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25 March 2011

Jungian psychology for entertainers

Every now again I happen upon one of those New Yorker stories that seem to summarize the daily tribulations of my life and work in the creative sphere. Dana Goodyear‘s “Hollywood Shadows”–about entertainment industry psychotherapists Barry Michels and Phil Stutz–is one of those stories. If it has one failing, it’s the lack of connection to other Los Angeles celebrity healing cults such as Scientology, a topic well covered by the magazine only a few weeks before. (Viz Lawrence Wright’s “The Apostate” about ex-Scientologist Paul Haggis.) Perhaps this is more my failing than that of the magazine–such is my predilection for random connections.

In any case, the editors of the (sometimes misnamed!) New Yorker has the potential to compile a quite excellent anthology of pieces explaining the odd facts of Los Angeles life to the rest of the world. In any case, the psychologist article is free on the web right now. Enjoy some excerpts after the jump:

    Patients are told to visualize things going horribly wrong, a strategy of “pre-disappointment.” The tool for this, which Michels and Stutz teach to those who are hoping to win an award or who are about to submit a script for approval, involves imagining yourself falling backward into the sun, saying “I am willing to lose everything” as you are consumed in a giant fireball, after which, transformed into a sunbeam, you profess, “I am infinite.” Needless to say, neither therapist relates much to the wider analytic community, and both suspect that the techniques would be met with consternation. “My method and orientation are radically outside the mainstream of my profession,” Michels told me. “I like being a bit of a maverick.” On a low bookshelf at the far end of his office sits a Carl Jung action doll.

And more:

    “That voice, the voice that says ‘I’m shitty’ or ‘I’m above this,’ is going to increase in volume the closer you get to actually doing the deed. You have to anticipate it, label it, and reject it every time it comes up.”

    The voice belongs to what Stutz refers to as Part X, a deeply primitive dimension of the personality he identified after he began to work with show-business patients; its characteristics are petulance, rage, arrogance, hypersensitivity, a sense of victimization, and, above all, a resistance to process. Michels explains it by invoking the behavior of a two-year-old. “It’s the part that’s pounding on the table because nothing’s good enough,” he says. “They’re saying no to everything, even the color of the sippy cup–unacceptable. Most of us grow beyond the expectation that life will meet our needs in every instance. Some don’t. That’s the head of hte studio, the head of the agency, or whatever, pounding his fist on the table and saying, ‘God damn it, somebody is going to pay for it!’ It’s the part of the ego that is so egotistical it believes it’s God, king of the universe. At every moment, the universe is telling him, ‘Sorry, bub, you’re not God,’ and he’s screaming, ‘No, you’re wrong and I’m going to prove it to you!”

(Pictured above is the third image that comes up when doing a Google image search for the phrase “Pictures of God.”)

    Of course, in a certain environment–around indulgent parents, say, or yesmen–Part X can be effective. “It’s not only that there’s more of it in Hollywood–it’s that there’s more reward for it,” Stutz says. After years of practicing in the industry, Stutz subdivided Part X into the Seussian categories Type 1 and Type 2–Type 1 being most people, who must conquer their X in order to succeed, while Type 2 never works on himself and gets away with it. One of his patients, a well-known actor, explained this to a younger actor he met in rehab, saying that they were both Type 1, hence the need for rehab; the younger actor took this in and asked, “How do we become Type 2?”

    The novelist Bret Easton Ellis told me that he went to see Michels after he moved to Los Angeles to help with the production of a movie based on one of his books. The situation had grown sour–he was no longer speaking to his best friend, Nicolas Jarecki, with whom he wrote the screenplay, and the director, he felt, had misinterpreted the material. After working with Michels for a few months, he called Jarecki and invited him to a makeup dinner. Jarecki brought along his friend Sharon Stone. Ellis recalls that when the dinner conversation turned to the work that he had been doing with Michels, Stone interjected, “Barry and Phil and all that Shadow shit, all that Pary X shit. I love my Part X, I’m not letting go of my Part X. Fuck Barry!”


Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis

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