Author Topic: meditation and psychology  (Read 4988 times)

moon unit

meditation and psychology
« on: May 12, 2012, 09:10:21 PM »
Hi everyone,

I've been meditating now for about 4 months (vipassana and mindfulness), and it's something that I want to remain a part of my life. However I've always wanted to be a psychologist or psychotherapist and I was thinking of retraining in that field. But it seems that meditation and psychology don't go well together. Meditation seems about living in the present moment, not analysing the past trying to think less, etc, and psychology seems to be about analysing people's thoughts, actions, desires.

Has anyone else ever thought of this? Do you think you could study psychology and work in that field and still meditate and try and be mindful. I'm a bit confused about it.

Thanks for you help  :)

Masauwu

  • Member
    • chipping away
Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2012, 09:38:17 PM »
Hi Moon Unit,

I have no knowledge of the training involved in becoming a psychotherapist, but i`ve heard on a couple of occasions of someone`s experience with one in therapy - and she was giving him exercises that involved becoming mindful of feelings and other methods similar to meditation practice.

Neuroscience is making progress in confirming and explaining the positive effects of meditation, and i can see how these findings can be implemented as tools to help pacients deal with their problems and live a happier life.
The summer river:
although there is a bridge, my horse
goes through the water.

CameronJ

  • Member
    • Sitting meditation, Hatha Yoga, also involved with Shambhala Meditation Community
Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2012, 11:50:23 PM »
moon unit,

I'd say any type of work requires engagement...thinking and acting. If we're going to function in the world, we inevitably have to engage. So if psychology and psychotherapy seem like the best use of your skills and interests, the best way for you to engage with the world, then go for it. Here's a book you might find useful written by a psychotherapist for whom awakening is central:

http://www.amazon.com/Toward-Psychology-Awakening-Psychotherapy-Transformation/dp/1570628238

I enjoyed it myself. Whatever your chosen forms of engagement, meditation, of course, helps to withdraw more completely. So as a psychotherapist, I'd guess you'd be less likely to compulsively over-analyze, obsessively take your work home with you, or be distracted by preconceived notions when you're trying to understand a client.

I think, for some of us, thinking seems more antithetical to meditation than acting, but both can certainly be done in ways that involve minimal attachment. All we have to do is practice!

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2012, 12:11:03 AM »
Hello Moon Unit,

Meditation in the Buddhist tradition and Psychotherapy have different aims but both can be used at different stages of learning/being on the path. The aim of Buddhist practice is to see through and drop the veil of the false ego sense of a self completely. Psychotherapy aims at a healthy ego. The two worlds have different meanings for ego too: Buddhist ego includes the subconscious, Western Psychology treats that as a separate entity (or entities).

The above paragraph is a summation of a short piece I wrote several years ago used by Liverpool John Moores University in their Masters Program in "Trans-personal Consciousness".

In building your "career" as a psychotherapist you may likely build the ego. You are looking forward to a career, completing courses, worrying about student debt - all things that take you away from the ever unfolding moment of now which is all that exists.

Western Psychology is engaging with "mindfulness practices" to mixed effect. I surmise the main failing is that not enough emphasis is placed on calm, relaxation and tranquillity meditation or "Shamatha". Shamatha (concentration) and Vipassana (insight) work in tandem and are both fruits of Mindfulness practice. There have been some successes but I would place these in the field of building healthy ego, not seeing ego for the sham it is.

It all depends how far down the rabbit hole of being here and now you want to go ..... If you spent all the time you would be studying meditating you'll go deep. Maybe deep enough to become a brilliant if unqualified therapist (aka meditation teacher ;) ).

Just a note meditation is not about having less thoughts. It's about seeing them for what they are. As you do this then they do diminish and your attachment to them as "I, me and mine" decreases. .. and then you go further down the rabbit hole.

Meditation leads to your mind being a tool at your disposal rather than the subconscious leading the show.

Best wishes in making your choice.

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

CameronJ

  • Member
    • Sitting meditation, Hatha Yoga, also involved with Shambhala Meditation Community
Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2012, 12:54:02 AM »
In building your "career" as a psychotherapist you may likely build the ego. You are looking forward to a career, completing courses, worrying about student debt - all things that take you away from the ever unfolding moment of now which is all that exists.

