Mindfulness and Meditation: A Therapeutic Perspective

The book, Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective, by psychotherapist Mark Epstein, MD, blurs the line between psychology and spirituality, and deliberately so. Epstein’s credentials are impeccable. He is a long-time meditator, student of Buddhism, a psychiatrist practicing psychodynamic psychotherapy, who blends mindfulness and meditation as tools for his therapeutic practice and teachings.

Epstein views psychotherapy and meditation as therapeutic practices to be used together. He does not see them used consecutively, or side-by-side, but rather, as being closely integrated.

He focuses on the concept of the need of patients to deal with Freud’s “basic fault”, the feelings of inadequacy left over from growing up with parent(s) who did not devote enough attention to the child. He sees this as a sense of emptiness that must be dealt with in therapy, rather than dealing with specific incidents with the parents.

“I came to my first Buddhist teachers after a very short experience with psychotherapy; so, those first encounters were framed with a beginning attempt to seek therapeutic help for myself at the student health services at Harvard, where I was given a practitioner of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy. This therapist met me three times and told me not to worry—my anxieties were just a result of my Oedipal complex and once I understood that, I would be fine,” Epstein explains.

“I went from there to a Buddhist summer camp in Boulder, Colorado where I met my first Buddhist teachers: Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. They taught me mindfulness meditation, in which I learned how to actually be physically with my emotional experience… The insights from my psychotherapy teachers were many but came later, after, to my dismay, I realized that what I was learning from Buddhism still left me sometimes struggling, especially in my relational life. So, I went back to psychotherapy informed by Buddhism, and then was touched by how deftly certain of my therapists worked with my relational self in the actual interactions with them in the moment.”

The concepts of mindfulness and meditation lend themselves very well to the goals of psychotherapy. After all, if looking inward has any value at all, doing so in multiple ways, and in ways that help you to accept who you are more fully and easily, also has a great deal of value.

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