I have just come to the end of “Mindfulness and Mental Health: Therapy, Theory and Science” by Chris Mace. My motivation for tackling such a book is to learn more about the link between mindfulness meditation and the mental health/psychotherapy field.
The book has been an interesting but challenging read. I have a scientific training and I am a regular Buddhist meditator but I have little experience of the world of psychoanalysis/psychotherapy and other talking therapies. I saw the book as a way to glimpse into that world. Having persevered to the bitter end I feel I do have a clearer understanding of the field but that it is not a positive one.
The best way I can illustrate this is by quoting a section (page 153 if you have a copy with you).
Twenty years earlier, Engler had distinguished three distinct types of psychopathology (Engler 1996). These represented a developmental sequence, and can be characterised in terms of different types of ego functioning. He observed that there is no real equivalence between the first two of these and anything in Buddhist development. However, both of them will be familiar to Western psychotherapists. The first type of organisation, attributed to early failures in the differentiation between self and others and in the establishment of a cohesive sense of self, is associated clinically with the features of borderline psychopathology. Loss of continuity in the sense of self, extreme affects, highly distorted experiences of others (which may be linked to extreme and inappropriate reactions to them), and even hallucinatory phenomena are typical.
This is an illustration of the style in which much of the book is written. My thesis is that it is written to be totally impenetrable to outsiders. If I hadn’t spent six hours at airports and on planes with this book for company I would not have made it to the end – and I really want to know about this stuff! I am not personally criticizing Chris Mace here but making a general point. I have had similar problems reading material on Freudian and Joungian psychology.
To illustrate my point here is how the above paragraph could have been structured.
Engler distinguished three distinct types of psychopathology twenty years earlier (Engler 1996). These represented a developmental sequence and can be characterised in terms of different types of ego functioning.
- First [description]
- Second [description]
- Third [description]
Engler observed that there is no real equivalence between the first two of these phases and anything in Buddhist development. However, both of them will be familiar to Western psychotherapists.
In Mace’s presentation the reader has to construct, in their own mind or on the back of a handy envelope, the list of three things being proposed and what they might be. In a book that is comparing multiple theories this is a major work in itself.
On the next page Mace points out that Engler “says very little about the the second state”. I suspect that Engler did not present his theory clearly in his own publication (which I haven’t seen) and Mace is just passing on this fuzziness. Note that Mace refers to the three things we are talking about as “states”, “types of ego functioning”, “type of organisation” and “types of psychopathology” all within a page and a half. What exactly is this a list of? Are all these terms synonymous in the context of this list or in general? If they are synonymous why are different terms used?
I believe a condensed version of what Mace is trying to pass on from Engler is that meditation is probably not helpful for people who do not have a cohesive sense of self to work with. Contrary to some popular belief the goal of Buddhism is not to dissolve the self but to transcend it. The self is just as much part of Reality as any other phenomenon. Here I think the equation of ego and self may be where much confusion occurs between the different psychoXXX and Buddhist practice but I am frustrated by the impenetrability of the literature on the subject.
I am afraid that my conclusion has to be that “these people”, like those involved in many intellectual pursuits, have something to hide. I vow to persevere in my reading to reach a more charitable understanding of the field – but maybe not for a few weeks!