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Stashed in: Creativity, Anxiety

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MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. You're really most known these days, I think, as a pioneer in establishing existential psychology as an independent discipline in the clinical area. That's a discipline which, unlike most forms of clinical psychology that rely on a medical model or a behavioral model, relies more on a philosophical model. You draw heavily on the works of philosophers such as Sartre, Heidegger, and Kierkegaard, who deal with basic notions such as anxiety in a different way than most medical clinical models do.

MAY: Yes. Well, in the year I think '56 or '57, the publishers called me up and asked if I would edit a book on European existential psychotherapy. I was delighted to hear there was such a book. I hadn't known a thing about the existential movement, but I knew that in this country I believed in it very firmly, because they are the ones who emphasize anxiety, they emphasize the individual, courage, they emphasize guilt feeling, that it has to be taken into consideration at least, and they see human beings as struggling, sometimes successful, sometimes not successful. This was exactly the model that we needed for psychotherapy. The medical model had turned out to be a dead end, and I welcomed the chance to edit this book of existential chapters from Europe. It met my own needs and my own heart.

MISHLOVE: Would I be correct in assuming that when you speak of anxiety you don't think of it as a symptom to be removed, but rather as a gateway for exploration into the meaning of life?

MAY: Yes. Well, you've got that exactly right. I think anxiety is associated with creativity. When you're in a situation of anxiety, you can of course run away from it, and that's certainly not constructive; or you can take a few pills to get you over it, or cocaine, or whatever else you may take.

MISHLOVE: You could meditate.

MAY: Well, you could meditate. But I think none of those things, including meditation, which I happen to believe in -- none of those paths lead you to creative activity. What anxiety means is it's as though the world is knocking at your door, and you need to create, you need to make something, you need to do something. I think anxiety, for people who have found their own heart and their own souls, for them it is a stimulus toward creativity, toward courage. It's what makes us human beings.

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