Who is this man James Bugental? Interview with Myrtle Heery, Part II

The following is the second of a four-part interview with Myrtle Heery, Ph.D., Director of International Institute of Humanistic Studies, I.I.H.S., (www.human-studies.com) located in Petaluma, California. 

The Institute provides trainings in the Existential-Humanistic model of psychology and psychotherapy, based on the teachings of James F. T. Bugental, Ph.D., author and professor emeritus to I. I. H. S. 

[Note: This interview was done about a month before Jim Bugental died peacefully in his sleep, at home with his family.]

Interviewer: What about Jim Bugental. Is he a religious person?


Myrtle Heery: That is a good question! He is my mentor, and has been for many years. We have had many discussions about religion and spirituality.

His belief is that if you want to define your living in the moment as your spirituality, and being present to that moment, then he would be in agreement that that is spirituality. But to go into any other dimension of what is going to happen after you die, for example, that you might be reincarnated, he will certainly respect another’s belief but would in general say, “I don’t know about that.”

I: What attracted you, personally, to the existential-humanistic approach?

MH: Initially, I was too far out in a spiritual realm of what’s going to happen after you are dead. I was into meditation and all of the wonderful spiritual subjective experiences of meditation but not grounded on this earth. The Existential-Humanistic model pulled me down into living in the ‘here and now’ in the present tense, which I sorely needed for balance.

And I still do hold many of the spiritual beliefs of being able to travel in different realms of consciousness. I do believe that we are on a cycle of reincarnation. And I hold of highest is to live here, in the here-and-now in the present moment with all of your potential.

So that’s what drew me to Existential-Humanism is a grounding in my spirituality in the present moment.

I: You have worked with Jim Bugental for many decades. Can you tell us some of the high points or how it has worked for you? That is a long mentoring process!

MH: Yes, it has been. I think we started in about 1983 and we are now in 2008. Jim had a stroke in the early 2000s. The stroke has impacted his capacity to remember. He no longer teaches or writes. But I am still taught by him. I visit him about every 14 days, and still learn from him.

What am I learning from him? I am learning to be in the present moment. In our mentoring relationship, one of the big landmarks for me was how much he accepted who I was and where I was when I first came to him.

When I first came to him I was trying to impress him about what a good therapist I was. He let me do that. He kept telling me that I certainly was a good therapist, so why would I need to come to him for supervision? He did a lot of paradoxical teaching.

I recognized that I had a lot to learn and I still have a lot to learn.

He always greets me with, “So what are we going to teach each other today?”

I also learned a tremendous amount of humility about teaching. That it is not a ‘one upsmanship’ but rather one human authentically being with another. This concept of authenticity means being vulnerable to how the person in front of you is actually affecting you

That’s been the longest consistent teaching I’ve had from him. That joining in the learning process is essential to learning, to growing.

I: So you both learned from each other, then.

MH: Absolutely!

Right now the most dominant teaching I am having from him is about aging. I watch his process of aging and making decisions about myself. These are not easy decisions to make. If I live long enough I will face what he is facing. loss of mobility, loss of memory, and the losses will continue. I see myself in him in this process of aging and am grateful for this opportunity to see how I might want to approach my elder years.

In addition to teaching psychotherapy through Unearthing the Moment, our institute teaches about aging and all the choices we each face as we age. My husband and I are fully engaged in making some of these decisions now.

I: And that makes a lot of sense. To do that planning while you can.

MH: Exactly. Long before the stroke comes.

It’s been wonderful to have this opportunity to see aging and make decisions.

I also had the wonderful opportunity during those years when Jim was very cognizant, of being able to write chapters with him, to edit books that he was writing, and to be encouraged by him to write. As a result, I have written more and taught more. I have taught with him under a wide variety of conditions. And I had the opportunity to teach in Russia on several occasions.

Jim has been a great mentor not only in the present tense but also in seeking out opportunities to help me move further and teach this work in a lot of different venues.

See related posts on Interview with Myrtle Heery

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