Psychotherapy and Meditation: Means To The Same End

Meditation and psychotherapy have much more in common than most people think.

Posted Mar 25, 2015

Alexi Berry, used with permission
Source: Alexi Berry, used with permission

Psychotherapy has been moving toward a more mindfulness-based approach for about a decade. This type of therapy (acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and several others) has been labeled the “third wave of psychotherapy” (or the third wave of cognitive therapy). Although some of the approaches have been newly packaged, mindfulness has always had a place in psychotherapy. What’s more, meditation and psychotherapy have always had a few things in common.

In the book, “Mindfulness, Acceptance, and the Psychodynamic Evolution” Jerry Gold, Ph.D. ABPP makes the connection between free association (a psychoanalytical technique) and mindfulness (an aspect of which is being aware of the contents of the mind without judgment). He later furthers his argument reporting how certain types of therapy utilize the concept of detachment, another aspect of mindfulness (and meditation). Delia Kostner, Ph.D. draws a similar parallel between meditation and psychodynamic analysis. She states that analysis and meditation require “a similar sort of even hovering attention and neutrality (p. 67)”. This indicates that some of the goals of psychotherapy and meditation are similar.

In his writing on self-disclosure, Nelson Goud writes that there are two major ways we gain knowledge of ourselves: feedback from others and our own experiences. He discusses how internal dialogues are a form of communication. As mentioned, a goal of meditation and mindfulness is to become aware of your thoughts in a nonjudgmental fashion. Though Goud purports in his writing that disclosure to another is of the utmost importance in gaining self-knowledge, the benefits of mindfulness and meditation toward the same goal cannot be underestimated, and have proven beneficial.

The idea that mindfulness plays a part in psychotherapy and always has shouldn’t be a foreign concept. Psychotherapy is often about change. Any change requires being aware of what one wishes to alter. Though psychotherapy may bring this into clearer focus, the individual must remain cognizant, mindful if you will, of the behavior that is to be changed. As such, mindfulness is integral to change, whether self-directed or through psychotherapy.

Another way in which meditation and psychotherapy are similar is in the nature of its focus. In both, the focus is on oneself. Time is set aside for both during which the individual will be the primary focus of attention. This is an important aspect of self-care. Often the focus is on one’s thoughts, and returning to the above, attaining a detached and neutral stance. In therapy this often occurs with the assistance of a therapist. In both cases the neutral stance allows for the relief of pain and discomfort, and, returning to the term detachment discussed above, the ability to view one’s thoughts objectively.

However, relief of discomfort is not itself a goal of meditation. In fact, as Williams et al. write in, “The Mindful Way Through Depression”, depression is often complicated by an attempt to escape it rather than allow the feelings to be experienced and pass. Therapists often encourage their clients to bring up unpleasant feelings so a catharsis can take place. Positive movement is often blocked by harbored negative feelings, and the therapist tries to facilitate the catharsis of these feelings.

But as Williams et al. try to impart, mindfulness practices can facilitate the same results. They use yoga exercises to highlight the similarities in how one can feel the discomfort, focus on it, and ultimately benefit from it. This highlights another similarity between meditation and psychotherapy.

The purpose of this article is not to purport that meditation can replace psychotherapy, or vice-versa. Both are beneficial, and the evidence of mindfulness’ benefits to those experiencing psychological discomfort continues to grow. Psychotherapy also has proven benefits. The two together can exponentially enhance one another. Either, by itself, can be a tool to self-knowledge and a more equanimous demeanor. And both are tools on the path to enlightenment, which I will be addressing in my next post.

Copyright William Berry, 2015


Gold, J; 2014; Implications of Psychotherapy Integration for Psychodynamic and Acceptance and Mindfulness Based Approaches; in Stewart, J.M; Mindfulness, Acceptance, and the Psychodynamic Evolution; p.19-35; Oakland, CA.

Goud, N; 2009; Self-Disclosure; in Goud, N; Psychology and Personal Growth, 8th Ed; p. 73-80; Boston, MA.

Kostner, D; 2014; Suffering and the End of Suffering: Conundrum and Cure in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism; in Stewart, J.M; Mindfulness, Acceptance, and the Psychodynamic Evolution; p.55-73; Oakland, CA.

Williams, M; Teasdale, J; Segal, Z; and Kabat-Zinn, J; 2007; The Mindful Way Through Depression; New York, N.Y.

More Posts