Words Against the Void: Poems by an Existential Psychologist

Words Against the Void: Poems by an Existential Psychologist

by Tom Greening
Humorous yet profound musings on psychotherapy and the human condition, excerpted from his recent book, Words Against the Void.
Filed Under: Existential-Humanistic


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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.


Just reacting? Freely striving?
Blindly driven? Wisely driving? Who's the rider? Who's the horse? 
Who's in charge? Who charts the course? 
Sort your data, choose your theory, 
Argue concepts 'til you're weary.
Psychologize until you die—
While we argue, life goes by.


Most of your waking life
will be spent, one way or another,
worrying about your worth as a person.
Why don't you just make something up,
and right off the bat
be done with the whole problem?
There must be better things to do 
than fret about your relative merit

in the universe.
You could, for example,
blow clouds around the sky
to the delight of small children.


The recent Decade of the Brain
I found was much too great a strain.
It burned mine out, and I am left
quite mindless and of hope bereft.
Now comes the Decade of the Gene,
a slogan that I find obscene.
I wish there were some persons still
who'd help me my frail dreams fulfill.
We need a Decade of the Dream
in which bright rays of hope would beam
down on our sordid human plight
and fill us with some healing light


This rock, this mountain, this man,
this futile perseverance—
what use is such a myth?
Sisyphus gets nowhere,
gravity always wins.
Go ahead, if you wish—
imagine him happy
with or without anti-depressants.
You might as well imagine
the rock is ecstatic
bouncing down the slope, defiant.
So is this struggle any use to us?
We are in it, and outside it.
We view it, and have attitudes.
We are not rocks, not mountains,
not sure we are Sisyphus.
We read the story,
see him sweat,
dodge the rock,
respect the mountain,
climb up to stand on Sisyphus's shoulders
and peer beyond, beyond.

You can read more of Tom's poems in his book, Words Against the Void: Poems by an Existential Psychologist, available at Amazon.com.

Copyright © 2008 Universities of the Rockies Press.
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.