NP0010 Is Mindfulness Enough?

This blog focuses on discussion regarding the course NP0010 Is Mindfulness Enough?

NP0010, Mindfulness, Session 6, Mark Epstein


Explore the inherent joyfulness that becomes available through Buddhism’s rejection of our focus on maximizing pleasure with Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist who integrates Buddhist psychology into his work. Epstein will discuss the joyful and loving energy that Buddhist psychology can bring to the Western therapeutic relationship, as well as the pitfalls of Buddhism in the consulting room. You’ll learn what it means to have Buddhism as a therapeutic attitude.

After the session, please take a few minutes to take a look at the Comment Board and let us know what you think. Do you have any questions for the presenter or your colleagues? We invite you to share your thoughts and questions, as well as sharing your name and hometown with your comments. If you have any technical questions, please feel free to contact support@psychotherapynetworker.org. Thanks for your participation.

11.01.2011   Posted In: NP0010 Is Mindfulness Enough?   By Psychotherapy Networker
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  • 0 avatar Merrilee Gibson 11.02.2011 13:37
    Thank you for this presentation. Having now experienced several of these mindfulness sessions, I was struck anew with the idea that what you are doing with this multi-part presentation is allowing us to see different parts of the elephant that is mindfulness (borrowing Dan Siegel’s whole elephant concept). Each presenter shows us their particular understanding and experience of mindfulness.

    I am deeply grateful for Dr. Epstein’s thoughts today. As it happens, this presentation touched some areas that are already fresh in my mind. Having just completed my doctoral dissertation (whew!) which was a case study, using concepts of Rogers, and also of play therapy, led me into the world of D. W. Winnicott, who had a great deal to say about play in the course of his writing. Winnicott draws parallels between the therapy process and that of play (As Dr. Epstein did today). So the incorporation of Winnicott’s thinking was much appreciated.

    At the risk of sounding like the mythical Johnny One-Note, I feel the need to reflect once more on how all this thinking and discussion of mindfulness and therapy resonates in Carl Roger’s writings. Rogers represents the successful therapy experience as bringing the client’s experiences and feelings into awareness, which is a central theme of mindfulness practice. Rogers describes a therapeutic experience when he feels he is at his best: “when I am closest to my inner, intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness. At these moments it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself, and has become part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present” (Rogers, 1979, The foundations of the person-centered approach, Education, 100(2), 98-107).
  • -0.1 avatar Florence Calhoun 11.02.2011 13:45
    ...Interesting presentation and perspectives on the relationship between psychoanalysis and Buddhist philosophy. At this stage of my understanding of mindfulness and consideration of its use in my practice, I appreciated the notion that mindfulness is a tool and a vehicle into the understanding of self.
  • 0 avatar Linda Graham 11.04.2011 08:43
    Deep bows to Mark and Rich for sparking two rich thought streams in my own reflections on integrating mindfulness into psychotherapy.

    1. I’m interested in the dance between “being” and “doing”. Certainly, as clinicians, we offer our clients a valuable opportunity to step off the wheel of “doing” (The Chinese character for busy-ness is two symbols – heart and kill) and drop into the presence of simply being, where they can begin to experience their own wisdom, their own goodness. And for a therapist to allow the client’s own agenda for healing to emerge from that presence or being-ness can be freeing and empowering.

    However, I’m with Richard Schwartz (Internal Family Systems) and the practitioners of many other therapeutic modalities incorporating mindfulness today – AEDP, Sensorimotor, DBT, MBCT, etc. - that distinguish between witnessing and healing modes. If new experiences do re-wire the brain, and they do, and choosing (“suggesting” as Michale Yapko points out) new experiences to re-wire the brain helps re-wire neural pathways in a more adaptive direction, why wouldn’t we pro-actively seek to use our growing knowledge of how the mind works to pro-actively re-wire ancient stubborn automatic neural pathways that keep us stuck in suffering?

    We don’t have to spend years on the couch or years meditating in a cave. We don’t have to be like sea anemones anchored on rocks, watching and waiting for the plankton to float by.

