BOOK REVIEW: Psychotherapy: A Very Short Introduction by Tom Burns & Eva Burns-Lundgren

Psychotherapy: A Very Short IntroductionPsychotherapy: A Very Short Introduction by Tom Burns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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The word “psychotherapy” conjures images of a patient on a burgundy recamier-style couch, a psychoanalyst in a matching stuffed armchair, neither one looking at the other as the analyst uses terse questions and monosyllabic acknowledgements to coax out the patient’s problems through interrogation about his or her childhood. While that approach, Freudian psychoanalysis, stubbornly maintains a following, there have blossomed many other varieties of therapy using talk as a tool to ease maladies of the mind. This “Very Short Introduction,” put out by Oxford University Press as part of a large and diverse series with the same subtitle, presents an overview of the various approaches to psychotherapy and its less formal cousin, counselling.

The book consists of eight chapters, and begins with a preface. The preface covers various and sundry topics useful for the reader, but most importantly it takes a step back from psychotherapy to situate this therapeutic approach in a context of psychology and psychiatry, which are subjects often confused in the popular mindset.

Chapter one continues with the basics by defining psychotherapy and offering a thumbnail of the various approaches that will be expanded upon throughout the book. The second chapter pays homage to Freud and his psychoanalytic approach. The authors maintain a diplomatic approach to psychoanalysis though it has fallen on hard times for a number of reasons, both practical (e.g. it’s a huge drain on time, often involving five hours a week for months or even years) and theoretical (e.g. it places a great deal of emphasis on the past, whereas many currently popular approaches favor the present as the relevant time.)

Chapter three explores a number of post-Freudian psychotherapists including Jung, Adler, and Erik Erikson. Chapter four moves on to what is called “Time-Limited Therapy.” As suggested in the preceding paragraph, psychoanalysis placed huge demands on a patient’s [and therapist’s] time and could go on and on with no end in sight. Time-limited therapies focused more on finding a present-day solution for the current problem, and not so much ceaselessly trolling one’s distant past for traumas.

Chapter five is about counselling, which is very much related to psychotherapy in that it involves getting a person to talk out his or her problems. The difference is that it needn’t necessarily involve a therapist with extensive training, but rather someone briefed and / or sensitive enough to know how not to become sidetracked into dangerous territory. Chapter six discusses cognitive behavioral therapy, its principles, and its variations (such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy [MBCT], which combines elements of Buddhist mindfulness with the cognitive behavioral therapy approach to form a popular and successful therapeutic approach.) Cognitive behavioral therapy is rooted in the premise that distorted thoughts cause emotional and behavioral problems, and that one must address the thought to change the outcome. It also famously requires “homework” to be done between sessions rather than the work being contained within sessions.

Chapter seven moves away from the one-on-one therapy discussed so far, and investigates the various ways in which therapy can be carried out in groups. Groups can be beneficial because they allow the patient to see that they aren’t unique in their woes, which people often believe themselves to be. Family therapy is also discussed as it all allows family members to chip away at their problems as a familial unit. Also, there are numerous interactive forms of therapy in which patients might use various art forms to work out their problems.

The last chapter looks at where psychotherapy stands, and where it appears to be going. One of the important considerations discussed is the influence the advance of neuroscience is having on therapy. For few decades since the famous decade of the brain (i.e. the 90’s,) neuroscience has dominated the discussion of the realm of the mind. There has been less-and-less thinking in psychological terms and more and more in physiological terms. However, there still seems to be a widespread belief that solutions need to combine a recognition of both areas.

Like other books in the series, this one employs a variety of graphics (cartoon, photographic, and diagrammatic), and it also presents brief references and further reading sections to help the reader continue his or her study through other works.

This book offers a solid overview of the various approaches to psychotherapy. I would recommend it for neophytes who need to start with a concise outline of the field.

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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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