I may be biased, but I am a big believer in psychotherapy. If the conditions are right (a good fit, commitment, consistency, appropriate therapeutic boundaries), psychotherapy is often effective in its aims to help people understand themselves on a deeper level, resolve inner conflicts that keep them stuck, reduce painful symptoms, and foster emotional development and maturity.
However, psychotherapy is not always a success. Even if the conditions are right, therapy can be ineffective if it reinforces the wounds and unconscious beliefs that people have when they begin treatment. This can happen if the therapist and person in therapy are unaware of repeated, often harmful, patterns occurring in the course of therapeutic work.
When I share what I do with people, I sometimes hear complaints about “talk therapy” being redundant, a waste of time, or simply a prolonged rehashing of pains of the past. Often these comments are based in stereotypes and stigma, but not always. In some cases, they are the stories of people who were hurt more than helped by therapy.
Fortunately, there are remedies for the staid redundancies—real or imagined—some people associate with therapy. One of the best is combining therapy with meditation.
Ongoing, daily meditation, ideally also practiced by your therapist, can enable you to develop the capacity to observe your thoughts, feelings, and varied experience separate from the experience itself. Specifically, if you can bring a meditative perspective to a stuck therapeutic pattern, you may be able to observe it more closely and, ultimately, gain freedom from it.
How does this work? In a variety of ways:
Ongoing, daily meditation, ideally also practiced by your therapist, can enable you to develop the capacity to observe your thoughts, feelings, and varied experience separate from the experience itself.
- One of meditation’s central intents is to develop the capacity to observe the nature of one’s mind as a way to ultimately find freedom from the mind’s automatic cycling of repetitive thoughts. This function, when brought to therapy, can help both person in therapy and therapist to take a step back and observe how thought and potentially emotional patterns can both unconsciously offer emotional protection and ultimately hinder one’s psychological growth.
- As more and more research indicates, meditation can change the brain for the better. For instance, meditation enables the mind to settle from its fight-or-flight zone (amygdala), which is responsible for anxiety and stress, to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for everyday executive functioning.
- Another central function of meditation is to practice being more aware of what is happening in every moment. Focusing on one thing, such as the breath, anchors the practice so when the mind inevitably wanders, you have something to return to that signals you are in the present moment. In therapy, this can come in very handy. The therapeutic dyad can observe together, in the moment, what is happening in terms of unconscious dynamics that might be occurring between the therapist and person in therapy.
- Finally, meditation is a very effective tool in working with a harsh superego, quite often a major obstacle to therapeutic success. If you meditate, after a while you may notice a harsh, punishing, degrading voice inside that appears in different ways. You may notice this voice is invested in keeping you right where you are psychologically. If you learn how the harsh inner voice appears inside of you, you and your therapist can find ways to work with it more effectively.
These are just some of the ways meditation can serve as a powerful catalyst to psychotherapy. Just 5 minutes a day, every day, is all you need to begin. Sit in a comfortable position, either on a cushion or a chair. Take two to three deep breaths into any areas of stress and tension. Then, follow your breath as it enters into and out of your body. If you notice your mind wandering, that is fine. Just come back to the breath. After a few weeks, build to 10 minutes and then, after a few weeks, 20 minutes. It might be worthwhile to find a teacher or meditation group in your area.
Meditation may enhance aspects of your life that you cannot currently fathom. Coupled with psychotherapy, transformation is very possible.
Schulte, B. (2015, May 26). Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/?utm_term=.fd5bc6139f3e
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