Saturday, August 29, 2009

Embracing the Day

The day awaits.
A clean slate
is before me.
Will I fill it with
vibrant people
and experiences?
Will I shape it subtly
and gently
as the wisdom and serenity
of a quiet and reflective morning
Will I balance my canvas with
meaningful work,
a walk in the park,
play with a child,
a good book?
Will I warm it with sweet tea
and a heart-felt smile?
Will I honor my deepest values
and be receptive to the days lessons?
Will I hold fast
or take a stand?
I now begin to acknowledge
how powerful
I truly am....

From: BirthQuake: A Journey to Wholness

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Psychotherapy and Spiritual Practice

A young therapist, poet, and regular reader of this blog is exploring the intersection between psychotherapy and spiritual practice. In honor of her substantial ability to both create and appreciate poetry, I thought I would offer what I found to be a rather poetic response to the question, "How is psychotherapy and spiritual practice similar?" by Janet Pfunder in Psychotherapy and Religion: Many Paths, One Journey.

“Psychotherapy and spiritual practice both offer the opportunity to actually suffer our suffering, offsetting the ways we have become numbly unreal to ourselves. We listen for the inaudible scream, finger the invisible scar. We reach toward agony X finding yet never fully finding, yet ever reaching toward, on and on. We fall into ravines, scale perpendicular cliffs, enter flames, and cross scorching deserts looking for the baptism of tears – the kind of tears that fall ever faster as the heart opens. The baptism of tears that transmutes the parched, torn , scorched body into a body of light, a body of breath, a body of gems, over and over and over until the body gradually begins to retain some of its glow. It’s the work of at least one whole long lifetime.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Working with Female Veterans

The Coming Home Project, developed to meet the challenges faced by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families, offers a series of presentations which can be viewed online . Among them is a presentation by Darrah Westrup entitled, "Treating Female Veterans of War."

During her presentation Westrup points out that female veterans tend to be younger, receive less in terms of in-service support, and are twice as likely to develop PTSD than their male counterparts. She also discusses the following evidence based treatments that are currently offered to female veterans:

Seeking Safety

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Buddhism and Psychotherapy

I have found many of the world's spiritual traditions rich with wisdom which is often both useful and applicable to psychotherapy and life. For instance, while I am not a Buddhist, I have most definitely benefited from some of the lessons that I have learned from the Buddhist tradition and find that there are many Buddhist teachings that make sound clinical sense.

In Awakening and Insight: Zen Buddhism and Psychotherapy, edited by Polly Young-Eisendrath and ShĂ´ji Muramoto, Akira Onda observes, "Dhampada, one of the oldest Buddhist texts, begins with the words, ‘We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.’” These ancient words have been echoed by so many models of psychotherapy including but not limited to cognitive, reality, psychoanalytic, gestalt, humanistic, and narrative therapy.

In the same book quoted above, Young-Eisendrath writes, "In my work as a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, I have many opportunities… to engage in the struggle of human suffering, and as many opportunities to test my compassion… An American dread of suffering, based on ignorance about what suffering teaches and how it can be transformed, has recently led to more and more physicalistic and materialist explanations of our pain and adversity. Instead of recognizing the role subjective distress- the ways in which disappointment, anguish, fear, envy, pride, and hostility, for instance, contribute to our suffering – the American anti-suffering campaign now addresses people at the level of neurotransmitters, organ transplants, genetic engineering and biological determinism. This cultural movement has already had massive ill-effects on the practice of psychiatry and psychotherapy over the past two decades in the United States…In this same period of time that this has been unfolding, Buddhism has become a major religious and cultural movement in North America in a way that no one could have easily anticipated in the early 1970…As a result, Buddhism…has, perhaps surprisingly, opened up the possibility of a renewed appreciation of psychodynamic practices of psychotherapy. Because Buddhism presents a spiritual argument for the transformation (not medication) of suffering, as well as specific and systematic methods of analyzing subjective distress…”

As both a therapist and a human being, suffering and the alleviation of suffering has been a great preoccupation of mine for much of my life. It was perhaps from my introduction to the Buddhist perspective on suffering over twenty years ago now that my attention began to shift from how suffering can best be eliminated (an impossibility) to how it might be transformed.
Following are links to additional articles that address Buddhism and psychotherapy that you might find of interest:

Wisdom and compassion: Buddhism and Psychotherapy as Skillful Means

The Search for Happiness Through Buddhism and Psychotherapy

Increasing Use of Buddhist Practices in Psychotherapy

Buddhism and Psychotherapy

Positive Psychology and the Buddhist Path of Compassion

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Spirituality and Psychological Health

In Spirituality and Psychological Health authors Cox, Erwin-Cox, and Hoffman observe, "Undeniably, religion is a reliable source of comfort, hope, and inspiration. It provides meaning and purpose to life, helps people make sense of their suffering, and empowers people to endure even the most challenging circumstances. Religious involvement is also linked to positive physical and mental health. Research studies consistently find that active religious involvement promotes primary and secondary prevention of physical and psychological impairment. For instance, frequent church attendance is negatively correlated with immune system deficiency… People who consistently participate in religious activities and communities may delay the onset of physical disability… and may reduce the mortality rate by 25%… Religious involvement may also safeguard mental health. Individuals who actively exercise their beliefs are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and lifestyle, such as substance abuse, domestic violence, promiscuity, and criminal activities. They tend to have stable marriages, healthy lifestyles, and supportive social relationships. They also experience greater well-being, higher life satisfaction, and less anxiety than their counterpart… Needless to say, there are also negative effects associated with religion, particularly among religious groups that are repressive, controlling, insular, and prejudicial…

…The demand for mental health practitioners with spiritual and religious experience, interests, or background is undeniable. However, the response to this call is generally lukewarm, if not apathetic. For instance, less than one third of practitioners in the filed responded in a survey stating that they would incorporate religious matters as a part of their treatment plan… In general practitioners are skeptical in discussing religious issues in therapy; many are reluctant to explore or address religious topics with their clients. Even when religious issues are brought up in the session, practitioners may tend to be oblivious about the subject matter. Some may downplay its significance in clients’ lives…”

It's my belief that training in how to most effectively and respectfully address both religious and spiritual issues is essential for all mental health professionals.

I'll be writing more about this in future blogs.