David Buckley reflects on the interplay between religion and psychology

Where the Waters Meet: Convergence and Complementarity in Therapy and Theology

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In 1957 the art critic Carlton Lake (1915-2006) enjoyed a remarkably frank interview with Pablo Picasso.  Jacqueline Roque, the woman in Picasso’s life at that time, was present.  Lake recalls this particular conversation:

Just then my eye was caught by an unframed canvas standing on a shelf above Jacqueline’s head and to the right. It was a portrait of a girl – Jacqueline, I would have said – in tones of green and black and white. She was shown in profile, looking off to the left, and Picasso had given the face a mildly geometrical stylization built up of triangular forms which emphasized the linear treatment but at the same time preserved the likeness. I pointed to the painting. “How would you explain to a person whose training made him look on that as deformation, rather than formation, why you had done it that way?” I asked him.

“Let me tell you a story,” Picasso said. “Right after the Liberation, lots of GIs came to my studio in Paris. I would show them my work, and some of them understood and admired more than others. Almost all of them, though, before they left, would show me pictures of their wives or girlfriends. One day one of them who had made some kind of remark, as I showed him one of my paintings, about how ‘It doesn’t really look like that, though,’ got to talking about his wife and he pulled out a tiny passport-size picture of her to show me. I said to him, ‘But she’s so tiny, your wife. I didn’t realize from what you said that she was so small.’ He looked at me very seriously. ‘Oh, she’s not really so small,’ he said. ‘It’s just that this is a very small photograph.’ ”

Picasso burst out laughing. He turned to Jacqueline. “It sounds silly, I know, but it’s true.” Then he turned back to me. “Eh bien, it’s the same story here – ” he pointed to the canvas above Jacqueline’s head – “it’s a question of optique.

There are of course many other ways of expressing the truth of Picasso’s witty, teasing words; ‘My being right doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wrong’, is one of my favourites.

Where The Waters Meet is not about Picasso but it is about optique or perspective. It is also about learning to think and live beyond, as well as within, the frame of the familiar, especially if we make dogmatic assumptions about the exclusiveness of what we know and believe. Thinking and living in such a way does not relieve us of the need to make judgements but it does give us at least half a chance of understanding others better, of seeing life as they see it, and more excitingly and pragmatically, living and working together more creatively and peacefully. I take it you, whoever you are, will agree that to do so is of profound practical importance – personally and globally. Theories that cannot be put into practice, whether theological, psychological or sociological, political, scientific or spiritual, may be interesting or pretty but they have no practical value; rather like the farthing coin which I have tucked away somewhere – nostalgia, I suppose – but I can’t buy anything with it.

Complementarity

Complementarity

This book is an invitation to reflect on the interplay between religion and psychology. More specifically, it is an invitation to compare some of the familiar doctrines, experiences and assumptions of Christian faith with certain concepts and practices of a contemporary listening therapy – psychodynamic counselling. The book began as an attempt to write something for myself, about myself. I wanted to express, in an ordered, integrated way, aspects of where my life’s journey has brought me over the last decade or so, both personally and professionally. I wanted to clarify and express thoughts and feelings that have woven together within me and begun to take shape in a natural but exciting pattern, leaving me personally, theologically and psychologically, changed. This journey has not been spectacular. Indeed, in some ways, it seems to have been a natural path to follow, yet paradoxically and subtly, it has been profoundly life-changing and has left me with passionate views on and around the two areas of work that have engaged me during the last thirty five years, and the two associated roles I have inhabited – as a Minister of Religion and as a Psychodynamic Counsellor.

In some ways this book is a messy one. If I had been left to my own devices it would not be so, for messiness is not my default style! However, good and wise friends encouraged me to allow my messy, playful side to prevail. What the reader gets is a mixture of psychology, theology, autobiography and stories from the counselling room. Complementarity, the methodology I use throughout the book, and its inseparable companion, paradox, require ‘messiness’ within order. I hope these characteristics make the book interesting and enjoyable to read, for it is offered as an invitation, to think about real issues which impinge on our most personal relationships, as well as issues of social and political importance.

51wiAYl-ZZL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Where the Waters Meet offers the reader a distinctive perspective on the subject of psychology and religion. In his book Emotion and Spirit Neville Symington writes ‘…all psychoanalysts writing on psychoanalysis and religion have kept the two disciplines in watertight compartments, not allowing either to penetrate or influence the other.’ Unfortunately, I did not read Symington’s book until after finishing my own but I can now observe that what I have offered is a departure from the departmentalised tradition to which Symington refers. As the title implies, Where the Waters Meet is quite the opposite of ‘watertight compartments’, and the whole purpose of what I have presented is to demonstrate that the two disciplines do indeed penetrate and influence the other.

David Buckley is a retired Methodist Minister and a psychodynamic counsellor and supervisor. He trained for ordained ministry in Birmingham, at Handsworth College and Queen’s Ecumenical College. After gaining degrees in theology and biblical studies from London and Hull Universities, he developed a long-standing interest in psychology and counselling, training with the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. He now lives in Chipping Norton, where he has a private practice as a counsellor and supervisor. For the past four years he has worked as a counsellor for a large GP surgery.

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Optique

 

For more information and works by Picasso visit Artsy‘s Pablo Picasso page.

 

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