Review by Roger Schwarz, LMFT, JD for the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of The Therapist (a publication of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists)
The Sacred Path: The Way of The Spiritual Warrior by Stephen J. Johnson, Ph.D., MFT
The men’s movement is dead; long live the men’s movement. With his book The Sacred Path, The Way of the Spiritual Warrior, Stephen J. Johnson has brought fresh attention to this initiative, born in the eighties but shamed into obscurity by a media that ridiculed the movement rather than report the transformations of its beneficiaries.
His timing couldn’t be better since the embers he seeks to fan are being doused these days by a tsunami of media that proclaim the end of men. That was the title of an Atlantic magazine article in 2010 reporting that three American women now receive college degrees for every two men and asked whether our postindustrial society is better suited to women.
While the book’s themes will ring familiar to movement followers, Johnson’s work stands out for its mix of schema men need to internalize and poignant stories that will remind you of your own family and those of your clients. They are garnered primarily from Johnson’s pioneering of the first sacred path men’s retreats in 1987 and founding in 1988 of The Men’s Center of Los Angeles where hundreds of men have shared their minds, hearts and souls. Johnson tells his own painful, inspiring and encouraging story, complete with a surprise ending about his famous mother, none other than the poster girl for the WWII campaign to mobilize Americans for the war effort.
This book is important since most psychotherapists have not had specialized training on men’s issues. That means their only frame of reference, life experience, may have been saturated with men caught “in the chain of dysfunction that has dragged them down for generations – father absences, addictions, bad behaviors, infidelities, raging, irresponsibility, crime, sex and intimacy problems, immaturity and a general confusion about what it even means to be a grown-up.” Individual and couple therapy for these men is indispensable for those wise enough to realize they have more capacity to change their lives than they thought. Johnson makes a good case for augmenting those modalities with men’s group work or participation in the kind of men’s retreats still provided by Johnson and a handful of other pioneers.
Part I, The Spiritual Warrior’s Journey, catalogues the symptoms of men gone adrift and fingers a “father gap” as the likely suspect. It encompasses many Dads ill equipped by their own fathers for the daunting responsibility of fathering their sons and daughters. Emotionally absent Dads are the most insidious since their silence in the face of the need to connect deeply with their children can be the hardest to notice until it’s too late. Men so raised are vulnerable to dangerous relationships with archetypal women such as the Damsel in Distress, The Drama Queen or The Seductress. Part I rounds out with clear prescriptions for developing deeper relationships with other men, becoming the father men wished for, and guidance for mentoring younger men.
Part II, A Return to Chivalry, revives an anachronistic term to underscore the enduring importance of fundamental values traditionally associated with men, like self-discipline, valor and honor, on which men still pride themselves.
Part III, Spiritual Warriors in the World, shows how empowering psychotherapy can be when its spiritual component is integrated. Johnson describes his own spiritual journey and the psychotherapeutic tools he learned along the way. The tools include mindfulness meditation not only for remaining in the moment but also to romance the male shadow characters that men will have to contend with long after therapy has terminated.
Assign exercises contained in Johnson’s comprehensive Appendix to enhance your effectiveness in reaching men quickly and effectively. Go to SacredPathPress.com for further information and easy ordering of the book.
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Review by Bruce Derman, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist
As printed in the Annals of Pschotherapy & Integrative Health
There have been many books written about men from a slanted perspective, such as Men Who Can’t Love by Steven Carter, Men Who Hate women and the Women Who Love Them by Susan Forward, The Verbally Abusive Man by Patricia Evans, and When You love A Man Who Loves Himself by Keith Campbell. All of these descriptions serve to create a distorted picture of men and ultimately feed the negativity that occurs in relationships between the sexes.
In contrast, The Sacred Path allows the reader to understand men without judgment and stereotype biases, as it paints an authentic and honest picture of men on several levels. Any woman reading this book will gain an appreciation of the man or men in her life. It is very reader-friendly and it is not filled with jargon. Dr. Johnson weaves his depiction of men while also revealing his own personal journey, so that you walk away with an understanding of how he comes to his beliefs. This work is based on his 25 years of running workshop retreats for men, as well as working with men and women in his private practice of over 40 years.
Dr. Johnson’s central premise is that there is a true crisis in fathering in this country that has left many men emotionally crippled and relationships torn apart. This has resulted in a powerful Father Gap and a deep emotional wound that manifests in many destructive behavior patterns. He states that the father gap occurs when a father figure is over-bearing or is withdrawn or absent. This leads men to grow up incomplete and ill equipped to be men, as they attempt to fill the gap with a number of substitutes such as food, alcohol, drugs, work, and sex.
I was impressed with how Dr. Johnson, throughout the book, was able to emotionally and mentally tune into this gap and guide many different kinds of men to create a solid foundation on which to build a more substance-based life. At all times he deeply respects the integrity and vulnerability of all the men he encounters.
What was especially impressive was his chapter on Why Men Fall for Dangerous Relationships. If a man reads only this chapter, this book will be well worth it. It took great courage for him to write such a chapter, as evidenced by the fact that you won’t find this mentioned elsewhere. You will only find authors who focus on women meeting dangerous men. He mentions seven types of men who are most vulnerable to dangerous relationships, from the naïve man, the adrenaline driven man, the man in midlife, the man filled with longing, the narcissist, the man who craves power and success, and the sexually addicted man.
In completing the picture, he lists seven types of women who collude in a man’s downfall and match up with a man’s vulnerability. I like that he makes no judgment of either gender, just the importance of exposing the matching dance. As someone who works with men after their fall, an understanding of this dynamic can go a long way toward helping men avoid damaging their lives. He has a chapter later in the book offering the antidote to dangerous relationships titled Finding and Renewing Your True Love.
Rather than offering some simplistic success formula, he challenges men to raise the bar in their lives, so that they can be the father and husband that they want to be, as well as doing the work that reflects their love and passion. In support of this path, he invites men to develop six qualities that go beyond the money, sex, and power values that are conditioned into us from birth. The six challenges are: self-discipline, positive intentionality, valor(not running away from fear), honor, compassion, and joy.
Dr. Johnson includes a chapter on Mindful Manhood in which he highlights seven of the practices that can expand one’s state of mindfulness including: non-resistance, refraining, patience, stillness, solitude, discernment and light-heartedness. He concludes this compelling book with a chapter on Aging, Elderhood and Completion, suggesting a path for traversing the journey through the latter years of your life while fulfilling your destiny and leaving a viable legacy. Once again he threads in touching personal stories that elicit a chuckle and perhaps a tear or two.
All of these qualities and practices will serve men and women who read this book, offering a model of real manhood as distinct from false masculinity. This is not just based on a premise. After all, we learn most through modeling, and Dr. Johnson provides that in the stories he illustrates and in the way he reveals his own journey into manhood.
This is essential reading for any man who feels an emptiness and superficiality in his life, and feels that he is constantly driven by insatiable quests. And, this is a welcome read for women wanting to have a deeper understanding of men and who can benefit from a roadmap guiding a smoother way along the often bumpy relationship journey.
Actor, Director LeVar Burton wrote the Foreward and can be seen speaking about the book in the book trailer. Visit www.SacredPathPress.com to view the trailer, learn more about the author and order your copy of The Sacred Path.
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