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Psychotherapy without the Self

Psychotherapy without the Self: A Buddhist Perspective

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Psychotherapy without the Self
    Book Description:

    Immersed in Buddhist psychology prior to studying Western psychiatry, Dr. Mark Epstein first viewed Western therapeutic approaches through the lens of the East. This posed something of a challenge. Although both systems promise liberation through self-awareness, the central tenet of Buddha's wisdom is the notion of no-self, while the central focus of Western psychotherapy is the self. This book, which includes writings from the past twenty-five years, wrestles with the complex relationship between Buddhism and psychotherapy and offers nuanced reflections on therapy, meditation, and psychological and spiritual development.

    A best-selling author and popular speaker, Epstein has long been at the forefront of the effort to introduce Buddhist psychology to the West. His unique background enables him to serve as a bridge between the two traditions, which he has found to be more compatible than at first thought. Engaging with the teachings of the Buddha as well as those of Freud and Winnicott, he offers a compelling look at desire, anger, and insight and helps reinterpret the Buddha's Four Noble Truths and central concepts such as egolessness and emptiness in the psychoanalytic language of our time.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15025-4
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Toward a Buddhist Psychotherapy
    (pp. 1-12)

    I have long been interested in the issue of psychological change. Immersed in Buddhism before beginning my study of Western psychiatry and psychotherapy, I could not help but examine the Western therapeutic approaches that were taught to me in college and medical school through the lens of the East. How consistent were they with what the Buddha taught? I wondered. Could Western psychologies be compatible with a Buddhist psychology that questioned the very reality of the self?

    As I learned more and more about the psychoanalytic traditions of the West, I came to appreciate that in their own way they...

  5. PART I:: Buddha

    • [PART I: Introduction]
      (pp. 13-18)

      The following four chapters, written as articles in the aftermath of my psychiatric residency, were inspired by my previous immersion in Buddhist thought and practice. The theoretical basis for them, on the Buddhist side, was the study of the traditional Buddhist psychology calledAbhidhamma,which I undertook for my undergraduate thesis in psychology at Harvard. The experiential basis was a series of silent two-weekvipassanaretreats under the auspices of American Buddhist teachers Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein that I took between 1974 and 1982. These chapters represent my first attempts to combine a psychodynamic way of thinking with one...

    • I Meditative Transformations of Narcissism (1986)
      (pp. 19-41)

      Attempts by theorists of transpersonal psychology to explain the place of meditation within an overall framework encompassing Western notions of the development of the self often see meditation as a “therapeutic” intervention most appropriate for those possessing a “fully developed” sense of self. This approach has been useful in distinguishing transpersonal levels of development from early, pre-oedipal levels, but appears to have sidestepped the issue of how Buddhist meditation practice, for example, could be seen as therapeutic for psychological issues that have their origin in the infantile experience of the meditator. The emergence of object relations theory and the psychodynamics...

    • II The Deconstruction of the Self: Ego and ‘‘Egolessness’’ in Buddhist Insight Meditation (1988)
      (pp. 42-54)

      One of the casualties of the twentieth-century introduction of Eastern contemplative traditions to the West has been the misappropriation of Freudian terminology by scholars and practitioners of these Eastern traditions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the confused use of the concepts “ego” and “egolessness” by psychologists of the meditative experience (Engler, 1986, p.18). “Ego” has become variously equated with the rational mind, the self-concept, or the experience of individuality and has informally come to represent all that must be let go of in the process of meditation. “Egolessness” has become an acceptable aspiration of those practicing meditation; yet,...

    • III Forms of Emptiness: Psychodynamic, Meditative and Clinical Perspectives (1989)
      (pp. 55-70)

      In my efforts to synthesize Buddhist and psychodynamic psychologies of mind, the inner experience of emptiness has emerged as the most beguiling and yet the most treacherous subject common to both fields. There is confusion within psychodynamic theory about what constitutes emptiness, there is confusion within Buddhist theory about what constitutes emptiness, and there is certainly confusion among psychodynamic psychotherapists about what Buddhists mean by emptiness, and confusion among Buddhists about what psychotherapists mean by emptiness. The word is applied to such an array of states of mind that its meaning has become virtually impossible to grasp. Yet a careful...

    • IV Psychodynamics of Meditation: Pitfalls on the Spiritual Path (1990)
      (pp. 71-96)

      One of the things that initially attracted me to Buddhist thought and practices was the widespread description of Buddhism as the Middle Path or the Middle Way, denoting a central course between the extremes of asceticism and indulgence arrived at by the Buddha after years of practice. Philosophically, I have also become increasingly impressed with the teachings of one of the major schools of Buddhist thought, known as the Madhyamika, or Central Way, originating in the efforts of Nagarjuna, around the second century A.D., to chart a conceptual course unafflicted by either absolutism or nihilism, two tendencies of human thought...

  6. PART II:: Freud

    • [PART II: Introduction]
      (pp. 97-100)

      Chapters 5 through 9, directed both to my peers in the Buddhist world and to my colleagues in the analytic one, were, like those of Part 1, written to counter what I perceived to be generally accepted misunderstandings about the relationship of Buddhism to therapy. Like the notion of having to be somebody before becoming nobody, these misunderstandings all worked to keep psychotherapy and Buddhism at arm’s length. Since my own experience of the two worlds was a synthetic one, I was always more interested in opening avenues of communication than in highlighting incompatibilities. This led me to look for...

    • V Attention in Analysis (1988)
      (pp. 101-122)

      The subject of attention in analysis has received curiously little direct attention over the years, despite clear and consistent guidelines from Freud on the technique of maintaining “evenly suspended attention.” This essential aspect of analytic technique has been “one of the least discussed, certainly one of the least well conceptualized aspects of psychoanalysis” (Gray, 1973, p.474). Yet the subject has not been completely ignored. What has occurred over the years has been a steady, subtle, and very gradual shift in emphasis from Freud’s original method, such that the concept has been redefined, its meaning altered, and the very words used...

