In his book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Philip Rieff captured a major cultural theme of the last five decades of the twentieth century.
Therapy’s triumph in an age of radical individualism has enriched our lives in numerous ways. Almost every facet of our lives has been touched, and in many cases, reshaped by the therapeutic mindset. Thanks to psychology’s therapeutic focus we understand
In the therapeutic world of psychology, what is good for the personality and soul of an individual becomes an entitlement one is free to pursue directly and with all the energy one can muster. In fact, one is not only free to pursue it, one has a responsibility to pursue it, and so we see countless people declare that they will settle for nothing less than the good life: a life of happiness, relative ease, and the joy of intimacy and love. And the pursuit of these goods is direct and focused.
From the perspective of social science, that is, from a rational point of view, there is a certain logic here. If something is good and noble, beneficial and even essential, one would be foolish not to set out on a holy quest to obtain it. It seems that our therapeutic culture has not yet discovered the paradox of the Gospel: some things are achieved only when they are surrendered.
Happiness follows the forgetting of one’s desire to be happy and living in such a way as to foster the happiness of others. Holiness follows the desire to live in harmony with God’s will in selfless praise and thanksgiving. It is best pursued indirectly. Intimacy follows when one trusts that it will come once it is not directly pursued. For like so many of life’s true blessings, intimacy is primarily gift. One prepares oneself through prayer and right living—and one waits.
There are, of course, skills that can be acquired to facilitate relationships and even the attainment of intimacy and union, but they are at best tillers of the soil. Intimacy, like all things that really matter, is a gift of the spirit that cannot be fully earned or merited by one’s singular efforts.