BOOK REVIEW: Joy: Expanding Human Awareness

by William C. Schutz, 1967.

Mary Montaut looks at Schutz’s work, almost thirty years after publication, notes the paradox and goes in search of an explanation.

I had been alerted to the importance of this book to Humanistic Psycho­therapy by the section devoted to Schutz in John Rowan’s Ordinary Ecstasy (1976, rev. 1988), where he says: … “(Schutz) found that groups could not only lead to self-understanding, they could lead to ecstasy … In a Schutz group (to which he gave the name of ‘open encounter’) one of the main values expressed is openness or honesty. People are encouraged to say what they really feel, and really feel what it is they are saying or hearing or doing, and generally to experience and share their own reality. This is very risky for most of us …”

So when I came across a copy of Schutz’s 1967 best seller in a second-hand bookshop, of course I snapped it up. The experience of reading it is extraor­dinary. First of all, there is a definite sense of loss – that the work of psychotherapy is so rarely associated with joy any more; that the place of joy in theory is so limited, undiscussed, unexplored; that the innocent, and possibly naive, assertion of human goodness which shines through Schutz’s book has become so tarnished since then.

For Schutz, joy is first of all the quality of the baby – “He enjoys each aspect of his life with his whole being. He gives joy to those near him. His joy is contagious … Where will his joy go? In most of us it becomes depleted, distorted, contorted …” And, of course, the blame for this is laid at the doors of our hypocritical society which prefers “tact, diplomacy, discretion” to honesty and openness.

I suppose that this would still form the basic assertion of humanistic psychotherapy – that the original and intense feelings of the child are obscured, blocked and denied by the repressive forces of our social relations. It is hard to disagree with Schutz when he says: “Society seems to place a premium on relationships featuring hypocrisy and superficiality – relation­ships that are tolerated rather than sources of happiness. Child-rearing practices, sexual attitudes, much religious dogma, attitudes towards material achievement, confusion about maleness and femaleness – all coalesce to make it difficult for an individual to learn to know himself, to like himself, to become acquainted with his real feelings and desires, and to learn to use himself effectively and joyously.” Plainly “society” is the villain here. Specifically, it is harmful to children.

However, Schutz’s next definition of joy seems to depart totally front this visionary concept of the infant: “Joy is the feeling that comes from the fulfilment of one’s potential. Fulfilment brings to an individual the feeling that he can cope with his environment; the sense of confidence in himself as a significant, competent, lovable person who is capable of handling situations as they arise, able to use fully his own capacities, and free to express his feelings. Joy requires a vital, alive body, self-contentment, productive and satisfying relations with others, and a successful relation to society.”

Schutz perhaps assumes that the link between these two visions of joy will be self-evident to the reader, but I must admit that I found myself increas­ingly puzzled to understand it. Looking closely at Schutz’s exercises and accounts of group work, I began to feel that he too lacked an articulation for this link. I had no difficulty in accepting the two parts – the idea of the original joy of life is something familiar from many sources (Blake or Wordsworth for a start); and the momentary yet completely affirming and sustaining feeling of joy which does sometimes arise in grown-up life is just as well-known and written about. King Lear meeting Cordelia at Dover might be an example. But how are they linked? We seem to be so concerned with the loss of feelings, including joy, through the repression of the child, that therapeutic work on grown-up joy is hard to find, as Schutz so vividly reminded me.

Most of Schutz’s book on Joy is about methods he used of working with T-Groups at Esalen in the sixties. (Whatever happened to T-Groups? Training groups are no longer T-Groups, are they?) These were designed to release the individuals of the group from the constraints they felt in relating to each other, and in a sense to liberate them from aspects of their (early) social training. This enabled them to relate with “openness and honesty” as adults in society. I looked in vain for any clues or hints about the special emotion of joy – there was plenty of feeling freer, better, more whole oh yes, good things; but that particular emotion, so familiar and real and so very elusive? That, Schutz suggests, just comes – or doesn’t. Which is fair enough, but somehow left me feeling frustrated with the book. I might be pushing it too far, but I suspect that even Schutz himself felt some of this since he ends the book rather coyly with a question and a series of dots. The constant theme of the book is “to reach the unreachable star”, and at the end he says plainly: “Our institutions can be improved, can be used to enhance and support individual growth, can be re-examined and re-designed to achieve the fullest measure of human realization. All these things are coming. None are here, but they are closer …” By now, twenty-odd years later, that sounds a little bit tinny. Maybe it did, even in 1967.

But then I began to wonder about the paradox he was putting forward – “to reach the unreachable star”. Was it more than just having his cake and eating it? I was reminded of the paradoxical title of Rowan’s book Ordinary Ecstasy. Although, like Schutz, Rowan mainly concentrates on describing therapeutic methods and techniques in this book, there was something about the title which brought me back to the problem of linking up the two aspects of joy (or ectasy, perhaps): if the child is so familiar with joy, if it is an ordinary part of his response to the world, what makes it so exceptional, so ecstatic, for grown-ups? Because clearly, neither Schutz nor Rowan is dis­cussing happiness or contentment. I started to look for the word “Joy” in the indexes of various books on therapy: it hardly ever appears.

Even in Rowan’s own writing since Ordinary Ecstasy , it seems to crop up only once, but definitively. In The Reality Game (1983), he lists it in his comparative table of therapies in Chapter One: only humanistic psychology includes any “Emphasis on gratification, joy and ecstasy”. I began to wonder whether the medical and pathological origins of psychotherapy were expressing themselves in this lack of attention to Joy. As Rowan points out, only humanistic psychotherapy ever thought of itself as a “Third Force”, capable of revolutionising society and liberating individuals: psychoanalysis and behaviourism were more concerned with problems and cures. Perhaps the fact that Joy now seems so little attended to, even by humanistic psychologists, shows how far the old model of psychopathology is coming to colour our work.

Yet there was something far too important in the paradoxes of “ordinary ecstasy” and “reaching the unreachable” for me to leave it at that. I urgently felt the need to know where the “ordinariness” went, to see beyond the discouragement of “unreachableness”. And I was in no mood to be satisfied with platitudes about ‘being not doing’ and ‘the process’! In my excavations through indexes, I found only one other therapist who mentions “Joy”, and it was D.W. Winnicott. He gives the word just one single, solitary mention on page 34 of Home is Where We Start From (Pelican Books 1986), but it was a helpful one. He says there: “… health … is inherent in the capacity to be depressed, the depressed mood being near to the ability to feel responsible, to feel guilty, to feel grief, and to feel the full joy when things go well …” (my italics). Though coming from a different perspective, this is not far from Schutz’s point of view that “coming into your feelings” will, of course, mean feeling joy as well as pain. It was suddenly as if Winnicott had opened a door for me: the paradox was no longer a teasing, unreal contradiction in terms. What I saw through the doorway was the Kleinian Breast, of course – good breast, and bad breast. No-one can even begin to exist unless they are both there, and both (in the end) the same breast. This is the ordinariness of ecstasy, I felt; the joy that every human person must have or else there could be no pain either, no feeling at all of any sort, only deadness.

So I have to recommend Schutz’s book to you very strongly. It is an important reminder about human potentiality. And I think perhaps we need a new book on Humanistic Psychology and Joy for the Nineties.

Mary Montaut