Monday, October 6, 2014

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives

Title:  Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives
Author:  Brian L. Weiss
Publication Information:  Fireside. 1988. 219 pages.
ISBN:  0671657860 / 978-0671657864

Book Source:  I read this book as this month's selection for my local book club.

Favorite Quote:  "It is important to weed out the false from the true so that the field is not discredited."

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both - a long title for a relatively short book. The "prominent psychiatrist" is Brian Weiss whose credentials include Columbia University and the Yale University School of Medicine. The "young patient" is Catherine, who came to Dr. Weiss at the age of twenty seven suffering from anxieties and fears. The "past-life therapy" is the main focus of this book.

The first eighteen months of therapy for Catherine utilized conventional methods but with little or no success.  At that time, the therapy was modified to try hypnosis. Through hypnosis, Catherine recalled memories of past lives - many many past lives reaching back centuries. Further on through hypnosis, Dr. Weiss led Catherine through memories of the times in between lives when the Masters spoke. The Masters brought lessons and guidance - you can put your own interpretation as to who these Masters may be. After the sessions, Catherine had no recollection of these Masters. It appeared that they spoke to and for Dr. Weiss. The therapy continued until Catherine's symptoms were deemed cured. This time period and process is what this book describes.

Two ways exist for me to analyze and review this book. One is to present my assessment of the content. That I will not do. Whether someone believes in reincarnation and past lives is a personal choice. My choice may not reflect yours. Nor would it invalidate yours. To you is your belief. To me is mine.

The second way to analyze this book is to look at it as a book and as a book coming from a scientific environment with theory and evidence. Looked at in this way, this is not the book for me.

Every chapter of the book is essentially the same. Catherine comes into a session. She remembers a past life - life, sometimes trauma, and death - and describes it under hypnosis. Sometimes, the Masters speak after Catherine has died in that past life. The book never progresses beyond that description. It contains no analysis at all. At time, it references that other research exists and other case studies exist to parallel Catherine's case, but the book never elaborates. I found myself skimming through sections trying to find a place where the book brings the research together to state a thesis or a conclusion. It never comes.

This book is essentially a case study of one patient - Catherine. Unfortunately, the tone of the book is very condescending towards Catherine. Her perspective and insight on her experience is never discussed. At one point, the book refers to her as "simple," "not a scholar," and with certain knowledge "lying beyond her capacity." Even the title refers to her as "his young patient" even though she was close to thirty years old at the start of therapy. Meanwhile, on the first page of the book, the book clearly states the author's credentials -  Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude education at Columbia and his degree from Yale University. Even in the title, the book refers to "a prominent psychiatrist." The entire tone of the book is very off-putting.

The other aspect of this book is that of a self-help manual. The Masters speak through Catherine to bring messages about life and life skills. The self-help advice is not new and not anything that cannot found in many other books in that genre. Unfortunately, given the tone and lack of explanation in this book, it loses credibility.

Another concern is that this case study blurs the line between clinician and patient. Although based on Catherine's experience as a patient, the book reads as though it is really about the psychiatrist and his experience. Catherine seems helped by her memories but has no recollection of the Masters. It is stated several times through the book that the Masters are there for Dr. Weiss. Towards the end of the book, the author acknowledges, "Under ordinary circumstances, we might have begun terminating therapy weeks ago. We had continued in part because of my interest in the message from the Master..." That raises many concerns about the role of the clinician and which took precedence - the clinician needs or Catherine's.

Book Club side note: This book ended up being a relatively short discussion because for the most part, we agreed in our assessment. Most of us agreed on the condescending tone and repetitive nature of the book. Some of us were able to separate out the self-help component of the messages from the Masters. This led to an interesting discussion on beliefs and life choices.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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