Some of the people and ideas that influenced Havens’s approaches to thinking and working. Quotes by Leston Havens MD

William Pitt- 1st Earl of Chatham Political Leader of Britain during the Seven Years War

My father was an Anglophile. He was a wonderful speaker, a great speaker, and when I was a little boy he read me a book called British Eloquence that was speeches given in the House of Commons. William Pitt, all these famous English orators I grew up with them.

Samuel Johnson- British poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor

I only found out later that those speeches were never written by statesman. Dr Johnson was the court reporter. He wrote them all.


I was an anti-fascist. I wanted to be a tank commander so I could kill Hitler. I used to read International affairs. I was very involved. At Williams College there were a number of teachers who were very aware of the need for America to become involved.

Sigmund Freud – Neurologist, Founder of Psychoanalysis

“Psychoanalysis in the future will not be Freud. There must not be loyalty to one great figure. This is what has happened, however. Psychoanalysis has been pushed in a very theoretical direction as opposed to a clinical, healing, pragmatic one. It is as if physics stopped with Newton and Einstein and no thought was given to practical engineering.” (The Future of Psychoanalysis, LL Havens 2004)


The church was a presence (in my life) particularly a presence when I went off to boarding school, because every Sunday we were preached to, and I heard some of the great preacher in American history. They would come to school, extraordinary people. In Cambridge at Memorial Church there was a preacher there, who is the greatest preacher I ever heard. (Peter Gomes)

Paul Tillich- German-American Christian Existentialist Philosopher and Theologian.

I met Tillich when I was in college and heard him speak a number of times. I didn’t like him as a person, but it related to my interest in philosophy. He could talk about very important things in an extremely interesting way and again I always felt there must be something to it, something I can learn.
I think a part of religious impulse is similar to what one does in medical and psychotherapeutic work, in the sense you are bringing people into something they may know about or they many not feel in themselves or they many not be able to believe in. It is sort of the sense of something behind things that one would like to be in touch with. We work in the dark and we do a little better if we have help in the dark.

Harold Wolff- Professor of Medicine and Chief Neurologist at New York Hospital

When I was a resident intern in medicine, I had a teacher a famous neurologist, Harold Wolff, and he told me something that at the time very much puzzled me. He told me that once upon a time neurology was like psychiatry still is, everything that you thought you knew you got from asking the patient. The patient’s reports were central. Now here I learned from Freud that you couldn’t trust people’s reports, you had to do something else like free associations if you were going to get anywhere at all. So how were we going to transcend this abject dependence on reports? What had happened in neurology was that they introduced the testing of reflexes and then afterwards testing sensory distribution, and that served as a framework. It allowed you to test out the limitation of pathology, and also allowed you to get a sense of a person’s health. Because it was dawning on me that psychiatry and psychoanalysis – not Freud originally but his followers — never talked about health. And one of the great things that drew me to existential work was that existentialists were very careful not to make pathological pronouncements. So here I was saying ”Look, if we want to do this carefully we have to find a way to delimit illness and we don ‘t have the testing procedures,” and for a little while I was a cardiologist, for six months, and it was an extraordinary experience because in those days we didn’t have the apparatus we have now and the way you decide how big someone’s heart was by percussion. You tapped it out on their chest and one of the things I gradually developed was the notion that you should be able to tap at it psychologically because here you are laying on hands. So my interest was intellectual, then it became sort of operational and scientific I suppose in a sense and then something happened and it was involved in my writing and supporting myself too. It gave me something to write about which was very interesting too. It didn’t have much effect on anybody else!

Elvin V. Semrad, MD

Semrad was the Clinical Director of Mass Mental Health Center. He did a great deal of psychoanalysis. He had been a very shy boy, Czech, ethnic, Nebraskan with very little confidence in himself and he really submerged himself in the analytic talk. But I was his student and colleague for 16 years so I had many chances to watch him work, and it was obvious that he did not work like the analysts. So I figured out what he did. It was in the Existential tradition, the tradition of Carl Rogers. I wrote some things, not directly about Semrad but influenced by him, in trying to make more systematic how you talk in existential language, the whole concept of empathic language that Rogers had begun but hadn’t gotten very far with

Emily Dickinson and Ernst Cassirer

Dickinson was a profound person because, and I learned this from Ernst Cassirer too, I finally got it through my head that the main thing that distinguishes human mental life is the creation of ideas and images that we put between ourselves and the world. That means that everything that we think we know is only the faintest approximations of whatever reality there is. I learned that from Kant that there is a world behind the world of phenomena. I think it is best represented in American thought by Emily Dickinson, the whole notion that the poet and the artist and perhaps the scientist in a certain sense aims at the uncategorizable. In the work with patients one is trying to discover what for them is closer to the reality that they might e able to make use of and in corporate in creating an existence that is closer to them.

