Psychotherapy East & West

Written by Alan Watts

Reviewed by Rachel Baum, New York University.

In Psychotherapy East & West, Alan Watts attempts to bridge the gap between Western psychological thought and Eastern ways of life. Originally published in 1961, his goal was to provide an updated perspective on Western versus Eastern psychological ideas and provoke thought and experimentation in the reader. The 2017 reprinting of this classic instills new life into Watts’ argument that using psychotherapy without an understanding of Eastern ideologies will fall short of helping one to reach a feeling of true liberation. He posited that the groundbreaking insights of influential psychologists such as Freud and Jung synthesized with the Eastern spiritual philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, Vedanta, and yoga could liberate people from the internal struggles within themselves.

Watts utilizes ideas of Eastern philosophy to provide a new perspective on how to approach the therapeutic process. He believes Western psychology is susceptible to becoming an “obedient tool” of society and Eastern philosophies allow the patient to separate socially established conventions from reality (6). This alternative model expands the therapeutic process for patients who may not respond to the traditional psychotherapeutic methods.

While the ideas Watts discusses in the book may have been groundbreaking at the time, in the past 50 years, there has been an enormous amount of new knowledge surrounding neurology, biology, sociology, and spirituality. The emergence of these new ideas provides a more current perspective on the relationship between Western and Eastern psychological thought. Additionally, there is also concern regarding the remodeling of the core principles of Eastern philosophical teachings into psychological terms. This reframing can conceal the true purpose of the teachings and transform the path to enlightenment into an evaluation of the limitations of the human condition.

With these critiques in mind, Psychotherapy East & West is a worthwhile read for those interested in the foundations of the Eastern and Western psychological conversation and the lived experience of this relationship. This book is a great introduction to the connection between psychology and Eastern perspectives, and used in conjunction with more current ideas, can provide the reader new ways of approaching the therapeutic process.

Alan Watts is a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero, best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles weaving scientific knowledge into the teachings of Western and Eastern religion and philosophy.

Rachel Baum studies abnormal psychology with a minor in child and adolescent mental health studies at New York University. She has completed a psychiatric diagnostic evaluation for an adolescent at the NYU Child Study Center as well as developed a school-wide project to promote positive psychology on campus. In addition to working for the International Journal of Psychology, she writes reviews for Somatic Psychotherapy Today.

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