The Mind Through The Lens of Buddhist Psychology
Theories of psychotherapy are intended to define and predict the trajectory of "normal" mental health and development.
That is, after a consensus is reached on what constitutes "normal" and "abnormal" behavior.
If you tell me you talk to your deceased grandmother before making any life decisions, perhaps you are psychotic. If you are living in a mountain village in Peru this same experierince elevates your status to that of a village shaman.
Once we can agree on "normal" and "abnormal", which we never will, talk of treatment begins.
The treatment part of the discussion is where Buddhist Psychology, in my opinion, could rightfully take center stage. I find the definitions of mental illness and the treatment plans to alleviate mental illness to very clear and very effective treatment options.
When The Mind Makes Us Suffer
The language of Buddhism is very effective in helping us understand the mind. Minus the psychobabble. In my humble opinion, Buddhist Psychology is much easier to understand than many other theories of psychology that attempt to explain the function and malfunction of the mind.
One can use the teaching of Buddhist Psychology to understand the mind. The beauty is the teaching can also formulate the treatment plan. That is, clear instruction of what to do when the mind makes us suffer. 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.
The Anxious Mind
For example, in treating anxiety, it is helpful to see anxiety producing thoughts as a mental process, rather than exusively as 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 observe 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’ and believing it. Or worse, letting the mind go down the abyss of unrestrained 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 our current mental processes. If one recognizes and keeps their minds eye on the mental process of “worrying” the descent down the rabbit hole of anxiety producing thoughts is reduced.
Pannatti insight is used to observe and name the mental process. This practice of observing the mind is a foundation of mindfulness practices. Pannatti insight instructs us to witness and name the mental process. The point is this. If the mind is busy observing and identifying, it can't be engaged in thinking of more anxiety producing thoughts. One will notice a sense of putting on the breaks, or pausing the mental process that is causing problems.
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