“Cherishment: A Psychology of the Heart Why We Need It Now More than Ever”

This talk has been approved by New York State for 2 hours of Continuing Education Credit for LMSWs and LCSWs.

In this talk, I offer an overview of the concept of cherishment presented in my co-authored book Cherishment: A Psychology of the Heart (with Elisabeth Young-Bruehl) published in 2000. Looking back, that millennial moment seems like a bygone time of innocence, filled with hope for the dawning of a new and better world. An “Age of Aquarius” where cherishing values are the norm and Boomers could feel like they’d done their job making the world a better place. Since that hopeful moment we’ve experienced one dislocating shock after another: 9/11, wars, disruptive technologies, financial collapse, epidemic distraction and a country presently so divided that it feels shockingly unrecognizable. It’s time for a lodestar to help guide us through back to the garden! So here it is again…. Cherishment: What the world needs now (more than ever).

To explore cherishment I will turn to the work of a Japanese psychoanalyst named Takeo Doi, who has written extensively about amae, the everyday Japanese word that means “the expectation to be sweetly and indulgently loved.” Doi calls amae or “cherishment” an ego instinct and considers it universal and fundamental to all interpersonal relations though relatively repressed in the West. Most Americans regard independence as a supreme achievement and dependency a liability. It is rare in the West to think that in order to be a caring person you might need to be a person well able to receive care.

I intend to tell this story of amae – or cherishment – thorough the framework of culture shock. First, my own discovery of amae in the context of the culture shock of being psychoanalyzed, second, by telling the story of Takeo Doi’s discovery of amae in the context of the culture shock he experienced when he came to America after World War Two and finally by presenting case material which further illustrates how patients often find themselves in the surprising position of searching for cherishment in the strange and unfamiliar land of the psychotherapeutic encounter.

Cherishment is an emotion, a world view, a way of life, a consciousness. It is a condition of being aware that we all have needs for affection, that we find it difficult to speak those needs, and that we spend much of our lives in uncherishing atmospheres. Frustration of this need for cherishment is a key ingredient in all sorts of states in which people are isolated from the world, cut off from each other, unreceptive to love, and unable to ask for help. In becoming more aware of our needs and those of others, we can learn to speak of cherishment, understand its significance for clinical practice, and prioritize it as a principal of wellness and optimal health for ourselves, our patients, and the world.

Faith Bethelard, Psy.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist practicing in New York City. Dr. Bethelard is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University in Philadelphia. 

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