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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:45 am 
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A frequently encountered border in western Buddhism seems to be the distinction between Buddhism, a vehicle for liberation, and psychotherapy, a method for tackling all your personal issues.

It seems to be a trend among Western Buddhist teachers as well to refer would-be disciples to therapists to sort of some parts of their mind, leaving Buddhist practise to mostly well-adjusted individuals (or at least, that Buddhism isn't meant to fix the ill-adjusted parts practitioners may wrestle with).

Thanissaro Bhikkhu put it this way:

    "The purpose of therapy, Freud said, was to take neurotic individuals and return them to an ordinary level of unhappiness. The purpose of meditation is to take you from that ordinary level of unhappiness to a place where there is no unhappiness and no suffering."

That leaves me with a few points of interest I'd like to explore:

  • Where does therapy end and Buddhism begin?

  • Why is this distinction only becoming relevant now? Traditional Buddhism does not seem to operate on a "sort your personal issues with that, then come to Buddhism for this" model - Rather, the whole "personal issues" thing seems largely ignored. Was it simply less relevant, did Buddhist practise actually address it in ways we are missing today or has this lack always existed in Buddhism?

  • One of these questions I'd like to explore a bit more fully - To what extent can Buddhist practise be therapeutic? And are there methods within Buddhism more suited to this than others?

To conclude, I feel I should quote the post that inspired me to start this topic:
Quote:
" Shadow Work

Roger Walsh, M.D., PhD, is a psychiatrist, philosopher, and Buddhist teacher. He recently told me that in the meditation retreats in which he has participated, of the questions he is asked by meditators during their meeting sessions, approximately 80% of his responses are psychotherapeutic in nature, and 20% are directly meditative. And neither Buddhism, nor any other of the great meditative systems, have hardly any teachings on the nature of the repressed unconscious and its “shadow” material. There is much very useful information on the afflictive emotions, how to handle dysfunctional states, what we would today call “positive psychology,” and so on. But as for material that is explicitly forced out of consciousness and into unconscious areas of the mind, from there to be displaced, denied, projected, or otherwise repressed—leaving in their place painful neurotic symptoms—we have very little. And meditation does not necessarily access this material, although in some cases it can certainly help. But it can also make matters worse as well. Many neurotic symptoms come from a dis-owning and dis‑identifying with unwanted impulses or desires; yet much of meditation is a type of “dis‑identifying” or letting go of personal identity, and if that attitude is taken directly with material that has already been dis-owned, the result will only make matters worse, and the dis‑owned material is further dis-owned. This material must first be re‑owned, then integrated with the psyche, and then—and only then—let go of, dis‑identified with.

But of this type of action, we find little in the meditation literature. A few simple psychotherapeutic techniques—such as identifying repressed material, re-owning it, integrating it, then letting it go—would help to handle that nearly 80% of the problems that seem to arise during meditation. But until then, the only advice most meditation teachers have for their students is, “Intensify your efforts!,” exactly what is not needed."


I have some ideas about these things, but I'd like to see what others make of this as well.

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"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra


Last edited by Anders on Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:59 am 
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With respect Anders these threads tend to end in a certain amount of dissonance..

Which of course might be therapeutic.

Put over simplistically, the aim of therapy is to restore normal functioning..
" normal " being what is normative in a given culture.

Dharma's aim is to undo the self sense of the practitioner, so that the way things really are is seen.
Which may in some senses , and to a degree, and temporarily or permanently disrupt what is normative..

If there is an overlap I would suggest that it is found not in Freud or Jung but in those therapies which take their base line from becoming aware of habitual cognitions and seeing that there are alternatives..CBT for example.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:01 am 
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I wrote a blog post some time back on the subject of what I called 'the bell curve of normality'. This was based on Maslow's idea of 'self-actualized persons', albeit with a more 'dharmic' emphasis. The following is adapted from that:

It is natural to assume that normality is an end in itself, or that the 'normal' mode of life is all that can be aspired to. People generally hold great stock in normality as a mode of being. But just because normality is our modus vivendi (way of life) does not make it our summum bonum (ultimate end.) Any spiritual person must realise that normality is simply a transitional state and not the end of life. You don't want to be subnormal, but the religious life calls you to be more than normal. It calls you to a state beyond the 'normal' concerns of the 'normal' life.

Saying that means that I believe there is a different dimension to the human condition, which is beyond what we think of as 'normal' - the state of the ''realized being'. The 'realized being' is not a 'normal persons'. The normal person is not realised, and the realised being is not a normal person.

But realised beings are not sub-normal. They are actually super-normal, they are outside the scope or realm of what we call 'normality'. Yet they are not mad, or psychotic, or degenerate. I would say that if degrees of normality can be represented on the Bell Curve, then the 'realized being' is on the extreme right side of the curve.

Image

Then you have the vast bell of the curve, 'normal people', moving, from the left, from those who are barely integrated, through the middle, where almost everyone is, to the right of the bell curve, where those superbly integrated people are - commensurately few in number, of course.

