NPJ Book Review: A Place for You, Psychology and Religion by Paul Tournier

A Place for You, Psychology and Religion by Paul Tournier (1968)

I suppose I may have resisted reviewing this autographed work received decades ago, because of the roads taken rather than the ones available at those moments. Experience has rendered this work an interesting read but created more questions. Regardless of its dated cultural perspective, it’s a work of compassion in an age sorely in need of compassion.  

That noted, Tournier, a Swiss physician, peeks below the surface of place and how we define and describe place. The author’s thought processes about – Martin Buber’s I -Thou though not in depth nor meant to be for this work, are still revealing. Along the way he offers his observations about Teilhard de Chardin, Jung, Sartre, Camus and so forth. This accessible work has a Christian orientation. That said, he offers an introductory psychological perspective in terms of place. It’s not a simple study but neither is it complex. Given the accelerated concern about “place” today in a world of existential angst and the increasing physical and spiritual homelessness, the book is worth revisiting from a spiritual and psychological perspective. And there are architectural studies that take the concept of a place to a deeper meditative level. Still…

I am also reminded of Victor Frankl on the one hand and logo therapy and from another non-religious but “spiritual” cast Irvin Yalom’s Existential Psychotherapy and the search for meaning where there appears be none. Also, Sidney M. Jourard’s The Transparent Self and the path to self-disclosure.  

The challenge to finding one’s place in a sense is found wherever we are living and through our supportive relationships – appreciating the reflective meaning in the midst of the noise around us. This is where Tournier gives insight to the basic human need of finding our place within ourself and outside ourself and with the help/support of compassionate others and the belief in a divine presence/support.

Though this work was written in 1968 it retains relevance in a world of material greed, the accumulation of wealth for the few, climate change, the increased potential for a nuclear holocaust, virulent racism, pandemics and a lost sense of place among other challenges people face today on a daily basis.

In seeking support, the author sees us arriving at a juncture between religion and psychology. “What we are looking for is not someone that will cut through our dilemmas for us, but someone who will understand them. Not someone who will impose his will upon is, but someone who will help us to use our own will. Someone who, instead of dictating to us what we must do, will listen to us with respect. Not someone who will reduce everything to an academic argument, but someone who will understand our personal motives, our feelings, and even our weakness and our mistakes. Someone who will give us confidence in ourselves because he has unshakeable confidence in us…” Page 191.

A thoughtful, contextual work by a noted psychoanalyst, Tournier’s personal belief is woven within his psychiatric training, offering the reader an insight to his views on compassion and adaptability.  The author’s writings have a reflective/meditative quality.