Existential Poems

Existential Poems

by Tom Greening
Lyrical reflections on psychotherapy.
Filed Under: Existential-Humanistic


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Managed Care

Provide, provide some balm to ease our pain, bestow on us an angel's healing grace, an ample dose of Camus or Coltrane, an antidote to stop our lemming's race.
What's covered and what claims will be denied? Lear's madness now infects the entire race. Prescribe a cure to save the old man's pride, dispense a drug to save us from disgrace.

What medicine will cool our feverish brow? What X-rays show us where our souls are cracked? What treatment plan will clearly tell us how to find at last the love we've always lacked?

Third party payors tightly hold the purse, and terror grips us in our restless sleep. Who knows what charges they will reimburse? Salvation on this earth does not come cheap.

Tight economic limits rule the day, the bureaucrats will ascertain the price of rescuing we sheep who've gone astray, and short-term therapy must now suffice.

Be generous, while you contain the cost—Life's harder than we ever realized. We're floundering, our ark is nearly lost—Be merciful, if that is authorized.


As I came into consciousness there was a war where millions died, and even when frail peace broke out life's anguish left me horrified.

I worked in mental hospitals, construction jobs and factories; I traveled where the war had been and contemplated tragedies.

Perplexed by what I'd seen of life, appalled by so much misery, I sought to understand the cause and thought I'd try psychology.

I hoped I'd find some people there who cared about the human soul, but learned instead it was our job to do "prediction and control."

And sure enough, some governments have found psychologists can aid in customizing torture skills, a job for which they're amply paid.

Not all psychology, thank God, is used for purposes so cruel, but much of what it's all about is tailored to a basic rule:

Whatever does in fact exist exists in some precise amount, and so our task is to devise precision tools with which to count.

Away with fuzzy-minded thought, away with sloppy sentiment—Pure science is the one true faith; the goal of life is measurement.

Do I belong in such a field? Can such a field put up with me? When questions such as these grow grim for refuge I try poetry.

Empirically Validated Psychotherapy

What works in psychotherapy? That's far beyond the likes of me. I've only practiced fifty years, and still am plagued by doubts and fears.

I muddle on and try my best to aid my clients in their quest for ways of being more alive, somehow in spite of all to thrive.

I wish I knew the right technique to give them more of what they seek. The mystery of change persists unsolved by dogged scientists.

I hope that they will soon impart quick ways to heal a broken heart. My efforts stagger, balk, and lurch unguided by precise research to tell me how to ease life's pains, and thus flawed intuition reigns.

Pray science soon will guarantee sure cures for human misery, but meanwhile I'll do what I can without a validated plan.


"You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." — Ray Bradbury
Never having bravely jumped, I must admit that I am stumped. I don't know how to build a wing and am afraid of everything. I'd panic, shriek, and tremble if I found myself atop a cliff. I'd quiver, quake, and quickly run, 'cause that's not my idea of fun. At least I do not make a fuss like that pretentious Icarus. I'm cowardly confessing that I live my life down where it's flat, admitting with a mournful sigh, I'm terrified of getting high.

Copyright © 2006 Tom Greening
Tom Greening Tom Greening has been in private practice since 1958 and completed 35 years of editing the Journal of Humanistic Psychology in 2005. He is a professor at Saybrook Graduate School and a clinical professor at UCLA. He writes serious and comical poems, but can't always tell which are which. Although he purports to be a self-actualized existential-humanistic psychologist, he is neurotically involved with a long-haired dachshund. His website is at: www.tom.greening.com.