Dhamma and psychotherapy

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Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby curious_buddhist » Tue Oct 23, 2012 1:32 am

Hi everyone

What do you think of this trend in society of psychotherapists pulling out aspects of Dhamma practice and integrating it into their therapeutic practice? Does it have it's uses, or is it a case of folks pretending to be experts on things they may not understand fully and risking harming others?

I'm asking because I began practicing Dhamma and studying psychology at around about the same time. Initially i felt it was a good balance, studying both Dhamma and a Western approach to addressing suffering in the human mind. Yet as my practice develops I am noticing more and more in the content of my psychology course serious limitations of psychotherapy.

In a recent 'mindfulness' subject there was so much focus on how to make meditation interesting and novel so that your 'customer' would keep on coming back and you can build your business. When I raised a more traditional Satipatthana approach focusing on sila, samadhi, panne, I was subjected to an anti-religious rant by the lecturer about how rigid and dogmatic traditional forms of meditation are, who then made so many incorrect assumptions about the practice and even went on to tell the class that I'd just blindly accepted what I'd been told by monks and never questioned anything about meditation practice. I refrained from challenging the assumptions and remained quiet as any debate would have resulted in a waste of time and worked up many people in the room. On a positive note it did serve as an opportunity to explore any attachment to my own views and opinions and work with feelings arising when these views are challenged.

Funny enough the following week the same lecturer used a heap of the ideas I'd raised to guide a meditation for the class, but then still had to remind the class of the previous weeks discussion and pointed out how wrong I was :rofl:

A monk I spoke to pointed out that psychotherapy has it's uses, as it can help people get out of a state of abject misery, which in itself is a good thing, but is limited to that.

Anyways, I guess as my practice develops I'm finding that I'm less inclined to engage in this 'wellness' industry and pretend to be some sort of magical psychotherapist expert healer who can help everyone. I'm rather more inclined to draw inwards and develop my practice rather than (in an agency setting) give everything of myself to people who don't get it or just don't want to make changes in their lives, and if they show interest in Dhamma to just point them towards a good teacher.

What are your thoughts about all this? Thanks

:anjali:
Lord Buddha: Sariputta, do you believe this teaching
Sariputta: No, I don't yet believe it
Lord Buddha: Good, good, Sariputta. A wise person doesn't readily believe, he should consider first before believing
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby ground » Tue Oct 23, 2012 1:35 am

The buddha was a psychotherapist. Some of his teachings however may cause neurosis depending on conditioned aggregates. :sage:
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby Pacific » Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:34 am

Buddhism and psychotherapy are not mutually exclusive at all. The Buddha was a psychotherapist it's true... In fact there is an annual conference here in Sydney on Buddhism and psychotherapy and an Association, too http://www.buddhismandpsychotherapy.org/about. In Australia at least, Buddhism is viewed as a very positive thing.
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby Monkey Mind » Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:28 am

So my criticisms of Buddhist-influenced psychotherapy:
- Too many therapists are reading this stuff in books, and thinking they know what they are doing without having a personal practice grounded in sila, samadi, panna. I count myself guilty of this.
- Those who do have a personal practice, their skill level and dedication to their practice directly correlate to with the quality of the product they present to their clients, and this improves over time. I am a far better therapist AND Buddhist practitioner now than I was 10 years ago, and I am still nowhere near close to mastery. Maybe I will be a great therapist when I am 90 years old.
- The field is polluted with a lot of misconceptions about meditation and Buddhism. A lot of people who want to learn meditation as a therapy tool are operating under the false conception that meditation is relaxing and will help them feel better. People are usually quickly disenchanted when they discover meditation is a lot of work,and brings them into direct contact with their suffering.
- The "goals" of meditation (as I understand them) are at direct odds with modern Western culture of pharmaceutical solutions, e.g. pain meds and mood stabilizing meds. I am not anti- medications, but I am refering to a culture that wants to numb any experience of discomfort.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby danieLion » Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:33 am

