Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Three New Psychology Books

Oh the joys of new books! Here are three new ones, two of which I will certainly be adding to my wish list -- the third, by Mark Epstein, I will likely pass on because I find his willingness to bypass the self in patients lacking any real self to be problematic and unethical -- when someone is constantly dissociating, teaching them to dissociate even more efficiently is not a good approach.

First up . . .

The New Rational Therapy: Thinking Your Way to Serenity, Success, and Profound Happiness
by Elliot D. Cohen
Rowman & Littlefield, 2006
This is a self-help book with a difference. It is the result of the hybridization of philosophy and psychology. The author is a professional philosopher who also studied Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) under Albert Ellis. He then came up with his own variant which he calls Logic-Based Therapy (LBT). This is a self-help improve-your-life approach to human behavior which sets out to help us behave in a way which, because it is based on logic and reason, is likely to lead to happiness.

The author comes up with what he calls the eleven transcendent virtues which he names as: metaphysical security: feeling secure in an imperfect universe; courage: confronting evil and growing stronger; respect: learning to refuse to damn the whole because of an error in a part; authenticity: being your own person; temperance: learning to control oneself; moral creativity: learning to separate what one really ought to do from what it is not necessary to do; empowerment: avoiding all forms of manipulating others; empathy: finding ways of avoiding egocentric perspectives and making genuine connections with others; good judgment: avoiding polarization; foresightedness: avoiding over-optimism and pessimism and ensuring that risks are reasonably assessed; and scientificity: looking at why things are as they are. There is a chapter on each of the eleven transcendent virtues detailing several antidotes to the vices which are the opposites of the virtues.

Read the whole review.

Next we have a book about my hero, William James . . .

Ed. by Jonathan Bricklin
Erini Press, 2007

Sciousness, ed. by Jonathan Bricklin (Eirini Press, 2007), collects several essays and shorter passages by (or about) William James dealing with the concept of ’sciousness’ or ‘pure experience,’ along with an essay by Bricklin titled “Sciousness and Con-sciousness: William James and the Prime Reality of Non-Dual Experience.” The book opens with the Zen work Hsin-Hsin-Ming (”On Believing in Mind”), introducing the Eastern expression of nondualism, while Bricklin’s essay brings Eastern thought to bear on James’s views.

William James coined the term ‘sciousness‘ to refer to experience before it is separated into subject and object. However, in the essays collected in this book, James doesn’t commonly use the term ’sciousness’ but most often just speaks of ‘experience’ or ‘pure experience.’ James holds that an experience, often using a room or a building as an example, becomes mental or physical only by the relations it forms with other experiences:

In so far as experiences are prolonged in time, enter into relations of physical influence — breaking, warming, illuminating, etc., each other — we make of them a group apart which we call the physical world. On the other hand, in so far as they are fleeting, physically inert, with a succession which does not follow a determined order, but seems rather to obey emotional vagaries, we make of them another group which we call the psychical world. …

The two kinds of groups are made up of experiences, but the relations of the experiences among themselves differ from one group to the other. It is, therefore, by addition of other phenomena that a given phenomenon becomes conscious or known, and not by a splitting in two of an interior essence. (The Notion of Consciousness, p. 107-108)

Read the whole review.

Finally, the Mark Epstein book . . .

Psychotherapy without the Self: A Buddhist Perspective
by Mark Epstein
Yale University Press, 2007
In Psychotherapy Without the Self, Epstein attempts to bring Buddhist practice and western psychotherapy into dialogue. Over recent years psychotherapists have become increasingly interested in meditative practice. Similarly Buddhists have taken interest in western psychotherapeutic practice. Whilst this has been partially fruitful, Epstein suggests that there have been a number of problems, where eastern and western practitioners have a mutually misunderstood each other. In part, these misunderstandings have led western practitioners to be wary of meditative practice, perceiving dangers in the so-called 'egoless' state which it is thought to encourage. Epstein attempts to clarify the process of meditation, translating eastern philosophy into psychodynamic language in order to show its relevance for contemporary psychotherapeutic practice. He does not, however, fall into the trap of conceiving eastern thought as inherently 'better' -- a tendency which can be found in strands of transpersonal psychotherapy. Such figures as Stanislav Grof (see When the Impossible Happens: Adventures in Non-Ordinary Realities By Stanislov Grof) tend to celebrate 'egolessness' as a state to be actively sought, or even induced with the use of psychotropic drugs. Epstein's primary targets are the following misapprehensions of Buddhist practice: a) that the idea of 'self' should be eliminated b) that one can 'transcend' one's emotions and engagement in the world, and c) that meditation provides gratification in the form of regression to an infantile narcissistic state.

Epstein points out that, with few exceptions, the psychoanalytic view of meditation has not substantially advanced beyond Freud's 1930 analysis of the 'oceanic feeling.' The experience of meditation continues to be equated with primitive, symbiotic union with the mother, prior to the differentiation between self and world. This pull towards narcissistic regression led Freud to formulate the hypothesis of the 'death instinct' which posits silent forces at work within the psyche towards the dissolution of the ego. As Epstein notes, this seemed to 'parallel his understanding of the Buddha's definition of nirvana (p. 9) However, what the Buddha sought to show was that rather than death or dissolution, the part of the meditative enterprise is to accept disintegration without falling apart. How are we then to understand this seemingly paradoxical stance? In the perceived similarity between the psychotic, undifferentiated narcissistic state, and the 'emptiness' fostered in meditative practice that is a source of concern for western practitioners. This wariness is evident in the caution that 'one has to be somebody, before one can become nobody' (p.97) in meditation. In other words, it is assumed that meditation and the sort of dissolution it invites should only be attempted by an individual with a robust, good-enough sense of self. Built in to this caution is the implicit assumption that meditation involves self-abnegation, and that there is a real 'loss' to be confronted. Quoting Gyatso, Epstein suggests that
Selflessness is not a case of something that existed in the past becoming non-existent; rather, this sort of 'self' is something that never did exist. What is needed is to identify as non-existent something that always was non-existent (p. 49)

Thus, when the self is examined in meditation, it is not eliminated, rather it is shown to be what it always has been. The concept of 'annata', or the idea of 'persisting individual nature' (p. 44) is destroyed through meditative insight. However, this is not a loss, nor do we need to dispute the everyday use of the term 'self'. What we do come to realize, however, is that we tend to give imbue the relational self an absolute status that it does not possess. This illusion of self as a fixed, potentially 'knowable' entity is reinforced by various therapeutic approaches which encourage us to invest a great deal of time in 'knowing ourselves', thus bolstering our own separateness.
Read the rest of the review.

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