With its initial release way back in 1961, Psychotherapy East and West by noted philosopher Alan Watts sought to examine the parallels between Western psychotherapy and Eastern philosophy. I must say it has aged well despite both areas of his interest transforming greatly in the 50+ years since the book first hit the presses.
Psychotherapy East and West focuses on the methods and objectives of both segments and how they converge and contrast with one other. Watts’ overall goal with this book was to bring both together in a new way and have both parties examine each another – or as he suggests – take a look at how they can “fertilize each other.”
He begins with a nod towards the contributions that Eastern philosophy has made to advance the domain of Western psychology. As one would expect, there is plenty of mention of the ego in here – either Freudian-flavoured, or as it is viewed in Eastern philosophy. The transformation of one’s consciousness is advanced as what both areas have in common. Be it a guru, minister – or a therapist, it’s all about liberation.The therapist is concerned with helping the individual resolve their personal feelings with the social norms that surround them. It’s the wire-walk between being oneself and not offending those around them. For the guru or master, it’s helping the adept see how samsara may come from trying to contort oneself to fit into society’s rules and identifying greatly with the ‘I’ at the centre of it all.
Freud and Jung are the core individuals who Watt’s explores in this book (makes sense). As far as Buddhism, the concepts of suffering, samsara, reincarnation, liberation, karma, bodhisattvas, the ego, sense perceptions and name dropping of several key figures occurs. Much is said about the process of both psychotherapy and interactions with one’s guru. I personally found it quite interesting to see the links that Watts finds between the two.
The book jumps around a bit in my opinion. I found myself thinking I had understood the first few chapters – to then getting lost in the woods in several areas towards the middle and end of it. I approached Psychotherapy East and West with the view that I would take what I could from it and not sweat what seemed to be over my head or rambling. I still feel satisfied having read this book and figure that maybe someday I’ll go back for a second read if Watt’s koan calls out to me!
Overall, this was a very interesting read. I have an affinity for reading psych books – and well, give me a great Buddhist book any day and I’m in! With both of these subjects examined by such a revered scholar as Watts, Psychotherapy East and West deftly covers each with the respect they deserve. Neophytes may find the subject matter a bit heady (confession- there were several areas where I was in deep waters) – but readers are certain to find something that will speak to them within its pages.
If you are interested in a deeper exploration of Psychotherapy East and West by Alan Watts, I would encourage you to visit the blog Going for Refuge as it is currently exploring the book chapter by chapter.