Magical Moments in Therapy

Sometimes in therapy there are moments of intense magic. A state of flow is achieved and pervades the entire group space; the collective unconscious is tapped into resulting in a transcendental state of heightened awareness, bordering on a peak experience or; a client steps into a pool of insight which changes their entire viewpoint and we witness this shift. These moments of magic need to be celebrated, acknowledged, and honoured for what they are, as they occur. It truly is an honour to be witness to these moments of magic, just as it is an honour to be a part of any therapy.

In art therapy, we are offered an additional avenue from which these moments of magic can occur, and often, I have found, the creation of art motivates and energizes magic moments. I will illustrate a potent example of magic occurring within the group art therapy space.

I introduced an intervention which I have given the moniker of strengths beads. This directive invites clients to create a list of strengths, thinking about: strengths they currently have; strengths they would like to develop and; strengths they see in others which they admire. Once the list has been generated, clients are then invited to create either a bracelet or key-chain (in some cases clients opt to create a necklace, or merely choose beads to keep). While they are creating their bracelet, they are invited to mindfully think about their strengths, and to be mindful of which beads they are choosing and why. I invite clients to think about their strengths as they choose their beads, intentionally imbuing the beads with the energy, or felt sense of their strengths. This bracelet acts as a wearable badge of sorts, a reminder of their strengths. Additionally, the tactile and visual sensations provided by the bracelet can act as a grounding activity for clients in times of stress and high anxiety.

Once clients have created their bracelet, they are then invited to focus on one or two of their strengths from the list they have generated, and to represent this strength visually. Clients are provided with paper, ink, pencil, water-colours, acrylics, and pencil crayons. The reason I invite clients to visualize one of their strengths is to entrench their belief in the strength they choose – inviting them to mindfully attend to one of their strengths encourages them to acknowledge and identify the strength as a core part of their self.

While facilitating group art therapy with a group of youth with varying mental health concerns, I invited this directive into the group space, and as clients created their bracelets a state of collective flow was achieved. The noises generated by the beads, paired with the meditative practice found in the repetitive focused attention of choosing a bead, placing a bead, and creating a pattern, created a calming and meditative silence which permeated the entire group space. As clients shared their bracelets with the group, a number of insights were uncovered and celebrated – by the speaker and by other group members. It came across as common knowledge, when a client identified x as their strength, the entire group responded in turn with “but of course, you exude that strength.” It was an incredible moment of collective identification and acknowledgement of each others strengths, not only supporting individual clients efficacy and belief in their strength, but also strengthening group dynamics and encouraging clients who normally would not share, to share with the group. An environment of acceptance was fostered, encouraging a weakening of inhibitions and an increased likelihood that group members would contribute to the group experience.

Once clients moved on to the second stage of the directive, this state of flow continued, and each client in turn appeared to unconsciously know how to illustrate their strength without any forethought needed. One client illustrated her strength by a mandala coloured in with purple and blue, black stars on the outside of the mandala, and words written across the top and bottom encouraging her to follow her dreams. As she shared with the group she mentioned how she had made a number of mistakes while creating the image – she smudged paint on one side of the paper where she did not want anything to be drawn. She automatically integrated this smudge into her painting, by applying more water-colour over top. She created a mirrored image of this smudge on the other side of the page, creating two nearly symmetrical smudges on either side of the mandala. I was transcended as she shared this image with the group, noticing her use of the mandala in the center of the page, and how she included two smudges – one on either side of the mandala, and two lines of text – one above, one below. This created an entirely equal and symmetrical image: interestingly, the mandala is a representation of the totality of the self, or wholeness, and Jung suggests is divided into a quaternity, the spontaneous creation of which can indicate the ego’s capacity to assimilate unconscious material, an anticipation of wholeness, which is just beyond our reach (Jung, 2013). Her ability and willingness to integrate her perceived mistakes into the complete image portrayed a mindful intention to her final image, and played on her strengths to be open and accepting. Her use of the mandala and vying for wholeness mirrored my recently uncovered insights through my own self-analysis – and mirrored another clients use of multiple mandalas in her own work. The client seated directly across from her created a piece depicting a brain, half of which (the left side) was visualized as the brain itself, and the right half depicted as a series of growing flowers. She suggested that it represented her open-mindedness and willingness to grow: this being a verbalization of the previous clients visual representation of wholeness and growth exhibited by the mandala. Both images mirrored each other, as did the intention behind the images. It was as if the collective unconscious opened like a rift in the sky above us, allowing us to collectively access our state of flow, and access these archetypes for visualization, and self-understanding. Jung would acknowledge this series of events as synchronistic – I finished reading Jung’s synchronicity a week ago. If we mindfully attend to the events we see: client 1 creates a mandala and a quaternity on the page; client 2 illustrates a visual representation of her own strengths as a brain and flowers, mirroring client 1’s felt sense and intentions, client 3 draws a series of mandalas; and lastly, the mirroring of my recently uncovered insights. Four events, four equal divisions in a mandala – we collectively embodied a mandala within the group space, each event contributing one portion of the wholeness of the mandala.

I would qualify this group therapy session as one which was riddled with magical moments. The magic began as soon as we sat down to begin art therapy, and continued through our accessing a collective state of flow, mirroring each others felt senses and intentions, and embodying the mandala inside the group space. I felt honoured to be witness to this series of magical moments, which was strengthened by the groups response to the entire group process: one of complete and total mindful acceptance for what had just transpired. As group ended, there was a collective sigh of relief – not that it was over, but rather, that it had occurred in the first place.


Jung, C.G. (2013). The Psychology of the Transference. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. (Originally published 1983).

Therapeutic Presence: Mirroring

The second aspect to be discussed is mirroring. Mirroring is a therapeutic technique used to validate the client’s experience, and reflect their self: affect, behaviour and memories back to them. This aspect, unlike empathy, is more tangible and therefore more easily understood. However, it still requires practice and exploration. Carpendale provides us with a number of probing questions that open the gates for reflection (Carpendale, 2006).

What does mirroring have to do with presence?

Presence is the being with an other inside a therapeutic context. Being aware of your own feelings, cognitions and affects, and how these might influence the therapy session. Being aware of time and space, the environment in which the therapy is unfolding, and being mindful of an individual client’s needs. Presence is essential in forming the therapeutic alliance – if the client does not feel that they are heard, seen, or understood, the therapeutic alliance, which is built primarily out of trust, will not flourish.

Mirroring is a core component of presence. When we mirror a client’s affect they recognize that we are not only present in the moment, focusing solely on them, but we also demonstrate a reaching towards understanding. This translates into validation. There are no judgements with mirroring. Mirroring is a verbatim reflection of the client’s experience in the moment, or of a remembered experience. When we mirror we are not adding our own thoughts or interpretations, we are merely reiterating the client’s feelings and experience.

I believe when we mirror it is appropriate to seek clarification. In this way too, the client is offered another way to approach the situation. If we seek clarification, this validates the client’s experience as being entirely their own, with a nod to the empathic response that should be experienced throughout therapy. When we discuss these aspects of therapeutic presence it is difficult to pull them apart and investigate them individually because they are not intended to be isolated – they work together. The whole of our therapeutic presence is comprised of these six aspects.

How do we communicate with mirroring?

We communicate effectively with our reflections of the clients experience. These reflections are not mere repetitions – but they are also not infused with our own thoughts or interpretations. Upon reflection it appears a simple technique, but it is one that requires focus and practice. It is essential to find the balance between merely repeating and adding our own self to the reflection.

The mirroring technique acts in such a way that the client sees themselves reflected in a new light, so that they can infuse meaning, and draw out new interpretations. With our reflections we are holding up a mirror for which they can look into and better understand their self, and their situation.

When words fail and I am grasping clumsily for some understanding, I put the pen down and pick up the paint brush. When expression is contrived or strained through words, art can be my saviour to express what I am hinting at.

I painted “Mirror, Mirror” in response to Carpendale’s question “how do we communicate with mirroring?” IMG_6913

The characteristic mandala is the focus of this image, used in this context as a mirror. Blue, purple and black highlight the mandala, emphasizing its contours with the repetitive strokes. Inside the mirror sits my reflection, with a larger eye seated to the left of my image. In place of the pupil of this larger eye is a koi fish, which extends beyond the eye. Water droplets fill the spaces between this eye and my image, and act as a replacement for my missing eye.

In dialoguing with this image I am drawn to the potent imagery that I rely on, and that I find repeating itself over and over in my art-work. The eye is seen as the window to the soul, and in this way, our mirroring can be understood as something comprised of more than just our words. Mirroring is something that, like empathy, requires all parts of our self – our mind, body, and soul (psyche, spirit). The client can see and feel our mirroring responsiveness through our eyes, body language, and vocal tone. We must be attuned to this throughout the therapy session. The water, a symbol of strong significance which presents itself repeatedly, is representative of the collective unconscious, and the unconscious mind in general. Our mirroring then is opening a window into the client’s unconscious mind, in a similar way to our empathic response.

