Escape from Freedom – Erich Fromm-Book Review


 Escape From FreedomEscape from Freedom – Book Review 

It's about this time of year that my Counselling and Teaching practice wind down for the summer that I complete the last task on my CPD list , that of choosing two counselling related books to read over my holiday.

I believe that literature is the cement which binds together our learning and practice life, reading informs, reinvigorates and educates in equal measures.

One of my greatest pleasures in life (after tea drinking) is visiting second hand books shops looking for bargains.

One of the bargain books I bought recently or £4,is written by long time favourite author and Psychotherapist  Erich Fromm, entitled 'Escape from Freedom', explores “man's” innate fear of loneliness which by all accounts is a relatively new development in the human condition which has come to prominence over the last 600 years. 

Fromm discusses the idea that by moving away from collectivist cultural norms to an individualistic culture which prevails in the West, produces in us an existential angst or fear of freedom.

One of the more fascinating ideas that the book puts forward is that during what is describe in as the Dark Ages (roughly the time between the fall of the Roman Empire in 467 AD and the beginning of the Renaissance in 1400 AD). 

During the intervening time of around 1000 years ,the period refered to as the 'Dark Ages', individuals came under the control of the church and feudal land owners, critical thinking was discouraged (they even tortured the astronomer Galileo for daring to say that the earth orbits the sun, not the other way round !).

The consequence of this was that humans lost the ability to consider themselves as individuals, in fact the concept of individuality did not exist, imagine that.

Its hard to imagine a life without individuality, to give an example from a modern perspective, those of you who watch the TV series Star Trek will be familiar with an alien race named 'The Borg', a civilisation which assimilates other cultures into a 'collective' with no free will.

This is what having no individuality looks like… Run VT!


So how does this connect with the world of counselling ?

The connection between Carl Rogers and the Renaissance- a time in history where human beings began to develop individuality and the ability to become critical thinkers again, can be found in one man -Jean Calvin a French theologian who lived between1509-1564 who developed 'Calvinism', a protestantism faith position which has as a corner stone the idea of 'predestination'

Predestination is the idea that God has already chosen you for salvation and that no matter how good you are in life or how much worshipping you do, 'If your name is not on the list, you are not getting in .. to heaven that is.

This 'existential' faith position, does not have the promise of universal salvation that other faiths offer ,instead it asks individuals to take responsibility and live with uncertainty, the very essence of existential philosophy.

It was also the faith position of Walter and Julia Rogers, Carl Rogers parents , who according to historical accounts in David Cohen’s book , 'Carl Rogers a Critical Biography' embraced Calvinism, to the point of considering going to the movies or having a coke was considered a sin.

Bearing in mind that Rogers first choice of study was agriculture followed by history and then religion. It is not a great leap of imagination to consider the idea of Humans being afraid of freedom was not lost on Rogers.

Reading this book has brought home to me how much of my client work is around 'freedom' and how many clients struggles are around 'choice' the very thing that freedom gives us.- As Rogers wisely observed  “ A Curious paradox”.   

Escape from Freedom' By Erich Fromm Is published by Henry Holt & Company Inc and will be available via the bookshop on

(Counselling Tutor says- Not an essential buy, however for those with a real interest, in psychological history a fascinating read)   

 Have you read any good books lately ? , What is your summer reading ? Please leave your comments below or join us in the book forum