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If there is one thing Buddhism and western psychotherapy can agree upon, it is this: trauma does not just happen to a few unlucky people, it happens to everyone. Trauma is the bedrock of our psychology. Death and illness eventually impact us all, but even the everyday sufferings of loneliness and fear are traumatic. Psychoanalysis and other approaches to psychotherapy have described the developmental, or relational, trauma of the mal-attunement of early life. Buddhism has emphasized the inherent precariousness of impermanence. But both disciplines concur that trauma, of one kind or another, is something that everyone must face sooner or later in life.
This evening’s presentation brings this perspective forward. Ranging from the contributions of analysts like D.W. Winnicott, Philip Bromberg and Robert Stolorow to the undercurrent of loss in the Buddha’s own biography—the death of his mother when he was a week old—this discussion holds that not only do the ‘Little T’ traumas of early life condition how we respond to the ‘Big T’ traumas all around us but that we can use the traumas of daily life to open our minds and hearts.
Mark Epstein, M.D. is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and the author of a number of books about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy, including Thoughts without a Thinker, Going to Pieces without Falling Apart, Going on Being, Open to Desire, Psychotherapy without the Self and The Trauma of Everyday Life. His latest work: Advice Not Given: Notes of a Buddhist Psychiatrist, will be published in 2018 by Penguin Press. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University and is currently Clinical Assistant Professor in the Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis at New York University.