The koi is a personal symbol, which represents perseverance, ambition and courage. The koi is placed here to represent a direct mirroring of my self within a therapy session. In this instance then, I am the subject of therapy. However, when we think of the meaning behind the koi, we can still apply this to our aspect of mirroring. There is a story called The Yellow River at Hunan, which details the journey of koi fish through the waterfall, Dragon’s Gate. The koi fish who successfully complete the journey through Dragon’s Gate, transform from a koi fish into a dragon. This represents the koi’s ability for change and growth, and when we investigate the symbolic meaning behind the dragon we come to find that the dragon represents growth, luck and development. Therapy is an aim towards change, and furthering self-development. Our mirroring is a significant aspect of our therapeutic presence that provides the client with an opportunity for growth and change, through playing the role of their reflection. When they see their self in such an empathic, understanding way, they are provided with a new way to reflect upon their goals, current development, and life situation.

How were you seen as a child?

This is an important question for us to reflect on. Seen here does not refer to physical appearance, rather, it refers to your true self. We need to reflect on this to recognize our own potential countertransferences in future therapeutic relationships. If we never felt truly seen, understood, validated and so forth, how can we know how to embody it and provide it for a client?

I have led an incredibly privileged childhood, and both of my parents entered my world in an attempt to understand me. The best and most ready example I have of this is my interest in art. I am where I am today because my parents recognized my interest and ability in art, and nurtured this passion. The important thing to remember here is that how one was seen as a child might appear different for different people – it is the experience of being seen that matters. If I had interpreted my parents support and nurturing as a negative thing, I might not be able to reminisce on my childhood so positively, and I might conclude that I was in fact, not seen. However, this is not the case.

I was seen in all other areas of my childhood as well. Not only was I regarded as an artist, creative, energetic soul, whose passions were directed toward both visual and dramatic arts, I was seen as a whole, complete person. I felt understood as a person with a self, and I was supported in all ventures. How my parents interacted with me as a young child shaped who I am today, and informed my self-concept. This support is imperative to a developing self, something one will undoubtedly encounter in therapy, for we are always developing, always reaching for self-actualization.

At the end of this reflection, I was left with one probing question that had been ruminating in my mind.

What benefit does mirroring have on the therapeutic alliance, and process?

The therapeutic alliance is essential for successful therapy, without which there is no trust, and no relationship. Therapy happens in relation to an other. Mirroring demonstrates to the client that you can be trusted, in that, you will stave off judgements and interpretations in order to enter their world and attempt to fully understand them.

Mirroring encourages the therapeutic process, providing the client with freedom to explore their self in a safe, non-judgemental environment. Unconditional positive regard is an integral part of this aspect of mirroring. In order to mirror appropriately, we leave out personal reflections, interpretations and judgements. We recognize the client, and accept and appreciate them for who they are, in the moment. The change that occurs in therapy will happen at the client’s pace.


Mirroring is another aspect of the therapeutic presence that eludes us to a degree. It is nuanced and requires meditative practice. This is part of being present in therapy – always being attuned and aware of your self, body, and cognitions, and challenging them in the moment in an attempt to provide the client with the most beneficial environment wherein change can occur. One must practice each aspect of the therapeutic presence, which as mentioned before, will be a life-long process.


Carpendale, M. (2006). Kutenai Art Therapy Institute Manual. (pp. 45-60).

Therapeutic Presence: Empathy

    Therapeutic presence is a way of being with another person, within a therapeutic context, that reflects the therapist’s full engagement with the client (Geller, 2013). Carpendale suggests there are a number of aspects of presence, that can be examined through different lenses, in order for us to gain a better understanding of what constitutes therapeutic presence, and what it is we should aim for (Carpendale,2006). These aspects are: centering, grounding, containment, empathy, mirroring, and boundaries (Carpendale,2006). The lenses Carpendale suggests are: self, other, metaphor, the manifestation in art, development in childhood and the therapeutic session (Carpendale,2006). Each lens will enliven our understanding of a particular aspect in a different way, and through our examinations we will be able to understand the aspects application in the different arenas in our life (self, other, metaphor and so forth).

    It is important to explore these aspects in relation to our therapeutic presence. We will find that we have strengths in some areas, and are lacking in others. This is significant information to be aware of, so that we can explore how to strengthen and enhance each aspect, integrating them into our therapeutic presence. The first aspect I will explore is empathy.

    Empathy is considered as a ‘being with’ the other person (Carpendale,2006) and from this viewpoint, we could almost consider empathy to constitute the entirety of the therapeutic presence. Rogers presented empathy as one of the core conditions of his person-centered therapy approach (Rogers, 1959, 1961). He defines empathy as a process rather than a state (Rogers,1975) which suggests that empathy is something a therapist can practice, and eventually hone as a skill. It is my assumption that as with any aspect of therapeutic presence, no therapist will ever have successfully honed or developed a skill to a point where growth can no longer occur. That is, empathy, containment, mirroring – any of the aspects of the therapeutic presence – require life-long practice and development. They will alter over time, from moment to moment, and from client to client.

Rogers says of empathy:

“It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it […]being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person […] moving about in it delicately without making judgments […] not trying to uncover feelings of which the person is totally unaware.” (Rogers,1975).

    Why is empathy so important to the therapeutic process, and in our case, the therapeutic presence? Empathy is related to positive outcome, and supplies a relationship that combats alienation (Rogers,1975). A client unable to express their innermost feelings for fear of being judged or rejected will feel isolated and alone. In a discourse rooted in empathy, the same client will feel an all too real human connection that is inexplicable in nature, and overwhelmingly restorative. There is no longer the fear of rejection, and there is no longer the result of alienation. Through empathic understanding, the therapist meets the client in their world, where they are at, and lays aside all judgements and interpretations. Rogers suggests that another significant reason empathy is so important is because it tells the client that they are valuable, and that someone cares (Rogers,1975). If we consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we see that empathy contributes to the satisfaction of all higher level needs: love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1962).

    Now that I have explored the meaning behind empathy as an aspect, I can explore personal meanings of empathy, how it presents in my art, in relation to others, and most importantly, in the therapeutic setting. The main questions I will be seeking to answer are: How does empathy present itself through my art-work? What metaphors come to mind when you think of empathy? How is empathy expressed and felt in relation to others? How is empathy expressed in the therapeutic setting?

Empathy in Art

    I explored the answer to this question using the paint-brush and my art journal, using a few simple directives: “What is empathy/what does empathy look like”? and “Think of an experience of empathy felt in therapy, or in relation with other. Draw or paint this experience. You can use metaphor to facilitate exploration.”

    In the first image, I very simply drew three circles, or mandalas, overlapping each other. This image is reminiscent of a Venn diagram, wherein the common elements of each set is represented in the overlapping areas. The mandala is a representation of the totality of the self (Jung, 1969), one which I identify with wholeheartedly. This image then directly represents the therapeutic relationship which is rooted in empathy. Each circle represents a separate entity – each circle has its own identity, represented by its own unique colour which emanates from it. In the centre of each circle we find the core of the self – the blue mass, shaped differently in each circle to represent different points of self-development and growth.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Mandalas

    Upon initial reflection I was inclined to suggest that these circles represent the therapeutic relationship itself – the therapist and client, represented in two circles, and the transference relationship embodied in the third. The areas of overlap are a direct representation of empathy as a process – the therapist reaches into the clients world, with their own personality, temperament and interpretations, and lays them aside, holds them at bay so to speak, while enacting empathy. In every relationship with another we bring our selves, there is no way that we can leave it behind. I also would not suggest it. When we enter the world of an other, we are there as visitor and witness, we do not make our permanent home in their world. Therefore I would suggest that if we left our selves behind, we would lose ourselves in the others world in our attempt to be fully empathetic.

    This image denotes the tripartite system to which humans ascribe – we are mind, body and soul. Very simply then, empathy is a bodily experience wherein we enlist our mind, body and soul to be entirely present and open with an other. I would argue that we are not fully present, not fully empathic, if one of these is missing, or not active.

    The next image I drew was in direct response to the second art directive – “Think of an experience of empathy felt in therapy, or in relation with other. Draw or paint this experience. You can use metaphor to facilitate exploration.”

Figure 2

Figure 2. Through your eyes

    This image is an incomplete self-portrait. The breaks in the lines are representative of putting my self aside while interacting with a client, or other, from an empathic stance. The core of my being is present, but I am not, and do not need to be, the focus.

    When I thought of metaphor, I thought about seeing the world of the other, and seeing through their eyes. Again, my eyes are being overshadowed by the eyes of the other. My eyes still remain, my core self still remains while witnessing through the client’s eyes, but they are there to digest the contents of the client’s world so that I can better understand their situation. They are not interpretive, or judging eyes.

    The colour blue holds significant meaning for this understanding of empathy. It is suggestive of water, a clear reference to the unconscious (Jung, 1969). The water bleeds from the client’s eyes, wetting the page. Through my empathic response, I become witness to the unconscious content. In this way, I believe our empathy plays an important role in accessing and truly hearing the client’s unconscious in conscious dialogue.