    Both mindfulness and psychotherapy, as experiential processes, offer us the opportunity, maybe even the obligation, to pre-actively cultivate the wholesome and get go of the unwholesome (the step of wise effort in the 8-fold path of Buddhism). Then the practice of presence/being in the therapeutic relationship can help us to create that spacious awareness and acceptance that allows old experiences to be held in new, more compassionate ways, and be more quickly transformed.

    2. There is quite an emphasis in Buddhist thought on the suffering cause by clinging, grasping. In attachment terms, the clinging/grasping could be likened to the anxious-ambivalent style of insecure attachment – over-focus on the object for security, under-focus on one’s own resources. In attachment terms, the avoidant style of insecure attachment – over focus on one’s self or the world, aversion to the “messiness” of emotions and relationships - can be likened to the Buddhist hindrance of hatred or aversion. (As disorganized attachment can map to the hindrance of delusion.)

    As clinicians incorporate mindfulness into psychotherapy, I think it behooves us to attend to the avoidant (aversive) attachment style that causes suffering by creating a sense of separation and dis-connection as much as the anxious-ambivalent (clinging/grasping) attachment style that leads to the suffering of clinging; both styles lead the client away from the secure attachment that is the innate true nature of relating.
    Linda Graham, MFT, San Francisco
  • Not available avatar Joy Lang, MSW, RSW, Waterloo 11.07.2011 14:50
    Thank you for another thought provoking session. I've found this whole series to be very helpful and inspiring. I've particularly enjoyed seeing the progression through the speakers as they each have focused on their own area of expertise.

    I found this particular session to be very interesting, in the parallels between psychotherapy (in a traditional sense) and mindfulness practice were highlighted in a way that made sense to me. I also appreciated hearing a perspective that it is not appropriate to introduce mindfulness to clients at all points of the therapy relationship, rather there are other issues that may need to be dealt with first.

    Thanks again for a great series!
  • 0 avatar Ewa Nei Maddox 11.07.2011 22:59
    As usual, thougtful and inspiring. But it always makes me chuckle to see or hear efforts to compare Buddhism and psychoanalysis, and I suspect that deep down, under the intellectual brilliance of such exercises, some attachments are still lurking... attachments to the safety and joy of our favorite theories. The fact that some comparisons can be drawn successfully between two entities does not prove any substantive or even useful connection or affinity; after all, both my dog and my desk have four legs, are dark in colour, have German origins and a great pedigree...ok?
    And as a matter of fact it is actually cognitive theory not psychoanalysis that comes closest to the essence of Buddhist psychology; "We are what we think. With our thoughts we create the world", the opening words of the Dhammapada, actually sound like a quote from a cognitive-behavioral manual.
    However, there is no way around this truth: all these oft-compared - and linked - with Buddhism western therapy approaches are still firmly entrenched in the samsaric worldview, and as such, come short. Their concepts do not reach beyond the illusions of the senses and the ego; even if, naturally, there are glimpses, for the most part they don't even know what they are missing. Hence, basic incomparability.
    In other words, the problem with applying Buddhist wisdom in contemporary Western psychotherapy is that it is not just another system of scholarly thought which can be mastered through reading books and articles, and attending presentations. And any effort treating it as such will come with severe limitations and distortions, even if yes, it is still possible and even useful to implement it on this level.
    But such is the process of Dharma coming to the West, so be it, and let's be grateful and patient...
    • 0 avatar Mary Donahue 11.09.2011 13:29
      I appreciate these thoughts. I love your comparison of your dog and your desk! I began to feel that we are trying too hard to "fit" mindfulness in to any practice, which kind of goes along with part of the discussion with Jack Kornfield regarding the current popularity of "mindfulness" and losing meaning. I did appreciate many of these thoughts for my own practice though, particularly the ideas of creating a therapeutic environment which allows space for my clients to "attend to their experience".
    • 0 avatar Kate Bernier 11.28.2011 18:14
      I have not yet heard the presentations for this conference, but I am familiar with Mark Epstein's book on this topic, Thoughts Without a Thinker; and in the introduction he makes the point that both psychotherapy and Buddhism seek to understand the same animal. As such, how could they not have much in common? Their differing approaches to the same human experience, I found to be enlightening and useful.
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