface attached to both positive and negative transference. In work with Roman Catholic religious, I found that idealizing transferences were very frequent and had to be worked through in analysis in the course of time.
Reverence, while discussed, was usually reserved either for sacred or saintly figures, or for spiritual counselors from the patient's own community who were regarded as wise in experience and who gave retreats on important prayerful subjects. This changed when I began to work with Asian patients and supervisees who related to me partially as a transferential figure and partially as a reverential one (i.e.,
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