However, self-realised individuals are generally exceedingly compassionate and kind, and they generally won't cast aspersions on normal people or look down on us in any way. Rather, they will, as they have throughout history, gently, persistently, unfailingly, ceaselessly, remind us 'Normal People' that all the stuff we think is real, all the things we take for granted, are empty, unreal, phantasmagorical. They will attempt to help us, in exactly the same way that we attempt to help those among us who need guidance.

And so we all move along, through the bell curve of normality.

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Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:16 am 
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Good question and answers.

Is dharma about more than sanity? Sanity I would suggest is a primary base to practice from.

The interesting thing is the social norms of most cultures are . . . how can I put this politely . . . crazy. They seek to be suffering free by engaging in karmic action that ensure suffering. :crazy:

:hi: Then we have the dharma paths created by the ignorant and deluded . . . :thinking:

Must be time for my medication . . . eh meditation . . . :oops:

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:19 am 
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Very interesting post Jeeprs. Thanks.

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The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:39 am 
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In my opinion there is overlap since both rely on models of how the mind and perception work. Both need to deal with things that can be changed and things that cannot be changed. They both need to find out what is instrinsic to the physiology and structure of the brain and sense organs, and what arises from mind and thoughts. What is conditioned, and can therfore be unconditioned, and what not.

Cuelho described the normative problem of psychotherapy with a lot of humour in his novel "Veronika decides to die."


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:41 am 
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@jeeprs: That realized being would not be anywhere on your scale since you cannot measure it.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 12:24 pm 
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Anders wrote:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu put it this way:

    "The purpose of therapy, Freud said, was to take neurotic individuals and return them to an ordinary level of unhappiness. The purpose of meditation is to take you from that ordinary level of unhappiness to a place where there is no unhappiness and no suffering."



I heard it said a little differently. It went like "The purpose of psychotherapy is to transform neurotic suffering back into existential suffering. And the purpose of Buddhism is to be free of existential suffering".

But that does not necessarily mean that Buddhism/meditation does not work for neurotic suffering. There is definitely overlap IMO. The way I see it Buddhism/meditation goes from somewhere near the beginning to the end, whereas therapy goes from the beginning and stops in the middle and leaves the end alone. I don't think it accurate to say the whole "personal issues" thing is ignored but rather just addressed on a deeper level. I don't think Mr. Walsh's comments are entirely accurate. They may be accurate for the particular type of meditation retreats he attended, but I don't think it's an accurate portrayal of Buddhism/meditation as a whole. The zen teachers that I practice with certainly don't teach any kind of pushing away of any thoughts or feelings. They teach acceptance and observation of such things. Although, for actual psychological disorders like schizophrenia or clinical depression, etc., they also recommend professional therapy. Some of the zen masters are even practicing therapists themselves. The guiding teacher of our zen center is a Gestalt therapist. I think you can say that Buddhism/meditation similar to a version of Gestalt therapy.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 12:52 pm 
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The original Freud quote was, according to Wikiquotes:

Quote:
I do not doubt that it would be easier for fate to take away your suffering than it would for me. But you will see for yourself that much has been gained if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.


However Freud was adamantly opposed to anything spiritual - as far as he was concerned, happiness was only to be found in the ability to love and to work. Which is true, as far as it goes…..

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 12:55 pm 
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Yes Gestalt Therapy is interesting...I assume that we are talking about the form of Therapy devised by Fritz Perls, rather than the school of psychology that goes by the same name.

Perls was a student of Zen, although to what degree of seriousness I don't know.

As with CBT and similar, Perl's Gestalt involves developing awareness of cognitions and the affect in the here and now.
Rather than attempting to uncover past traumas.

It starts with the assumption that causes of faulty learning are not worth the effort to recover.
The emphasis is on learned roles and concomitant distorted narratives in the present moment and bringing them into conscious awareness.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 1:18 pm 
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The goal of psychotherapy is to heal mental illness. The end result is a healthy worldly personality that enables you to function normally in society, do all the things that mentally healthy humans do, work, have relationships etc and help you stop any pathological self destructive mental patterns that disrupt your successful worldly life.


Psychotherapy is not a means to reach any states of transcendence and it doesn't involve any spiritual topics like an afterlife


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 1:25 pm 
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Fritz Perls lived and taught at Esalen for five years from 1964. As such he was arguably one of the originators of what would become known as the 'human potential movement' which drew upon elements of Eastern philosophy as well as many other sources. (Alan Watts gave his first lecture there in January 1962.)

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 1:30 pm 
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seeker242 wrote:
But that does not necessarily mean that Buddhism/meditation does not work for neurotic suffering. There is definitely overlap IMO. The way I see it Buddhism/meditation goes from somewhere near the beginning to the end, whereas therapy goes from the beginning and stops in the middle and leaves the end alone..