Definitely something to be wary of. On the other hand, if building a career occurs one moment at a time without future expectations, it's no different from any other activity done mindfully. To find acceptance in unfinished coursework, debt, outside pressure, etc. can be instrumental in realizing equanimity in any circumstances. Also, building a career can be every bit a humbling experience as it can be an ego-building one. It all depends on how it's approached.

DarkNightOfNoSoul

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    • Sayagyi U Ba Khin/Goenka, Mahasi Sayadaw
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Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #5 on: May 13, 2012, 01:33:42 AM »
Hi Moon Unit, just a few thoughts for what they're worth (my opinion only).

I'm currently studying toward a master of science in psychology (specialising in neuroscience). I started studying psychology partly out of boredom with my old career (IT), partly as an effort toward "right livelihood", but mostly because I wanted to learn how well neuroscience aligned with Buddhist principles and meditation techniques. I'd like to integrate some aspects of the Buddhist four-part model of the mind (vinyana, sanya, vedana, sankhara) with current psychological theories of emotion. There is a debate in another thread about whether or not this is a wise approach, and certainly one challenge is keeping meditation/spiritual practice and study/career separated. Here's the thread if you're interested:

http://www.vipassanaforum.net/forum/index.php/topic,1823.0.html

It sounds like you're more interested in applied psychology than research, and I personally think that pursuing a career as a therapist is a great goal if it's done with the motivation to help those suffering from mental illness. But if my own study of psychology is anthing to go by, you should perhaps be prepared for some disappointment, as psychology is still really in its infancy and there is an awful lot that is unknown. Also be aware that there are numerous sub-disciplines of psychology, all with differing philosophies, which are often in conflict with one another. At some stage during your study you'll need to choose which of these areas you want to focus on/specialise in.

With regard to analysing the past, psychodynamic psychotherapy (based on Freud's ideas) is heavily based on recovering and analysing childhood memories, and is generally aimed at developing a "healthy" ego rather than dissolving it, as Matthew points out. A member of my family was trained in this area, and I have to say that it resulted in changes in her that have been very destructive both to herself and to our family. In addition, a friend of mine spent a couple of years in psychodynamic psychotherapy and ended up a mess; she subsequently had to seek help from a clinical psychologist to undo the damage from the psychotherapy! However, these are only my own indirect encounters - I have not personally experienced this form of psychotherapy, nor studied it in any depth, and many people have found it to be beneficial. To me it does seem very antithetical to Buddhism; for example, anger is considered to be a good thing that should always be expressed, no matter what the cost to others. Freudians consider the only other alternative to expression of emotion is repression.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is more widely accepted and, unlike Freud's ideas, has good scientific support. And Matthew alluded to a newer area of cognitive therapy, based on "mindfulness":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness-based_cognitive_therapy

Although I agree with Matthew that the emphasis of this discipline is still on "healing" the ego, it is still the closest thing to Buddhism you'll find in psychology. Plus it's a relatively new and constantly-changing area of psychology, so there is potential to contribute to its development. Personally, if I was interested in applied psychology, that is the way I would go.

We all have to earn a living somehow, and I think psychology is an exciting and worthwhile area to pursue. I wish you all the best.

moon unit

Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #6 on: May 13, 2012, 11:41:06 AM »
Thanks for the replies everyone.

Actually the field I'm interested in working in would be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but I suppose I would have to study all other types of psychology before specialising.

What Matthew said about psychology being about building the ego and meditation about dissolving it really spoke to me and it's the main reason I'm confused about the whole thing. It feels like they really don't go together.

I suppose I just have to think about it, or better still meditate and let the universe decide.

Quardamon

  • Member
    • Teachers were: P.K.K. Mettavihari, Frits Koster, Nel Kliphuis. (In the line of Mahasi Sayadaw)
Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2012, 10:01:10 PM »
I will start with an example:
Take the situation that you you just closed the front door of your home and now it is locked automatically, and you left the keys inside your home. You realise you have done that at the moment that the door is shut close.
If someone else is at home, you hardly have a problem: ring the doorbell, and someone will open.

