Psychotherapy East and West was originally published in 1961 and was the culmination of the author’s thirty years research into the varying divergent nature of Eastern and Western spiritualities.
At the point of the book’s inception very few had dared to attempt to reconcile the loose Western approach to self-analysis through psychotherapy with the stricter disciplines inherent within Buddhism, Vedanta, Yoga, and Taoism.
Inspired by such works as Richard Wilhelm’s The Secret of the Golden Flower (1929) and Geraldine’s Yoga and Western Psychology i(1934) Watts felt encouraged to share his own ideas in his work Psychotherapy East and West.
Alan Watts was a characterful individual. He was a chaplain at North-Western University as well as a scholar of Buddhism philosophy. His frequent fertile and challenging examination of spirituality eventually made him an important figure in the awakening era of 1960s alternative counterculture and during his life he wrote more than twenty books.
Psychotherapy East and West, a book that is widely recognised as a classic of its time, has been reprinted by New World Library, and Watts work is now accessible to a new generation of readers.
Early on in Psychotherapy East and West Watts admits that neither religion or psychotherapy are to be found in any of the popular forms of Eastern spirituality. Despite this he sees that both sides do feature a common approach to developing self-development through the process of changing consciousness.
What has characterised the differing disciplines is that whilst psycholotherapy (in a Freudian sense) has been used in the West to cure damaged or disturbed individuals the Eastern philosophies are predominantly followed by socially well-adjusted and balanced individuals.
Watts is critical of the Western approach and feels that a deeply intrusive aspect to psychotherapy is demonstrated by the fact that it “lacks integrity and becomes the obedient tool of armies, bureaucracies, churches, corporations, and all other agencies that require individual brain-washing.”
Given that even today, some fifty years since Watts wrote those somewhat prophetic words, we are more embroiled than even in the world of professional psychobabble – a mental disease which reaches up and soaks into every single level and aspect of our modern lives of our lives, his warning that this Western approach to mental health care will utlitately fail us is interesting.
As an alternative Watts promotes his belief that in actual fact it is the more spiritual-centric forms of Eastern-inspired psychologies; such as those espoused by Jung, Adler and Maslow, that offers us a more authentic way of encouraging personal, psychological and spiritual growth.
To summarise Watts in this work: he effectivley sees Eastern spirituality differing from its Western counterparts in one simple aspect – it strives without measure towards the creation of a deeper sense of personal liberation.
Ultimately this has to be the true spiritual aspiration of every human being.
Our Review of Psychotherapy East and West by Alan Watts
Alan Watts achievement in life, and he had many, was that he effectively spear-headed the movement that, some five decades later, might so very easily have made the contents of this book totally irrelevant – but it hasn’t.
If you consider the specific role and purpose of this book to find a sense of commonality between the philosophies of the East and West then be prepared for a disappointment as Watts fails to achieve this in this work.
For that reason, and by virtue of modern methods of analytical or critical thinking the book fails.
However where the book is a triumph is in the middle ground – that space so clearly defined by the two opposing Eastern and Western poles of spiritual thinking. This creates a deep sense of perspective within Watts writing and as a consequence the book is a masterpiece of psycho-critical thought: which is to say that in striving to find common ground he opens up some challenging ideas regarding the nature of exactly what it means to be a human being and specifically one seeking to understand their evolving consciousness.
Yes, the book is hard going in places and yes it does carry a quaint sense of agedness via the author’s perspective of society as it was at that time. Nevertheless Psychotherapy East and West is a classic example of why Watts work is as highly respected today as it has ever been since those turbulent periods of scoial change in the 1960s.
In an environment of modern spirituality that all too often draws upon the dregs of the greatly discredited psychoanalytical movement for sustenance and inspiration Psychotherapy East and West feels like a timely and refreshing spiritual wind – one which that originally took flight in a different era but which is more relevant, fresh and vital today than it has ever been.