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Psychologies from East and West.

Olson, R. Paul (ed.). (2002).

Religious Theories of Personality and Psychotherapy: East Meets West. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press. Hard and paper cover. (xxi+428 pp.). $49.95 soft. ISBN: 0-7890-1237-5; $89.95 hard. ISBN 0-7890-1236-7.

R. Paul Olson earned his master's degree in divinity from Yale Divinity School and his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana. He is the former Dean of the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology and currently teaches at Argosy University-Twin Cities in Minneapolis.

P. Scott Richards in his Foreword to this book links this title to a growing body of literature exploring how various religious traditions integrate their teachings and practices with psychology and psychotherapy. Olson's purpose in producing this edited volume was to "place in dialogue theories of personality and psychotherapy derived from a variety of religious traditions" (p. xix) and to illustrate how clinical interventions will vary according to the religious system used. The volume succeeds in accomplishing these two goals. The book appears less successful in meeting the stated goal of having the authors describe how their personal religious identity aligns with their professional identity as psychologists and psychotherapists.

This book contains substantial essays dealing with Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In each case, the authors appear to be practitioners of the faith under discussion (although it is unclear how Dr. Hagen's clinical interest in treating Native Americans relates to Taoism). The essayists do not claim to be experts in the religion about which they write, but their comprehensive treatments suggest an impressive familiarity with the teachings of the religion of their interest. In some essays the author reviews the many variations within that religious tradition without taking a personal stand. In other essays, the authors do not attempt to review every extant variation but instead focus on one expression of the religion as Olson does when he discusses liberal Protestant theology in his Christianity essay. Each essay has "come out of the closet" in the last ten years; that is, the authors have publicly declared their interest in religion and its implications for psychotherapy (p. 4). Their courage in revealing their personal viewpoints is exemplary.

Olson worked hard to provide some uniformity of organization among the essays. Each chapter is organized around nine sections; 1. An introduction to the religious tradition; 2. The tradition's embedded personality theory; 3. The tradition's view of suffering/pathology/distress; 4. The tradition's view of therapy and change; 5. Procedures and techniques used to effect this change; 6. An evaluation of the religious approach based on theoretical and empirical criteria; 7. Points of dialogue with other religions and other approaches to personality and psychotherapy; 8. Reflections on an identical case study; and 9. Reference notes. The depth of treatment by section varies throughout the volume.

The uniform chapter structure does help the reader follow some very complicated material. But the more unfamiliar the religious tradition is, the more difficult it is for the reader to conceptualize how the particular approach would unfold in a therapeutic setting. The elaborate detail and specialized terminology used in each tradition make it unlikely that the reader will be able to master more than one or two of these religious systems by reading the volume.

Olson's use of a standard case study in each chapter is a creative effort to provide continuity throughout the book. The case study comes from the Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44 (2), 232-244. Each essayist assumes that the woman in the case study is a practitioner of the religion under discussion, that her therapist is likewise a practitioner of that faith, and that the two have presumably agreed to include religious and spiritual themes in their therapeutic work together. The result is a window into how religiously-oriented psychotherapy will vary depending on whether the client is a Buddhist or a Jew, and so forth. The authors of each essay "provide alternative case formulations that are also viable, persuasive, and relevant to understanding the nature and origins of clinical disorders (in this case depression) and that guide treatment planning" (p. 16).

Readers will be curious as they move through the volume as to how the therapy being described relates to the regular and ordinary practice of the religion. In the case of the Hinduism essay, there is no difference. The depressed woman attends the temple to listen to the discourse of the day and to visit privately with the Hindu priest resident at that temple. In the case of the Buddhist chapter, the author refers "to both those intrinsic aspects of the Buddhist path that can be considered psychotherapeutic and those systems, developed in the West, that explicitly integrate Buddhism and psychotherapy" (p. 99).

In the Judaism essay, Dr. Hartsman skillfully describes contemporary Judaism as it relates to an existential therapeutic style. Olson has produced here a comprehensive treatment of Christian Humanistic Therapy that includes a great deal of valuable material for those interested in the integration of psychology with Christianity. Each essay is extensively documented. The chapters are arranged chronologically according to the origin of the religion beginning with Hinduism and ending with Islam.

The final chapter in the book, "Convergence and Divergence," is written by Olson and Bruce McBeath. McBeath is an expert in psychosynthesis making him uniquely qualified to deal with this summation chapter. They find six points of convergence among these six religious psychotherapies: 1. An emphasis on the ethical, spiritual, and historical dimensions of human experience; 2. A rejection of behavioral reductionism; 3. An implicit and sometimes explicit critical realism; 4. A common interest in phenomenology; 5. Optimism; and 6. A belief in human freedom. The authors of this final chapter identify several distinctives among the six approaches with regard to psychotherapy. They vary regarding the role of the therapist in the process, the construction of the self, the construction of the therapeutic relationship, and the nature of the ideal engagement one should make with suffering.

This volume has the marks of a handbook if not a reference tool for the clinician and theoretician interested in the fascinating subject of how the major religions of the world interact with and make use of contemporary psychology and psychotherapy.


HALL, M. ELIZABETH LEWIS, PH.D. Dr. Liz Hall is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Biola University. She practices psychotherapy from a contemporary psychodynamic approach. Her research interests are in the integration of psychology and theology, women's issues, and missions and mental health.

SCHUMM, WALTER R., PH.D. Walter R. Schumm is Professor of Family Studies at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. He is a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and a member of the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR).

BECK, JAMES R. PH.D. James R. Beck is Professor of Counseling at Denver Seminary in Englewood, CO. He is the author of The Psychology of Paul among other titles.

Reviewed by James R. Beck
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Author:Beck, James R.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2004
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