Prescribing the Dharma

Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion

By Ira Helderman

328 pp., 6.125 x 9.25

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4852-1
    Published: March 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4851-4
    Published: March 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4853-8
    Published: February 2019

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Interest in the psychotherapeutic capacity of Buddhist teachings and practices is widely evident in the popular imagination. News media routinely report on the neuropsychological study of Buddhist meditation and applications of mindfulness practices in settings including corporate offices, the U.S. military, and university health centers. However, as Ira Helderman shows, curious investigators have studied the psychological dimensions of Buddhist doctrine for well over a century, stretching back to William James and Carl Jung. These activities have shaped both the mental health field and Buddhist practice throughout the United States.

This is the first comprehensive study of the surprisingly diverse ways that psychotherapists have related to Buddhist traditions. Through extensive fieldwork and in-depth interviews with clinicians, many of whom have been formative to the therapeutic use of Buddhist practices, Helderman gives voice to the psychotherapists themselves. He focuses on how they understand key categories such as religion and science. Some are invested in maintaining a hard border between religion and psychotherapy as a biomedical discipline. Others speak of a religious-secular binary that they mean to disrupt. Helderman finds that psychotherapists’ approaches to Buddhist traditions are molded by how they define what is and is not religious, demonstrating how central these concepts are in contemporary American culture.

About the Author

Ira Helderman, a psychotherapist in private practice, holds a Ph.D. in religious studies and is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Human Development Counseling at Vanderbilt University.
For more information about Ira Helderman, visit the Author Page.


“A valuable contribution to understanding both psychotherapy and Buddhism in America. It should be read by scholars in these fields as well as by anyone who wants a ground-up perspective on how people interpret what counts as ‘religion’ and what difference this makes for how they present themselves and interact with others.”--Journal of the American Academy of Religion

“An important, insightful, and timely contribution to understanding the ways that Buddhist practices have been adapted and transformed by the therapeutic community.”—Robert H. Sharf, University of California, Berkeley

“Bringing stories and tales from the field into his vivid book, Helderman intriguingly shows how psychotherapists have understood and incorporated aspects of Buddhism into their practices. Prescribing the Dharma will appeal to a wide range of readers both within and outside the academy.”—Wendy Cadge, Brandeis University

Prescribing the Dharma may well go down as a classic in the field—Helderman has produced a work that provides a foundation, a conceptual frame, and sweeping coverage of how contemporary therapists have developed varying strategies for engaging Buddhism. I have been looking for such a book, and here it is.”—William B. Parsons, Rice University