As an avid reader of texts about therapy but someone who shies away from writing on spirituality, I have typically avoided the slew of books at the intersection of Buddhism and psychotherapy. As a result, I nearly overlooked The Zen of Therapy. But its focus on the therapeutic relationship over either therapist or patient as an individual pulled me in, and I am so glad it did. In his account of a year's worth of sessions, interspersed with psychoanalytic readings of Buddhist and western poetry, Epstein explores how therapy functions as a shared meditation in which the therapist's presence enables growth. Do not let the subtitle confuse you—this is not a self-help book. It is an engaging, thought-provoking exploration of our psychological ways-of-being. A must-read for anyone looking for a greater understanding of the therapeutic relationship and, in turn, any other relationship.
“A warm, profound and cleareyed memoir. . . this wise and sympathetic book’s lingering effect is as a reminder that a deeper and more companionable way of life lurks behind our self-serious stories."—Oliver Burkeman, New York Times Book Review
A remarkable exploration of the therapeutic relationship, Dr. Mark Epstein reflects on one year’s worth of therapy sessions with his patients to observe how his training in Western psychotherapy and his equally long investigation into Buddhism, in tandem, led to greater awareness—for his patients, and for himself
For years, Dr. Mark Epstein kept his beliefs as a Buddhist separate from his work as a psychiatrist. Content to use his training in mindfulness as a private resource, he trusted that the Buddhist influence could, and should, remain invisible. But as he became more forthcoming with his patients about his personal spiritual leanings, he was surprised to learn how many were eager to learn more. The divisions between the psychological, emotional, and the spiritual, he soon realized, were not as distinct as one might think.
In The Zen of Therapy, Dr. Epstein reflects on a year’s worth of selected sessions with his patients and observes how, in the incidental details of a given hour, his Buddhist background influences the way he works. Meditation and psychotherapy each encourage a willingness to face life's difficulties with courage that can be hard to otherwise muster, and in this cross-section of life in his office, he emphasizes how therapy, an element of Western medicine, can in fact be considered a two-person meditation. Mindfulness, too, much like a good therapist, can “hold” our awareness for us—and allow us to come to our senses and find inner peace.
Throughout this deeply personal inquiry, one which weaves together the wisdom of two worlds, Dr. Epstein illuminates the therapy relationship as spiritual friendship, and reveals how a therapist can help patients cultivate the sense that there is something magical, something wonderful, and something to trust running through our lives, no matter how fraught they have been or might become. For when we realize how readily we have misinterpreted our selves, when we stop clinging to our falsely conceived constructs, when we touch the ground of being, we come home.
About the Author
Dr. Mark Epstein is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and the author of a number of books about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy, including Advice Not Given, The Trauma of Everyday Life, Thoughts without a Thinker and Going to Pieces without Falling Apart. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University.
“A warm, profound and cleareyed memoir . . . this wise and sympathetic book’s lingering effect is as a reminder that a deeper and more companionable way of life lurks behind our self-serious stories.” —Oliver Burkeman, New York Times Book Review
“Epstein draws on a lifetime of personal and professional experience to deliver a profound and optimistic examination of the links between psychotherapy and meditation . . . A warm and accessible explanation of topics that defy easy explanation . . . Epstein makes abstract concepts understandable, and his accounts of his patients’ struggles and progress are laced with humor and hope . . . It’s a message receptive readers will embrace in these dark and difficult times. Empathetic and persuasive—one of the better books on psychotherapy and meditation in recent years.” —Kirkus (starred review)