Published by CLIO’S PSYCHE, March 2010, Volume 16, Number 4
Michael S. Isaacs, MSW, NCPsyA, JD
San Francisco, California

     Career and Personal Role Models, Heroes, and Mentors

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With my new experiences in Eastern philosophy and practices, not only was the world of the unconscious open to my experience, but now the area of the super-conscious. In addition to the statue of “The Thinker” imbedded in my role modeling, there entered a statue of Buddha, sitting in silence with eyes closed going inward and with a blissful face.

While practicing law had its rewards, I knew that only being a lawyer would not be fulfilling. For me it lacked passion. Thoughts of changing career directions crossed my mind. In addition to thinking about becoming a psychotherapist, I mulled over becoming an academic in the intellectual field of religious and spiritual studies. I also contemplated making law practice more interesting and lucrative by going back to law school in the evenings to obtain a masters degree taxation to specialize in this field.

After ten years as an attorney I decided to change of career direction. I decided that my true passion was in humanism, psychotherapy, and the relationship between therapy and spirituality. I decided to obtain training in psychoanalysis part time, while continuing my law practice.   

It took me eight years to obtain my certification as a lay analyst from the New Jersey Psychoanalytic Institute. There I had many opportunities to role model as to how I would eventually be as a psychoanalyst. There were many mentors to observe-my Freudian analyst and a host of supervisors and fellow candidates. I can’t say that my analyst was my hero since over the many years of analysis I began to realize his weaknesses and imperfections and eventually came to terms with them. Although he was not my hero, many of his attributes I role modeled in my own practice. Among them were his concentrated ability to listen, intellectual and emotional curiosity, patience, empathy, and setting the frame.

During my training, certain mentors were role models for my practice. One supervising analyst helped me to take myself less seriously and enjoy the sessions more. Another supervising analyst’s enthusiasm for Freud and helping me better understand and appreciate Freud were invaluable. The writers and theoreticians that most influenced me in addition to Freud were Donald Winnicott and William Ronald Fairbairn from the English object relations school of thought.  

The fact that I had two concurrent inner growth paths was often confusing. The theories and purposes on the quest towards happiness and fulfillment in psychotherapy and spirituality, of course, had underlying differences. When I brought up events like meditation and other spiritual dealings with my spiritual teacher, my analyst took a dim view of why I needed all that. Similarly, when I told my spiritual teacher about psychoanalysis, he conveyed his skepticism about the relevance of delving into past family history, dreams, and free association.

After becoming a certified analyst, I still continued as a lawyer until my therapy practice grew such that I saw patients full time. After my certification, my spiritual practices also continued, but I opened up to learn more and practice spiritual principles from various religions. A particular influence in my spiritual path has been the world renowned mystic and spiritual healer, Joel S Goldsmith whose spiritual truth principles are based on the interpretations on the Old and New Testament.  

In 1994 I wrote an article that discussed the similarity of and differences between psychotherapy and spirituality. I concluded that the longer I observed the dual paths of psychotherapy and spirituality the more I was impressed by the tenacity of emotional problems and blockages. That is, that more harm is done to us by not accepting our “humanity” than by not realizing our “spirituality.” This article can be found on my website

In the course of my workload I treated many patients whose role models, heroes, and mentors were religious and spiritual figures, past and present. Some of these figures were authentic and others were not. What was discovered was that many spiritual aspirants were “spiritual bypassing.” That is, their spiritual quests had diverted them from dealing with repressed material as to childhood conflicts. They had bypassed unresolved childhood issues to pursue spiritual endeavors. For example, devotion to an idealized spiritual teacher or teaching allowed negative emotions about the natural father to remain repressed. Many seekers on extreme spiritual paths such as cults have been fortunate to learn from therapy and otherwise that their heroes, role models, and mentors were misguided and were obstacles to their growth.

Over the years doing psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy, there were new role models, heroes, and mentors that arose for me. I came to appreciate that on occasion my patients themselves were my heroes, role models, and mentors! I will only mention two psychoanalysts that influenced me significantly as therapist role models. One is Joseph Weiss, M.D. the author of HOW PSYCHOTHERAPY WORKS. He emphasized the role of guilt in pathology, client testing of the therapist, and how the therapist can pass these tests. The other was Thomas Hora, M.D., a psychoanalytically trained existential psychiatrist and spiritual teacher.

In my later stage of life, I came to realize that the gender nature of my role models, heroes, and mentors had been modified. In my earlier stages mostly all of my analysts, mentors, heroes, role models, and spiritual teachers had been men. Now I have included more women to my sphere. In one psycho-spiritual group that I have been attending for many years all but two members are women. This pattern of respecting and companioning with knowledgeable and nurturing women has helped me in the transference to receive some modeling that my mother was incapable of giving me.

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