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ATTITUDE: TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT YOURSELF!

I lost my dear friend and colleague, Roy Schafer, on August 5. He was a few months short of turning 96 years old.

Roy Schafer, psychoanalyst/psychologist extraordinaire and recipient of numerous prestigious awards, is known for his original work that helped people find their inner voice by telling their personal life story (or narrative). All of us typically develop explanations about why certain things have occurred in our lives or why we feel the way they do about ourselves and about others. Schafer maintains that people can expand their understanding of themselves to diminish their anxiety and psychological angst by working with a caring listener who can help them find new meanings and explore their narratives to expand and revise their restricted or stuck way of living and loving. Thus old narratives can become new, more adaptive, ways of understanding oneself. The result can be transformative.

For example, when a musician or an individual giving a performance believes that he or she is only as good as his or her performance, the anxiety about perfection and pleasing others can impede enjoyment and fulfillment. Thus, a psychologist can assist the musician in discovering additional, less punitive, and frightening meanings around the meaning of performing. In doing so, the musician revises his or her personal story (narrative) and beliefs that have prevented pleasure in performance and/or in relationships.

I only knew Roy Schafer personally for approximately the last 13 years of his life. I had known him much longer through his brilliant writing and particularly his acclaimed book The Analytic Attitude, which was published in 1983. I first read this book in 1990 (I wrote the date I purchased it on the first page.) I knew at the time Roy Schafer was a “giant” in the field of psychoanalysis/psychology, but reading this work made a life-long impact on my own work and upon me personally.

I felt at that time, during my own career transition, that there was wisdom for music teachers, students, and many others in his words. As my tribute to Roy Schafer, I am going to share some nuggets from The Analytic Attitude with you. I hope you will pause after reading each one, look in the proverbial mirror, and think deeply about your work, yourself, and your attitudes. I thank Roy Schafer for his gift.

In reading the following selected quotes, it will be helpful to substitute the word “teacher” for “analyst” and “student or performer – musical or otherwise” for “analysand”. After all, psychoanalysts/psychologists and teachers share much in common. Psychoanalytic/psychological treatment and music teaching provide life lessons that extend beyond the teaching studio and consulting room. I will cite page numbers by each passage for future reference, should you wish to read the entire book.

Quotes from The Analytic Attitude

– Roy Schafer, 1983.

“It is my aim in this book to clarify the intellectual and emotional attitude by the analyst (teacher) at work.” p.ix

“What is the analytic (teaching) attitude? p. 3.

“…the analyst (teacher) remaining curious, eager to find out, and open to surprise. ….taking nothing for granted…..remaining ready to revise conjectures or conclusions already arrived at, tolerate, ambiguity or incomplete closure over extended periods of time, accept alternative points of view of the world”… p. 7

“…much time in analysis (teaching) is spent interpreting the analysand’s (student’s) need to see things as either black or white. “p. 7

“ …analytic (teaching) help is offered not thorough advice, reassurance, exhortation, ….but so far as possible through careful listening and judicious and well-prepared interpretation. …Analysts (teachers) do not view their role as one of offering or promising remedies, cures, complete mental health, philosophies of life, rescue, emergency-room intervention, emotional Band-Aids, or self-sacrificing or self-aggrandizing heroics.” p. 11

…”the analyst (teacher) is always ready to view the difficulties presented by the analysand (student) not in a negative light but rather as meaningful.” p. 13.

“Analysts (teachers ) need stamina like they need oxygen” p. 48.

“One must grant that overeagerly generalizing from success is as much a problem as the temptation to derogate analysands (students) with whom one is unable to get anywhere.” p. 289.

“The analyst’s (teacher’s) job … is to find something of value even in the most destructive features of a case” p. 294

“…In doing analysis (teaching) we help people realize that things are a lot more complicated than they ever dreamed, and there is something liberating about realizing that this is so.” P. 295

“…in becoming an analyst (teacher)… one can only empathize more keenly with the analysand (student) who is also interminably undergoing change and facing ever more directly the uncertainties, the hazards, and the opportunities of existence” p. 295

I am indebted to my friend, Roy Schafer, who emphasizes the idea of telling one’s story through one’s work and through one’s attitude toward oneself and others. Together, teachers and students create and recreate unique verbal and non-verbal narratives about themselves, each other, and about music itself (or some other area of interest.) Hopefully you can consider – or reconsider – how you tell your narrative. Your responses (below) are invited, as always.

Schafer, R. (1983) The Analytic Attitude. Basic Books, New York.

photo: Pexels

2 COMMENTS
  1. Jeff Gaynor 1 month ago

    Thank you, Julie. As a veteran classroom teacher (and now School Board member) I see the connection clearly. Still I’m hard pressed to find ways to convince others that teaching and learning involves much more than feeding facts and algorithms into students, and that standardized testing robs the teacher/student relationship of the rich and deep understanding it well could have.

    Reply
    • Julie Nagel 1 month ago

      Jeff – thank you for your comment – and your great question about how to “convince others” – “the” answer is not simple or easy – changing attitudes, even for more adaptive solutions, is a central question. I have found that trying to convince people rationally only goes so far. It’s like changing the proverbial light bulb – the light bulb has to want to change – or see a need to change. I think building relationships of trust and demonstrating even small results (over time – change occurs slowly and subtly) and being aware of resistance to change has meaning to each person – but as you know, even ways that don’t work are hard to give up. Communication is key – listening to others, validating their feelings and experiences, asking thoughtful questions, trial and error, resilience, patience, celebrating small changes, and willingness to self-reflect on one’s own attitudes and actions, never giving up, and always looking for creative ways to interact with people – all get a more subtle message across of respect and collaboration and promote self-esteem in students. The teacher-student relationship and building trust is central. Having family, friends, and colleagues with whom you can share your ideas and feelings is helpful. I believe teaching is one of the most complex and noble professions one can pursue. I know you have more to say on this, that you care, and that you have thought carefully about teaching the entire person, and not just the course.

      Reply

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