Buddhism – Religion or Psychology Theory?
Psychology theories provide explanations of emotional and cognitive patterns to predict the trajectory of “normal” mental health development. After enough data has been collected and analyzed, reliable-ish predictions can be made about “normal” developmental patterns. After a consensus is reached on what constitutes “normal” and “abnormal” behavior, clusters of abnormal are categorized and mental health diagnosis or labels are born. From the various clusters of mental health diagnosis, mental health treatments are formulated.
Based on this criterion, Buddhism could rightfully be re-designated from a word religion to a theory of psychology. Non-secular Buddhist teachings illuminates maladaptive psychological patterns and the source of those patterns, as well as provide treatment plans to alleviate emotional and mental suffering.
I am a psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in mood disorders. I am also a Buddhist who practices daily meditation, mindfulness and studies Buddhist teachings. These non-secular practices foster many benefits in my life, including improved cognitive and emotional health and better relationships. When I share the same teachings and practices with clients, they realize therapeutic value. I endorse Buddhist Psychology, which to me means using the teachings of Buddhism to label maladaptive mental/emotional/behavioral patterns and draw from the Dharma to formulate treatment plans so that clients can reach their treatment goals and improve their emotional, cognitive, and relational health.
Buddhist Psychology and the Clinical Treatment Plan
The language of Buddhist Dharma is very different than traditional psychology theories. In my humble opinion, Buddhist Psychology is much easier to understand, explain and translate than the psychobabble found in many theories and treatment plans. The treatment plan is the guideline for the client that identifies what changes are needed to reach his or her treatment goals. If done well, the treatment plan provides a realistic road map that identifies opportunities for change that will help the client achieve her goals. Usually this road map contains a combination of emotional, behavioral or cognitive changes.
For example, in treating anxiety, it is helpful to see anxiety producing thoughts as a mental process, rather than an accurate interpretation of your current condition. We all have a human mind. The nature of our mind is to engage in processes such as perceiving, interpreting, analyzing and judging. The slope becomes slippery when we confuse our thoughts with reality. Just because we have a thought does not mean it is accurate. Many times our thoughts are wrong.
When we see a mental process such as an anxiety producing thought as though we are an observer of the thought, we create space between our psyche and the thought. In other words, there is the thinker and something that can observe the thinker. You can think ‘today is going to be an awful day’ but witness that you just had this thought. As opposed to having the thought ‘today is going to be an awful day’ because blah blah blah. There we go down the slippery slope, believing the thinker and going down the abyss of anxiety producing thinking.
Buddhist Psychology suggest witnessing our mental process as though we are an observer. Pannatti insight is a type of observing that recognizes the name and form of phenomenon. If one recognizes and keeps their minds eye on the mental process of “worrying” the descension down the rabbit hole of anxiety producing thoughts is reduced. If this process is done often enough, neuro-biology tells us that the neural web that is activated while we are having anxiety producing thoughts becomes disconnected and we change our mental health.
There are countless other applications of Buddhist Psychology. It has been an honor and a privilege to study these teaching. They have benefited me greatly, as well as the many clients who I have had the privilege to work with.
Be in peace – Diane
Diane Chrestman is the author of Zenergy Mindfulness.
Available on Amazon February 2019.