Andrew Feldmár is a greatly worshipped idol for us, Psychology students. He was born in 1940 in Hungary and emigrated to Canada in 1956 where he has been living since. He graduated as a Mathematician and turned to Psychology only after the age of 25. He has worked in London and California, and has a very wide experience in the field of Psychology. Once in a while, he comes back to Hungary to hold presentations and share his knowledge. He has 13 books published in Hungarian, and he is the founder or patron of two foundations, one carrying his name (Feldmar Institute).
Honestly, I didn’t believe he will answer to my email but not only did he answer within a day but offered a Skype-interview for the next evening. To be sure, I prepared two pages of questions, and was shaking and sweating when he called me on Skype at the agreed time, 10 pm.
Hi, András. How are you?
Thank you for your help in this project. So let’s start, shall we?
My first question would be: What is the most important to know about you? How would you introduce yourself to someone who is curious about who Feldmár András is? I first heard about you at the age of 14 when my peers talked about a psychologist who cures with LSD. Then I read some of your books and visited your presentations and conferences, there you talk a lot about love and your mother. Who are you exactly? Are you Hungarian or Canadian?
Well, I would say I am a Hungarian-born Canadian person. I guess, the most important role in my life is that I am a father of two. The label that I would accept being put on me is “psychotherapist” and according to my training I am a psychologist. However, I would rather call myself an “Interpersonal Phenomenologist”. That expresses the most important aspect in my approach and attitude, which is that if someone is suffering, the problem is not in them but among them and someone else. So the problem is among US. That is interpersonal. Not in you, but among us. If you are suffering, someone is hurting you. Nobody suffers without being hurt. A plant is not sick, an animal is not sick if they have everything in their environment they need. Accordingly, if someone is not feeling well, it is because their environment is not good. And we, as humans, are each other’s environment. In this moment, I am your environment and you are mine. So if you are nauseated, it is probably because I am not treating you well and you haven’t figured it out exactly, in what ways or how. So all in all, this is the “interpersonal” part of what I am doing; I am always interested in ‘inter”. I utterly repudiate psychiatry and psychology which look for the problems in you and not among us.
„I guess, the most important role in my life is that I am a father of two. The label that I would accept being put on me is “psychotherapist” and according to my training I am a psychologist. However, I would rather call myself an “Interpersonal Phenomenologist”.
The other part, “phenomenology” is about how difficult it is to tell, describe, portray, depict, draw precisely what IS. So phenomenology tries to tell you what is, accurately. I am not interested at all why it is what is. To that question, people always invent a story. I do not care about stories. So, this whole scientific approach is really useful, obviously we accomplished a lot in the technical part; but explanations in science are exactly like in religion; tales. And I don’t care about tales because they are not necessary for someone to find their way if they lost it. It doesn’t matter why they got lost, how they found themselves in prison. What matters is that the prison door is open. And usually people say: “I’m not coming out until I find out how I got here.” Well, that is stupid. So, that would be my introduction.
Thank you for that. I would like to ask something about the part “interpersonal”. This approach explains what you always give voice to that there are no mentally ill people, psychotics, murderers or homosexuals – that this all exists because some people are hurt and tortured by the society. And I know I shouldn’t ask the “why question” as you just explained, but I am still curious. Why do you think society is like that? What can be done about this?
Well, you are asking a lot of questions. I don’t have any problems with society. A newborn baby is already hypnotized, their first hypnotizer is their mother, who hypnotizes them into their mother tongue, and through that the family traditions, the regional traditions. These are all interlocking circles which result that when a person grows up, they have a lot of habits and traditions. And society contributes to those habits and traditions. Even biology contributes to those habits and traditions because our ancestors from Paleolithic shaped particular instincts to survive particular events – that is all inside us. We have biological, social, regional, parental, familiar hypnoses, from which, if possible, is advantageous to wake up. You can always go back there. I don’t want to forget society. When I want something in the society, I have to achieve that through the rules of the society. But most people I meet are hypnotized so deeply that they forget not to always take these rules seriously. So it is OK to play roles that society deals out to us. Because society deals out the roles and a person growing up can sort these and choose what or who they want to play, so that society would let them live. And that is alright. I also play roles. But I don’t forget that those are rules, and I am not persistently on the stage. I need a lot of time when I am just myself and I am not playing any roles. And the people being the closest to me are not playing roles, either.
„Nobody suffers without being hurt.”
Those who were suffering from the deepest depression (and I have worked with) had their condition not because their brain was damaged or whatnot but because they got stuck into roles. They tried to commit suicide because they couldn’t imagine any other ways to get out of their roles without dying. So if working with me, we find loopholes and learn that it is possible to live without particular roles, or to drop a role and take another; the depression is instantly ceased.
