The New Politics of Experience and the Bitter Herbs

Image of The New Politics of Experience and The Bitter Herbs
Release Date: 
May 15, 2015
PCCS Books
Reviewed by: 

The New Politics of Experience and the Bitter Herbs by Theodor Itten and Ron Roberts is a bold challenge and daring call. It represents a headlong challenge to contemporary psychology and psychotherapy, particularly to their biologically scientific and corporate fundamentalist approaches to human distress. It is a call for academics and practitioners in the field to recognize and move beyond these calcified aspects toward a continued search for truth in human knowledge and experience.

It seems that the fields of psychology and psychotherapy have failed in their attempts to be a natural science. They are no better today than they are from their inceptions at description, prediction, explanation, and control, which are the goals of natural science. Moreover, the authors point out that both fields have been usurped by those who engage in these fields as capital venture enterprises.  

Far from being nihilistic, the authors outline how the present state of affairs came about. The focus of the work is set out as being experientialist in nature. Experience, after all, is the basis for all theory. To this end the authors turn to their own experiences, intermingling them with history, present practice, and current thinking. The tone is conversational, as much between the two authors as including the reader.

Of course, the title of this book reflects its nature as continuing and developing the themes of R. D. Laing’s seminal, The Politics of Experience, which appeared in 1967 to international acclaim. Ron Roberts offers his keen insights into the phenomena of murder, corruption, politics, and “thought control in the ivory towers,” to elucidate how truth is often stranger than fiction and, further, to show how “fiction” has a vital place in our lives.

Theodor Itten, from more than three decades of working with R. D. Laing, offers many seminal contributions including the role of intuition in psychology as well as the two sides of truth in every theory and practice of healing.

He goes further to expand upon R. D. Laing’s research on the politics of the family to bring together research knowledge of and the experience of psychotherapy. These harmonize in such a way so as to address the sustained problem of how professional narratives address the lives of others (or fail to do so).

While presenting, unabashed, many of the very real and destructive elements presently at work in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy, the book is welcoming, hopeful. It is, as they write, “a cordial challenge . . . a taboo-free journey . . . into the professional, personal and collective unconscious by way of contrast to the regular diet of nonsense clothed in academic jargon, which behavioral science journals spew out in the interests of the late-supper-capitalist monster.”

The toxic contagions and dynamics at work in both fields represent a call for a therapeutic intervention into the fields themselves. One joining the authors on their journey will invariably traverse uncharted territory and, beautifully, return to the source of both fields: psyche (soul).