BOOK REVIEW: If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! by Sheldon Kopp

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage Of Psychotherapy PatientsIf You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage Of Psychotherapy Patients by Sheldon B. Kopp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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If Kopp’s title seems gratuitously bellicose and totally inappropriate for a book about psychotherapy, you may not recognize that it’s a quote from the 9th century Zen (Chán) Buddhist master, Linji Yixuan. In reality, the quote isn’t bellicose and is quite apropos of Kopp’s message. Linji was just saying that if one collects sacred cows, one is unlikely to be liberated from delusion and find a quiet mind. Kopp’s primary point is that patients tend to deify their therapists, thinking of therapists as people who can “fix them.” In reality, the therapist is a flawed human who can only help guide the patient on a personal pilgrimage. However, when patients find out that the therapist isn’t a sage who can make them feel better as if by magic without any real change on the patient’s part, they become disillusioned and the wheels can roll off any progress they may have made.

Pilgrimage is the central metaphor of Kopp’s book. The psychologist uses an interesting approach, without which I doubt I would have read this book. He uses pilgrims of classic literature as models. The second, and by far the largest, part of the book lays out the various paradigms of pilgrim. The use of works like Gilgamesh, Macbeth, Don Quixote, Dante’s Inferno, Kafka’s The Castle, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness makes for a work of interest to more than just psychotherapists. Kopp skillfully employs the wisdom of both the Eastern and Western worlds, often in pithy stories that have been around for centuries.

In addition to all the well-known tales that Kopp relies upon, the latter part of the book has some interesting personal stories from when Kopp was working as a therapist in a prison.

I think this book offers some intriguing food for thought regardless of whether one is either a psychotherapist or a psychotherapy patient.

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