Treatment Methods in Buddhist Psychotherapy
It is clear that all psychotherapies emphasize introspection aimed at self-understanding and rely on the healing relationship. The Buddhist method in particular, incorporates an insight-oriented dialog and interpersonal role-modeling during the session with a contemplative educational triad of meditation, study, and lifestyle between sessions.
Buddhist psychotherapy, which has been adopted in the last several decades, is a novel approach to the clinical practice of mental health. It combines aspects of conventional psychotherapy with traditional Buddhist psychological theory and practice. Because there are several sub-schools of psychotherapy and Buddhism from which to integrate, there currently is no single formalized clinical approach to its practice. Therefore, Buddhist psychotherapy differs widely in its presentation among diverse practitioners.
Twenty five hundred years ago, Gautama Siddhartha, the historical Buddha, had some deep insights and created powerful techniques that would allow major reductions of human suffering. Traditionally the Buddha is said to found a total end to all suffering. Perhaps that's true, perhaps it's not. I don't know, but certainly Buddhist meditation techniques and related practices can greatly reduced individuals' suffering.
From that time on, to greatly oversimplify, you can talk about two main streams of Buddhist activity. The heart of Buddhism is the monastic tradition, monks and nuns so dedicated to achieving enlightenment for their own sakes and for the sake of others that they devote their entire lives to living in ascetic conditions and practicing meditation and prayer. The other main stream is the beliefs of the common people, in essence, that the Buddha was some kind of god, or at least had supernatural abilities, as the monks and nuns also do to various degrees. These people were too busy trying to survive and earn a living, and so could not meditate very much themselves, but they could earn merit, which would go toward improving their future lives, by worshiping the Buddha and by supporting the monks and nuns with alms and other donations. I'm speaking very generally, of course, and you can find many variations on these themes.
One of the major interests of the meditation research community has been the study of the brain's default mode functioning. What is the default mode and why should we care? Scientists studying the default mode look at what networks in the brain turn on and off in a coordinated fashion.
These days there is all kinds of interesting stuff on the web about meditation and that's a good thing! After the jump you will find some links to recent articles and videos about meditation.
When I was in Boston a month or so ago, I got a chance to visit with Marvin Minsky. Professor Minsky was the co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT and one of the pioneers in the field of computer science and robotics.
Since the early 1950s, Marvin Minsky has worked on using computational ideas to characterize human psychological processes, as well as working to endow machines with intelligence. In the early 1970s, Minsky and Seymour Papert began formulating a theory called The Society of Mind which combined insights from developmental child psychology and their experience with research on Artificial Intelligence. The Society of Mind proposes that intelligence is not the product of any singular mechanism, but comes from the managed interaction of a diverse variety of resourceful agents.
So I thought it might be fun to ask him some questions about what is the “sense of self”, awareness and consciousness.
When I become the Czar of Worldwide Words, I'm going to abolish the word "meditation."
Isn't that an odd way to start a blog on meditation? Gets your attention, though.
My post here will be written mainly from my role as a scientist, as a psychologist, as one of the founders of a relatively new branch of psychology, Transpersonal Psychology, although as a student of meditation and spiritual paths all my life, my perspective is "inside" and well as "outside."
As a field, mainstream psychology pretty much accepts the materialistic assumptions that dominate in most fields of science today, that only what is material is real, matter and physical energy. The physical matter and electrical and chemical processes of your brain are real, consciousness is nothing but a secondary derivative of those physical processes. From this perspective, all those things called "meditation" are indirect ways of controlling your physical brain's functioning, and so someday you won't have to spend all those (too often boring) hours sitting, because science will develop a pill that directly puts the brain in the best "meditative" state. "Spirit" or "spirituality," from the materialistic perspective, is simply old fashioned nonsense, superstition, and best dispensed with, as it interferes with our rational functioning.
Scientific evidence that mindfulness produces demonstrable effects on well-being and health is well established.(1) Mindfulness classes are offered in many different contexts, to healthcare professionals, secondary school students or patients suffering from depression.(2) There is now also a significant body of research showing that mindfulness-based methods to develop empathy lead to a decrease in the biological markers of stress. (3)(4) Participants found they had greater compassion for themselves and for others after just two weeks of applying the techniques.(5) Happier teachers means happier students. An article in next month's Review of Educational Research corroborates existing studies on how teacher empathy improves student's engagement and achievement.(6)
Meditation can change the brain. Wow! Did you read that? Last spring when I first found this post, it was all over the internet. In fact, the net was buzzing with the the results of this study carried out at Massachusetts General Hospital, headed by Sara Lazar at Harvard University. The results showed that by participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program, individuals were able to make what appears to be measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.
In my research I have been thinking a lot lately about the power of habits, which was stirred by David Neal, who visited our institute and gave a talk about this topic. He showed how we think we are in charge of our lives and in control, and how we do what we want to do. But actually, we spend most of our time performing habitual actions (Wood & Neal, 2007)). This is why it is so difficult to kick our habit of distraction, for example.