    Metaphors are an excellent way to illustrate a deeper meaning or felt-sense that everyday language simply can’t achieve. We might find that words fail us at times, and metaphors can be used to express more wholly what we mean. For instance, someone who is angry might refer to themselves as a hot pot boiling over. This denotes a much more detailed, graphic image, and provides us with a valuation of the feeling of anger.

    In regards to empathy, there are a number of metaphors that access the core of what it means to be empathetic. For instance: seeing through someone’s eyes, or being in someone’s shoes. Dante provides us with some excellent allegorical language when it comes to empathy: Virgil acts as a companion to Dante in his journey through hell. This is akin to our idea of empathy as being witness to, being present to, or being a companion through the therapeutic process.

    The idea of worlds also provides a significant metaphor. We enter the other person’s world through the use of empathy, ensuring we make no changes, and remain as visitor, guest, or witness to their world. It is similar to visiting a country or city we have never been to before, and experiencing their unique culture and way of being.

Empathy in relation to other

    Empathy is a multi-faceted concept that I think is too often simplified to “understanding an others emotions” or “mirroring” an others emotions. Feeling entirely overwhelmed by an others emotions to the point where you become the focus rather than the client is dis-advantageous. You exhaust your energies and your focus and you are no longer a present and helpful witness.

    I will provide a brief account of an interaction with a client wherein I practised empathic witnessing, and the results were favourable.


    Rosie has been discussed before. She is a geriatric African Nova-Scotian living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her primary diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, and she exhibits OCD like behaviours. She becomes increasingly anxious when she is experiencing a hallucination, and she becomes engrossed in these – interacting with them both verbally and physically.

    One evening while Rosie was experiencing an intense hallucination, she became increasingly anxious and frightened. Instead of distracting her from the hallucination, or denying its existence (because for her the hallucination is very much a reality, regardless of whether we can see it or not), I was witness. I reminded her of my presence, through physically being near her (keeping in mind her need for personal space and respecting this). In the throes of her hallucination she was almost entirely non-verbal, other than in response to the hallucination itself. Therefore, my presence was all that I could offer her, as a sort of grounding mechanism to reality, without invalidating her current experience. In this way, I gently, and slowly entered her world.

    After, Rosie remarked how frightened she was, and I echoed her sentiment. Not that I was frightened – I can not lay claim to a sensation or feeling I have yet to experience. This too works to invalidate her experience. Rather, I expressed how she was frightened – how frightening this hallucination must have been to cause her so much anxiety. She continued the conversation, expressing her intense anxiety in reaction to this hallucination, describing her bodily sensations (heart beating rapidly, shaking). Again, I acknowledged these feelings and sensations, without suggesting that I too experienced them. Through my echoing her feelings, I became a validation for her, a sort of container outside of herself to acknowledge the experience and her reaction to it.

Empathy in the therapeutic relationship

    Empathy in the therapeutic relationship is similar to empathy in relation to other – this is what therapy is – a relationship between therapist and client. It is important to remember what empathy is, and how it manifests itself inside the self, our art, and through metaphor, so that we can harvest these grains and apply them in the therapeutic relationship.

    Empathy is a presence, a process whereby we lay aside our personal prejudices, judgements, and interpretations to make room for the client to grow. It is a facilitative agent of change, without it, there would be a block. If the client feels that he is being judged, he will hide things, avoid the main issue that has brought him to therapy, or worse yet, leave the therapeutic relationship entirely. Empathy then is a major component in trust within the therapeutic relationship. The client will be unable to trust you, that you truly care for and have unconditional positive regard for him, if he can sense a judgement or a negative appraisal.

    Empathy avoids interpretation – which seems counter-intuitive when we are talking about insight-oriented therapies, especially when we speak of psychodynamic approaches which are built on Freudian ideas and concepts. However, it is imperative that we avoid interpretation – of both words and art-work. Our interpretations will invariably colour the clients own interpretations of their work, and if we make a premature, or wrong interpretation, this could annihilate the therapeutic alliance entirely. An interpretation could easily be misconstrued as a judgement by the client, and because of this it should be avoided.


    Empathy is one of the most important conditions for person-centered therapy, and a significant aspect in therapeutic presence. I would argue that without empathy, there is no therapeutic presence. I believe that empathy is the bed-rock from which all else is built. Empathy requires practice and regular focus. At the outset of this paper I suggested that each of these aspects that Carpendale proposes require life-long dedication and development. They will change over time, and from client to client. This rings especially true for empathy.


Carpendale, M. (2006). Kutenai Art Therapy Institute Manual. (pp. 45-60).

Geller, S. M. (2013). Therapeutic Presence: An Essential Way of Being. In Cooper, M., Schmid, P. F., O’Hara, M., & Bohart, A. C. (Eds.). The Handbook of Person-Centred Psychotherapy and Counselling (2nd ed). pp. 209-222. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Jung, C.G. (1969). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, (Volume 9). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Maslow, A. (1962). Toward a psychology of being. Princeton, NJ, US: D Van Nostrand.

Rogers, C. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. In S. Koch, (ed.). Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill.

Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable.

Rogers, Carl. (1975). Empathic: An Unappreciated Way of Being. The Counseling Psychologist. Vol. 5, No. 2-10.


Soft light emanates from the candles lining the pine “community” style table. As it grows darker outside, the wicks in the candles lose their shape and size. The light begins to slowly fade, creating a calm serenity. The music rages on, pulsing through the body like a life-line, suffocating and resuscitating my focus in waves.

The whirring noise of the coffee grinder interrupts my thoughts. Only briefly, before I am brought back with another welcome distraction. Two girls sit in the corner, partially facing each-other, partially facing the window. Their indistinct chatter lulls in and out of my ear. They are enjoying themselves, just like everyone else here.

I can’t help but think, it’s been a long 6 months since I have put pen to paper. I am stuck in an unending habit of writer’s block. And it is a habit, an expectation, an assumption. I have fostered a negative relationship with writing. The assumption that I have nothing of worth to produce facilitates my inability to write.

The heart shape in my vanilla latte moves from side to side as I press the cup to my lips. The milk and vanilla create the perfect commixture of flavours to compliment the freshly roasted beans.

These bursts of creativity come on unannounced, and leave just as abruptly. Like the first snowfall of November. Can I really waste my breath complaining? Before now I was complaining about being unable, and unmotivated to paint, or draw. Here I am now, painting nearly every day, and unable to write.

Perhaps the flip-flop between the two is necessary for my creative production. My focus strays – the devotion I lend to each art is immeasurable. It’s merely a matter of finding that devotion.

I find it here, from time to time. But just as before, in these states, it is fleeting. I can’t rush it. I can’t push it on. The product of forced writing is contrived and uncomfortable. The discomfort resonates long after I lay my pen down and close the book.

I believe there are therapeutic aspects underlying the act of writing. I often use it as my mirror – I see myself reflected in the pages. I can’t lie when I write. It would be like pretending to be something I’m not.

So, I remain stuck in this sort of limbo, forever destined to write about how miserable and morose I am, suffering as a writer with endless writer’s block.

Until I’m not.

These pages, my mirror, currently reflect my struggles: my inability to write or create, the fear of never writing again, repetition bordering on neurosis.

So, I leave the page blank for now, until my mind is clear, and I am ready to introspect, and analyze. Once I lay my fears and anxieties aside, the flow of thought will return just as before.


Inside: Dr. Albert Bandura

Dr. Bandura is a Canadian Psychologist and Professor Emeritus of social science in Psychology at Stanford University. His major contributions to the field include: the Bobo doll experiment, social cognitive theory, social learning theory, self-efficacy and reciprocal determinism. He has been awarded with the Guggenheim Fellowship for Social Sciences, US & Canada in 1972; and the National Medal of Science for Behavioral and Social Science in 2016. In 2015, “Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves” was published. In this interview we discuss the theory of moral disengagement, the contents of this book, and its real-life applications.

Hello Dr. Bandura. Before we begin discussing your book “Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves” I would like to ask you a few preliminary questions pertaining to your career as a whole. Firstly, would you be able to tell our readers what initially drew you to Psychology?

My choice of psychology as my profession was by chance rather than by design. I commuted to the University of British Columbia with engineers and premeds. They enrolled in early-morning courses so I searched for a course that would fill the early-morning void. A student left a course catalogue on the library table. In flipping through it I noticed a psychology course that would fill the gap. I enrolled in it and found my profession. In addition to the fascinating subject matter, I was intrigued by the complexity of the discipline. Psychology is the only core discipline that integrates determinants across disciplinary lines in its causal structure: In addition to determinants of intrapsychic life, it includes social, institutional, biological, and cross-cultural determinants as well.

The application of psychological knowledge for human betterment in virtually all walks life was another highly attractive feature of this discipline.

Who would you cite as the most influential people in your life (this can be anyone, it does not have to be limited to those within the field of Psychology). In what way did they influence you?