You have to take into account that a lot of people who take up psychotherapy are not interested in spiritual matters. They want their worldly problems to improve to a "normal" level and that's it. I am totally against urging random people who suffer from mental illness to follow a certain religion. If someones mental health is restored through psychotherapy that person can choose a spiritual path of his or her liking.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 3:34 pm 
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Quote:
I am totally against urging random people who suffer from mental illness to follow a certain religion.

I agree. IMO when spirituality is improperly practiced it makes people worse off psychologically and spiritually both. You don't want to see people going down the same road as Ed Gein.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 9:14 pm 
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Simon E. wrote:
Yes Gestalt Therapy is interesting...I assume that we are talking about the form of Therapy devised by Fritz Perls, rather than the school of psychology that goes by the same name.

Perls was a student of Zen, although to what degree of seriousness I don't know.

As with CBT and similar, Perl's Gestalt involves developing awareness of cognitions and the affect in the here and now.
Rather than attempting to uncover past traumas.

It starts with the assumption that causes of faulty learning are not worth the effort to recover.
The emphasis is on learned roles and concomitant distorted narratives in the present moment and bringing them into conscious awareness.


Yup, exactly that. Zen Master Wu Kwang (Richard Shrobe) is our centers guiding zen master and he studied professionally with Fritz's wife Laura. He is in private practice now in New York. :smile:

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One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:01 pm 
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MBCT has Dharmic roots.
More on MBCT via my sig link.

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http://bemindful.co.uk/

" A Zen master's life is one continuous mistake."
(Dogen).


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:23 pm 
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A pertinent article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/magaz ... d=all&_r=0

:anjali:

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 17, 2014 12:49 am 
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Quote:
The goal of psychotherapy is to heal mental illness. The end result is a healthy worldly personality that enables you to function normally in society, do all the things that mentally healthy humans do, work, have relationships etc and help you stop any pathological self destructive mental patterns that disrupt your successful worldly life.



Well, there are mundane and supramundane fruits of Dharma practice, so there ya go. As Buddhists we shouldn't overlook the importance of people simply having minds that are less disturbed by the three poisons, even if it's just in pursuit of a more peaceful, or just less miserable worldly existence. - this is a worthwhile goal.

My teacher is both a Loppon, and a masters in Western Pysch and mental health professional..I was lucky enough to get to talk with him about this stuff recently as I am planning on going into addiction counseling, and eventually at least getting a B.S. The gist of what I got from him was that western psychology is easily encompassed within Buddhist psychology, which tends to simply have wider parameters for..everything. To me this make sense, especially now that western psychology is embracing so many Buddhist ideas, it will always be "secular" I think..the notion of well being has very defined and narrow parameters within western psych. I don't see that bit changing any time soon. For those planning on going into this kind of work though, IMO that should not matter. We should be able to help people in ways that don't bear a Buddhist brand, since most people do not want to be/will not become Buddhists, it seems to me that we have some kind of duty to give them what we can of Dharma practice, without the expectation that their goals will conform with ours. Personally I fully believe that (for instance) a Christian or Atheist or abuse victim or whatever will be greatly helped by meditation practices, even if they are scrubbed of things that we'd like to be there sometimes.

Of course the challenge to this is not letting Dharma practice become a commodity, or allowing it be so divorced from ethics or worldview of Buddhism that it ceases to make a difference...I have no idea how to answer that in a world that will only accept a "secularized" version, but it seems to me too important to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Anyway, a lot of newer therapies are basically meditation on some level, many therapies that involve 'reliving trauma'..are pretty close to Vipayshana..dressed up as different stuff of course. The CBT link is pretty obvious, if you look at something liek Lojong..Lojong basically IS a mental health practice, the only difference is that the goal is much longer term and broader than the goal of western-oriented therapies.

One thing I have always found that seems contradictory about western farmings vs. Dharma is the obsession with "healthy identity"..however, when you view them from a Buddhist perspective where all identity is acknowledged to exist in a relative sense..it doesn't seem so bad.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:38 am 
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Your usual good sense and balance Johnny...Sadhu !


There has certainly been a shift in attitude to these topic on this forum recently.
Only a short time ago a rational discussion was very difficult because it brought out an aversive response in some members.
I could venture a speculative guess why that was...but it wouldn't help. ;)

One of the problems is that a whole generation of Dharma practitioners still equates psychotherapy with the antique and creaking philosophy of Freud or the proto-new age fanciful meanderings of Jung.

Neither has featured to any degree for some time in the training of most psychotherapists.
Except for historical purposes.
To criticise psychotherapy by citing Freud or Jung is like trying to understand quantum mechanics from a Newtonian perspective.
Instead the emphasis is on the pragmatic and existential. What arises in the here and now.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:42 pm 
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On a serious note..Anders posted a thread on 'PSYCHOTHERAPY and Dharma'

A discussion on the merits and demerits of psychology and/or psychiatry is completely off topic.

Psychiatry is a branch of medicine.
Psychology is to psychiatry as anatomy and physiology are to surgery.

Neither are PSYCHOTHERAPY...


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