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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #31 of 52: The Ego and Its Defense Mechanism | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #33 of 52: Psychological Assessment »

April 03, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #32 of 52: The Purpose of Psychotherapy, Secular and Spiritual

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- Africans, as a whole, do not go to professional psychotherapists for help with their psychological issues. This does not mean that they do not seek help for their psychological issues. They tend to consult their significant others, such as parents, uncles, aunts etc for help.

Whereas in traditional societies parents and other relatives may have been able to help the individual to deal with his issues, in today’s urban world it is doubtful that an uneducated parent can help his university educated son deal with the challenges modern living throws at him. It is simply no longer advisable to rely on the advice given by illiterate relatives for solving complex problems. One ought to seek advice from those trained in giving such advice.

Alas, Africans have not yet recognized the utility of seeking professional psychological advice. Those of us who found ourselves in the mental health field seldom have African clients. Indeed, we seldom have African American clients. Our clients are generally Caucasians.

African Americans do not go to therapists; they attempt to solve their problems with alcohol and drugs and or wait until they breakdown and get hospitalized and treated with medications. Since, generally, they tend to have less than adequate language skills; they seem unable to articulate their feelings in the language of psychotherapy.

At any rate, white psychotherapists, generally, do not know how to communicate with African Americans and, too readily give them serious diagnoses justifying medicinal intervention. A black person who experienced, say, panic disorder may be diagnosed as schizophrenic and treated with one of the neuroleptic medications, medications with serious adverse side effects.

Clearly, Africans and African Americans have to learn to express their issues in words that therapists can understand, so that they could be helped through talk based psychotherapy rather than have their bodies pumped full of destructive medications.

Psychotherapy is a compound word: psycho and therapy. Psyche is Greek for self; therapy is any effort to bring about change in the self. Thus, psychotherapy is any effort to change the individual’s self.

Each of us believes that he has a self, a self concept and a self image, a personality. He acts in accordance with his idea of self. That self is a compilation of the individual’s thinking, ideas, concepts and images of who he thinks that he is or is not.

The idea of the self may be functional or dysfunctional, normal or abnormal. Most people have normal self concepts and self images. But, as in everything else in this life, some persons have problematic self concepts.

Those with normal self concepts, generally, get along with other people, have harmonious social relationships and tend to be relatively at peace with themselves and with the people around them.

Some person’s personalities (ideas of the self) are so problematic that they generate conflict with those around them. They, as it were, are always generating social conflicts and may be blaming other people for such conflicts without appreciating that they are the ones generating them.

Consider. We all feel inferior and inadequate and compensate with a wish to seem superior. In pursuit of superiority we work very hard and may succeed, as the world considers these things. We may desire that other people see us as superior persons. When they affirm our desired superiority we get along with them and when they treat us as ordinary persons we resent it and quarrel with them.

This is not a big deal, right? Consider Igbos. They generally want to be seen as superior persons. They have a neurotic desire to seem like they are superior persons. They expect other people to see them as superior persons. Other Nigerians, of course, know that all human begins are the same and equal hence do not collude with Igbos and place them on the pedestal that they want to be placed. Igbos resent being treated as ordinary. They quarrel with other Nigerians. Other Nigerians resent them for fancying themselves better than them.

The average Igbo goes about thinking that he is an innocent person who is persecuted by other Nigerians. He actually sees himself as not at fault in the social dynamics he sees himself in.

In reality he plays a role in his so-called persecution. If a person places himself on a pedestal, other people must attempt to drag him down, for we are all equal.

Of course, other Nigerian groups have their own issues that come into the mix and interact with the issues presented by a problematic people called Igbos.

Clearly, Igbos must understand their self concepts; they must understand that it is neurotic, that is, to seek to be very important, to believe in the fiction of ones importance, and shrink their swollen egos down to normal proportions where they see themselves as ordinary, like any one else.

This is easier said than done, for Igbo culture is predicated on rejection of the real self and pursuit of the ideal self. This pursuit of the ideal accounts for the Igbos uncommon achievements.