My parents were the most influential figures in my life. They migrated to Canada from Eastern Europe. They had no formal education or financial resources to build their new life. My father worked on the railroad laying tracks for the Trans-Canada railway. When he saved enough money he purchased a homestead. These homesteaders were the pioneers of the Canadian nation. They had to manually convert heavily wooded land into farmland, build their own homes, schools, churches, small towns and communities. They were extraordinary models of resourcefulness, ingenuity, unwavering self-efficacy, and resilient hopefulness in the face of adversity.

These extraordinary formative years provided the foundation for my theory of human agency, that people have a hand in shaping the course their lives take. In my book, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, I document how people’s belief in their efficacy determine their aspirations, motivation, emotional well-being and accomplishments.

Based on your experience both as a student and as a professor, would you say there are many differences between how things were taught in the past compared to how they are taught now? Are there classes you have not taught but would be interested in teaching?

The small town in which I grew up was woefully short of educational resources. Both the elementary and high school were housed in the same school house. Only a few teachers taught the entire high school curriculum. They were not always well-versed in the subject matters. I had to take some courses by correspondence. A few of us decided we could educate ourselves. The course content was perishable but mastery of self-directed learning has been an invaluable asset throughout my career. The students of today have the entire body of knowledge at their fingertips wherever they may reside. This vastly expands their opportunity to preside over their own learning.

Before addressing specific issues I will explain briefly how people inflict harm and retain a positive self-regard and live in peace with themselves. People adapt standards of right and wrong that serve as guides and deterrents for their conduct. They do things that give them satisfaction and a sense of self-wroth, and refrain from violating their moral standards because such actions evoke self-condemnation. Self-sanctions keep behavior in line with moral standards. However, we are witnessing a pervasive moral paradox in which individuals in all walks of life commit inhumanities that violate their moral standards and still retain a positive self-view and remain untroubled by the harm they cause. They achieve this paradoxical adaptation through eight psychosocial mechanisms whereby they selectively disengage their moral self-sanctions from their detrimental conduct.

Of the eight mechanisms, moral justification is especially powerful. It not only enlists morality in the mission or cause but also disengages morality in its destructive execution. Perpetrators absolve their harmful behavior as serving worthy causes. In exonerative comparison, belief that one’s harmful actions will prevent more human suffering than they cause makes the behavior look altruistic. Euphemistic language in its sanitizing and convoluted forms cloaks harmful behavior in innocuous language and removes humanity from it.

People evade personal accountability for harmful conduct by displacing responsibility to others and by dispersing it widely so that no one bears responsibility. There is no moral issue to contend with if no perceived harm has been done. Judging the harmfulness of given policies and practices is therefore the major battleground in moral disengagement. Perpetrators disregard, minimize, distort, or even dispute harmful effects. In dehumanization, perpetrators exclude those they maltreat from their category of humanity by divesting them of human qualities or attributing animalistic or demonic qualities to them. Rendering their victims subhuman weakens moral qualms over treating them harshly. A further mode of self-exoneration blames victims for bringing the maltreatment on themselves.

In my book, Moral Disengagement, I explain the myriad ways in which people compromise their moral standards in corporate, gun, tobacco and chemical industries; in terrorism and military counterterrorism; the death penalty; and the most urgent problem facing humankind in this century, the preservation of an environmentally sustainable future.

In the introductory chapter in your book, you outline what moral disengagement is, the loci of moral disengagement as well as the social cognitive theory. Would you be able to elaborate on the victim locus, which in my opinion is possibly the most interesting and multifaceted.

As explained above, treating one’s foes as subhuman, deranged, demonic, or bestial reduces moral restraints against detrimental conduct. Bin Laden bestialized the American enemy as “the most ravenous of animals”; ISIS beheaders call their enemy “dogs”; The gun industry called those supporting gun regulation as “loony leftists.” The tobacco industry derogated research that demonstrates adverse health effects as “half-truths in the hands of fanatics,” “scientific malpractice.” Financial traders disparaged their clients as “muppets” (British slang for a stupid person who is easily manipulated); the CEO of a mining company described mining regulators as “crazies” and “greeniacs.” Abu Ghraib guards degraded, humiliated and animalized Iraqi detainees. Naked detainees were forced to wear leashes and crawl for hours like dogs, to bark to the sound of a whistle, and to crawl with guards mounted on their backs like jockeys.

You define moral disengagement as a circumvention of moral standards, which often results in good people doing bad things without feeling responsible for their harmful behaviour. In your book, you offer a number of excellent examples that illustrate this perfectly. I am sure we all practice moral disengagement in our own lives (whether on a small or large scale), but it is difficult to wrap one’s head around the way in which certain groups and individuals have been able to commit such atrocities and yet still be able to maintain their sense of moral disengagement. It is my understanding that through self-exoneration, these individuals rid themselves of blame, and guilt (whether that be by shifting the blame onto the victim, which is possibly the most cruel form of self-exoneration, or shifting the blame onto a system). When I imagine committing horrible acts such as those outlined in your book, I imagine myself not being able to fully rid myself of the feelings of guilt, and shame. Do you think that there is a permanent unconscious feeling of guilt that haunts those who commit these acts? Would you consider self-exoneration a one-time atonement, or more of a repetitive necessity, such as confessional. Is this more dependent on the individual and the act committed?

People who remain firmly convinced in the rightness of their cause and successfully disengage moral self-sanctions in implementing their cause have no reason to be plagued by unconscious feelings of guilt. Bin Laden is a good case in point. He provides an excellent example of how extensive inhumanities can be perpetrated with equanimity using the entire moral disengagement practices. Through moral justification, bin Laden sanctifies his global terrorism as serving a holy imperative: “We will continue this course, because it is part of our religion, and because Allah ordered us to carry out jihad so that the word of Allah may remain exalted to the heights.” He displaces the responsibility for the holy terror to Allah; they are carrying out their “religious duty.” Through attribution of blame, he construes terrorist strikes as morally justifiable defensive reactions to humiliation and atrocities perpetrated by “decadent infidels”: “We are only defending ourselves. This is a defensive Jihad.” By exonerative comparison with the nuclear bombing of Japan, and the toll of economic sanctions on Iraqi children, the Jihad takes on an altruistic appearance: “When people at the ends of the earth, Japan, were killed by the hundreds of thousands, young and old, it was not considered a war crime, it is something that has justification. Millions of children in Iraq is something that has justification.” He bestializes the American enemy as “lowly people,” perpetrating acts that “the most ravenous of animals would not descend to.” Terrorism is linguistically sanitized as “the winds of faith have come” to eradicate the “debauched” oppressors. His followers see themselves as holy warriors who achieve a blessed eternal life through their martyrdom.

The soldiers of World War II returned as heroes with pride in their accomplishments because they fought a just war. Many soldiers returned from Vietnam and Iraq haunted by guilt and stress disorders. They were persuaded in the morality of these wars only to discover that they fought under false pretenses with a deeply divided nation on the morality of these lengthy military campaigns. Realizing the falsity of the moral justifications is guilt provoking for the harm done. A new military syndrome has been created called “moral injury” in which soldiers are haunted by feelings of guilt, betrayal, self-loathing and self-harm. Unlike PTSD, which is rooted in traumatic combat stressors, moral injury arises from violating deeply held moral convictions on spurious grounds.

In Chapter 2 you say “in moral justification, rightness is used directly to turn harmful behaviour into good behaviour.” Those who believe they are doing something “right” or for the “greater good” eliminate any blame for their harmful behaviour. Do you think it is more difficult to show the harmful nature of a person’s behaviour when they think they are right and justified in what they are doing? Do you have to first illustrate to them that their behaviour is not right if it is harming others?

In exonerative moral justifications, wrongdoers do not deny their harmful means. They view them as serving worthy purposes. This legitimizes and sanitizes their harmful practices. In consequential utilitarian justification based on common good, some must be sacrificed for the benefit of many. Terrorists, who view themselves as “freedom fighters,” publicize the harm they cause rather than deny it.

Last year there was a tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub, where 49 people lost their lives, and another 53 were left injured. The obvious target in this scenario was the LGBTQ community, but bystanders were so quick to judge the scenario as an instance of religious extremism, and quickly began using the Muslim community as a scapegoat. Why do you think it was easier for bystanders to shift the attention from the LGBTQ community onto the Muslim community in America? Is this a reflection on how both communities are viewed in America?

The killer was an American-born Algerian raised as a Muslim. In his 911 call shortly after the shooting, he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq. Given the hostile national climate regarding Muslims, this tragic incident was readily used as further evidence that Muslims are dangerous.

In chapter 4 you discuss the NRA, and the overwhelming ignorance towards gun ownership presented by the NRA and gun owners in general. There is a dialogue surrounding the NRA that more often than not points the blame to mental illness when it comes to the misuse of firearms (in murder-suicides, mass shootings and the like). How do you propose this dialogue is influencing the stigma surrounding mental illnesses? Do you believe that it is worse in America or in Canada?

Mass killings are performed rapidly with semi-automatic military style rifles equipped with large killing capacity. Lanza killed 20 young children and six staff members with 154 bullets fired in under 5 minutes. NRA shifts the contributing factors to mass killings from deficient regulation of lethal weapons to mental illness. In the oft repeated causal cliché, “It is people not guns that kill people,” the NRA deletes the means by which people kill people.