    • VI Beyond the Oceanic Feeling: Psychoanalytic Study of Buddhist Meditation (1990)
      (pp. 123-139)

      Although Buddhism has consistently been identified as the most psychological of the world’s religions (Schnier, 1957), psychoanalytic investigation of the meditative states that characterize the actual practice of Buddhism has been extremely limited (Shafii, 1973). Freud’s personal investigations into religious experiences did not include extensive experience with those of the Orient (Jones, 1957, p.351); to the extent that they did, they were influenced almost exclusively by his thirteen-year correspondence with the French poet and author Romain Rolland, a student of the Hindu teachers Vivekananda and Ramakrishna. This correspondence, which has been rather exhaustively reexamined in recent years (Hanly & Masson,...

    • VII Awakening with Prozac: Pharmaceuticals and Practice (1993)
      (pp. 140-153)

      Despite ten years of dharma practice and five years of psychotherapy, Leslie was still miserable. To those who knew her casually, she did not seem depressed, but with her close friends and lovers she was impossibly demanding. Subject to brooding rages when she felt the least bit slighted, Leslie had alienated most of the people in her life who had wanted to be close to her. Unable to control her frustration when sensing a rejection, she would withdraw in anger, eat herself sick, and take to her bed. When her therapist recommended that she take the antidepressant Prozac she was...

    • VIII A Buddhist View of Emotional Life (1995)
      (pp. 154-162)

      I remember once, not so many years ago, sitting in my therapist’s office, telling him of an argument that I had had with someone close to me. I can no longer bring back the details, but I had done something to get my friend upset with me, and she had become quite angry—unjustifiably and disproportionately in my view. I remember feeling upset and frustrated as I recounted the events.

      “All I can do is love her more strongly at those times,” I insisted somewhat plaintively, drawing on my years of meditation practice and the sincerity of my deeper feelings....

    • IX Freud and the Psychology of Mystical Experience (1996)
      (pp. 163-176)

      However ambivalent most contemporary practitioners of transpersonal psychology may be about Freud, it is safe to say that there would be no transpersonal psychology as we know it without Freud’s influence. Freud might be considered the grandfather of the entire movement. His relationship to the field is analogous to his relationship to the psychology of women: Just as Freud pioneered the study of women’s psychology but remained confused about essential aspects of it, so too did he pioneer the study of spirituality while remaining confused about its place in a healthy psyche. Although he took stands in such works as...

  7. PART III: Winnicott

    • [PART III: Introduction]
      (pp. 177-178)

      After the publication of “Beyond the Oceanic Feeling” inThe International Review of Psycho-Analysis,I received several letters from local psychoanalysts asking to make my acquaintance. One was from a psychiatrist named Emmanuel Ghent, who lived close by in a loft in Soho. Ghent was an analyst who had taken twenty years off from analytic work to compose electronic music for Bell Labs, but who was now involved in the relational track of NYU’s postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. He asked me if I had read a new book by Adam Phillips calledWinnicott.I had not. Another letter...

    • X Sip My Ocean: Emptiness as Inspiration (2004)
      (pp. 179-192)

      In talking about the meeting points of Buddhism, psychotherapy, and contemporary art, I mean this chapter to complement other discussions (Tucker, 2004) about how the breakdown of the art object as “entity” in the late 1960s and early 1970s was mirrored and supported by Buddhist notions of egolessness and interdependence, ideas that were also breaking into Western culture during those years. Because the primary conceptual tenet of Buddhism is the lack of a central essence or substance to the self, Buddhism provided a natural inspiration to—or confirmation for—artists in the process of discovering how exciting art could become...

    • XI A Strange Beauty: Emmanuel Ghent and the Psychologies of East and West (2005)
      (pp. 193-210)

      Several years ago, before Mannie Ghent passed away, I went to a talk in lower Manhattan by an old friend and teacher of mine, a former Harvard University psychologist named Richard Alpert, now known as Ram Dass. Ram Dass has a way of blending the insights of Eastern and Western psychology that I have always admired, a quality that Mannie also shared. In his talk that evening, he touched on one of the cornerstones of his own particular synthesis of East and West, the need to move between different levels of psychic reality. Despite the ravages of a recent stroke...

    • XII The Structure of No Structure: Winnicott’s Concept of Unintegration and the Buddhist Notion of No-Self (2006)
      (pp. 211-227)

      Much of the psychoanalytic fascination with Buddhism stems from the Buddha’s assertion of the voidness of self. This is a strong psychological message to be found at the heart of one of the world’s most prominent religions, and it has not failed to capture the imagination of psychotherapists, for whom the study of self is a central aspect of their profession. Buddhism affirms a paradoxical truth that psychoanalysis, after one hundred years of investigation, has at times come close to agreeing with: the self which seems so real becomes less so upon analytic inquiry. Where once psychoanalysts seemed sure that...

    • XIII Meditation as Art, Art as Meditation: Thoughts on the Relationship of Nonintention to the Creative Process (2006)
      (pp. 228-248)

      When I was first learning about Buddhism, I was in college, and I approached it the way I approached most things then. I knew how to go to school and I knew how to study and I figured that I could master meditation the same way I could any other course. I went to a Buddhist summer camp in Boulder, Colorado—a summerinstitute,actually, called Naropa Institute—where any number of scholars and writers and artists and meditation teachers were gathered in what was to be the first of many such summers introducing Buddhism into Western culture. I took...

  8. Credits
    (pp. 249-252)
  9. Index
    (pp. 253-261)