Tag: buddhist psychology

vintage drawing of sections of brain

I Endorse Buddhist Psychology

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.

Observers Mind

Women with thought bubbles around her
Buddhist Psychology suggest practices such as observers mind to slow down the mind and reduce anxiety.

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.

 

 

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two people standing beside eachother

Tips for Improving Relationships

Relationships Are Difficult. I was recently asked by RelationshipsAreComplicated.com to provide relationship advice and tips that I most frequently provide clients to improve and grow loving  grow loving and fulfilling relationships. I hope you find the information helpful!

How and/or why did you become a therapist?

I became a therapist because I love helping people become the highest version of themselves possible. Relationships are certainly complicated and have enormous potential to add to our suffering. All individuals have a unique presentation of personality quirks such as wrong beliefs, perceptions, traumatic experiences and less-than effective communication styles. I love helping people recognize the thoughts, behaviors and emotional reactions that are preventing them from reaching their highest level of functioning and identify better ways of coping. I can’t imagine work that would be more meaningful.

I have been a practicing Buddhist for the past 6 years and have studied meditation and mindfulness with Zen master’s during this time. I draw a great deal from Buddhist Psychology. There are wonderful insights in Buddhism which are very beneficial for improving interpersonal relationships. One of the main concepts of Buddhist Psychology is mindfulness. If one is attempting to resolve a conflict but they feel angry it is of great benefit to know that you are angry. You should not try to resolve conflict when you are angry. Mindfulness is a very deep practice. For example, if you are ware of your thoughts, emotions, body, and expectations when engaged with another person, you will know if you are cultivating aspects of the relationship that you seek, or if you are destroying those aspects. Another technique is using right action, right effort and right communications. These practices are part of the Eight-Fold Path, which was the Buddha’s instructions for alleviating suffering. I never try to convert a person from their religion, but I find most people are open and very receptive to these strategies although they are cornerstones of Buddhism. Most people can see that they are congruent with the faith they practice.

What are your favorite or most interesting interpersonal relationship tips/advice?

My favorite relationship advice is to understand your own true nature, and the true nature of other people. You have the capacity to be judgmental, selfish, fearful, and ignorant. When you engage in these patterns try to encourage self-compassion as opposed to self-blasting. Do your best. Learn from your mistake and try to do better next time. Be gentle and loving. Your beloved, boss or neighbor also has the capacity to be judgmental, selfish, ignorant and fearful. Understand why and how these conditions arise. Do you understand the nature of your partner, and do you act with loving-kindness and compassion when they are not engaging at their highest potential?

What are some things about therapy that you want to increase public awareness about?

lady meditating at river bank
Find the meditation level and practice that is right for your ability to concentrate and quiet the mind.

I want to raise public awareness about the benefits of meditation and the different techniques available to begin a meditation practice or to go deeper in an existing practice. I teach all clients to meditate. Many people try to meditate but feel like they cannot because their mind is to racy. There are many levels of meditation. If you try but are having difficulty, perhaps you are trying a level that is to difficult. One should also be willing to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort when learning to meditate. It will feel frustrating at first. You try to quiet your mind and stay in the present moment, but instead find yourself living in the past or future. This is what the mind will do if you have not practiced calming and concentrating the mind. Stick with a practice and you will find a peacefulness, acceptance and wisdom cultivated. These ingredients are crucial to fulfilling and loving relationships.

What are some of the biggest mistakes a therapist or patient can make?

One of the biggest mistakes or misunderstandings is a client’s expectations that a therapist will be able to fix relationship problems through talking. Talking in a caring, safe and supportive environment is indeed very therapeutic. It releases some of the energy of the angst and hurt we feel. However, long lasting changes come from changing elements of emotional reactions, cognitions or behaviors. The work is not easy. Anyone who has ever tried to change a habit know this. Another misunderstanding is around wrong/right effort. Don’t expect that entrenched relationships patterns will have a positive impact the first or second time a different response is generated. The same energy that was used to cultivate the entrenched pattern is necessary to change the pattern.

The original post can be found at

Interview with Counselor Diane Chrestman

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Beauty Queen

The Beauty Queen  crown-740562-s

Maria, the beauty queen, felt lost and depressed.  “I am glad that my beauty is fading. My looks have brought me nothing but problems”. Maria has had a history of abusive relationships with men. As a young woman, Maria over identified with her beauty, now she begrudges her beauty. Her self-esteem and sense of self were shaped by the beauty of her physical form. She lost contact with her true nature and with the universal and intrinsic truths about herself. She could not identify with her intrinsic ability to be kind, loving, flexible, creative, and patient. Maria felt alone and victimized. She lost sight of the fact that in the dance of life, we all will suffer.  She felt out of control and was held hostage by runaway  thoughts and behaviors. At middle age, Maria started to resent her beauty. She no longer cared for herself and abused her body with food and alcohol. Maria changed from over identification with form to trying to destroy her form.

Transcend Form

The characteristics of our form is not the point. The point is we all have form, and it goes much deeper than just how we look. Some of us are beautiful. Others are intelligent, creative or perhaps completely average in all ways. Maybe our form is an idea. We over identify with being Democrat, Christian, Feminist, whatever.   We may be “different” (whatever that means), or below “average”.  Once we accept our form, we can begin to investigate it. We can observe how our form influences the way that others see us. We can learn how our form impacts our essence, including our thinking, behaviors, emotions, impulses and ego. If we rise above our form we move to non-identification. We still have to live with our form. We just don’t have to be boxed in by it. We can not only accept but transcend form.

Maria, Meet Maria

Maria is slowly learning to accept and transcend her form. She honors her body by caring for it. Maria is investigating other aspects of her form. For the first time, Maria is getting to know her true self. She is learning how to love and honor herself. She is beginning to tap into her higher-self and shows patience, kindness and understanding, even when it is difficult. She feels more at peace and not so alone.

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