Comments on Jeffrey M. Schwartz’s Book “Brain Lock”​

0 (10)
Jeffrey M. Schwartz

Required Reading for Fall Semester, 2019

Philosophy 2000: Encountering Ethics

Timothy Lent

As a theologian, I have been intrigued by the teachings of Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a research psychiatrist at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). In particular, I have read his book Brain Lock several times. With each reading, I have perceived a certain spirituality emerging from it, but not in the sense of a spirituality from a traditional or organized religion. Of course, in his book, Schwartz was writing about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), not spirituality.

The Difference between the Mind and the Brain

Nevertheless, I detect at least three spiritual or, perhaps, philosophical intimations from the book Brain Lock. First, Schwartz presupposes that a person’s mind is not the same as his or her brain. In other words, the mind is more than a person’s brain. For example, Schwartz teaches that an obsession (an unwanted, disturbing thought) comes from a person’s brain. However, his or her mind did not choose to have the obsession.1 For Schwartz, mindful awareness is the “I” or mind within a person that becomes aware of the brain’s unwanted thought.2

The Difference between the Will and the Brain

Second, Schwartz presupposes that the will, a person’s power of choice, is not the same as his or her brain. Schwartz teaches that a person’s will has more power than the unwanted thoughts from his or her brain. As Schwartz says, “Obsessions don’t take over your will,”3 forcing you to act against your choice.4

For Schwartz, then, there is a difference, as he says, “between your will – your wholly internal spirit – and your unwanted, intrusive [thought].”5 The will chooses (a spiritual or immaterial act) not to act on the obsession or unwanted thought, saying, “I will not do this.”6 Therefore, for Schwartz, the obsession “is not your will, not you, … and it won’t take over your spirit.”7

Spirit’s Power to Change Matter or the Brain

Third, Schwartz presupposes that the human will, that is, the spiritual or immaterial faculty of choice, has the power to change the brain itself. How? For Schwartz, when an unwanted message from a person’s brain occurs, he or she should choose not to listen to it. Instead, he or she must refocus, that is, get active, doing something worthwhile, useful or enjoyable. Schwartz calls a person’s choice to refocus “behavior therapy.” According to Schwartz, a person, by changing his or her thinking and choosing to behave contrary to an obsession, will, eventually, change the physical structure of his or her brain.8

Clarification of Possible Misunderstandings

Please note: I am neither trying to make Jeffrey Schwartz into a Christian nor a member of any organized religion. In fact, I don’t even know if he subscribes to any particular religion. I am, however, pointing out that for Schwartz, a person is more than his or her body and brain.9 There is, for Schwartz, a spirit within a person’s body, that is, an immaterial dimension, consisting of the mind and will. Schwartz is, in philosophical terms, a “substance dualist” or “dualist-interactionist.” He even goes so far as to declare his belief in some kind of Spirit, Higher Power or Supreme Being, saying, “God wired the human system.”10 Schwartz, then, wittingly or unwittingly, enters into the age-old debate: Is there a human mind that is separable from the brain?


1. Jeffrey M. Schwartz with Beverly Beyette, Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior (New York, N.Y.: First Regan Books/ Harper Perennial, 1996, 1st paperback ed. 1997), p. xxxv.

2. Ibid., p. 11.

3. Ibid., p. 14.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., p. 42.

6. Ibid., p. 43.

7. Ibid., p. 42.

8. Ibid., pp. 70, 71, 74, 75.

9. Cf. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, You are Not Your Brain (New York, N.Y.: The Penguin Group, 2011).

10. Jeffrey M. Schwartz with Beverly Beyette, Brain Lock, p. 76.