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Sachs, H. (1989). Psychotherapy and the Pursuit of Happiness. Am. Imago, 46(2-3):143-152.

(1989). American Imago, 46(2-3):143-152

Psychotherapy and the Pursuit of Happiness

Hanns Sachs

For a long time the only weapon that man knew and used in his fight against disease, pain and death was psychotherapy in primitive form. The powers against which its help was invoked and the methods to make its force serviceable were different from ours: it was the time of the great ancestors of our present psychotherapy. Today, even with its enfeebled claims and its narrowing scope, it still is indebted to this inheritance from the past.

By the old concept all the sufferings to which mankind is heir, were attributed to one and the same, decidedly non-materialistic causation. It was called evil spirits, demons, magic, witchcraft, sorcery and the like, but all these names and many others meant the identical thing—to be pursued or possessed by supernatural enemies. The attacker might be a devil or an offended deity or a mere mortal who somehow had succeeded in acquiring superhuman powers. It did not make much difference if the ill will had been provoked by bad intention or incurred unwittingly, nor if it was a case of just retribution or sheer malevolence. The constant factor in this variety was the unshakable conviction that only a wishing power of a high order—a psychic agent—could produce these fatal results. This dangerous psychic force was not obliged to descend from its spiritual level and to use the ordinary forms of physical aggression. It worked throughout spiritually, as an invisible and uncontrollable emanation, unrestricted by the limitations of space, like “the stuff dreams are made of”—which, in fact, it was.

In order to be effective against these hostile powers, prevention or cure was bound to meet them on their own ground, as one spiritual, psychic force opposed to the other. The beginning of therapy was psychotherapy.


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