If you are psychologically savvy, you know that I am engaging in projective identification, that is, I am projecting what I see in myself to Igbos. Not all Igbos are neurotic. Nevertheless, Igbos tend to reject their real selves, posit ideal selves and pursue them, and in so doing become inordinately ambitious. The ambitious person wants to be a very important person and may not respect other people, or pretend to respect them; he may, in fact, exploit them and discard them upon using them to attain his goals. Igbos tend to exploit others, use them to achieve their goals and discard them. Other people know this fact and, therefore, do not appreciate Igbo narcissistic behaviors. No one likes to be used and discarded.

The purpose of psychotherapy is for the individual with problematic behaviors to talk to a person trained in human psychology, thinking and behavior, to help him understand himself, his social behaviors, and help him change his unacceptable behaviors. Psychotherapists are persons who help other people to understand themselves and change their problematic behaviors.

The persons engaged in psychotherapy tend to be psychiatrists (medical doctors with training in psychology), psychologists (those who are not medical doctors but who are trained in psychology) and clinical social workers (social workers trained in some psychology). One needs at least a master’s degree level education to become a therapist.

There are basically two types of psychotherapy: secular and spiritual. Secular psychotherapy is what they teach students at our universities. Here, folks are taught to concentrate on the scientific method and empiricism. They observe phenomena as objectively, dispassionately and impartially as is possible. They are not supposed to inject their personal feelings into what they observe. They must be detached and observe phenomena as it is, not as they want it to be.

Generally, this methodological approach to life is called materialism or material monism. It presupposes that matter is all there is to any thing. In the case of man, it assumes that his thinking is epiphenomenal, that is, is a product of the configuration and permutation of particles, atoms and elements in his body, particularly in his brain.

I was trained in empiricism. Empiricists are persons who deal only with observable phenomena. I began my career as a psychotherapist as a pure empiricist. I had no use for subjective and or religious ideas, for those had no verifiable aspects to them.

Religion is derived from the Latin word religio. Religion is man’s attempt to reconnect to his source.

Religion assumes that man has origin in a non-material source. That origin is generally called Spirit or God, that which is not of matter. Everywhere in the world folks believe that they have their origin in a non-material source.

This non-material source is not easily verified. Therefore, science does not accept the premise of religion and generally leaves religionists to their own devices.

Religions attempt to use their various belief systems to help their followers experiencing psychological problems. Those efforts to use religious and or spiritual perspective to help human beings cope with the exigencies of their life on earth are called spiritual psychology.

Ministers, priests and pastors can be called spiritual psychologists, or pastoral psychologists.

Spiritual psychologists, aka ministers, actually help more people than secular psychologist do. I go to Church. My minister typically has over 1000 persons attending his Sunday Church services. He counsels these people on assortments of issues: children, marriage, interpersonal etc. That is to say that he is a therapist without having official designation as one.

For our present purposes, ministers are traditional spiritual psychotherapists; they perform as useful a role as secular therapists.

Psychotherapy, any effort to change the human psyche, self, mind, thinking and behavior, can be undertaken secularly and or spiritually. Both perspectives work. One is scientific and the other is non-scientific.

Man is more than matter and no one who wants to help man can afford to ignore his religious beliefs.

Secular psychotherapy is generally subdivided into different modalities: individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, sex therapy, marital therapy etc.

Briefly, in individual therapy, the therapist talks to the individual one on one and tries to figure out what his problems are and help him deal with them. The therapist, if he was trained at American universities was probably exposed to many therapeutic methods, such as Freudian, Adlerian, Jungian, Horneyian, Ericksonian, cognitive-behavior (Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis), Behaviorally, Neuroscience and many others.

The typical therapist is ecliptic and takes from the various modalities what makes sense to him and uses them to help his clients. I am generally Adlerian and Cognitive behaviorist.

