In the 1990’s, music producer Rick Rubin approached Johnny Cash to encourage the singer to record with him. The approach was unusual as Rubin largely worked with rap and heavy metal musicians. Cash’s music was closer to country. Cash was also not the musical force he had been in the middle years of the 20th Century. Rubin believed he saw something in Cash that the singer did not see himself. He set about bringing that aspect of Cash to life.
The cover of the song Hurt, first recorded by the band Nine Inch Nails, is an example of what the Rubin/ Cash partnership produced.
In a recent interview with the Canadian writer, Malcolm Gladwell, Rubin said when working with Cash, he was forced to choose between Cash the man and Cash the myth. Rubin was referring to the Man in Black persona Cash had nurtured over his musical career by performing live at the notorious San Quentin Prison and releasing songs like Folsom Prison Blues (which includes the lyrics, But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die). Rubin said that he always picked Cash the myth. A surprised Gladwell had expected Rubin to say the opposite. I must admit to being in the same boat.
There is a strong belief in our society that real creativity comes from our true selves. When we create from who we really are, we express something authentic that touches people. If our creativity comes from a fictional self, we will come across as inauthentic and the audience will experience us as hollow. Rick Rubin then comes along and tells us the opposite.
This got me thinking about my own profession. To what degree do psychotherapists work from their true selves and to what degree do we work from a particular construct of ourselves.
The answer is as obvious as it is surprising. Patients don’t need a therapist to be real in the sense of knowing the therapist’s anxieties, frustrations, loves and passions. They need a therapist who gives selflessly over to the psychotherapeutic process. The therapist has to play the role that fits the work.
This situation leaves the therapist in an interesting position. For the therapy to work, there has to be a genuine meeting between therapist and patient. An inauthentic connection will jar, like an automated voice telling you, “Your custom is important to us,” as you wait on the phone for a person to answer your request. It is the job of the therapist to be real in a constructed role. How do you do that?
The answer lies with Rubin and Cash. The strange thing about giving over to the role is that we find more of ourselves. In engaging with the Man in Black, Rubin helped Cash to develop an aspect of himself that would have remained dormant if he had engaged with Cash the man. The Cash who sings Hurt isnot the same person who sang Walk the Line.
In developing the Man in Black, Cash discovers more of himself. In developing himself, Cash discovers more of the Man in Black.
The same principle applies to the psychotherapist. In committing to the psychotherapeutic role, by turning up day after day and acting in the predictable manner demanded by the process, the therapist learns more about themselves, more about the patient and more about psychotherapy. It is one of the most sustaining aspects of the work. In fact, without this ongoing exploration of how to be more of yourself within the professional construct, I can’t see how a psychotherapist can do their job. They would become stale or burn out.
It was the myth of the Man in Black that made Cash the man. It is the role of the psychotherapist that makes the therapist.