I recently heard a presenter say that Freud’s idea of the conscious and unconscious was ridiculous. “After all”, she said, “if we reflect to the patient, unconscious material will rise.” An audience member reminded her that Freud accounted for that through his idea of the preconscious, aspects of the unconscious that could come into awareness with the therapist’s help. She replied, “I haven’t read Freud.”
It’s fine to disagree with any theorist. After all, that’s the essence of scientific thinking. But if we disagree with someone, we should at least have read his work. That is the essence of learning and teaching: recognizing knowledge as gift and dialogue.
Goethe said that if we wish to surpass our forebears, master their knowledge first. Knowledge is a gift, hard earned by those before us, so we can stand on their shoulders. We receive the love of thinkers and writers through their books, as they reach out to help us across the ages.
How do we earn a place in this classroom of knowledge? First, by recognizing that we didn’t create this field of study or its concepts. Great thinkers from Aristotle to Freud created the concepts. They placed the desks here for us to sit in. They sacrificed years of their lives so we could have this knowledge. Now it is our responsibility to study their work to become members of a scientific community. They paid the price of going down dead ends and suffering, so we could avoid their mistakes and make our own in this perennial quest to heal the soul.
When we disagree without reading someone’s work we refuse to engage in the dialogue out of which all our knowledge and learning arises. We refuse the love offered us, their gift. We isolate ourselves from the community of the ages.
A colleague claims she had no mentors. But this is not true. In fact, she gained enormously by training with some brilliant therapists. Why this urge to claim that we gave birth to ourselves? Why deny our fundamental dependency on our supervisors and teachers and their supervisors and teachers? I know what I do only because I was blessed by learning from great teachers and supervisors. Whether I have added anything to what they gave me is for others to say. I only hope I have been able to pass on some of their wisdom, continuing this intergenerational transmission of culture known as teaching psychotherapy.
To learn is to receive a gift from a teacher, which in turn she received from those before her. We own nothing. Knowledge is merely on loan. It dies if we do not pass it on. It lives when we do.
For knowledge is not merely a thing, but the act of sharing, giving, and receiving. We are all givers and receivers, learners and teachers. As teachers we are not slaves of any particular model or cult. Models and cults are merely temporary encampments along a caravan that will go on for millennia. Instead of slaves to some theory or guru, we are servants of the truth.
Learning connects us to a vast community around the world and through the ages. Teaching allows to be the bridge between the past and the future generations who will surpass us….if we help them. That is our task as teachers.
Pass this knowledge on. Surpass us. For in surpassing us, you will honor our gift to you, fulfilling the hopes of those who came before. We can take you this far. Now you must go further on this caravan to places we cannot see.