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

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