Only about 4% of violence is attributable to mental illness. The severely mentally ill use guns mainly to kill themselves rather than to kill strangers. La Pierre not only diverted attention to mental illness but demonized the mentally ill as “genuine monsters. . . that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can even possibly comprehend them.”

Canada does not engage in causal displacement. Canadians do not venerate guns, they regulate them, and are spared mass killings.

There seems to be an epidemic of police brutality against African-Americans in the United-States. In fact, you could say that it has existed for quite some time. Why do you think people are so quick to dismiss these cases of racial profiling and defend police officers with the assumption that they were “just doing their jobs”? Do you think it is easier for members of one group to morally disengage when acts of evil do not directly affect them, but involve another group altogether?

Police are granted considerable discretionary power in judging and protecting their safety. Police behavior is often based on their own social and moral codes. Given widespread societal discriminatory practices, some members of police forces are likely to be prone to violence against African Americans. My chapter on Capital Punishment documents the prominent role that moral disengagement plays in public support of the death penalty, jurors sentencing persons to death, and executioners who have to kill them. It remains a problem of future research to determine the role that moral disengagement plays in police violence.

A number of factors shield police from the consequences of violent misconduct. Victims are intimidated from reporting maltreatment. Informal police codes prohibit informing or testifying against fellow officers. Police administrators are quick to defend their officers to protect their public image. As a result, charges of police violence are often dismissed.

After Brexit, there was an an influx of racist and prejudicial behaviour. Do you think that Brexit acted as a vehicle for racism that already existed in Britain, and that this encouraged Native Britons to fully disengage themselves from non-natives? Would this be an example of moral disengagement at the agency locus?

A good share of the British population views immigration as impairing the way of life in their society. As a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom was required to admit a certain number of refugees. This requirement undoubtedly contributed to the social pressure to exit from the European Union (see question 12 for other factors fueling the radical right movement).

You mention that epiphenomenalists argue that there are neural networks that operate outside of our awareness and control, and that this strips humans of personal identity and agency; thus arguing that individuals should not be held responsible for what they cannot control (Pg. 41). This sounds reminiscent of arguments used for rapists, (victims are blamed for enticing rape so the rapist could not control themselves Pg. 20), and incidents of racial profiling in court cases. This indicates to me that there is a bigger issue at hand; this is more systemic than individual. There are a number of systems that have a significant influence on us as individuals, and as a society. We are so easily removed and we are so able to disassociate. Why do you think this is, and how do you suggest we try to be more engaged as individuals and as a society?

In arguing that people’s behavior is regulated by neutral networks that operate outside of their awareness and control, epiphenomenalists face a formidable ethical problem for which they have no solution. It is pointless to hold anyone responsible for their behavior if they have no control over it. Criminals should not be held personally accountable for their crimes, nor police for abusive enforcement practices, jurors for biased sentencing, and jailers for maltreatment of inmates. They can all disclaim responsibility on the grounds that their neural networks made them do it.

Such a view would erode the personal and social ethics that undergird a civil society. How would people create and maintain a civil society if its members were divested of conscious regulation for their actions? Epiphenomenalists have been unable to explain how nonethical neuronal processes produce ethical and socially responsible conduct. The Moral Disengagement book describes their failed efforts. As mindful agents, people are generative, creative, proactive, and reflective, not simply reactive to experience. They use their sensory, motor, and cerebral systems to accomplish their tasks and goals that give meaning, direction, and satisfaction to their lives.

Human adaptation and change are rooted in social systems. Therefore, personal agency operates within a broad network of sociostructural influences. In agentic transactions, people are both producers and products of social systems. Much of the moral disengagement is collective not just individual. Collective moral disengagement at the social system level requires a network of participants vindicating their harmful practices through moral disengagement.

Just this year, a man rose to power in America who is arguably unfit for the job. There have been many debates surrounding his candidacy, and many have turned violent. Do you think the act of voting for him was in some way a reaction to perceived injustices against the American people? How would you explain the justification for some of the aggressive and violent behaviour enacted by both Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters?

We are witnessing a global rise of radical right movements. They are the product of major social dislocations. The change from the rural era to the industrial era transformed people’s lives. We are now in the midst of another sweeping transformative change from the industrial era to the information cyberworld era. Many people are left behind by these dislocating changes. With growing automation, globalization, and outsourcing, they are losing their livelihood and feel marginalized with social elites and immigrants destroying their traditional way of life. The Trumps and La Pens exploit people’s discontent, fears, and resentments and portray themselves as their saviors and social reformers.

After first completing your book I was amazed at how many times I found myself nodding along with what you were saying and fervently uttering agreeance. I started to witness small acts of moral disengagement and I became more aware of the language used to justify certain wrongs. I saw this in my daily life, in political life, and in my work life. This heightened awareness has helped me to truly assess a situation, and to see things from a moral disengagement perspective, so to speak. I think it is human to err, and to make excuses for our mistakes. Perhaps, this moral disengagement is a defense mechanism to protect us from the mental anguish of taking responsibility for horrendous acts. Do you think that moral disengagement is a defense mechanism to protect us from resulting neuroses?

When people engage in behavior that violates their moral standards, they use methods of moral disengagement to neutralize aversive self-sanctions. “Defense mechanism” is a Freudian construct in which psychological defenses are used to repress tabooed impulses. While defense phenomenon are linguistically similar in both approaches the theories differ markedly in the nature of the threat, how it is managed, and the functions the mechanisms serve. In addition, some of the mechanisms in the theory under discussion engage morality in the service of detrimental behavior by portraying them as serving worthy purposes
Moral disengagement does not reside solely in people’s minds. As previously noted, some of it is built into the structures of social systems that enable wrongdoers to disavow responsibility for this harmful behavior. Subordinates view themselves as simply carrying out orders so they bear no responsibility for their actions. Authorities create mazy chains of authorization, sanction, detrimental conduct surreptitiously, keep themselves intentionally uninformed of their use, and devise insulating social arrangements that permit deniability of wrongdoing. Moreover, in the collective form, participation in wrongdoing is widely dispersed, which diminishes a new personal responsibility.

Do you think that knowing about moral disengagement makes a person more likely to take responsibility for their attitudes and behaviours?

When people know the methods of moral disengagement they see through them. This diminishes their effectiveness both personally and socially.

I would like to close this interview by thanking you for participating, and by looking to the future. If you were to give future Psychologists a piece of advice, what would it be?

Fight cynicism that efforts at change are futile. Build people’s sense of personal and collective efficacy to enable them to better their lives. Make it difficult for people to strip humanity from detrimental conduct. Promote moral engagement in social practices that foster inclusive, socially just, and humane societies.

Tea for Two

We lived our days out within the confines of a safe-haven of inspiration. Where the tea and coffee flowed endlessly, coating our bones and minds with tidbits of information we deemed important enough to share with the rest of the world. Day in, and day out, we would sit and soothe our souls with our words and the rich taste of perfectly ground Arabica beans.

It started out slowly. I watched him write effortlessly playing with words and form, spilling his thoughts onto the page in a calm, articulated manner. This was a vision of genius, and silently I challenged myself to push my boundaries, to test my abilities as a creative force.


Inside those walls is where I toyed with the idea of myself as a different kind of artist, with a different flare for creativity. Poetry was where I was most comfortable. It was where I flourished. I spent many a day writing poetry, listening to music, and people watching. The more I assayed my environment, the more I became interested in assessing human behaviour, emotion, motivation and the like. I slowly ventured into academic writing, and this academic and creative writing titillated me in more ways than poetry had done for quite some time.

I developed my craft with him by my side, encouraging me and ensuring the flow of Centro House never ended. I have traveled to many different cities, experienced the taste of different blends, enjoyed warm and comforting environments, and I have yet to find a place as inspiring and nurturing as here. The words flow from me like water in a river, soaking my page with the nectar of the deepest perimeters of my mind. Fresh air is breathed into my lungs here. I am reborn and renewed again and again ad infinitum with each sip, with each drop dangling in the back of my throat. It is a religious, metaphysical, fulfilling experience.

It seems unusual to speak of a coffee room with such pious acclaim. But here is where I found myself, here is where I came to be. The writer, the artist, the perfect communion of the two. And two there were: he and I. I’ll have coffee and he’ll have tea; and a little intellectualism for the both of us.

Wish Fulfillment & Lucid Dreaming

Our waking life and dream life are dichotomous in nature; they relate to each other in that each realm is reflected in the other. They also tend to influence each other. What we envision in our dreams, or our dream states, could influence our subsequent actions in our waking life, and vice versa. If you find yourself pining after someone in your daily life, you may find images of this individual in your mind when your head hits the pillow. Should you dream up a scenario in which a person in your life is put in a negative light, you may unconsciously treat this person negatively in your waking life.

Images produced in our dream life invariably affect how we experience our waking life, and the same could be said of our waking life affecting our dream life. We begin to develop subconscious ideas about the people in our lives: their attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, and how these relate to us. We may also begin to develop ideas about ourselves, our own motives, attitudes, personality and so forth. These ideas lay just below the surface of our minds in our waking life, and come to light when we dream.

