How I became a Futures Therapist.
Posted August 24, 2009
I have the world's best job. I'm a Futures Therapist. It's my job to help men, women, and children learn to live well in the world of the future. Really, there is no single future we are moving towards, but a number of possible futures. Most therapists are trying to help people to adapt to a world that no longer exists. Since the profession of Futures Therapist may be new to you, let me explain how I got it into it and how you can too.
In 1965 I graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara and was on my way to U.C. San Francisco School of Medicine. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a doctor, but it seemed like the most impressive calling to have and my educated, Jewish, relatives thought that having a doctor in the family would be wonderful.
That summer I chanced on an article in Horizon Magazine by Alvin Toffler. In it he coined the term "future shock" to describe the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time. The article didn't impress me. As a 21 year-old graduate on my way to medical school, moving to a new town, engaged to be married, I thought change was wonderful, the more the better.
I started medical school in September. I was immediately overwhelmed, frightened, and disoriented; so much to memorize, so many people to deal with. I didn't sleep for two weeks, decided medicine wasn't for me, walked out of my anatomy class, and told the dean I was dropping out.
Then, as now, getting into medical school was not easy. I had worked my butt off in college to get the grades that would enable me to get into a good medical school and to get a 4-year, full-tuition scholarship. When I told them I was giving back my scholarship and dropping out (remember I hadn't slept in two weeks and was slightly psychotic, but looked relatively normal), they still concluded I must be slightly off my rocker. I had to see a psychiatrist before they would allow me to leave.
They allowed (had my replacement contacted within hours of my leaving) and I left. But walking down the hill from the heights of Parnassus Avenue into Golden Gate Park, I realized that if I wasn't in school I would likely to be drafted. This, remember, was 1965 and the Viet Nam War was heating up. I was opposed to the war even then, didn't believe that wars solved problems, and this war certainly didn't.
Thinking quickly, I reversed field quite literally, walked back up the hill and went back to see the dean of the medical school. When I walked into his office, he turned pale. I suspect he was afraid I wanted him to take me back. He seemed relieved when I told him I had decided I wanted to go into social work and needed his help getting into U.C. Berkeley.
Two days later I was enrolled in the School of Social Welfare, told my stunned parents and fiancé that I wasn't going to be a doctor, I was going to be a social worker, got an apartment on Wheeler Avenue in Berkeley, got a job (actually a number of jobs) to support myself in school, and began classes. I got married the next year and my wife joined me in Berkeley. We moved into married student housing, got involved in the anti-war protests, and joined the Synanon game players when they came to campus (a story for another time). We graduated in 1968 and our son, Jemal, was born in 1969. When Alvin Toffler's book, Future Shock, showed up at Cody's bookstore in 1970, I was ready for it—boy was I ready for it.
Future Shock: The New Dis-Ease of Our Time
I still have my original copy, though it's falling apart. Most pages are covered with little stars with underlines to remind me of important things to remember. It was a mind-blowing book for me (I must admit that even as a 60s activist in Berkeley, books were much more dazzling, exciting, and mind expanding than any drugs that were available).
The first line in the introduction grabbed me immediately and has held on to me for nearly 40 years. "This is a book about what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change. It is about the ways in which we adapt—or fail to adapt—to the future." Between 1965, when I graduated college and 1970, the future had kicked my butt and slammed me upside of the head. I was disoriented, stunned, and wondered how I was going to survive what was heading my way.
As I devoured Future Shock the seeds of my new profession began to emerge. "First, it became clear," says Toffler, "that future shock is no longer a distantly potential danger, but a real sickness from which increasingly large numbers already suffer. This psycho-biological condition can be described in medical psychiatric terms." I certainly didn't learn about future shock during my brief stay in medical school, nor at U.C. Berkeley.
I was sure that these issues would attract the attention of scholars all over the world and there would soon be schools offering degrees in futures studies and there would be Futures Therapists hanging out their shingles in every town on the planet. The World Future Society, was founded in 1966 for people interested in how social and technological developments are shaping the future. Their magazine The Futurist began publication shortly thereafter. But the profession of Futures Therapist hasn't yet caught on.