And how to turn to society depends on someone’s temperament. You have to discover your own temperament. Actually, there are not so much choices. There are people who are patient enough and can work within the society, or an enterprise, a school, a university, so they can change it from the inside (democratically) for it to be better and better. But, as I said, this requires a lot of patience. There are people who blow up the status quo. That also requires a particular temperament. I do not have any of these, neither patience nor that passion. My temperament is such that I am searching for an alternative way. Like that this is the system, and here is another system, I find a loophole between the systems where I am let alone and can live my alternative, generally on a small scale. Let’s say Menedék in Budapest, which operates for more than a year now, is an example for that alternative. It is impossible to do it on a big scale, only 4 to 5 people are able to live together with our help instead of being in a hospital. If we wanted to make it bigger, it would turn into a hospital. And hospitals already exist, there is no need for another hospital. But there isn’t any other place as Menedék. There could be more Menedék houses here and there, for example in each district, but it couldn’t be controlled from a center, each houses should have their own freedom, own characteristics; here 4 to 5 people would live in a totally different way than there. Such a house in the 2nd district would have a different atmosphere than the same house in the 12th district.
I see. That’s an interesting point to make. Let us turn back to your life a bit. If I am correct, you graduated as a mathematician first, and only then turned to psychology. Why did you choose this field?
Well, I already talked a lot about this. Yes, I was a mathematician, I almost got my PhD at Johns Hopkins University after Toronto University, but two of my marriages had crashed over after one another, both after exactly three and a half years, and that devastated me. So I visited a psychiatrist at the university. He said I should go back to Toronto where I lived before and he gave me a name of a Canadian psychoanalyst. And I started to visit him five times a week, I was twenty-something years old. I went there for nine months.
Among other things, we very soon figured that all my problems happened because I lost my mother, my father and my grandmother at the age of three and a half. It was 1943 in Budapest, Jewish family, my mother was brought to Auschwitz, my father to labor camp, and my grandmother to the ghetto. I would have been killed instantly, but a young Catholic woman took me in her family risking her life. We had to lie that my name is “Igaz” (= true) because the woman was called Igaz Irén, so I lied in the Igaz (true) family that my name is true (Igaz).
After one and a half years, my mother, my father and my grandmother came back, so nobody died, but according to the analytic, I did not even notice but unconsciously I was the one who brought about these marriage failures so that I could repeat the thing that was such a big surprise for me at first. Well, I found this much more interesting than mathematics, so I started to study Psychology.
Then primarily it was because of yourself, to be able to get to know yourself better.
Not really. It was because I thought I could be a better therapist than the person I visited. And the whole field was really interesting for me. So not only because of myself. It began like that.
In which level are you connected to Hungary? Although, you moved to Canada at the age of 16 of your childhood, you often come back to hold presentations, and you manage two quite important foundations, as well. Also, there are several books you have written in Hungarian, and you keep connection with all the Hungarian psychologists. In what degree do you consider Hungary your home and do you consider it to be a livable country?
Unfortunately, I don’t. The political situation is worse than – not much worse, but worse than -elsewhere. The US also has a growing fascism, Canada goes after it, but Hungary is way ahead. There is something in the air at home that I don’t approve, that is that most of the people strike their flag to demagogue leaders, they don’t ask, they don’t want to be responsible for their own decisions, and then someone who has a confident voice, “I know that”, is followed by the crowd without thinking. This is not democracy. Democracy is based on the idea that the voters are thoughtful people who are intelligent and interested in their fate. This requires some kind of an education so they could think. But this is similar in the US. People living on the coasts, the West and the East coast are capable of thinking but the others between them aren’t. And because they are more than the ones on the sides, people who don’t think lead people who do. This is the same in Hungary.
Do you see a future here? You support these foundations, Menedék and the others. Do you see a positive outcome?
I come home once or twice a year to encourage those who work in that spirit. Because they aren’t often encouraged. Practically speaking, here in Vancouver where I live, I inhale. My practice is based on listening. I am listening to my patients. I speak very little and I am listening a lot. I earn money with my ear, not my mouth. When I come to Hungary, I exhale. So this is a breathing process. I inhale in Vancouver what people say and in Hungary I exhale all what is. And that works for me. As I told in the beginning I consider myself Canadian, but of Hungarian origin.
And the last question is connecting to my studies: What do think of the media? You mostly approach your target via it; through your books, recordings, conference videos on YouTube etc. Do you also see a negative side of it?
I am doing what I can and not raging on something I cannot change. Words have a great power, they can be used to open people’s heart and mind, and of course, they can be used to blind and dull people. I would use the media to contaminate people with the virus of love. And media is a perfect mean to contaminate people with a thought. Unfortunately, they mostly convey stupid thoughts. In addition, media is controlled by the government, even in Canada already. Thus, there has always been censorship, there has always been cowardice. In my opinion, fearless media is where revolution starts; where hope is. If the media is fearless; then democracy is possible.
Thank you very much for offering your time and your interview.
You’re welcome, tell me how they welcomed your assignment. Goodbye.
„In my opinion, fearless media is where revolution starts; where hope is. If the media is fearless; democracy is possible.”
by Eszter Farkas