David Smail: Clinical Psychologist, Sociologist, Philosopher, and Political Critic
As Karnac Books republish four key works by the pioneering clinical psychologist, his son Alastair reflects on his achievement.
When my father died just over a year ago, the family was unsure what to do with his books. He had said he would like them published on the internet for free; either that or left alone. We did not have the capacity to post them on the internet, although David had put many articles and an internet publication on his website: www.davidsmail.info. The reaction to his death, as for example in The Guardian obituary persuaded us that we needed to do something.
Where the Waters Meet: Convergence and Complementarity in Therapy and Theology
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:
The Gossamer Thread: My Life as a Psychotherapist
Years ago I started writing a novel in which a recently retired psychoanalyst is interviewed by a young post-graduate psychologist about his life and experiences. I wrote 25,000 words before I realised that I was writing about my own experiences. This then morphed into my memoir.
The Impossibility of Knowing: Dilemmas of a Psychotherapist
Brett Kahr came to hear my paper on Absence (Chapter 8) given at the London Centre for Psychotherapy in June 2009 and, following this, encouraged me to think about producing a book, based on the many papers I have written and published over the years. He made the first contact with Oliver Rathbone on my behalf, and so smoothed the path through to Karnac Books, who generously offered to publish.
I then had to choose from my published papers as to which would most easily integrate into a book and find a title that would encompass the papers and my thinking and work as a Psychotherapist. The first title that I reached was The Human Touch and then I found that Michael Frayn had written a book with just such a title. Later, I recalled a letter from a grateful patient which read “thank you for teaching me that the answer is that there are no answers”. This quickly developed into the current title – The Impossibility of Knowing: Dilemmas of a Psychotherapist.
Healing Intelligence: The Spirit in Psychotherapy – Working with Darkness and Light
The origin of this book lay in a conference, while I was doing my training, in which some notable psychotherapists were giving an overview of the principles guiding their practice. The question of what is healing in psychotherapy did not arise, so I asked how they believed healing worked. None were inclined to reply until one remarked: “That is the $64.000 question and if I had the answer to it I would retire to the hills of Hollywood.” General laughter followed. Clearly, healing was not on the agenda for serious analysts. Individuation, yes, but healing, well … not quite. This was a more “alternative” topic – image rather than substance. It was certainly mysterious. The matter, however, remained, not just as a personal struggle but increasingly, in my view, a crucial issue
In my early practice I was reasonably skilled at exploring the negativity and darkness in the psyche, having spent years investigating plenty of my own. However, it was much longer before I could work with the light in the psyche and to realize that darkness and light have to be worked with together to facilitate a healing outcome. Thus, I learnt to value the healing intelligence that can manifest as light in the inner world, to cherish and enjoy the light of inner awareness, to recognise the potency of healing energy, to listen, evoke, cooperate and work with it, to appreciate the higher powers of illuminative intuition and even, albeit infrequently, transcendental love.