Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

The Failure of Psychology and the Death of Psychotherapy, Pt. 2

More on the death and de-souling of psychotherapy, Pt. 2

In our last post, we discussed how the social context into which modern psychology was introduced influenced its definition, and how that definition moved the discipline away from its roots in spirituality. That position has, in turn, influenced the manner in which applied psychotherapeutic paradigms have developed in that, to quote Patch Adams, we have been reduced to treating the dis-ease, not the person.

In returning to the roots of psychology we can look at both the science of Yoga and Buddhist doctrine as templates for understanding how to re-envision psychology and psychodynamic psychotherapy. We can also begin to understand how applied psychology has begun to come full circle, with the tools of Dialectic Behavior Therapy, grounded in Zen Buddhist tenets, and the theory of neuroplasticity, which finds demonstrable support in Buddhist meditation practice, helping to impel this return.

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First, let's take a look at Yoga and Buddhism as traditions. Buddhism is a re-envisioning, refocusing and intensification of Yogic teachings, in much the same way that Christianity is a re-visioning and refocusing of Judaic teachings. Remember, just as the historical Jesus of Nazareth was not a Christian, but a Rabbi, the historical Siddhartha Gautama was not a Buddhist, but a Yogi. It was their personal experiences of transformation and revelation that transformed them into avatars.

That said, it is important to remember that Yoga is a science; it is an evidence-based methodology of personal and spiritual transformation that is firmly grounded in psychological theory. The Bhagavad Gita -- one of the three core texts of Yoga science along with the Yoga Sutra and the Hatha Yoga Pradapika -- is a metaphor for the process of spiritual development that follows in lockstep with all of the major modern and post-modern theories concerning the development of personality and consciousness.

By the same token, Buddhist teachings are also deeply informed by ideas that are commensurate with those same psychological theories. Buddhism talks about samskaras (patterns of behavior), attachment (fear), suffering (inner conflict) and both traditions speak of karma (action and consequence) and how to change those things. Sound familiar? It should - it's fundamentally psychotherapy, just a different tack.

The real difference between the two traditions is that Yoga is a very complicated and far-flung discipline, whereas Buddhism - despite its apparent esoteric leanings regards koans and such - is much more pragmatic and cuts to the chase from day one. Yoga eases us into our transformation by allowing space for spiritual materialism - although clearly not tolerating it - while Buddhism forces us to confront ourselves immediately; something most of us are unprepared to do.

Sounds a lot like talk therapy versus A.A., doesn't it? One lets you hold on to your patterns for a bit, while the other just throws you under the bus.

All of that said we are not suggesting that everyone suddenly become yogis and meditators, nor are we suggesting that applied psychotherapy needs to become invested in Veda and Buddhism. Aside from being a bit absurd pragmatically, such a position would leave all the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans and a bunch of others standing on the roadside.

What we are suggesting is that, for psychology to be successful in the 21st century and for psychodynamic psychotherapy to be reinvigorated, we need to reintroduce spirit - whatever form that spirit takes for each individual and practitioner - back into the discipline, and its application.

The transformative revelation of the Born Again experience is not separate from the alcoholic who hits bottom and asks for help. The raising of apana from the third to the fourth chakra is not separate from changing a relationship from one of compromise to one of cooperation. The unbending schedule of prayer in Islam and dovening in Orthodox Judaism is no different than the development of ritual, structure and consistency that can support an addict or a Borderline.

Fechner and Jung were both on to something; it is all one thing. The separation of the spirituality and science whose integration supported the exploration of psyche-logos has made the post-modern discipline of psychology, both academic and applied, "less than". And, drawing on a Southern metaphor, you don't see many three-legged horses, now, do you?

PS - so, what about the Atheists, you ask. Well, we are speaking here about the pragmatic application of tools of transformation, not religion. When we talk about spirit, we are talking about the realization of human potential, not God. Besides, as we've mentioned here before, Buddhists, technically, are atheists, as they do not believe in God or Godhead per se, but, rather, realized humans.

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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