In My OPINION: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, etc... is vipassana.
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Tue Oct 23, 2012 12:06 pm

In my opinion, the lecturer/professor is a pompous bully. In my various college careers, I've had several such. I'm neither impressed nor intimidated by them. After the session, I usually approach to speak to them privately. Calling them out in class is to challenge them on their own territory, and as Sun Tzu points out in The Art of War, this is not facile ground and they usually become defensive. I returned to school recently to finish a left-over degree and had a conversation with a professor about how he wasn't in loco parentis to us students, so it was inappropriate to say he was "disappointed" in us. I said it was perfectly fine to say he was disappointed in our work or performance, but to say he was disappointed in us as human beings was not his place as an educator. He agreed with me and said he spoke thoughtlessly. The fact that I was about ten years older than he probably carried some weight re: the in loco parentis point. :P

In the case under discussion I would politely but firmly explain that the behavior was unnecessarily impolite/harsh/aggressive, and if the lecturer acted on wrong assumptions, correct the misapprehensions. If he continues to have a problem, I'd take it to the department head. I think pointing out that you were 'wrong' the next day was vastly inappropriate and a sign that he felt threatened by your superior knowledge of meditative techniques. He was attempting to firmly establish himself as the Alpha in front of the herd. This in my opinion reveals a deep sense of personal inadequacy, low self-esteem coupled with an enormous ego, which is why it's difficult for him to admit when he's wrong and why he would assimilate your information, perhaps even unconsciously, without acknowledging your contribution. If you want to really undermine his expertise, ask him about the phenomenological relationship and similarities between anapana sati and Jewish Meditation.

I also grow weary of the tendency of academics to somehow view their artificial Jenga-tower of superstition as somehow superior to "organized" religion. If the Ivory Tower isn't a cathedral erected to the Academic ego, complete with High Priests, rites and rituals, and a whole bevy of superstitions, then I'm the emperor of ice cream. I saw through this mythos of academic supremacy as a dewey-eyed freshman of nineteen. As a gummy-eyed senior (for the third time) at 52, I call a resounding BS. Academia is as full of crap as a Christmas goose. Perhaps the lecturer realizes his feet are made of clay and he fears the day when someone with real-world experience reveals the man behind the curtain.

See, two can play this analysis game. :tongue:

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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby curious_buddhist » Tue Oct 23, 2012 11:33 pm

Thanks everyone for your input...

I approached my lecturer yesterday to voice my concerns about what had happened, and to raise a few questions about the forms of meditation being taught. He suggested that I bring up the questions in the next class. Perhaps by giving him some time to prepare to answer my concerns rather than placing him on the spot has served to make the discussion much more constructive. So thankfully for now the tension has been diffused. I'm still an infant in terms of practice, and certainly don't make any claims to have any knowledge of meditation of Buddhism that is superior to anyone else, it was just that my questions in class were shot down on the basis of them being related to a tradition, without what seemed to be a proper exploration of their validity or invalidity, which on the face of it to me isn't a wise means of examining the results of any form of meditation / contemplative practice.

I guess in psychotherapy I've met a number of well intentioned people who don't practice Buddhism and their understanding is superficial, but have taken bits and pieces of Buddhism into their practice and labelled it 'Buddhist' or 'mindfulness'. I've also known a number of practitioners, myself included, who get in a little too deep over our heads in terms of what we think we understand and risk harming clients through the application of incorrect view. And then there are those who do possess proper understanding who work wonders with their clients. A fellow student who practices Dhamma put it succinctly to me in class - "do you practice Dhamma, or have you just read a few books and called yourself a Buddhist".

At this stage in my path I'm becoming acutely aware of the dangers of not possessing right view when helping someone from the perspective of Dhamma, hence my growing feeling that it is best to remain quiet on such matters and let the real teachers do the teaching and helping others who want to develop their practice.

