Anne Wilson Schaef shares how Living in Process can heal addiction, mental illness and anything life throws at you.
At 80 years old, author, spiritual teacher, and healer, Anne Wilson Schaef, PhD, is more profound than ever.
After working as a traditional psychologist for years in hospitals, schools and a private practice, Schaef left the psychology world in 1984. “It became clear to me that many theories in psychology were developed by men for men, and had little to do with what women thought, felt or needed. Around that time, I was at a speaking event held by the American Psychological Association and someone pointed out that the word ‘therapist’ broken down is ‘the rapist.’ By that time I was beginning to question the whole set up of one person having that much power over another person,” she says.
As Schaef pulled away from traditional psychology, she delved into researching other methods of healing, went on to become one of the crusaders of feminist therapy, and began to develop her own way of healing called Living in Process, which is an ongoing, growing, changing, healing work. “I had a broad background, and when I put all of those things together with my own training from my great grandmother, who was Cherokee, I came up with my own way of working with people,” she says.
Living in Process works with recovery from the addictive process, moving beyond to wholeness of body, mind, and spirit. For the last 20 years, Schaef has worked intensively with people throughout the world facing both ingestive addictions, such as alcohol, food and drugs, and process addictions, such as work, gambling, sex, and relationships.
“As an addict, that disease will always be there. In fact, everybody in this culture has learned aspects of addiction. Our society itself breeds addiction and it demands addiction in order to be comfortable in it because we’ve created a society, which is not friendly to humans or animals or the planet. In order to tolerate what we’ve created, we’ve used addictions to take the edge off,” she says.
Schaef has published thirteen books, which have been translated in many languages and have been bestsellers throughout the world. Her books, Living in Process and Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science, discuss Living in Process in depth.
Schaef shared some insights into Living in Process with The Fix.
How did you become interested in helping those with addiction?
Almost by accident, when I was living in a household of women and our children. One of the women in the house was disruptive to the household and turned out to be an alcoholic. At that point, I realized I knew nothing about alcoholism. In my psychology training, I only had three hours on addiction yet I thought I knew something about it, but this woman and others I met made me realize I knew nothing and was ignorant in the field. I went ahead to dig in and learn everything I could about alcoholism. I started doing my own research on alcohol and other addictions and went on to be the first person to define ingestive addictions and process addictions.
One of the most significant shifts in my life was when I decided to go to an AA meeting to observe and take notes on why and how people get better like I was trained to do in traditional psychology. But it was when I got there I realized that I wasn’t going to learn about the effectiveness of the 12-step program unless I did it myself. So that’s what I did.
Is this the point when you started to develop Living in Process?
Yes. I shifted from a non-participatory observer and researcher to taking a participatory approach to life. This was very major. All my training in clinical psychology had been to pull back and observe.
During this time, I began to develop my own theories about psychology, which were very different than the prevailing theories of that time. In 1981, I came out with Women’s Reality: An Emerging Female System, and in that book I went beyond the individual feminism and began to look at systems, the way systems function, and how the white male system is a dominant system in which we live. I called the system that women are functioning in as the reactive female system, an artificial system that women and men created in order for women to survive in the male system. Later, when I was giving a lecture in Minnesota, the words came out of my mouth, ‘the white male system is the addictive system’ and all the characteristics and processes of addiction fit the white male system. What I mean is that our society is an addictive system, and the reactive female system is the co-dependent. The emerging female system could be equated with sobriety, but it’s a different system.
How would you explain Living in Process to someone who’s never heard of it?
It’s difficult. For the book I wrote on it, my editor asked me to define process and I had a hard time because defining it compromises it. I thought I should have been able to come up with a definition. Then I was talking to some Hawaiian friends—the Hawaiian culture is very process based—and literally they stepped back in disbelief at the idea that I’d have to explain process. Their response was that everything is in process. We are in process. As human beings, we’re a process. We are not a thing. We’re not going to make ourselves perfect and stay that way because we’re always moving and changing. Our cars and homes are a process; they’re always calling to us to fix something. Nature is a process; nothing is static in nature. I think one of the major problems that we’re having with understanding how to live in our universe as human beings is that we don’t know that everything is in process and a process.
The purpose of western science is to static your world so that it can be measured and controlled. This is based on a worldview and belief system that from my perspective is not true to the reality of our reality because everything is in process.
I found this quote from you to be very insightful. “In Process, we learn to own our lives and take responsibility for our own healing, recognizing that there are no external experts who can ‘heal’ us.” Can Living in Process be effective in combination with other forms of therapy and/or medications?
No. Therapy is ruining AA. What we’re hearing in AA today and in any 12-step program is a contamination with therapy concepts. Therapy comes out of a mechanistic, scientist model based on objectivity and manipulating variables and that the human is a machine. Western science is based on reductionism and empiricism, which means to understand something you reduce it to its most elemental form, observe it with eyes, ears and microscopes, and measure and control it so you can understand it. For instance, if you want to understand cat, you kill the cat, dissect the cat, and you study its brain, nerves and muscle system, and then you “know” the cat. However, another scientific model, which we haven’t named well yet, that the Native American people know and others like the Chinese culture practice, is you have to put the cat in its context and the cat has to be whole to understand it. This approach is related to the process in context. Living in Process and AA at its best, come from a process model.
How has your Native American heritage influenced Living in Process?
I didn’t find out that I was Cherokee until I was in my late-50s. I learned that when I was born in 1934, my family had made a decision not to claim their Cherokee heritage because I would have been sent off to a boarding school just for being an Indian. They decided to pass as white because they wanted me to get what they thought were the advantages of a white education. As far as I knew, we were white people. Despite that, I was raised as a Cherokee and treated like one in the family. Our family system had more equality. It was not based on a hierarchical system.
My great grandmother was very active in my life and about two years after I discovered I was Cherokee, I suddenly realized that my great grandmother was a medicine woman. People came to our home for healing. She taught me what was edible in the woods, what was for healing, and she had two shelves of herbs and medicines in our home, but I never made the connection. I can see looking back, how my DNA informed what I was interested in. At 7-years-old, I announced I was going to be a healer, yet I didn’t really know what that meant.
I was struck by the following quote from you. “Since we are spiritual beings, our solutions to our problems must come from our spiritual wholeness. All healing is based in our spiritual wholeness. The secret of living a whole life is accepting and being wholly who we are as full spiritual beings.” Can you explain what spirituality means to you?
It’s very different from religion. Religion takes spirituality and tries to concretize it with abstract beliefs and concepts. To me, spirituality is a living process. Spirituality is participation. I believe that participating in your life and all life is spirituality. Recently, I was standing outside and a group of Canadian Honkers flew by, but they were going the wrong direction, and I thought what’s wrong? I laughed about how I felt responsible for the direction the geese were flying, and how that was my just being codependent. Then I realized that if the geese are confused because of the climate and pollution that we’ve done to our planet, then indeed I am responsible. Participating in all my life and whatever is in front of me is spirituality. Read More “the fix”…