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Eastern philosophy in clinical psychology refers to the influence of Eastern philosophies on the practice of clinical psychology based on the idea that East and West are false dichotomies. Travel and trade along the Silk Road brought ancient texts and mind practices deep into the West. Vedic psychology dates back 5000 years and forms the core of mental health counselling in the Ayurvedic medical tradition. The knowledge that enlightened Siddhartha Gautama was the self-management of mental suffering through mindfulness awareness practices. Humane interpersonal care of the mentally disturbed was practiced in the Middle East in the Middle Ages, and later in the West.[1] Many of the founders of clinical psychology were influenced by these ancient texts as translations began to reach Europe during the 19th century.

Historical clinical psychologists

The historical practice of clinical psychology may be distinguished from the modern profession of clinical psychology. The Greek word psyche means breath or soul, while logos means study. Psyche was the Greek Goddess of the soul. An early use of the word clinic was, 'one who receives baptism on a sick bed' - Webster 1913 [2]. In contemporary use it is usually describes another kind of cleansing and rebirth - a non-hospital, healthcare facility for rehabilitation in the community.

Patanjali was one of the founders of the yoga tradition, sometime between 200 and 400 BC (pre-dating Buddhist psychology) and a student of the Vedas. He developed the science of breath and mind and wrote his knowledge in the form of between 194 and 196 aphorisms called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These remain one of the only scientific books written in poetic form. He is reputed to have used yoga therapeutically for mental disorders as common then as now - anxiety and depression.

File:Guru Rinpoche - Padmasambhava statue.jpg

Padmasam-bhava developed Tibetan psychiatry

Padmasambhava was the 8th Century medicine Buddha of Tibet, called from the then Buddhist India to tame the Tibetans, was instrumental in developing Tibetan psychiatric medicine [3]. Tibetans were diplomats, counselors, traders, warriors and military tacticians in the Royal courts of East and West. Through these means they introduced arts of war and of medicine to the west.

Rhazes was a Persian physician and scholar of the Middle Ages who had a profound effect on Western thought and medicine as well as the invention of alcohol and of sulfur drugs. He applied the psychology of self esteem in clinical treatment of his patients (Predating Nathaniel Branden by over a thousand years). He opened the first hospital ward for humane treatment of the mentally ill.

Avicenna's Canon of Medicine was a standard medical text in many European universities for 500 years. He performed psychotherapy without conversing, by observing the movement of a patient's pulse as the patient recounted broken hearted anguish, reported in 'The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi' by Afzal Iqbal, A. J. Arberry, page 94. His treatises have touched most of the Muslim circle of the sciences.

Jalaluddin Rumi's view on psychotherapy was to embrace the dread, depression and anger as a blessing. Negative emotions were a bridge to a better life. This style of coping is illustrated in his guesthouse poem:

This being human is a guesthouse
every morning a new arrival a joy, a
depression, a meanness. Some momentary
awareness comes as an unexpected
visitor. Welcome and entertain them
all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house empty of
its furniture. Still treat each guest
honorably, He may be cleaning you out for
some new delight! The dark
thought, the shame, the malice meet them
at the door laughing and invite them in,
be grateful for whoever comes because
each has been sent as a guide from the

Sigmund Freud read the German translation of the works of Hayyim ben Joseph Vital (1542-1620). Vital was a 16th century rabbi who had been Isaac Luria's student, the great master of the theosophical Kabbalah. Freud read the French translation of the Zohar. He declared the material 'gold!' without acknowledging that source in his theories. His corpus was deeply influenced by his Jewish heritage and by the Jewish mysticism [5]


Carl Jung integrated psychology with spirituality

Carl Jung read the German translations by Richard Wilhelm of The Secret of the Golden Flower, the I Ching. He also read the Kabbalah and drew on its sources for development of his theory of the archetypes.[6]

Martin Buber

Karen Horney studied Zen-Buddhism.[7]

Fritz Perls studied Zen Buddhism.[8] Typifying such a perspective, Perls once stated: We must lose our minds and come to our senses.

Erich Fromm collaborated with D. T. Suzuki in an 1957 workshop on "Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis";[9] wrote the foreword to a 1986 anthology of Nyanaponika Thera's essays.[10]

Erik H. Erikson wrote a biography of Gandhi.[11]

Viktor Frankl was the founder of Logotherapy. He wrote From Death Camp to Existentialism (1959) drawing on concentration camp experience and Jewish mysticism.