This creates a constant cycle of our waking life feeding our dream life and our dream life feeding our waking life. This cycle continues with each new dream our minds compose while asleep, and with each new day we experience while awake. The times in which our subconscious ideas merge with our conscious ideas is when we are able to recall events in our dreams and seriously ponder about their meaning, validity and the impact they may have on our waking life. At this juncture, we are able to consciously feed into our dream life, potentially influencing what it is we dream while asleep.

Those with particularly creative minds (those who find themselves daydreaming, pursuing abstract thought, painters, musicians, writers and so forth), may be more capable of creating a dream image and seeing it to fruition. The more open-minded one is with dreaming and their individual dream-life, the more realistic it is said person will be able to fabricate dreams, and recall them like memories.

Sigmund Freud wrote extensively on dream-life and dream-work, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) being his magnum opus. He showed us that dreams act primarily as a form of wish-fulfillment. He determined that by analyzing our dreams, and breaking apart the dream-work by comparing the latent with the manifest content and so forth, we may be able to determine aspects of a persons personality, and thus their neuroses. Dreams help us understand what lies beneath— the unconscious mind. With this greater understanding of the unconscious mind we can then piece together areas of a persons life, determine which areas need focus, and essentially fix what is wrong with a persons mind, and by extension their personality/behaviours/attitudes.

Before Freud happened upon this idea of the interpretation of dreams he studied with Breuer, and their work focused on the use of hypnosis (Studies on Hysteria;1895). These studies in Hysteria and hypnosis helped Freud develop Psychoanalysis (“talk therapy”) as a means to assess and cure patients of their mental ills. Although hypnosis has been denounced as “quackery” and de-valued to the point of it being nearly too ineffectual to even mention, we need to consider the philosophy of hypnosis for arguments sake.

Hypnosis is the practice of inducing a state of consciousness whereby the person loses autonomous thought/ability, and is susceptible to the suggestions of others. Interestingly enough, the word Hypnosis comes from the Greek “hypnos” which translates to sleep, and the English “osis” which is a suffix that denotes a process or condition. This is important to recognize.


Klimt, Gustav. (1913). The Maiden.

Consider the act of hypnotic induction and an individuals heightened suggestibility. Essentially, during hypnosis, a client is influenced by and directed to fulfill the wishes of the hypnotist. Typically upon “waking” from the hypnotic state, the client is unable to recall what they did while hypnotized. If we compare this to our sleep state we find the two are quite similar. Although we dream many times a night (typically each REM period we experience), we may not recall every, or even any, dream that occurs throughout the night. However, our dreams are important in that, as Freud recognized, they fulfill our wishes. Our dream-life is a voluntarily induced hypnotic state. We voluntarily fall to sleep, and our minds wake to project purposeful animated images throughout the night. If we stopped dreaming, our ego-id-superego triad would cease to work, and we, in our waking life, would devolve back to our animalistic tendencies. Dreams act as a catalyst for psychic release. What we are considering here is our ability to induce hypnotic sleep, and control our dream-life in a way that manipulates our wishes into being fulfilled.

Could we truly control our dream content to the point where our waking-life wishes come true in our dream-life? And if this were to happen, to a sufficient degree, would these wishes become worthless in our waking-life?

When considering this we first have to consider day-dreaming. Day-dreaming is a lucid state of dreaming that occurs while awake – and most often we have full control over the content of our daydreams. It is much easier to manipulate our day-dreams, and easier to note any changes that occur. Most people who day-dream do so as a source of entertainment, a way to pass the time, as a creative exercise. But how many truly assess the content of their day-dreams? How many question the content and it’s meaning? If we are able to focus on the content of these dreams and are able to treat them just as we would dreams that occur while we are asleep (documenting them in a dream-journal, noting themes, characters, colours, images and so forth) we would be able to understand the potentially unconscious aspects of these dreams (particularly noting wish-fulfillment). One could argue that day-dreams are practised specifically for wish-fulfillment.

Now, is there any real way we can transmit what we learn from our day-dreams into our sleeping dreams? If we induce sleep in a similar way as inducing hypnosis, perhaps we could be successful. I believe the most promising method for this is to repeatedly imagine what it is you would like to dream about once you fall asleep. This may be as simple as “practising” a day-dream prior to falling to sleep. An alternative method could be to repeatedly envision dream images while entering a trance-like state (similar to meditation).

It would be interesting to see if we are successful in manipulating our dream content to encourage wish-fulfillment (wish-fulfillment being directly related to real-life waking dreams, not particularly in the oedipal/eros/thanatos sense). Then we must ask what effect would this have on our waking-life? How many times would we need to fulfill our wishes in our dream-life before they become null in our waking-life? Would they merely satisfy the wishes for a set period of time?

We can think of this issue from a drive-reduction theory standpoint (Hull, 1935). Drive-reduction theory helps us understand learning and motivation; we experience drives (we are hungry) and when we fulfill these needs (by consuming food) we reduce the drive. Humans are then in a constant state of drive-reduction. This theory can be applied to our dreams and wish-fulfillment in that our wishes act as our drives (motivations) and, should our dreams successfully fulfill those wishes, they act by reducing our drives (wishes). In this sense will our wishes ever truly be fulfilled merely through our dreams? Would our drive be reduced in waking life if our drive has technically been accommodated for in our dream-life?

The rate of success of our wishes being fulfilled also depends on our individual perception of the fulfillment (does the dream suffice, is the success experienced in our dream-life potent enough to actually negate the need for the wish in waking life)? It is also important to think of our dream-life and waking-life as being the same (in that they are both planes of existence that we experience) yet different in that they are altered planes of existence. What happens in our dream-life has the potential to be illegal or immoral in our waking-life, our dream-life does not follow the same societal rules as our waking-life. Which is the real plane of existence? Is our waking-life actually our dream-life and vice-versa? Are both planes so closely related that it would suffice for a dream or a wish to be fulfilled in one or the other? If we fulfill a wish in our dream-life and perceive it as the height of our success, would the only real difference be that we do not experience a tangible fulfillment of the wish (in waking-life)?

If our planes of existence co-exist and transmit information one to the next, perhaps it is easier to say we are weaving in and out of the planes, and what happens in our dream-life does reflect in and have an impact on our waking-life.

Consider a man whose sole interest is gaining great success and recognition as a musician. If he were to achieve this success in his dream-life, would he find himself less motivated to achieve it in waking life? When we experience something like sexual arousal, we seek a release (orgasm) and when we achieve this very tangible experience of orgasm, we cease our search for sexual release for some time (until we again build up the urge to experience the sexual release). The same can be said for wishes. Wishes are erotic and romantic, they require close and repeated attention in order to be fulfilled –they need built up energies to be achieved. When we experience a dream (day-dream or sleeping dream) focused on the fulfillment of our waking-life wishes, we are experiencing a psychic release akin to our bodily orgasm. This catharsis which we experience psychically is a very real component of wish fulfillment, when our wishes are fulfilled (to a degree) in our psyche or when we perceive them to be fulfilled, we experience a reduction in our drive to fulfill the wish in waking-life because it has, at least to some extent, been “fulfilled”.

What can we say of those who find their energies and motivations increased after such a dream? Perhaps the dream acts as a facilitator, enlightening the dreamer of what it would be like to fulfill the wish. Recall our example of the man who wishes to be a musician. Perhaps his dream acts as a means to fulfill certain aspects of his wish, to contribute to his self-esteem so that he may venture out and learn an instrument and start the rigorous journey of becoming a musician. Or the dream encourages him to be as happy and fulfilled as his dream-self, which motivates him in his waking life to persevere and become as successful as his dream image.

If our dream and waking planes are as interconnected as we postulate, perhaps the wish-fulfillment that occurs in our dreams is merely a contribution to the overall fulfillment of the wish. A motivator and facilitator.


Breuer, J., Freud, S. (1955). Studies on Hysteria. (James Strachey, Trans.). Hogarth Press, London. (Original work published 1895).

Hull, C. L. (1935). The Conflicting Psychologies of Learning: A Way Out. Psychological Review, 42, 491-516.

Hypnosis (n.d). In Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from

Freud, Sigmund. (1954). The Interpretation of Dreams. (James Strachey, Trans.). London. (Original work published 1900).

Writing hiatus

img_6476Sadly, as I am sure many of you have noticed,  I have not been writing. Not only have I not been writing, I have not been publishing. For the past few months I have been focusing my energies mostly on work, relationships and preparing to move.

I will be returning to Ottawa at the end of this month, and will hopefully find myself with more time and motivation.

Writing is not something I ever expected myself to be so passionate about, and I have had the opportunity to test my own limits and intellect since the genesis of my writing career. This also means I am not particularly familiar with “writer’s block.” True, I have dabbled in writing before, but never to such a passionate and energetic degree as once I began writing about Psychology/Philosophy.

I’ve found you can’t rush writing, and you can’t force inspiration or motivation. If I am unable to produce anything of worth there’s no sense in producing anything at all.

