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"The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it's conformity."
Rollo May

Who is Rollo May?

Rollo May was an American existential psychologist who was known for his work on anxiety and the human experience. His approach to therapy focused on helping individuals confront the challenges and anxieties of existence, and he believed that by doing so, individuals could find meaning and purpose in life.

May was born in Ohio in 1909 and grew up during the Great Depression. Despite financial struggles, May was able to attend college and later went on to earn a PhD in clinical psychology. He served in the Army during World War II, and after the war, he became a professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Throughout his career, May was an influential figure in the field of psychology, and he wrote several books, including "Man's Search for Himself" and "Love and Will". He was also known for his work on creativity and the role of the artist in society.

Interestingly, May was a talented musician and was known to incorporate music into his therapy sessions. He believed that music had the power to help individuals connect with their emotions and tap into their creativity. In addition, May was a prolific writer of poetry and often used his own poetry as a therapeutic tool in his work with clients.

Overall, Rollo May was a pioneering figure in the field of psychology and an advocate for the importance of confronting the challenges and anxieties of existence. His work continues to be influential today, and his unique approach to therapy has helped countless individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives.

What were his core ideas or contributions?

Some of his most important ideas and concepts include:

Anxiety: May believed that anxiety was a fundamental aspect of the human experience, and that it was often caused by a sense of meaninglessness or a lack of purpose in life. He believed that by confronting anxiety, individuals could tap into their own creativity and find deeper meaning in their lives. I similarly allude to an underlying meaninglessness in my essay on the difference between creating a business and creating art.

Freedom: May believed that humans have an innate desire for freedom, and that this desire is often at odds with societal norms and expectations. He argued that true freedom involves taking responsibility for one's own choices and decisions, even when they are difficult or unpopular. I've personally found this to be true for myself. Some parts of me only began feeling "right" when I went with my gut and ignored what others expected of me.

Creativity: he was also a strong advocate for the importance of creativity in human life. He believed that creativity was essential for personal growth and fulfillment, and that it could be a powerful tool for therapy and self-discovery. Again, I can say this is true for me. Creating and evolving Clues Dot Life has been the single most important aid in my ongoing transformation (at least for the period between 2021 to 2023). It's truly the first creative act I've ever dedicated myself to. And it's teaching me so much about myself.

Love: he believed that love was a key component of human life, and that it was essential for individuals to form meaningful connections with others in order to find happiness and fulfillment.

Existential therapy: May was a pioneer in the field of existential therapy, which focuses on helping individuals confront the challenges and anxieties of existence in order to find meaning and purpose in life. He believed that therapy should be a collaborative process between therapist and client, and that the therapist should work to create a safe and supportive environment for the client to explore their emotions and experiences.

Overall, May was a fascinating thinker and practitioner. He wasn't always conventional, yet that's what contributed to his greatness.

Writing, Interviews, Research, and Lectures

Here are Rollo May's most important writings:

Love and Will (1969) - In this book, May explores the role of love and willpower in human life and argues that they are essential for personal growth and fulfillment.

The Meaning of Anxiety (1950) - This book is a seminal work in the field of psychology, and explores the concept of anxiety and its relationship to human existence.

Man's Search for Himself (1953) - In this book, May examines the search for personal identity and argues that it is an essential aspect of the human experience.

The Courage to Create (1975) - This book explores the role of creativity in human life and argues that it is essential for personal growth and fulfillment.

Psychology and the Human Dilemma (1967) - In this book, May explores the fundamental aspects of the human experience, including anxiety, freedom, and the search for meaning and purpose in life.

Other figures you may be interested in

Here's a handful of other interesting figures that are similar to Rollo May:

  • Viktor Frankl - Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who founded logotherapy, a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the search for meaning in life. Frankl is one of the all-time greats in my eyes. His book "Man's Search for Meaning" is a gift of literature and inspiration.
  • Irvin Yalom - American psychiatrist and author who is known for his work in existential psychotherapy, and who has written several influential books on the subject.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre - French philosopher and writer who was a key figure in the development of existentialism, a philosophical movement that emphasizes the individual's freedom and responsibility in creating meaning in their own lives.
  • Martin Heidegger - German philosopher whose work on existentialism and phenomenology has had a significant impact on psychology and psychotherapy.
  • James Bugental - American psychotherapist and author who was a key figure in the development of humanistic psychology, and who focused on the importance of personal growth and self-discovery in therapy.