Abraham Maslow, an American-born Jew who struggled to make his way as a psychologist in an academic atmosphere which was not then ready to receive Jews. He believed his theories of motivation and self-actualization were, despite his avowed atheism, driven by a Jewish consciousness. [1]. The Transpersonal psychology that Maslow founded is a blend of Eastern and Western mystic traditions.[12]

Stanislav Grof studied pre-industrial cosmologies including Egyptian and explored the significance of the posthumous journey of the soul in works such as Books of the Dead and The Human Encounter with Death.[13]

Influential Western writers and translators

Baruch Spinoza's legacy to psychology includes his holistic approach and determinism. He was alienated from his Jewish roots by excommunication and yet embedded in Jewish philosophy and mysticism, for example, 'The human mind cannot be absolutely destroyed with the body, but something of it remains, which is eternal. We feel and know by experience that we are eternal'. (Book V, Proposition 23) [2]. He distinguished between active emotions (those that are rationally understood) and passive emotions (those that are not). This predated Freud's popularization of the unconscious mind. His view, that emotions must be detached from external cause in order to master them, presages rational emotive therapy. His understanding of the workings of mind makes a bridge between religious mysticism and clinical psychology.

Arthur Schopenhauer was deeply influenced by the first translations of Hindu and Buddhist texts to reach the west in the 19th Century. His philosophy and methods of inquiry have many similarities to those traditions. His ideas foreshadowed and laid the groundwork for Darwin's theory of evolution and Freud's concepts of libido and unconscious mind. He added empiricism to self-examination, which presaged Freud's interpersonal application in psychoanalysis.


Caroline Rhys Davids wrote on Buddhist psychology.

Caroline Rhys Davids was a Pali scholar who translated original Pali texts in Buddhist Psychology. In 1914, she wrote Buddhist Psychology: An Inquiry into the Analysis and Theory of Mind in Pali Literature. Her teacher in Psychology was George Croom Robertson, Scottish philosopher, editor of Mind from foundation in 1876 until 1891.

Richard Wilhelm was a translator of Chinese into German of the I Ching, Tao Te Ching and The Secret of the Golden Flower, with a forward written by Jung, a close personal friend.

File:Idries Shah.gif

Idries Shah expanded Western knowledge of Sufism

Idries Shah was an author in the Naqshbandi sufist tradition who wrote works on psychology and spirituality. Defined Sufism in a way that predated Islam and did not depend on the Qur'an.

Coleman Barks has translated ecstatic poems of Rumi and other mystic poets of Persia.

Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in India and Southeast Asia, holds a PhD in clinical psychology and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society and the Spirit Rock Meditation Center. His books include Seeking the Heart of Wisdom (1987, co-authored with Joseph Goldstein), A Path with Heart (1993) and The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace (2002).

Daniel Goleman taught psychology at Harvard, wrote on science for the New York Times and is the author of the best-selling Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama (Bantam Books, 2003).

Thomas Cleary was a prolific translator of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Muslim religious literature. First publication with his brother of the Blue Cliff Record in 1992.

Contemporary clinicians

Marsha M. Linehan incorporates mindfulness techniques (particularly Zen practices) in her Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) which has been found to be particularly effective with Cluster-B personality disorders.[14]

Jon Kabat-Zinn incorporates Buddhist mindfulness techniques in his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.[15]

Mark Epstein is the author of Thoughts Without a Thinker|Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective (1995) and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart (1998). [16]

Mordechai Rotenberg has adopted the Kabbalistic-Hasidic tzimtzum paradigm, which he believes has significant implications for clinical therapy. According to this paradigm, God's "self-contraction" to vacate space for the world serves as a model for human behavior and interaction. The tzimtzum model promotes a unique community-centric approach which contrasts starkly with the language of Western psychology.[17]

Techniques used in clinical settings

  • Vipassana - trains one to perceive the momentary arising and dissipating of all phenomena, nurturing the calm, detached recognition of all things' impermanence and interdependence.

See also


  1. MIND (2004) Notes on the history of mental health care Mind factsheets
  3. Clifford, T 'Tibetan buddhist medicine and psychiatry' Samuel Wiser (1984) including charts of Tibetan psychopharmacology and translation of three chapters of the 8th Century text Gyu-Zhi
  4. Rumi (1995) cited in Zokav (2001), p.47.
  5. Drob (1989); and, Drob (1998-2006).
  6. Drob (1999)
  7. For instance, Fromm et al. (1960, p. 78) states that Karen Horney "was intensely interested in Zen Buddhism during the last years of her life." Also see DeMartino (1991).
  8. Wulf (1996).
  9. Fromm et al.. (1960) is based on presentations given during the 1957 workshop.
  10. See Nyanaponika et al (1986)
  11. Erikson (1969)
  12. See, for instance, Nielsen (1994-2001).
  13. Grof (1994a); Grof (1994b); Grof & Halifax (1977).
  14. Regarding Linehan's conscious use of Zen techniques, see, for instance, Linehan (1993a), p. 19, and Linehan (1993b), p. 63.
  15. Kabat-Zinn (1990), pp. 12-13.
  16. Sitting with Depression
  17. Rotenberg Center for Jewish Psychology

Further reading

External links

Neuroscience and Buddhism Sarunya Prasopchingchana & Dana Sugu, 'Distinctiveness of the Unseen Buddhist Identity' ([1]International Journal of Humanistic Ideology, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, vol. 4, 2010)

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