In family therapy, the therapist attempts to solve problems affecting the entire family. The family is like a system and what affects one part of it affects all parts of it. Every member of the family responds and adapt to every member of the family. Where a dysfunction exists in a family, all members of the family develop dysfunctions. All members of the family become dysfunctional and to heal one member all of them must be healed, for healing just one and having him go back to a sick family and try to adapt to it would only make him adapt dysfunctionally. I will not deal with the specifics of family therapy here.

Group therapy attempts to help folks in group’s sessions. Here, a number of people, ideally, no more than twelve, sit in a circle and talk about their problems and the therapist acts as a facilitator and directs the discussion to therapeutic modalities.

Human beings are social creatures and their problems are generally socially related. To truly heal them, their social issues have to be addressed. Moreover, people have to learn to get along with all members of society.

Individual psychopathologies are really social pathologies. We must heal our interpersonal and relationship issues if we are to become healthy human beings.

Group therapy is particularly suited for certain issues, such as anger management, stress management, batterer’s treatment, alcoholism, addiction issues etc.

In group therapies, folks learn from how other people deal with their issues. Again, I will not go into the specifics of group therapy.

Marital therapy attempts to understand the issues a man and his wife have and help them solve them. When the initial sexual attraction that brought a boy and girl together wears off, say in seven years (seven year itch) now what? How are they going to get along with each other?

Sex is usually over rated; what keep couples together are good relationship skills. People must get along with each other to be in a loving relationship.

Since each of us is unique and different from others, so what happens when we learn about our irreconcilable differences? Separation and divorce? Sometimes that is the best option. But sometimes folks can learn to still get along with each other despite their differences

Sexual issues? That is a biggie in most marriages. Some folks want sex very often while others could care less for sex. Now what? Should you accommodate your partner’s sexual demands even though you are not interested in sex? How about sexual fantasies and deviances? Some folks want anal, oral sex and everything else in-between. Suppose one partner desires these things and the other does not want them?

Your way or the highway? What gives? Compromises? Bargaining? Trade offs? What, what, what.

I will not get into the specifics of any counseling modality. If you desire counseling, go see a therapist. I am not your therapist; I am just providing you with general information on therapy.


I find human beings complex creatures. I try to understand them. I do so empirically. Thus, I study secular psychology, particularly brain science. I am into understanding the biology of human behavior.

Human beings, on the other hand, are more than their bodies. I know that there is a life force, spirit, in them. That life force is best approached through metaphysics aka religion.

To truly help human beings you have to take into account their spiritual nature.

Thus, I adopt both secular and spiritual modalities in my efforts to help me and all of us. However, if a person is where I was until recently, that is, is only interested in secularism, science, I will not bring spirituality into the therapeutic process. Indeed, I can even go along and employ the language of neuroscience and explain to the client how his mental disorder is a brain disorder, a biochemical disorder. Schizophrenics, these days, say that they have a chemical imbalance disorder. Whatever works for you is fine with me.

We must continually strive to understand who we are and where we see problems in our psychological make ups attempt to change them, any which way we can. Philosophy, religion, psychology, biology etc are all necessary considerations in our efforts to understand and heal our psychological problems.

Africans, my present audience, must start paying attention to their individual psychologies. I hate to say this: I have not seen a Nigerian whom I could not diagnose as having either a psychosis, neurosis or personality disorder. This is correct.

Actually, the political decay we have in Nigeria is because psychologically disordered folks rule that hell on earth. Consider narcissism. Narcissistic folks want to seem special, and want other people to admire them. They want to seem superior to other people. So they go into politics to seem very important persons. They are not in office to serve the public but to serve their egoism. They steal and do whatever would seem to make them gratify their narcissistic egos.

Now, suppose some one told these emotionally retarded folks that they are developmentally children and showed them that the adult way to live is for one to devote ones life to serving the public and not steal from the public?

Suppose the criminals in Nigeria’s governments learned that it is better that one died than take what does not belong to one, what would happen in Nigeria? Good government?

Psychology could be useful for Nigerian leaders. But, as noted, Nigerians, Africans and African Americans do not patronize psychotherapists. This is too bad, for those who need the most help do not seek it.

Posted by Administrator at April 3, 2006 11:55 PM


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