Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Great Way and PTSD

"Whenever we loose the Great Way, we get benevolence or righteousness."
Lao Tsu

This quote is a central touchstone for me, both for therapy in general, but especially for my work with Vets with PTSD.  But if you're like me, you may not be at all clear about what it means on first reading.  That quote was originally the epigram for my article about PTSD but it didn't make it into the edited version published in the Psychotherapy Networker (viewable here).  In fact, I considered my original article an attempt to illustrate the meaning of Lao Tzu's statement.  With this and subsequent posts I'll show what the quote means and how useful it is as a guide to therapy (and life!)

A careful reading of the PN article would reveal that it is really a warning about one side of Lao's statement: the benevolent side.  The "Great Way" refers to what we know as the Tao, from Taoism.  It is Lao Tzu's description of the essential way of living, more of a philosophy than a religion.  Leaving aside for the moment a definition of this "Great Way", how could benevolence be bad?  We're taught to think of benevolence as a good thing, like doing things for others or being kindly.  But Lao Tzu knew otherwise.

In my article you'll note I talk about the effects of a kind of "helping" that, in my view, crosses a line from caring for or about a person to taking care of the person.  Indeed, I suggest much of the motive behind the PTSD diagnosis was attempt to lessen the stigma associated with having troubles after combat by saying it was wound caused by combat.  Though this may sound like a good thing, my article describes some of the risks of doing so.  But Lao Tzu shows us that benevolence, is an attitude of superiority, of something flowing from a better to a lessor.  As though somebody needs our help.  This is a subtle but important distinction about which there is much to say.

Roy Clymer

For the background and context for these remarks, please read my article on PTSD published in the Psychotherapy Networker which can be found here http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/recentissues/1151-the-puzzle-of-ptsd or see a copy of it found on this blog titled "The Puzzle of PTSD."

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