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Gottesfeld, M.L. (1985). Mystical Aspects of Psychotherapeutic Efficacy. Psychoanal. Rev., 72(4):589-597.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Review, 72(4):589-597

Mystical Aspects of Psychotherapeutic Efficacy

Mary L. Gottesfeld, M.S.W.

To this day psycho-analysis is regarded as savouring of mysticism, and its unconscious is looked upon as one of the things between heaven and earth which philosophy refuses to dream of.

—Sigmund Freud(1921)

Yet, I repeat once more, the existence of mystical states absolutely overthrows the pretension of non-mystical states to be the sole and ultimate dictators of what we believe.

—William James(1901)

Although it is my intention to argue for a relevance between philosophy, psychology, and mysticism, I am not unmindful of the interdisciplinary morass I am about to enter.“Philosophers have long been cautioned against ‘psychologism,’ which appears to repel them much as sin repels (and attracts) theologians”(Scharfstein, 1980, p. 45). At the same time the attitude of psychology toward mystics is not any better.“They have not hesitated to call St. Paul an epileptic, St. Theresa the ‘patron saint of hysterics’ and have found room for most of their spiritual kindred in various departments of the pathological museum,” said Evelyn Underhill(1957) in her classic book Mysticism (p. 58). Nevertheless, I will explore what I understand are significant areas of influence of mysticism on the psychotherapy process when it is effective.

In speaking of psychotherapy, my frame of reference will be the psychotherapy of the psychoanalytic method. This is not only the area most familiar to me, but also the most influential theory in all of psychotherapy.

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