Urban Mindfulness

Finding peace in the middle of it all.

Buddhism and Psychotherapy: Interview With Dr. Miles Neale

Why are Buddhist concepts and techniques so popular lately?

Joe Loizzo, Robert Thurman, Miles Neale
Joe Loizzo, Robert Thurman, and Miles Neale
Starting this fall, the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science will be offering a new Certificate Program in Complative Psychotherapy, which emphasizes mindfulness and compassion. Designed for health professionals, this program includes presentations by well-known experts in meditation, neuroscience, Buddhism, yoga, and psychotherapy as well as ongoing guidance in one's personal meditation experiences. Excited by the offering, I had an opportunity to interview my friend and colleague Dr. Miles Neale about the increasingly popularity of Buddhism in psychotherapy.  Dr. Neale serves as the Assistant Director of Nalanda and Lineage Mentor of the Interdependence Project, while working as a contemplative psychotherapist in New York City (he's on the right in the photo, next to Drs. Joe Loizzo and Robert Thurman).  My questions appear in italics.  

Increasingly, aspects of Buddhism are being incorporated into psychotherapy and mainstream healing approaches. How do you explain this integration?  

There is a recognition dawning that psychotherapy, whose origins are influenced by the Cartesian dualistic paradigm of the seventeenth century, possesses inherent limitations. Like allopathic medicine before it and the current trends towards cognitive neuroscience, traditional western psychotherapy is fundamentally a human enterprise of self-understanding and healing that is grounded in a materialistic and reductionist worldview, largely devoid of spirituality, ethics and a coherent understanding of consciousness. Conversely, Buddhist, and other non-dual ancient Indian worldviews, negate the mind-body split and thereby posses holistic, rigorous, and comprehensive psychologies. With as much scientific precision as modern physics, Buddhism has explored the nature of consciousness and reality for millennia. And yet unlike our Western scientific traditions, Buddhism not only posits that human gnosis and happiness are actually possible, it grounds the endeavor of consciously cultivating one's mind within a context of interdependence and universal ethics, motivated by an altruistic intention to assist all sentient life in their evolutionary development towards awakening. Given the ever-growing challenges of civilized living we now face on the planet, I believe we are not only turning to Buddhism for its powerful methods of meditation for personal self-healing, but also for a more coherent, comprehensive and compassionate paradigm of reality and the potential of the human mind so that we may actually direct positive evolution on social and global levels. 

In psychotherapy, clinicians are familiar with treating people who suffer from psychiatric disorders or disturbances in psychological functioning. How are such conditions conceptualized from a Buddhist perspective?                                             

From a Buddhist perspective the variety of mental disorders have a single root cause. We are all delusional to some degree because each of us possesses a distorted view of reality that contributes to our experience of suffering. Our distorted perception forces us to misapprehend things as separate, including ourselves, thus pitting us against a world of discrete entities and compelling us to gratify and defend that which we arbitrarily deem as “I,” “me,” or “mine.”  If we examine the current state of affairs on this planet, we quickly see the deleterious result of holding such an erroneous view. From domestic and school violence, to drug, sex, and slave trafficking, on up to corporate greed, religious wars, and the wide-spread ecological destruction. Unlike most psychotherapies, Buddhism addresses this root cause, the fundamental delusion of separateness.

First, it was mindfulness. Now it's compassion (and self-compassion). What's next?  

It seems that visualization practices are the next frontier. The trajectory of clinical research on meditation is intuitively following the traditional Tibetan Buddhist inner science curriculum referred to as lam rim, or gradual stages of the path to awakening.  We start by establishing individual well-being and healing through insight and awareness, then develop pro-social engagement through love and compassion, and finally access heroic leadership and inspiration through role-modeling visualization and subtle-body sublimation. We have a solid foundation of the past thirty years studying mindfulness, and the past decade has begun to explore meditations that promote love and compassion. A very small handful of researchers have just started to empirically investigate powerful visualization techniques exclusive to the tantric Himalayan traditions of Tibet and India. These visualizations function as internal “flight-simulators” of love that accesses mammalian pro-social emotions and blissful neurochemistry in order to expedite the process of human evolution into more empowered, heroic, caring, global leaders. Very, very exciting stuff!

The Nalanda Certificate program looks very exciting and includes such an incredible line-up of experts! Would you tell me a little bit more about it?  

We are very fortunate that luminaries and experts in the fields of Tibetan Buddhism, neuroscience and psychotherapy have signed on as faculty including Joe Loizzo, Robert Thurman, Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Siegel, Richie Davidson, and Rick Hanson. This is a truly unique program and an historic moment in Nalanda’s growth. Coming off the success of our public educational initiative called the Four Year Program in Sustainable Happiness, we wanted to target and custom design a long-term training program for health professionals. Currently there are very few training programs in contemplative psychotherapy worldwide, and surprisingly none in New York City. We wanted to make our program available to professionals practicing in the field, outfit them with the contemplative arts and science of Tibet, and support their development with congenial mentors and community.

This interview is just a short excerpt from a longer discussion that I had with Miles.  You can read the rest of it at the Urban Mindfulness website. I highly recommend that you check it out!

In addition, you can learn more about Dr. Miles Neale and the Nalanda Institute's new Certificate program in Contemplative Psychotherapy by clicking on their names.  

Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D., has been practicing, teaching, and writing about mindfulness for over a decade. He maintains a private practice in New York City.

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