True, Buddha was a psychotherapist. But would it be correct to say that his goal goes far beyond the conventional goals of forms of psychotherapy today? Maybe that's where my conflict arises. The goal... Buddhism being about reaching beyond conditioned states of happiness and suffering towards the unconditioned. As opposed to running around in circles chasing that which is impermanent, happiness (apologies for any oversimplification or incorrect assumptions I may have offered about psychotherapy or Buddhism here)..

:anjali:
Lord Buddha: Sariputta, do you believe this teaching
Sariputta: No, I don't yet believe it
Lord Buddha: Good, good, Sariputta. A wise person doesn't readily believe, he should consider first before believing
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby Monkey Mind » Wed Oct 24, 2012 2:46 am

I am a bit jaded on the topic.

1) Almost every therapist I know lists "mindfulness" therapy on their website, but few of them actually have a regular practice themselves, and many of them went to one or two training workshops and based on that limited experience feel qualified. I attend therapy conferences, and it is really popular at conferences to market "mindfulness". I don't think that crowd really takes responsibility for the complexity of the mindfulness tools they are using or the potential consequences if used incorrectly.

2) One agency I worked for wanted to get into the mindfulness-based therapy game, but it did not want to spend the big $$$$ to have someone trained/ certified in the MBSR modality. They knew I attended meditation retreats, and they asked me if I could put something together. (They had me partner with an intern who was a Zen practitioner). I used the research literature produced by the Kabbet-Zinn, Steven Hayes, and Marsha Linnehan camps, and some of the manuals published by these different groups. Here was my dilemma: my agreement with my meditation teacher is that I am not supposed to teach that technique to others, but I also believe that a lot of the "new agey" meditations are advancing Wrong View and Wrong Understanding, so I did not want to create a curriculum that was actually Adhamma. So I sought out guided meditations on audio and written scripts from reliable meditation teachers that are readily available on the internet (so as to avoid copy-write issues). So my second dilemma: this agency was charging insurance companies a lot of money for my product, but Dhamma teachers who were more skilled than I am were offering the same classes for free. These days, if a client wants to learn about meditation, I give him a list of five local groups that are reputable and offer training for free.

3) Almost without fail, psychotherapists who advocate "mindfulness" therapy are offering simplified versions of samatha/ samadhi/ vipassana meditations, but only focus on the abbreviated techniques without any reference to ethics or morality.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:55 am

I like this thread. It brings into focus a lot of things. I like:

A fellow student who practices Dhamma put it succinctly to me in class - "do you practice Dhamma, or have you just read a few books and called yourself a Buddhist".


That's an excellent question. I've read tons of books on Buddhism over the past thirty years, including the Nikayas and much of the Abhidhamma and commentaries. I've practiced more or less diligently +- 25 years. But I can't honestly call myself a Buddhist.

BB
Author of Redneck Buddhism: or Will You Reincarnate as Your Own Cousin?
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Re: Dhamma and psychotherapy

Postby danieLion » Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:47 am

It doesn't have to be associated with the Buddha to be Dhamma. I doubt effective CBT, RET, DBT etc... therapists think of what they do as vipassana training. Besides, these types of modalities are self-help based, so it's not important whether the therapists have a mindful practice (whatever that is) or not, but whether or not the techniques train the mind to overcome its delusions.

I've had the same therapist for several years. She billled herself as mindfulness-based, and whe she told me she didn't have a mindfulness practice herself I was pissed. But the irony of it was she'd also taught me how to deal with my anger about it, which worked towards rooting out hate. So, it wasn't officially sanctioned by the Buddha or any Buddhists, but it was still Dhamma practice (and generally more effective than metta, IMO).

When we cling to Buddhism we tend get puritanical, and that's not helpful to anyone. If it's true that difficult people are our best teachers, I think we could give the good CBT, RET, DBT therapists a break when they use buzz-words to attract clients, even when it seems like they're slaying one of our own precious Sacred Cows--Sati.
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