Now that the Japanese are showing the world how to make cars, build tankers, forge steel, manage large industries and distill top quality Scotch whiskey, prepare for the latest example of Japanese ingenuity--Morita Therapy, a new and potentially revolutionary method of treating neuroses. Certifiably Japanese, stunningly original in relation to Freudian therapy, Morita Therapy has already spread across East Asia and now has a beach head in Southern California and in Hawaii.
Morita Therapy carries the name of Shoma Morita, a Japanese physician and psychiatrist who studied in Vienna before World War I. When Morita returned to Japan, he realized that Freudian therapy might have limited application there because of the traditional Japanese emphasis on social interaction rather than deep introspection. By trial and error, he developed his own therapy especially for highly social and un-self-aware people.
Morita believed that most neuroses were the result of excessive attention focused inward instead of outward. Taking a very large leaf from the Zen writings, he postulated that if the patient could direct his attention away from his neurosis rather than toward it, he would feel better. He also believed that for most neurotic patients (Morita Therapy does not work with severely psychotic patients) the struggle against neurosis was far more stressful than accepting the neurosis and going on with life.
That led Morita to an even more basic conclusion: most patients should be considered cured not if they are free of neurotic symptoms--as Freud would have said-- but rather if they can live their lives fully with their neurotic symptoms.
Morita found that he could talk to his patients endlessly and encourage them to have insight breakthroughs. But he decided it was mostly useless, because insight breakthroughs often did not occur, and even when they did, they simply made the patient more self-obsessed, which was the worst part of a patient's problem anyway. But by directing attention outward, relief was sometimes at hand.
Morita developed a course of hospital treatment for neurotics that was wildly different from Freudian conversation. First, he had his patients stay in bed for one week without any visitors or distractions. This supposedly taught the patient that a) the endless self-obsession generated by being alone was extremely boring and b) even if he felt anxious or depressed, he would not die from the feeling. The enforced bed rest also made the patients eager to get out of bed.
Morita then had his patients work out of doors for two weeks, going from light to heavy labor, staying outside even in bad weather. The patients were forbidden to discuss their problems among themselves and were allowed only to talk about their work. This part of the treatment was to encourage patients to lose themselves in work, to see the distracting beauty in nature, to see that life went on despite their problems, and to show them that they could get things done even without losing their neuroses.
Finally, the patients were brought into long group sessions in which they also were forbidden to talk about their problems. They could only talk about what they had accomplished that day. This was to convince the patients that conversation about accomplishments was preferable to dwelling on their anxieties.
Then the patients went back to their homes, allegedly cured in overwhelming numbers. The treatment caught on at once in Japan and has never stopped growing.
Morita likened the life of a neurotic to a flowing river in the middle of which are huge boulders. If the river tried to dislodge the boulders, it would never succeed and would only waste its strength. If the river flowed around the rocks, it would move happily to the sea. The human being should emulate the river, Morita said, and coexist with his neuroses rather than fight against them.
So far, Morita is by no means a major factor in psychotherapy even in Southern California, where the novel is often considered the best. It is making its inroads in combination with Freudian treatment. Moritism's emphasis on allowing the patient to see that his anxieties do not kill him has become a widespread part of "classic" practice now, according to Dr. Paul Hyman, a psychoanalyst who follows Moritism, whether acknowledged as to source or not.
However, it is early in the game. Westerners have only become aware of Morita Therapy in any significant way in the last 10 years. And it may well be that Morita Therapy, like the Toyota or Sushi, is right for our times for several reasons.
First, Morita Therapy is a self-confident therapy. It does not suffer from the self- doubts that afflict classic Freudian therapy. Its adherents claim without a wink that their "cure" rate for moderate affective disorders is 90 percent after four weeks' treatment. Moreover, the patient need not gamble years of his life and tens of thousands of dollars to find out if Morita therapy works for him. He need only spend four weeks. If he is not feeling better-- "cured" in the Moritist sense--bang, that's it. He can feel free to try something else.
Morita therapy may also be appropriate for a nation in which concentration has become a disappearing skill. The therapy tells the patient not to worry about straining to reach back into his past to uncover inner conflicts. Just do what we tell you to do, says Morita therapy, and you will be cured. Don't brood about your fears and anxieties, it says. Get through the day and you're well.
It may turn out that Morita therapy is unsuited to the Western mind, or that Freudian therapy is already irrevocably in control. But 25 years ago, American TV manufacturers said that Sony was a joke and American steel makers did not even think about Japan. More to the point, 25 years ago Americans had never heard of Sushi or Theory Z. Shoma Morita may yet put Sigmund Freud on guard.