I apologize for this long, drawn out dry spell, and will leave you with a haiku that exemplifies how I have been feeling as of late:

The purple hue of

the wisteria sings to

me as I fall to sleep…



Inside: Dr. Harlene Anderson

Dr. Harlene Anderson is a well recognized leader in the field of marriage and family therapy, and is internationally recognized for her leading role in the development of a postmodern collaborative approach to psychotherapy. She has applied this collaborative approach to education, research and consultation. She received her B.S. and M.A. at the University of Houston, and her Ph.D. in Psychology with a specialization in Marriage and Family therapy, at Union Institute and University, in Ohio. Dr. Anderson holds a number of editorial board positions including founding editor of International Journal of Collaborative Practices (2009-present), and advisory editor of Family Process (1992-present). Dr. Anderson’s most recent positions include founding member and faculty at Houston Galveston Institute (1978-present), founding member and board of directors at Taos Institute (1993-present) and founding member and principal partner at Access Success International (2002-present). She is the recipient of a number of awards which reflect her contributions to the field, including the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy award for Lifetime Achievement in 1997, and the American Academy of Family Therapy Award for Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy Theory and Practice, in 2008.

Below is a brief interview conducted by Taylor Bourassa with Dr. Anderson. For those who are interested in learning more, I will provide a list of references at the end of the interview.

Hello Dr. Harlene Anderson, I appreciate your taking the time to conduct this interview with me. Before we proceed to questions about your career, and your contributions to the field, I would like to acquaint my readers with you. Could you give us some insight into how your career began? What about Psychology interested you so that motivated you to dedicate your life’s work to the field?

Very simply that as long as I can remember I have always wanted to help people in one way or another – I came from a very generous family with parents who always noticed people who needed help and provided it or found the resources as best they could.

You are a leading figure in family and marriage therapy, but before we delve into all of your contributions to both therapies, could you elaborate on why you chose this area of specialization? Was there a particular catalyst that helped you make your decision?

By serendipity. I began a position in the Pediatric Department at the Un. of Texas Medical School in Galveston, TX. As soon as I arrived on campus, I began hearing about something called family therapy – always spoken about with a lot of enthusiasm. I had never heard of family therapy in my undergraduate (BS) or graduate (MA) psychology program. I enrolled in a family therapy course to find out what all the buzz was about. In the first session, I realized that I found something that I didn’t know I had been looking for – and the beginnings of a new language, that upon reflection, to make sense of some of my previous professional experiences.

Dr. Harold Goolishian and yourself developed collaborative therapy. This approach is quite interesting, and offers more flexibility within therapy sessions, offering the client more control, and more breathing room. To me, this approach is reminiscent of Carl Rogers’ client-centered approach. Would you say that this therapy was influenced by Rogers’ humanistic approach in any way?

I am often asked this question. I was not influenced by Rogers as his work was not part of my graduate program. There are some similarities and definitely some distinctions. Please refer your readers to and article that elaborates on this response:

Anderson, H. (2001) Postmodern collaborative and person-centered therapies: What would Carl Rogers say? Journal of Family Therapy. 23:339-360.

Could you elaborate on the structure of this approach, and its typical process?

A response to this question requires a lot of elaboration. The approach, rather than being based in techniques and methods, is based in what I call a “philosophical stance.” The stance is based in postmodern and related premises (social construction theory, contemporary hermeneutic philosophy, and some theories of language and dialogue. The premises are based in a strong focus on knowledge and language as relational and generative rather than as static and representative. The stance has several interrelated features that combined serve as an action-orienting guide. This belief/value framework influences the way that therapists and other professionals think about the people they work with, themselves, and what they do together. Each person or group of people we meet with in our work is viewed as a new unique encounter that calls forth a unique relationship and process.

It is interesting to note that this approach does not rely on DSM diagnostic criteria for diagnosing and treating individuals. Is there any specific reason this was determined as a necessary part of the approach?

The approach was originally developed in the psychiatry department of a medical school, and its roots date back to the later 1950s, so it was developed within a medical model of diagnoses and treatment. My colleagues and I took notice of how “patients” were treated as a diagnosis, and not a unique person. In other words, the diagnosis was sitting in front of them, not a unique human being – so what was familiar was noticed and sought. The novelty and nuances of the person and their unique situation/circumstances were not seen nor heard. In other words, the familiar blinded seeing and hearing the unfamiliar.

 Stemming from the decision to not rely on the DSM, would you also say that medication then, is not relied on as heavily as it is in other approaches? Would you agree that medication is necessary for treating some symptoms, but the over-reliance on medication may in fact, damage the client more so than help them?

Of course, sometimes medications are helpful.

Stepping away from the collaborative approach for a moment, you are a co-founder of the Galveston Family Institute at the Houston Galveston Institute. What was it like developing and contributing to such an important resource for mental health professionals?

It was then and is now very stimulating – provides various forums and colleagues within and with whom to be in conversation with – to reflect on and challenge ideas and practices.

Since the institute has been established, you have continued to contribute significantly to the field, through writing, workshops and conferences. One interesting event I need to mention is the International summer institute. What are some of the activities and workshops one would typically experience while attending this weeklong learning conference?

The International Summer Institute (ISI) is a collaborative learning community in action. It is week of immersion in collaborative-dialogic practices. Participants come from various professional, cultural and language contexts. The various focuses of the week are influenced by participants’ interests and agendas – there is always a combination of focus on the application of the ideas and practices in therapy, education, research, consulting/coaching and organizations.

There is a balance of plenary/didactic presentations, conversation clusters to discuss the presentations and etc, self-organize dialogue spaces around topics participants want to delve into more, experiential exercises and demonstrations of the practice with clients during the week. There is ample time for people to network, continue to talk and share about ideas and practices, and to enjoy the culture, food, etc of the Mexican Mayan Riviera.

We pay careful attention in selecting the venue for the ISI as physical space and ambience a critical part of “setting the stage” for a collaborative learning community. There is always a rich mixture of participants – some quite experienced professors and researchers, some who are mainly practitioners (though teaching and research are practices), some with little experienced either professionally or with the ideas and practices, and some students. My colleagues and I find that heterogeneity in learning groups invites a richer learning experience, and the participants echo this in their evaluations.

For more information, please refer your readers to:

Your writing is some of the most compelling I have had the opportunity to read. One article in particular that is of interest to me is Some Notes on Listening, Hearing and Speaking And the Relationship to Dialogue in which you demonstrate the importance of communication, and having a space for dialogue. This is so fundamental to therapy. In this article you say: “Wittgenstein talked of relationship and conversation going hand-in hand: the kinds of conversations that we have with each other inform and form the kinds of relationships we have with each other and vice versa.” This demonstrates the importance of developing a therapeutic alliance with your client. Would you argue that the most essential aspect of successful therapy is this therapist-client relationship? And that this relationship stems predominantly from the way we listen to and act towards the client?

I think that the relationship is important, and I think most research that accesses client voices/feedback agrees. The way we meet and greet, and the way we respond with others is critical to the relationship. The relationship is not something that is created at the beginning of the engagement, but something that must be attended to throughout.

 You mention that most unsuccessful therapy was due to the client not feeling as though they had been heard. Would you propose that listening skills could, and should be taught to therapists, in order to offer a more successful therapy experience for clients?

Not necessarily “listening skills” but the notion of responsive listening . Please refer your readers to the work of psychologist/philosopher John Shotter and literary critic/philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin.

I like to ask this of all persons I interview, as a closing statement more so than anything. If you were to give future Psychologists one piece of advice, what would it be?

Hold what you think you might now in “parentheses”. In other words, always be a reflective practitioner: be questioning of inherited knowledge, be careful of the risks of generalizing, and have an awareness of the importance of the local knowledge (the resources–customs, culture, language, history, beliefs, etc,) that each person we work with brings with them to our encounter. We are always both a momentary and transitional ‘host’ and ‘guest’ in the lives of the people we work with.

Taylor, thank you for your interest in my work and for this opportunity to respond to your questions. I send my warmest greetings to you and your readers.

Selected References: 

Anderson, H., Goolishian, H., & Winderman, L. (1986) Problem determined systems: Towards transformation in family therapy. Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies. 5(4):1-13.

Anderson, H. (1987) Therapeutic impasses: A break-down in conversation. A presentation at Grand Rounds, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital Boston, MA. April 1986 and at the Society for Family Therapy Research, Boston, MA, October, 1986.

Anderson, H. & Goolishian, H. (1988) Human systems as linguistic systems: Evolving ideas about the implications for theory and practice. Family Process 27:371-393.

Anderson, H. & Goolishian, H. (1992) The client is the expert: A not-knowing approach to therapy. In S. McNamee & K.J. Gergen (Eds.) Therapy as Social Construction. Sage Publications: Newbury Park, CA.

Anderson, H. & Swim, S. (1993) Learning as collaborative conversation: Combining the student’s and the teacher’s expertise. Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation and Management. 4:145-160.

Anderson, H. (1994) Rethinking family therapy: A delicate balance. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 20(2):145-150.

