Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE ZEN OF THERAPY by Mark Epstein Kirkus Star


Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life

by Mark Epstein

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-593-29661-5
Publisher: Penguin Press

A psychiatrist with 40 years of practice in psychotherapy and meditation shows how both can achieve the same goal: to reclaim the kindness that’s at the core of all of us.

Epstein draws on a lifetime of personal and professional experience to deliver a profound and optimistic examination of the links between psychotherapy and meditation. Drawing on influences as diverse as psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, the Dalai Lama, and composer John Cage, Epstein offers a warm and accessible explanation of topics that defy easy explanation. The book is part memoir and part account of one year (pre-pandemic) with Epstein’s patients. In the early 1980s, as part of a medical research trip, he met the Dalai Lama. “His inspiration,” writes Epstein, “helped me rise above the Western emphasis on mental illness to encompass an appreciation for the possibilities of mental health.” He was drawn to vipassana, or insight meditation, which he compares to therapy in its goal of “deliberately confronting one’s own innermost prejudices, expectations, habits and inclinations,” and his personal goal as a therapist mirrors the further aims of insight meditation: to help his patients move from self-generated internal judgments toward a more loving attitude toward themselves and others. The author combines stories of his patients—a child of Holocaust survivors, an anorexic anesthesiologist, an actor, a medical worker for Mother Teresa’s organization—with his own search for the appropriate guidance to help them. Epstein makes abstract concepts understandable, and his accounts of his patients’ struggles and progress are laced with humor and hope. When our constructed minds drop away, he writes, “even for an instant, all kinds of latent interpersonal possibilities emerge—for connection, empathy, insight, joy, and dare we say, love.” It’s a message receptive readers will embrace in these dark and difficult times.

Empathetic and persuasive—one of the better books on psychotherapy and meditation in recent years.