Field Work

Margaret Mead once wrote that “the very core of field work [is] one person, all alone, face to face with a whole community.” I think this is very much like what a person does when they heal deep-seated family of origin trauma. It is field work with the self, and all the parts that are still scattered on the ground, waiting to be reunited with their siblings. It is the most difficult thing anyone does, but the extent to which you do it and then decide to help others heal is the extent to which you will be effective.

Then, as healer, to quote Mead again, “one must learn to do something correctly and not to become too absorbed in the doing. One must learn what makes people angry but one must not feel insulted oneself. One must live all day in a maze of relationships without being caught in the maze. And above all, one must wait for events to reveal much that must be learned.” So being a good psychotherapist is exactly the same as being a good anthropologist in a foreign village deep in some jungle far from home. You have to love this territory. And if you haven’t done your own internal field work “all alone, face to face” with the whole community of your soul, then you are likely to take people’s emotions as your own; you are likely to misunderstand where the right boundary is.

People think you need psychology degrees to do psychotherapy. Of course that is valid. But being able to participate-observe; being in love with the totality of the human condition, or in love at least with the curiosity of it – that’s anthropology. And so I think any good clinician is at heart an anthropologist.