At any rate, a lot can happen when you realise that you left your keys inside:
You might find yourself stupid; you might immediately think of how you can blame someone else for this (distracting you, or messing with the keys - anything will do); you might feel a sudden rush of despair and feel locked out; you might find that you start to think of different ways to go inside again; you might laugh about the silly situation; you might shrug your shoulders and decide that you need to get in only 9 hours later, and that you do not need to care about this now; you might regard this as a bad omen, etc..

In my opinion (and experience) mindfulness helps here:
The mindfulness will help if you find yourself stupid, not to indulge in blaming yourself.
The mindfulness will help you recognise that you search someone to blame, and you will stop blaming.
The mindfulness will help you acknowledge a rush of despair and help you see that there is no reason for despair.
So mindfulness has this very practical layer: it helps getting a healthy picture of what you are doing.
That is working toward a healthy and confident ego in the sense of psychotherapy. With a healthy and confident ego, is is easier to do your work at a petrol station, or whatever your work is. With mindfulness, you can name your anger / frustration before acting is out, or (with more practice) in stead of acting it out. So the people around you benefit from that. And you too.

To me the whole issue is: seeing things in perspective.
To be a healthy social unit, you need a healthy ego. You need confidence. A sense of self-worth keeps someone going. We are social animals.
Now, as a spiritual being, one might not take this social play very seriously.
On a retreat or during a mediation session one might have a sense for the world without a perceiver being there.
Each of these three perceptions are valid, within the perspective that fits it.
If you tell the housekeeper that comes for the rent, that we are all one, and the social play can not be taken seriously, you come from the wrong perspective and will not be appreciated as a insightful person.

So: Strengthening the ego and overcoming the ego are both a matter of mindfulness and of seeing things in perspective. The same careful observation that in the beginning helps to build a healthy ego will later help to build a healthy view of life, in which ego is not so important and at instances can fall away.

I hope this helps. ("Who is this 'I'? Me? - Is there a 'Me' then?"  "Ah yes, the social perspective")

Blue

Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2012, 03:54:16 AM »
There needs to be no conflict between your desire to be a psychotherapist and meditation! In fact they can potentially strengthen one another.

Pyschotherapy is about getting to the root cause of underlying conditions.. where as insight meditation is about.. getting to the root cause of underlying conditions :)

Your meditation will help you become a better pyschotherapist and as your meditation and vibration strengthen your patients will benefit by simply being around you.

Here is an article about meditation written by a published psychiatrist

http://www.fudomouth.net/thinktank/now_pfwhysit.htm

Matthew

  • The Irreverent Buddhist
  • Member
  • Meditation: It's a D.I.Y. project.
    • KISS: Keep it simple stupid.
    • Getting nowhere slowly and enjoying every moment.
Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2012, 04:45:46 PM »
..
Actually the field I'm interested in working in would be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but I suppose I would have to study all other types of psychology before specialising.

No - actually you could study Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (that DNOS spoke of) right off and start practicing.

What Matthew said about psychology being about building the ego and meditation about dissolving it really spoke to me and it's the main reason I'm confused about the whole thing. It feels like they really don't go together.

You need to eat - and if where you live is anything where like I live, walking round with a bowl like the Buddha will get you beaten up, not fed!

I suppose I just have to think about it, or better still meditate and let the universe decide.

Look up MBCT or even MBSR (Mindfulness based stress reduction) as starting points.

:)
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

moon unit

Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #10 on: June 04, 2012, 01:19:17 PM »
Thanks so much for your replies everyone. I looked in MBCT and there are courses where I live. However I think it'd be better to wait a while and try and deepen my practice for the next year or so. But it's nice knowing the options are there  :)
Thanks again

frepie

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    • Goenka and personnal
    • Looking for answers and trying to loose weight
Re: meditation and psychology
« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2012, 02:13:53 AM »
Have you looked at what Jon Kabat-Zinn has written? Some say he is not the first to use meditation as a therapy but he certainly is the one that contributed the most to its popularity.
Meditation makes me angry...

 

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