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Merchant, J. (2019). Stein, L. A. Working with Mystical Experiences in Psychoanalysis: Opening to the Numinous. London & New York: Routledge. 2019. Pp. xxi + 219. Hbk. £105.00. Pbk. £29.99.. J. Anal. Psychol., 64(4):616-618.

(2019). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 64(4):616-618

Stein, L. A. Working with Mystical Experiences in Psychoanalysis: Opening to the Numinous. London & New York: Routledge. 2019. Pp. xxi + 219. Hbk. £105.00. Pbk. £29.99.

Review by:
John Merchant

This book is Stein's third on mysticism, revealing his sustained and ongoing interest in mystical experience, its connections to analytical psychology, and in what he sees as the real orientation of Jung to mysticism. Stein attempts to answer the question of ‘slippage’, that is, how to keep spiritual and/or mystical experiences alive in a patient's analysis. As such, it is a significant Jungian contribution to an understanding of mystical experience.

This topic has much contemporary relevance given the incorporation of mindfulness-meditation practices derived from Eastern traditions into Western psychology. And it augments the growing East/West dialogue around the similarities between individuation and enlightenment (Cambray 2019; Shen 2019). Whilst Stein argues that meditation cannot guarantee or cause mystical experiences, it can provide ‘the space that activates complexes and archetypes’, and it is the irruption into consciousness of such unconscious forces that he sees as underpinning mystical experiences (p. 46). It seems inevitable then that a range of patients’ mystical experiences that can potentially flow from engagement with Eastern practices will be continuously brought into our consulting rooms.

All of this raises an important clinical issue, for despite the large range of evidence indicating the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation practices, there can be dangers for individuals prone to dissociation or psychotic states. Blayney's recent case studies research (2019) is pertinent here. She compared the negative effects of meditation on a dissociated Westerner with its positive effects on an indigenous Australian aboriginal practitioner whose culture provides an established tradition in which elders provide containment for the out-of-body experiences of younger initiates. Stein's model of mysticism significantly addresses these and other important issues.

In endeavouring to understand mystical experiences and their psychological underpinning, Stein interviewed 29 mystics from all over the world. He spoke with people who had embraced an Eastern tradition across India, Cambodia and New York, while also adding case studies from his own consulting room.

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