On Buddhism, Mindfulness and Psychoanalytic Therapy

We have written before about the subject of mindfulness in psychotherapy, especially since a growing body of literature suggests that both paradigms may have something to teach one another. Although they share a common goal of contentment, it has been noted that the two approaches are in a sense mirrors of one another:

The main challenge for each side in this dialogue is resisting the temptation to swallow the other. It's easy for a therapist to reject Buddhist awakening as an escapist fantasy, and just as easy for Buddhists to dismiss a psychotherapeutic focus on relationship problems as obsessing with past events rather than realizing one's true nature and living fully in the present. This temptation is aggravated by the fact that the cultural and historical gap between them is so great, which tends to activate Eurocentrism ("the intellectually imperialistic tendency in much Western scholarship to assume that European and North American standards and values are the center of the moral and intellectual universe," according to Jeffrey Rubin) or to idealize Orientocentrism ("the idealizing and privileging of Asian thought--treating it as sacred--and the neglect if not dismissal of the value of Western psychological perspectives"). If we are honest with ourselves, most of us have a bias favoring one side or the other.

This excellent and scholarly piece discusses some ways to resolve this tension, which would seem a worthy goal considering how many psychotherapists practice some elements of mindfulness and meditation. It is especially important because meditation and analytic therapy are directed at somewhat different issues; psychotherapy is concerned with causes, while mindfulness is concerned more with present experience.

[M]ore than a generation of Buddhist practice by committed Western students has made it apparent that meditation by itself is sometimes insufficient to resolve deep-rooted psychological problems and relationship difficulties. In its own short history the psychotherapeutic tradition has gained considerable insight into the mechanisms of denial, rationalization, repression, projection, and so forth, which can help us understand how Buddhist practice sometimes goes wrong--for example, the complicated transference/countertransference that can distort the relationship between therapist and client (or between teacher and disciple).

Of course both approaches show benefits, and both are concerned with liberating the mind from its tortures. There is also no question that mindfulness comes with great benefits, just as psychoanalytic therapy does.

Here at PPSC, we offer an eclectic approach to talk therapy that combine both schools of thought, and that constantly strives for the very latest ideas to help our patients. Contact us today to learn how you can effectively incorporate mindful approaches into your therapy.