If, as Henry Thoreau says, “An honest book is the noblest work of man” then Thomas Bien has produced a noble work. His latest book, Mindful Therapy, is an honest effort to bring together mindfulness and psychotherapy. Its primary audience is the broad collection of diverse mental health providers, presumably to include all manner of persons engaged in the, as Dr. Bien refers to it, “healing art” of psychotherapy.
This audience embraces a wide spectrum of personalities, training and theoretical orientations. Attempts to appeal to them as one audience is a challenge most authors undertake with trepidation, or apology. Mindful Therapy makes no curtsies to its readers’ professional identities, and aims itself simply at “helping professionals,” one and all. Herein is one of the book’s strengths and weaknesses: a strength in that his approach has a clarity, a straightforwardness and a freedom from professional terms that will appeal to a general, and not necessarily sophisticated, population; a weakness in that the reader seeking more depth or more intellectual satisfaction or simply more science may be disappointed.
Dr. Bien skillfully weaves through his book the essentials of Buddhism, of which he has an excellent understanding. Although Buddhism is the foundation for his practice and teaching of mindfulness, he is not in any way offensively preaching to others. His focus is on the spiritual healing that can be so important and so efficacious in psychotherapy.
He explicitly envisions psychotherapy as a spiritual path. Fair enough; the illness/heath medical approach, the multiaxial psychosocial view, are not his concern, and they are understandably absent from the book. No diagnoses. No treatment plans. He sees psychotherapy as a spiritual journey and relies on the great spiritual leaders throughout human history, especially the Buddha, as the teachers, the models for effective psychotherapy.
Dr. Bien’s writing is ardent and personal. Because it is in an unusually personal tone the reader connects with the writer without the barrier that is often present in books for professionals. It has an easy flow. It is an engaging read. Replete with exercises for the therapist outside of the consulting room, as well as practical suggestions for the therapeutic interaction itself, the book covers a wide territory. The vignettes are an attempt at helpfulness but are too brief.
His blend of the practical and philosophic is commendable. He never strays from his topic, and his first love, mindfulness. The reader receives a steady and digestible diet from cover to cover of the benefits of mindfulness. Nor does Dr. Bien wander from psychotherapy. The clear respect and dignity he shows to psychotherapists and patients—yes, the term patient is consciously employed, as Dr. Bien carefully explains—is a welcome reminder that psychotherapy is a noble undertaking.
In this sense Dr. Bien and his honest book Mindful Therapy has a kinship with Carl Rogers and On Becoming a Person. The general reader will easily appreciate from this book the salutary effects of the practice of mindfulness, and the interconnection of mindfulness and emotional well-being. The book is especially targeted to mental health professionals and any psychotherapist reading Dr. Bien’s book, and taking it to heart, can only benefit. The practice of mindfulness, and the peace, respect and kindness that it brings, in psychotherapy and in life, is an ennobling endeavor. This is Dr. Bien’s message, and it is unpretentiously expressed in this fine book.
Vidhuma (Dr. Paul Shagoury) is a practicing Buddhist and psychotherapist practicing in Manchester, New Hampshire.