Buddhism and Psychotherapy

Buddhism provides practical and direct guidance for dealing with suffering.  As a therapist, the Buddhist perspective effects my application of cognitive interventions, which in process are similar in nature to Buddhist intervention but different in target.  Although formal sitting meditation is important in Buddhist practice, I typically don’t utilize this in therapy unless it is requested.

Like meditation, psychotherapy itself facilitates the relationship to the creative inner space of the mind which can challenge rigid external interpretations of reality.  Psychotherapy can also function to slow down an individual’s process, to quiet the mind, and can help the individual to see their own inner process without reacting.

This is a practical development of mindfulness and self awareness.  I would view therapy itself as a form of meditation, and potentially the application of Buddhist principles.

From the Buddhist perspective, ultimately all suffering and problems exist in dependence on the mind.  This suffering is predicated on the deluded view that objects outside of ourselves, objects of craving, aversion, or indifference, have some inherent existence and value separate from our mind.

In one sense all suffering is an attitude of non-acceptance towards our experience, which makes sense if you mistakenly believe that the source of happiness or suffering is actually outside of your own mind.

Our past mental conditioning creates virtuous and non-virtuous minds. i.e. love and giving vs. anger, hatred, jealousy, greed/attachment.  Virtue and non-virtue do not involve moral judgments.  Being able to discriminate between these minds is a practical guide to both peace and happiness, or to suffering.

Buddhism provides an actual method to transform the mind from non-virtuous to virtuous. Buddhism is the path to reduce and eliminate suffering, which is all ultimately mental in nature. In traditional Mental Health there is a tendency to designate mental illness as “other” than normal.  In Buddhist view however, it is all the same continuum or problem, from the “non-ill” population to the “very ill” population there is an involvement with suffering and delusion.  Only the truly liberated are free from these problems.

Traditionally the field of Mental Health seeks to optimize the functioning of a self in relation to objectively existing external conditions.  The “self” is seen as essentially functional, and its wishes are seen as largely non-problematic.  Mental illness is often conceptualized as an illness of a potentially healthy self, or the failure of that self to properly defend itself, or the failure of the self to properly develop.  There is a tendency to reify diagnostic states and to reify the self itself.

In Buddhist view, the self itself is problematic.  Self-Cherishing is a fundamental delusion and cause of suffering.  In Buddhist view there is not the problem of a damaged self.  There is the problem of cherishing and grasping a non-inherently existing self.  In reality the only problems are mental habits, non-virtuous minds, and ignorance.  By loosening the grip of our self obsession, we become free to experience life with more compassion towards others and more energy and joy generally.

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