Anderson, H. (1998) Collaborative learning communities. In. S. McNamee & J.K. Gergen (Eds.). Relational Responsibility. Sage Publications: Newbury Park, CA. Anderson, H. (1997) Conversation, Language, and Possibilities: A Postmodern Approach to Therapy. New York: Basic Books.

Anderson, H. (1999) Reimagining family therapy: Reflections on Minuchin’s invisible family. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 25(1):1-8.

Anderson, H. (2000) Supervision as a collaborative learning community. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Supervision Bulletin. Fall 2000:7-10.

Anderson, H. (2000) Becoming a postmodern collaborative therapist: a clinical and theoretical journey. Pat I. Journal of the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. 3(1):5-12.

Anderson, H. (2003). A postmodern collaborative approach to theraphy: Broadening the possibilities of clients and therapists. In Ethically challenged professions: Enabling innovation and diversity in psychotherapy and counseling. In Y. Bates & R. House (Eds.). PCCS Books: Herefordshisre, UK.

Anderson, H. (2005). Myths about not knowing. Family Process, 44, 497–502.

Anderson, H. & Gehart, D. (Eds.). (2007). Collaborative practice: Relationships and conversations that make a difference. New York: Routledge.

Anderson, H. & Jensen, P. (Eds.). (2007. Innovations in the reflecting process: The inspiration of Tom Andersen. London: Karnac Books.

Anderson, H., Cooperrider, D.,  Gergen,M, Gergen, K., McNamee, S.,  Watkins, J M., and Whitney, D. (2008). The Appreciative Organization. Taos Institute Publications.

Anderson, H. (2008). Collaborative therapy. In K. B. Jordon (Ed.), The theory reference guide: a quick resource for expert and novice mental health professionals. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Anderson, H. (2009). Collaborative practice: Relationships and conversations that make a difference. In J. Bray & M. Stanton (Eds.). The Wiley handbook of family psychology. (pp.300-313).

Anderson, H. (2012). Collaborative practice: A way of being ‘with’. Psychotherapy and  Politics International. 10, 1002.

Anderson, H. (2012). Collaborative relationships and dialogic conversations: Ideas for a relationally responsive therapy. Family Process. 52(1): 8-24.

Anderson, H. (2014). Rethinking psychotherapy: Collaborative-dialogue. Psychology Aotearoa. Auckland, New Zealand: 6(2): 87-92. November 2014.

Anderson, H. (2014). Tips for how to have a good assistant. Silver Fox Advisors.

Anderson, H. (2014). Collaborative-dialogue based research as everyday practice: Questioning our myths. In G. Simon & A. Chard, Eds. Systemic Inquiry: Innovations in Reflexive Practice Research. Everything is Connected Press.

Anderson, H. (2015). Collaborative therapy. In Sage Encyclopedia of Theory of Counseling and Psychotherapy. (E. Neukrug, Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.


Inside: Jerome Kagan

Dr. Kagan is a renowned developmental Psychologist and a key pioneer in the development of that field. He is professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and is most famous for his research on child temperament. What follows is a brief interview conducted by myself, Taylor Bourassa, with Dr. Jerome Kagan.

Q: What would you say was the catalyst that drew you to Psychology, particularly developmental Psychology?

A: My attraction to developmental psychology in 1954, when I made my career choice, was the belief, which was popular at the time, that   the experiences of children during the first few years shaped future development. Discovery of these cause –effect relations would allow psychologists to inform parents of the proper behaviors. As a result, it was assumed that crime, psychosis, addiction, and other social ills would be reduced. Few believe that optimistic premise today, but many did in 1954.

 Q: Who would you cite as your intellectual influences? This does not have to be limited to those within the field of Psychology.

A: Several people influenced my ideas. My mentor at Yale, Frank Beach, affirmed my personal preference for discovery of nature’s secrets, as opposed to affirming abstract a priori hypotheses.   Bohr’s idea of complementarity and the principle that the meaning and validity of every conclusion depend on the source of evidence have had a profound effect on my thought. I have also been influenced by the many historians I have read. Their books taught me that historical events have a more serious effect on the psychology of individuals than most social scientists are willing to admit.

Q: You have completed a great amount of research in the field of developmental Psychology – is there any other stream that has or continues to peak your interest?

A: I continue to read genetics and history for both play important roles in the psychology of the person.

Q: You have a great many publications, including such works as “Growth of the Child”, and “Birth to Maturity”, which would you say you enjoyed writing, and researching for the most?

A: Because “Birth to Maturity” was my first major book and the project that led to the book my initial major investigation, I naturally hold a sentimental feeling for that text and the work that preceded it. I am proud of “ The Long Shadow of Temperament”, written with Nancy Snidman, because it summarized many years of research on the infant temperamental biases we called high and low reactive. I learned a great deal by writing “ The Three Cultures” because I had to read deeply in economics and the humanities.

Q: In the 1970s you conducted research with colleagues on daycare, where you created a daycare of your own, and compared the infants who attended said daycare to those who stayed at home with their mothers. Could you elaborate on the procedure, ie: what the structure of the daycare was, what sorts of activities were provided for the children. What was your inspiration for conducting this research? Do you think if the same study were conducted now, 40 years later, similar results would be shown?

 A: The day care study, with Richard Kearsley and Philip Zelazo, was motivated by the historical moment. The Congress was considering sponsoring federal day care centers in the early 1970s because more mothers were working. Many psychologists, including me, were concerned about the consequences of day care on young infants. So NIH gave us a grant to assess the effects of day care on infants from 3 to 29 months of age. We established our own center in the South End of Boston in a working class neighborhood and recruited both European-Caucasian as well as Chinese-American families. The staff played with the infants and provided appropriate cognitive stimulation. A matched control group was reared at home.

We were convinced that we had to assess many infant behaviors directly, rather than rely on maternal reports as the bases for evidence. We also believed that the infant’s response to violations of discrepancy was an important trait. Hence, we devised many procedures to evaluate this property and we coded both behaviors as well as heart rate changes to the violations. Our surprise was discovering that at 29 months there were minimal differences between the infants in our center and those raised at home, but the Chinese and Caucasian infants differed in many traits. That discovery motivated me to study temperament. I believe that if the same study were repeated today the same basic results would be found.

 Q: With the recent advances in, and research on, early childhood education, there have been varying views and arguments regarding its efficacy and necessity. I would like to get your point of view on the impact early childhood education programs have on a child’s development.

A: The results of the many intervention efforts with young children have been less effective than many hoped. Ken Dodge has pointed out that one reason for this fact is that the contexts in which the children lived and acted (classroom, playground, evening meal, with peers in groups) were not the contexts in which most of the interventions were implemented. Behaviors are affected by the local context! A child is more likely to hit a peer on the playground than when interacting with a stranger trying to teach them to read or control impulse. In addition, it was a bit naive to assume that 6 to 12 months of intervention experience (usually less than a few hours a week) could offset the effects of home and neighborhood experiences. Finally, it has proven difficult to change the practices of poor or minority parents if they have little faith in the premise that what they do will have a serious effect on their child. As a result, most of the programs that have been reported have had minimal long term effects on a majority of children. We need different kinds of interventions and have to assess a parent’s willingness and receptivity to change.

 Q: In “A history in Psychology” you show that cognitive growth is malleable. In recent years the concept of neuroplasticity has become more and more popular- do you agree that our brains remain malleable throughout development, well into adulthood? If this is true, based on your studies in temperament, what would be your take on the idea that adults can alter their temperament?

A: Yes, the brain and behaviors are malleable, especially during the first decade. A temperamental bias for cautious, timid behavior can be changed easily, but that does not mean that the neurobiology that is the basis of the bias is equally malleable. Our results show that many of the children who had been shy, fearful two-year-olds but became sociable, non-timid adults retained the neurophysiology of their initial temperamental bias. The behavioral phenotype can change without a comparable change in the biology. A person with the genes for diabetes can avoid the symptoms by the proper diet even though he or she possesses the risk genes.

 Q: What changes have you seen in the study of developmental Psychology from the time you began your career to the present day?

A: The main changes in developmental psychology over the past 60 years include a keen interest in the cognitive capacities of infants that are more complex than perception, studies of the consequences of the attachment bond of infants, concern with executive processes and regulation in older children, and measuring relations between brain states and behavior.

 Thank you for answering my questions Dr. Kagan, and I have one more question for you. If there would be one piece of advice or suggestion you could give to aspiring or new Psychologists, what would it be?

A: My advice to the next cohort of psychologists is to be bolder and address more significant problems. Three such questions in developmental psychology are:

  1. How do the experiences of children from advantaged versus disadvantaged homes affect their development? This requires direct observations over time rather than verbal reports of parents. A child’s social class remains the best predictor of the risk for a mental illness, incarceration, and a metabolic illness.
  2. Development of procedures that measure a child’s identifications with family, class, ethnicity, and religion. These identifications have profound effect but we do not have methods to measure them with accuracy.
  3. Initiate studies of the large number of infant temperamental biases by observing infants directly, gathering biological data, and following the children for at least 10 years.