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Humanistic Psychology's Agenda : It's Time to Move Beyond the Touchy-Feely Stuff

August 20, 1986|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — It was, by any reckoning, the coronation of the Odd Couple as the co-presidents of the Assn. for Humanistic Psychology took office--Lonnie Barbach, a sex therapist and mother-to-be from Mill Valley, and John Vasconcellos, the Democrat from Santa Clara who chairs the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

But then, AHP, now 25 years old and boasting a membership nationwide of about 5,000 (one-third in California) is not the most tradition-bound of organizations. Consider some of the topics explored during its weekend meeting at San Diego State University: communication with the spiritual world, the corporation as lover, planetary vision.

What these humanists--among them psychotherapists, educators, business types, housewives and househusbands--are about is loving and caring and nurturing.

Great Deal of Hugging

Their buzzwords are connecting and focusing and energy and they do a great deal of hugging and relating and sharing.

But this is 1986 and, in the view of a number of the organization's leaders, it's time to move beyond the touchy-feely stuff, beyond feeling good about oneself and into the realm of social and political action. AHP co-president Vasconcellos, a lawyer who has served 20 years in the Assembly, is pressing an agenda of "humanistic politics."

Addressing delegates here, Vasconcellos called for "new beginnings" in AHP, an era in which the organization will become "politically and socially expressive and active and shrewd and effective" in carrying its vision of a gentler and more humane world into the mainstream of thinking.

In the view of psychologist Maureen O'Hara, whose presentation on "Science and Pseudoscience in Humanistic Psychology" drew a large and responsive audience, a giant step toward mainstreaming would be for AHP to disengage itself from "the fakirs . . . taking us for a monetary ride" and to "rededicate ourselves to scholarship."

O'Hara, formerly a biologist in her native England who now teaches the psychology of women at San Diego State, asked, "Do we continue to follow charismatic leaders--pseudopriests and pseudoscientists--or do we get back to thinking?"

One thing about which the AHP has been doing a great deal of thinking is world peace; it has committees on North American-Soviet relations, and one of its superstars, Carl Rogers of the Center for the Studies of the Person in La Jolla, will lead a delegation to the Soviet Union in the fall. Indeed, several Soviet psychologists joined several of their American colleagues at this meeting for a panel discussion on "Forming a Relationship to Oneself and to the World."

But this dialogue, a rather bland dissertation that somehow evolved into a discussion of challenges facing youth of both countries, was sparsely attended. The action, and the crowd, that evening was in a room below where Durchback Akuete, a healer-priest from Togo, West Africa, was evoking the spirits to send people into twitching, jerking trances from which they were to awake enlightened.

One of the volunteer participants, Kelly, later told the others in the room, "I kept getting a message that there's one presence and one power in the universe." Karen, who had just awakened from a lengthy trance, reported, "I became part of another world. . . ."

If there is a bit of a split personality within AHP, opening-night keynoter Marilyn Ferguson ("The Aquarian Conspiracy") was thinking mainstream. Said Ferguson: "The New Age, I think, is a term that is well laid to rest. . . . If the thing that you want to happen is happening . . . it's no longer a movement."

Today, Ferguson told the 1,000 delegates, they can no longer just "sit around making futile resolutions and loving and hugging one another. . . . That's not the bottom line of what's going on in our society."

It's not enough, she suggested, to tell people to relax, to manage their stress, to give up their vices--and "everybody knows that love is better than hate, and peace is better than war." It's time to stop "telling our society what's good for it" and start giving people solid information, Ferguson said.

As she sees it, "The struggle to make people understand the need for change is over" after a decade of turbulent societal upheaval, a decade that has left America in what she perceives as a state of "enlightened disillusionment," seeking workable solutions to societal ills and inequities.

In separate workshops, people were meeting to talk about changing roles for men, black and white couples, creativity and humor, dealing with interracial tensions, the male couple, the evolution of community, nutrition and vitamin therapy and women in motion.

But if this all seems like pretty tame stuff for AHP, the exhibitors' room offered diversions such as a display by the Unarius Academy of Science, whose curriculum has been "transmitted during the last 33 years by advanced intelligent beings from higher frequency worlds" and is geared toward "getting ready for landing of spacecraft on Earth in 2001."

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