Percy, Keller, Cassirer, Descartes, Mead

How do we know what to tell the patient? We have to experience them, like water falling on Keller’s hand. Then we can begin to recognize them. This, I believe, is a large part of what we mean by existential work. Instead of Descartes “I think therefore I am” is Percy’s meaning “We symbolize one another and therefore we are”? Complete PDF

Joseph Conrad and Charles Darwin

I read Joseph Conrad like people used to read the Bible, two or three pages a day because he has such a sense of psychological reality. It’s like having someone who is so sure-footed in terms of the real psychological world that its’ like being led by the hand. One of my favorite descriptions of it (the presence of people) is in Conrad, where he says something like “a sigh, a smile, that link us all together on the human ground, the dead, the living”, something like that the sense that you have been present with somebody in something that they have felt and experienced and hopefully moved through. I am giving a talk on “When Do Theories Help or Hinder Us?” My beloved Conrad says that “theories are the dead lying tombstones of past truth”. Darwin says, “No fact is of any use without a theory”

J. L. Austin (John Langshaw Austin) – British philosopher of Language

There is a famous book by Austin called, How To Do Things With Words. I read it once and didn’t understand it, and after I had finished the book on Sullivan I went back and read it and it helped me to do what we need to do. When the paranoid people were turned into relatively normal people they were also depressed. This was a common result of what I called counter-projection. This may possibly have been an experiment in psychoanalytic theory! Freud was saying you project something onto somebody else. I found a way to bring the projection back and what did Freud predict when it came back in? You should become depressed. One can do that regularly with people, produce depression out of paranoia. I think that is a big deal. It is part of my testing procedures. But Austin was the one who told me what to do about depression. I had been taught by Elvin Semrad that you should “mourn the loss” and that that would help. But with a lot people you can’t do it. You can’t get rid of the loss. There isn’t enough of the person to do the mourning. So how do create a person? In reading How To Do Things With Words I realized that we have the capacity to do that. Austin says that priests and rabbis who say “I pronounce you man and wife”, they are by reason of their position able to make you man and wife and maybe if an umpire throws you out of the ball game or whatever (that is the same). But we have the power to distinguish health from sickness and therefore to celebrate health. I mean, when I say to you, as an experienced person with other human beings, I can tell you that “you look pretty good”. The surgeon says, “You are going to be all right”. It’s the same way with this. So I can say to people “look here, you may think you are a piece of shit but I know what you are made of what you can be.

Suzanne Langer, Ernst Cassirer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein

I read a great deal of psychology and philosophy in college. I always read a great deal of literature. I have kept up with modern philosophy, for example, and people like Ernst Cassirer, who I think was the greatest describer of the symbolic events in human mentation, is hero of mine, as is his American representative, Suzanne Langer. I don’t pretend to understand Wittgenstein in great detail, but I have read him extensively and I have read the critiques. For me the philosophers are important because at their best they are psychologists. Nietzsche is a very strange person, very uneven, but he is an extraordinary psychologist.

Hadrian Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus

The Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar is remarkable. She says Hadrian was the greatest reconstructor of the Roman Empire. He really restored it after Nero and these other people had torn it apart. Her book is an imaginative evocation of what the mind of Hadrian was like, and it is written in the form of letters to Marcus Aurelius, who will be emperor two emperors down. I didn’t know for example when I read that book that the roman principle of succession was adoption. And he was adopted, Hadrian. He is speculating on what his particular gift was. He says he is not a would-be artist like Nero he is not a great criminal like Trajan his successor, although he was interested in art and had certainly done criminal things in the course of his work. But he thought his great quality was, and this what I love, that he dared to be both as free and as compliant as possible. I thought that was great. You can’t be free unless you are compliant otherwise you are constantly revolting against things. And you can’t really be compliant unless you are free to comply, too.

Donald Winnicott and Wilfred Bion

I find one of the hardest things to do in our work, is to be able to hold what is emotionally coming across and not to get frightened and run away and not offer advice not tell people what to do. That is a tremendous difficulty and a great thing to do, right?
There is talk about the fatherly and motherly, or feminine and masculine roles and aspects in therapists. I think all those things are important. I think of myself as a kind of androgynous character in a lot of ways and I rejoice in any access I have to all parts of myself. I mean, I mentioned Franklin Roosevelt being an important person. He was profoundly androgynous sensitive to his fingertips and at the same time with a kind what peoples masculine I don’t know if it is masculine. Golda Meir was to be the only man in the cabinet. So I don’t know what is male and what is female but I would like include many different aspects. But also a child, one needs to be a child for adults, because children often are the only people that can detect what is going on. One would like to be that as well, the child for the patient. Children often retain a much closer contact with reality of events than we do. So one would like to have that. Picasso said he spent his life learning to paint as he had learned as a child.