Futures Therapist: A Profession Whose Time Has Come
If you were around then, think back to the world between 1965 and 1970 that Toffler described in his book. Now think of the world today. Have things slowed down? Do people seem less stressed? Are humans more in balance with themselves, each other, and the natural world?
Here was the warning Toffler issued in 1970. "In the three short decades between now and the twenty-first century, millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future. It may well be the most important disease of tomorrow." Clearly tomorrow has arrived, yet where are the Futures Therapists to help the millions, perhaps billions, of people cope with increasing rate of change we are experiencing?
When I read Toffler in 1970 I was sure the medical and psychological professions, of which I was now a member, would take note and respond. As Toffler told us, "Future shock will not be found in Index Medicus or in any listing of psychological abnormalities. Yet unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it, millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments. The malaise, mass neurosis, irrationality, and free-floating violence already apparent in contemporary life are merely a foretaste of what may lie ahead unless we come to understand and treat this disease."
Most psychotherapists today are treating "diseases" such as the following:
- Major depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Panic disorder
- Anxiety disorder
- Attention deficit disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Substance dependence disorder
Increasingly, the profession is treating these disorders with drugs. In his book, Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation, Charles Barber says, "American doctors dispense approximately 230 million antidepressant prescriptions every year." And that's just one class of drugs, in one country. Are we really treating the right problem with the right regimen? I don't think so. Could all the symptoms we are experiencing be better understood as Future Shock and better treated by Futures Therapists than Medications Therapists? I do think so.
Futures Therapist Course of Study: A Modest Proposal
Most writers are avid readers and I'm no exception. However, my book shelf space is limited so I'm always giving away my books or donating them to the local library for their annual book sale. The books I keep over the years are ones that I find I go back to again and again. For those who would like to consider the profession of Futures Therapist, I offer the following reading list:
- Baker, Carolyn. Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilizations Collapse.
- Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male & Female Brain.
- Buss, David M. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating.
- DeMeo, James. Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression,
- Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World.
- Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
- Diamond, Jed. The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Aggression and Depression.
- Eisler, Riane. The Chalice & the Blade: Our History, Our Future.
- Gilligan, James. Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes.
- Gilmore, David D. Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity.
- Glendinning, Chellis. My Name is Chellis & I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization.
- Hanh, Thich Nhat. True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart.
- Heinberg, Richard. Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines.
- Hillman. James. The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling.
- Hoffman, Edward. The Right to Be Human: A Biography of Abraham Maslow.
- Homer-Dixon, Thomas. The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and The Renewal of Civilization.
- Hopkins, Rob. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience.
- Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind: Memoir of Moods and Madness.
- Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
- Korten, David C. The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.
- Maisel, Eric. The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression.
- Mander, Jerry. In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations.
- Orlov, Dmitry: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects.
- Petersen, John L. A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change.
- Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael.
- Satir, Virginia. Peoplemaking.
- Schmookler, Andrew Bard. Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds That Drive Us to War.
- Shepard, Paul. Coming Home to the Pleistocene.
- Stewart, William B. Deep Medicine.
- The Institute for Psychohistory. The Journal of Psychohistory.
- Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock.
- Vaillant, George E. Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life From the landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development.
- Van der Post, Laurens. A Story Like the Wind.
- Vincent, Norah. Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again.
- World Future Society. The Futurist (journal).
For me, being a Futures Therapist is the world's best job. Every day I can counsel people on issues that really matter. I'm able to combine personal, interpersonal, community, and planetary healing. The world of the future has the potential to be truly wonderful. There seem to be two forces contending in the world today. One force is trying to hold us to the past, keeping us tied to a way of life that is not in balance with nature and is destructive to life. Another force is pulling us towards the future, to a world where humans live as part of nature and change comes at the speed of life, not at the frantic speed of chaotic destruction. We have a charge, in our lifetimes, to create a world that works for all living things.
If you are a Futures Therapist or are thinking of becoming one, drop a note and tell me about your interests. What books would you add to the list?
Jed Diamond is director of MenAlive, a program dedicated to healing men and the women who love them. He is the author of 7 books including Male Menopause and The Irritable Male Syndrome. For more information, or to sign up for his newsletter, visit MenAlive.com.