His full name is Rollo Reen May. He was born in 1909 to a humble, religious, highly educated family in the Midwest town of Ohio, USA. Her parents divorced in her childhood and her older sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The name Rollo is the protagonist of Jacob Abbot’s Rollo Books. As for the meaning, it is a person who learns to be a good person by living virtually throughout adolescence and adulthood from childhood. On the other hand, the name Rollo is also the name of the character Fargo, the hero in Viking tales.
When May found out the meaning of her name and the reason it was given, she was delighted by this beautiful meaning. Throughout his life, he has a character that meets the meaning of his name. They think that his close circle is integrated with his name and that his character is compatible with his name. His close friend, academic Robert Abzug, used the phrase “a name very compatible with May’s character” in an article.
Rollo May completed his primary and secondary education with his family. He started his higher education in the Department of English Language and Literature at Michigan State University in 1926. It is known that May was an active student during his university years. His close friends say that he lived a fruitful student life by making special efforts for his personal development.
He graduated from Oberlin University in 1930 and worked as a teacher in Greece for a period of time. While working in Greece, he went to Vienna in the summer and worked with Adler. Later, he studied religion at Union Teological Seminery University and then switched to the field of psychology.
He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Colombia University. After his doctorate education, he opened his own workplace in New York. He also worked as an analyst and supervisor at the William Alanson Institute. May is also one of the founders and faculty members of the Saybrook Graduate Education and Research Center in San Francisco.
Psychological Analysis of Rollo May
Rollo May is an important representative of Existential psychology. It has given a new direction to the science of psychology. He has demonstrated a striking approach linking psychology and philosophy. He was close friends with the theologian Paul Tillich, and his views were influential in shaping his approach. Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Exist was even inspired to name the book The Courage to Create. Tillich also ensured May’s familiarity with Heidegger and Kierkegaard.
May read every article by Freud. He met Alfred Adler when he was 20. But he found Adler’s theory of anxiety in inferiority theory over-simplified and general.
According to May, there are opposite constraints within people that cause anxiety. The individual’s coping with these contrasts affects his existence. For example, death anxiety may push some people to create artifacts, to exist in a beneficial way, while others to neglect and even commit crimes.
In addition, May states that the individual maintains his life in three different worlds at the same time and that he can lead a healthy life if he can balance these three worlds. So what do these three worlds mean? The individual is born in a given natural environment. This is called the natural world. Thanks to his mind, he attains a superior status by creating a social world. The individual, who survives thanks to the social world, also has a psychological world. Each individual perceives the world with his own glasses.
May’s understanding of the individual is dynamic, variable and multidimensional. Therefore, May is against all psychological approaches based on a fixed, one-dimensional and reductionist understanding of the individual. According to him, each individual is unique. Therefore, instead of idealistic and materialist theories with excessive techniques and judgments, he uses a psychotherapy method based on entity analysis.
Accordingly, it is important to grasp the patient’s world through the eyes of the patient by empathizing in the treatment of the patient. Thus, it is possible to treat each patient according to their special condition.
Rollo May’s Contribution to Art
May also made important contributions to art theory with the Courage to Create the important work. May’s understanding of creativity is shaped over different perspectives. Accordingly, he analyzes creative action through three main perspectives, which are unconscious processes that can be expressed as courage, encounter and taking a break.
The first perspective is courage. He states that there are three types of courage in his work: physical, moral and social. May stated that courage has a paradox. Accordingly, we must devote ourselves to fullness, but at the same time be aware that we may be wrong.
While moral courage is the correction of mistakes, its contrast is creative courage to find new forms, new symbols, new models in the construction of a new society. The courage to create is a kind of rebellion. As Picasso said, “every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction”.
The Fine Line Between Creativity and Madness
May admits that creativity is integrated with serious psychological problems in our own particular culture. However, as some psychological approaches say, he does not consider this to be a mere cause. This understanding; “If we treat the artists’ neurosis with psychoanalysis, will they no longer create it?”
Let’s come to the second perspective. The sine qua non of creative act is encounter. For example, painters are absorbed and swallowed, as May’s phrase, in a beautiful landscape. If they can express this with an inner dream, an idea, then genuine creativity emerges. If they constrain themselves by enjoying the encounter and the good feelings of the moment, then creativity will be left unfinished. This would be “illegal creativity”. We can think of its equivalent in everyday language as “enthusiasm”.
There should be a state of concentration and ecstasy in the creative act of the person. According to May, during ecstasy, the intellectual, voluntary and affective functions of the person are all functional at the same time. The main point here is the degree of burial, that is, condensation. However, an object in ecstasy can be seen clearly.
Another important point is the unconscious situations that occur when we call breaks or relaxation, which are maintained with conscious work. It is of great importance to concentrate on both scientific and artistic creativity, but relaxation times can lead to the emergence of new ideas. In the calm mind, the unconscious is carried to consciousness. We all know the story: Newton, sitting under the apple tree, drops an apple on his head and Newton says, “I got it!” saying, discovers gravity.
The Last Years of May
In 1987, Rollo May was awarded the American Psychological Association’s Gold Medal for his lifelong contribution to science. With May’s permission and participation, this significant year, the Rollo May Center for Thinking was opened at the Saybrook Institute. A large library was established here, and young researchers were encouraged to carry out original studies that would develop Rollo May’s ideas. This institute is still supported by many different institutions and organizations.
During his doctorate education, he caught tuberculosis, which caused him to stay in the sanatorium for two years, and spent his time in the recovery period. During this time, he wrote the book The Meaning of Anxiety.
He spent his final years before his death in October 1994 in Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Rollo May saw Otto Rank as one of the most important pioneers of existential psychotherapy. Shortly before his death, May wrote in a preface to a work that Rank’s lectures were compiled by Robert Kramer, “I see Otto Rank as a great but undiscovered genius influenced by Freud for a long time.” he said.
May has been loved by her environment throughout her life. He is appreciated for his hard work, determination and academic richness. After his death, many positive articles were written about his personality and academic life. Because of his exemplary life, May is considered the second great thinker in the American psychology tradition after William James.
Resources and Further Reading :
May, Rollo, Courage to Create, Metis Publications
Author: Nil GÜREL