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Like body and mind, East and West are false dichotomies. Travel and trade along the Silk Road brought ancient texts and mind practices deep into the West. They have been drawn on to varying degrees by leaders in the field of Clinical Psychology, not always knowing or acknowledging the debt. Vedic psychology dates from over 5000 years ago and forms the core of mental health counselling in the Ayurvedic medical tradition. The knowledge that enlightened prince Siddhartha Gautama was the self-management of mental suffering through mindfullness awareness practices. That mindfulness is a leading edge within Clinical Psychology today. 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 read and were influenced by these ancient texts as translations began to reach Europe during the 19th Century.

This article covers some of the Eastern and Middle Eastern philosophical traditions that directly influenced or are embedded in the thinking of the leading writers and practitioners of clinical psychology in the West. It is not about religion nor the psychology of religion.

Historical clinical psychologists[edit | edit source]

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.

The following practitioners of clinical psychology are listed chronologically based on dates of birth.

  • Patanjali (4th c. BCE?)

    One of the founders in 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 (8th c.)

    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 (865-925)

    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 (980-1037)

    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 (1207-1273)

    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 (18561939)

    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.

  • Viktor Frankl (19051997)

    Founder of Logotherapy, wrote 'From Death Camp to Existentialism (1959) drawing on concentration camp experience and Jewish mysticism.

  • Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

    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]

  • R D Laing (1927-1989)

    According to the Society for Laingian Studies' biography:

    March 1971. Went to Ceylon with Jutta Werner and their two children, where he spent two months studying meditation in a Buddhist retreat. After their visas expired, they moved on to India, where Laing spent three weeks studying under Gangroti Baba, a Hindu ascetic, who initiated Laing into the cult of the Hindu goddess Kali. He spent time learning Sanskrit and visiting Govinda Lama, who had been a guru to Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert.[13]

  • Stanislav Grof (b. 1931)

    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'.[14]

Influential western writers/translators[edit | edit source]

  • Baruch Spinoza (16321677)

    Spinoza 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 (1788-1860) 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 [3]. He added empiricism to self-examination, which presaged Freud's interpersonal application in psychoanalysis.

Caroline Rhys Davids wrote on Buddhist psychology.

  • Caroline Rhys Davids (18571942)

    The Pali scholar, spiritualist and sometime theosophist made translations of original Pali texts in Buddhist Psychology. In 1914 wrote the book, 'Buddhist Psychology: An Inquiry into the Analysis and Theory of Mind in Pali Literature'. Her teacher in Psychology was George Croom Robertson, Scottish philosopher who was editor of Mind from foundation in 1876 until 1891.

  • Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930)

    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 (1924-1996)

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

  • Coleman Barks (b. 1937)

    Since 1976, translator of some of the ecstatic poems of Rumi and of other mystic poets of Persia.

  • Jack Kornfield (b. 1945)

    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 many popular 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 (b. 1946)

    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 (b. 1949)

    Prolific translator of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Muslim religious literature. First publication with his brother of the Blue Cliff Record in 1992.

Contemporary clinicians[edit | edit source]

  • Kaisa Puhakka

    Psychotherapist, Professor of Psychology at CIIS [4], student of Hindu and Buddhist Francisco philosophical and spiritual systems, long-time practitioner of Buddhist meditation and Zen. [5]

Contemporary practices used in clinical settings[edit | edit source]

  • 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[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  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. This account is provided on both Ticktin (undated) and
  14. Grof (1994a); Grof (1994b); Grof & Halifax (1977).
  15. Regarding Linehan's conscious use of Zen techniques, see, for instance, Linehan (1993a), p. 19, and Linehan (1993b), p. 63.
  16. See, for instance, Kabat-Zinn (1990), pp. 12-13.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Abdullah, Somaya (Ph.D.) 'Multicultural social intervention and nation-building in South Africa: the role of Islamic counselling and psychotherapy.' Researcher and project leader at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
  • Boeree, C. G. (1997). Towards a Buddhist Psychotherapy. (HTML) URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Damásio, António 2003. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Harvest Books,ISBN-13: 978-0156028714
  • DeMartino, R.J. "Karen Horney, Daisetz T. Suzuki, and Zen Buddhism." Am J Psychoanal. 1991 Sep; 51(3):267-83.
  • Drob, S. Freud and the Chasidim: Redeeming The Jewish Soul of Psychoanalysis. Jewish Review 3:1, 1989
  • Drob, Sanford L. (1998-2006). "This is Gold": Freud, Psychotherapy and the Lurianic Kabbalah. (HTML) URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Drob, Sanford L. (1999). Jung and the Kabbalah. (HTML) History of Psychology. May, 1999 Vol 2(2). URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Erikson, Erik H. (1969). Gandhi's Truth: On the Origin of Militant Nonviolence. NY: W. W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-31034-5.
  • Frankl, Victor. From Death Camp to Existentialism. Ilsa Lasch, trans. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1959)
  • Fromm, Erich, D. T. Suzuki & Richard De Martino (1960). Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. NY: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-090175-6.
  • R. D. Laing. (HTML) URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Gay, P. A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism and the Making of Psychoanalysis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
  • Grof, Stanislav. 'Alternative Cosmologies and Altered States'. Noetic Sciences Review, Winter 1994a. URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Grof, S. (1994b). Books of the Dead. Thames and Hudson.
  • Grof, S. and J. Halifax (1977). The Human Encounter with Death. E. P. Dutton.
  • Kabat-Zinn, Jon (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. NY: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-385-30312-2.
  • Iqbal, Afzal & Arberry A. J. 'The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi'
  • Klein, D. Jewish Origins of the Psychoanalytic Movement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1985.
  • Linehan, Marsha M. (1993a). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-183-6.
  • Linehan, Marsha M. (1993b). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. NY: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-034-1.
  • Nielsen, M. E. (1994-2001). Notable People in Psychology of Religion. (HTML) URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Nyanaponika Thera, Bhikkhu Bodhi (ed.) & Erich Fromm (fwd.) (1986). Visions of Dhamma: Buddhist Writings of Nyanaponika Thera. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books. ISBN 0877286698.
  • Puhakka, Kaisa 'Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the horizon of consciousness' (SUNY 2000)
  • Rhys Davids, C. A. F. 'A Buddhist manual of psychological ethics or Buddhist Psychology, of the Fourth Century B.C., being a translation, now made for the first time, from the Original Pāli of the First Book in the Abhidhamma-Piţaka, entitled Dhamma-Sangaṇi (Compendium of States or Phenomena) (1900). (Includes an original 80 page introduction.) Reprint currently available from Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0-7661-4702-9.
  • Ticktin, S.. Biography. (HTML) Adapted from a review of R.D. Laing: A Biography, by Adrian Laing. URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Wulf, R.. The Historical Roots of Gestalt Therapy Theory. (HTML) Gestalt Dialogue: Newsletter of the Integrative Gestalt Centre. URL accessed on 2007-04-04.
  • Zokav, G. 'The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness.' New York: N.Y.: fireside. 2001

External links[edit | edit source]

Early history of psychology[edit | edit source]

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