Review of Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think by James F. T. Bugental

Jim Bugental was one of the important early leaders of the existential psychotherapy movement. More than that, he was a strong proponent of depth psychotherapy in general. Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think, one of his final books, is an important contribution to this literature. At the point of his career when he wrote this book, psychotherapy had undergone many significant changes. The depth realm of psychotherapy was no longer valued and often even mocked and attacked. While it is evident that Bugental is concerned by these changes, he does not respond to the attacks as much as speaking to the need for renewed valuing of the depth realms of existence. While this debate is reflected in the title and background of this volume, Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think is more of a practical guide to therapy than a political statement about the contemporary field of psychotherapy.

The essence of Bugental’s message is that the most important part of therapy is the living moment or the here-and-now. For most therapists, this is the most difficult portion of therapy to learn. Techniques, interpretations, and general explorations of the past are much easier to learn than using the present moment. Bugental, who is a master teacher as well as a master therapist, illustrates this process with many case illustrations and examples of therapy dialogue.

A particularly important contribution in this book is Bugental’s illustration of working with difficult issues in therapy. Many of his illustrations involve working through resistance and anger processes in therapy. While many assume that existential-humanistic therapy is a ‘soft’ or ‘warm-and-fuzzy’ approach, Bugental illustrates the importance of being able to deal with the inevitable anger that generally arises in the psychotherapy process. Implicit in these illustrations are the dangers of avoiding dealing with anger, or contributing to a suppression of anger when it emerges through the natural therapy process.

Bugental also works to assist therapists in developing an ear for process. It is natural for all people, noless the therapist, to focus on the content or words instead of the process. Indeed, this is often what separates the master therapist from the typical therapist. While most therapists learn to deal with process to some degree or can recognize process when writing up therapy notes, few learn to utilize process in the therapy moment. Bugental illustrates what this looks like in many of his illustration of therapy processes.

In conclusion, Psychotherapy Isn’t What You Think is an important contribution to the literature. It is particularly an important read for therapist desiring to become better at working in the here-and-now of therapy, those wishing to improve there ability to work with resistance, and those wanting to improve their ability to deal with process elements of therapy. While it is rooted in the existential framework, it’s value is to all therapists, particularly those interested in depth approaches to therapy.