I have written a lot about technological things, and I am sometimes a little apologetic about it because it can get schematic and dead. On the other hand, one needs to learn how to do things. I talked about percussion and things of those kinds of medicine. There are certain kinds of ways you learn to listen and to talk that are useful to you. I think of our work as a lot more like engineering than basic science and I think you need to learn how to build a bridge. So I think they are both very important. In terms of the personal realm, I make a lot of the fact that the therapist has to have a certain weight. You have to be these as a person. You have to be identifiable. But they also can’t afford to take themselves seriously.

Gilbert K. Chesterton and Bishop Desmond Tutu

A dear friend sent me this quote from Chesterton, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”. About three or four days later by coincidence I went in to the Memorial Church in Harvard Yard because Desmond Tutu was speaking, the Desmond Tutu. I hadn’t known many people in my life who might be in history books, but there was Desmond Tutu and he was giving a talk. And I realized what the Chesterton thing meant. Next to him was a minister who preaches there (Gomes) who is a wonderful preacher but who takes himself seriously. He is a smaller man than Tutu but he looked weightier, while Tutu said, which I loved, in high-pitched Anglo English voice: “My wife says we must go back to South Africa immediately! She says you have won this Nobel thing, they have made you a bishop and now every time I wake up I feel like I have been sleeping with the Pope.” It came out of him in an unaffected kind of way. It was just a breathe of fresh air.

Albert Einstein- Science and Art

I mean, what is a science? Nowadays science means when you can do experiments. Science used to mean systematic knowledge. I think there is a certain amount of systematic knowledge. But art? There is a tremendous amount of science in art. People I know who have studied art carefully do it very scientifically. I find this two-culture thing uncomfortable. Einstein who originally believed you deduced everything from facts, ended up in the exactly opposite position. In his autobiography he says he first noticed what was wrong with Newtonian mechanics because when he tried to think about it there was a funny thing that happened in his body that twisted his body out of shape. He couldn’t put it together comfortably. And he said he spent 20 years trying to establish the differential equations that he felt in his body. Was that art or science?
I think therapy is both, and I wouldn’t want too much of either one. I wouldn’t want to have the patient think that I was a great painter who was painting their life. Science can be very megalomaniac too, but it can often be very respectful toward nature.

Lawrence Kubie-American Neurologist and Psychotherapist

I have met Kubie too, subsequently, and he wasn’t as bad as that paper (The destructive potential of humor in psychotherapy. The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 127(7), Jan 1970, 861-866).
Oh no, I think humor is terribly important. For one thing, you could call the capacity for humor in some ways as one of the greatest signs of health. I once designed a mental health status exam based entirely on jokes, on the assumption that if you got the jokes you had certain mental capacity. It wasn’t a bad device. Needless to say it was received unfavorably. Books are written about jokes, but they are not funny books. One of the things is that it can sometimes break up despair. They say the great clowns are all in despair. That is true, that one shifts one’s perspective a little, something becomes at least grimly humorous and very often jokes illuminate things extraordinarily. I often will quote what I think is one of the great illustrations of wit. The definition of wit as opposed to humor is that it seems to me that after you have said it you realize it is the only answer to a certain kind of problem. Gandhi was asked once what he thought of Western civilization, and he answered immediately, “ That would be a good idea” I love that. Something like that would be useful often in work.

Karl Jaspers- German Psychiatrist and Philosopher modern Theologist.

I think that if I had to pick a single word to describe our function, I would go back to Karl Jasper’s famous derisive comment about our work, in which he called psychotherapy “paid friendship”. He was a very smart man. I think there is a lot to that. I like to say to people, “Well, friendship is rare. Most of what goes for friendship isn’t really very friendly” So friendship is very worth being paid for. Furthermore, you pay less for real good friendship than you pay for real bad friendship. So there is every reason to like that. But I think if there is a single word that gets closer to it, I think it is something like “friendship”. What does friendship mean? Well, I think it consists of at least two things: one is being open to someone and being close to someone. Those are both unnatural because in the state of nature if you are open to someone you shouldn’t be close to them and if you are close to someone you shouldn’t be open to them. So it’s an unnatural state. What we want in our work is to become open to each other and close to each other, near each other psychologically and at the same time open to each other psychologically. And that is very difficult to be in, to keep in I mean to be really in. To be near and open would put a lot of what I think into psychotherapy.