Raising up the Self: A WrongPlanet Interview with Nathaniel Branden
Nathaniel Branden is best known for, and will probably always be defined by, his relationship with Ayn Rand and his pioneering psychological work in promoting healthy self-esteem. He first wrote extensively about the importance of high self-esteem for successful psychotherapy in 1969, in his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Since then, he has written many other volumes on the subject, including Breaking Free, The Disowned Self, Honoring the Self, How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, Taking Responsibility and what is considered to be his capstone on the subject, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. In Dr. Branden?s introduction to that book, he writes: ?It would be foolish for me to declare that I have now written my final report on ?the psychology of self-esteem.? But this book does feel like the climax of all the work that proceeded it.?
Read on for Andrew Williams interview with Dr. Branden!
Dr. Branden has been in private practice since the 1950s. He is currently based in Los Angeles, CA, near the headquarters of The Branden Institute for Self-Esteem. His and his wife, Devers, also work as life-coaches–work that dovetails with Branden?s work on building self-esteem. As he explains on his website (www.nathanielbranden.com): ?Traditional therapy is about excavating and neutralizing negatives. Life coaching is about liberating positives. It is about putting the client in touch with his or her own wisdom and creativity. To quote one life coach, ?Life coaching is about designing a future, not about getting over the past.??
Andrew Williams (WrongPlanet): For those unfamiliar with your work, what led to your interest in self-esteem and researching ways in which to increase it?
Nathaniel Branden: I began practicing therapy in the 1950s, and people would come to me with a wide variety of problems, and I kept looking for any possible common denominator among these complaints. And I was struck that there was a common denominator, and that was an underdeveloped self-esteem. And that that was not a problem like other problems, like anxiety or depression–it was at a much deeper level, the way a person experienced himself. I began to think about what self-esteem is, why is it so important, what does it depend on, what can we do to nurture and develop it? And that led to my first book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. Then, as my studies over the years kept opening up more and more understandings, I wrote a series of books that more or less reported on what I was working on in that time of my life–all of this coming to a climax in 1994 when I published The Six Pillars, which is my most definitive work on the subject.
AW: I?ve become interested in what I call the three A?s: ADD, autism and Asperger?s syndrome, especially since I was diagnosed with one of them. Given that self-esteem can be a major problem for people diagnosed with these conditions, do you suggest special types of self-esteem work for people with these conditions?
NB: Well, the first thing I want to say is the importance of communicating to people that self-esteem pertains only to that which is under our volitional control. And that we have to make a very clear distinction as to what is within our power and what is not within our power, so we don?t blame ourselves for limitations or problems over which we have no control.
The next related, but practically-oriented observation, is doing exercises such as I describe in my books for deepening self-acceptance, because what these people need is the willingness to accept the reality of their difficulties, not enjoying them or embracing them, but not letting them become grounds for self-castigation, either. In other words, accepting, doing what one can do about it, but not giving oneself a bad time or having self-deprecatory thoughts.
AW: It seems to me that although a safety net, Federal or state-created, would be a nice thing–we all get in over our heads sometimes–the true goal of every human being is self-reliance. Do you think that we, as individuals and as a species, will achieve that goal?
NB: Well, obviously some do, and many don?t. Some people live very self-responsibly, and other people live more passively and are more into blaming. I think that people who operate at a high level of self-responsibility have better self-esteem and are more likely to be survivors. People who are waiting for somebody else to save them don?t tend to have successful lives.
AW: It?s my understanding that sentence completions first came into use as a diagnostic tool, like Rohrschach blots and word associations. What gave you the idea of using sentence completions as a therapeutic tool?
NB: Boy, that?s really tricky. I just liked experimenting with them. I kept inventing new stems and then I began to notice that people were having emotional reactions afterwards, as if I might have taken them through some very intense experiences, but done in a sentence-completion way. People often felt relief, they often gained interesting insights, their perspectives sometimes changed on the event that we were exploring. So it got me thinking about the self-healing potential of sentence completion, and then it was just an issue of experimenting and experimenting and trying different things.
AW: What psychiatrists and psychologists do you think are doing groundbreaking work today? I would give as examples yourself, Dr. Siebert for his role in creating what he calls resiliency psychology and Dr. Peter Breggin, for his skepticism regarding the biological psychiatry model that all mental disorders are neurochemically based and can be treated solely as such.
NB: I?m very interested in work in the field of energy psychology. That?s the work I?m most familiar with, where I see very radical things going on. One of the great books on the subject is by Donna Eden called Energy Medicine. That?s what I?ve found most helpful to me in the last decade or so.
AW: There?s an old clich? that someone who acts as his/her own l
AWyer has a fool for a client. Do you think the same is true of people who act as their own therapists, using your books or those of the so-called cognitive therapists as their tools?
NB: No, I don?t judge that. It either helps a person or doesn?t help a person. If it helps them, I?m not going to laugh at that. Whatever works.
Anyone interested in trying Dr. Branden?s sentence completions can go to his website.