Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation

1.4 Integrating Meditation withPsychotherapy

At one end of the spectrum of integration, meditationis used as a generalised 'stress therapy' (Selye,1978) and indeed a lotof early research into the therapeutic effects focussed upon relaxationresponse.(Benson,1975) Studies have found lasting effects from meditation:perceptual sharpening and decreased distractibility (Pelletier,1974:VanNuys, 1971) autonomic stability and quickened recovery from stress arousal(Orme-Johnson,1973: Goleman & Schwarz,1976) and lowered general anxiety(Davidson,Goleman &Shwartz, 1976). Such findings suggest possibilitiesof using meditation in a prescriptive, piecemeal fashion. Early researchwork attempted, in deference to empiricism, to define meditation as a techniqueindependent of it's cultural and/or religious content. Shapiro (1990),however,in a long paper reflecting upon his 21 yrs in meditation research, warnsagainst:

"certain limitations to a context free studyof, the risk that the technique may become an amoral technologyto serve the culture's (often unexamined) goals and values...." (p.25)

At the other end of the integrated spectrum thereis Core Process Psychotherapy, developed by Maura Sills at the Karuna Institutewhich:

"incorporates a wide range of concepts andskills that have been developed in the West, but the conceptual framework,the focus on awareness and presence in the work, derive from a Buddhistperspective..."  (Donnington 1988, in Rowan & Dryden1988,p.51)

Psychosynthesis (Assagioli,1965) is probably oneof the best known and most established schools of psychotherapy which paycareful attention to transpersonal concerns and find an exalted positionfor it in the famous 'egg diagram' by which they model the self and it'sconstituents (Ferrucci, (1990).

Meditation appears, in some form or another inmost Transpersonal psychotherapeutics. In A Textbook of transpersonalpsychiatry and psychology, (Scotton,Chinen, & Battista,1996),theeditors preface section 2 of the book with an introduction entitled "Meditation:Royal Road to the Transpersonal" In annexing Freud’s description of dreamsas the ‘royal road to the unconscious’, (Freud,1900) they illustrate theircontention that meditation performs a similarly crucial role in accessingthe transpersonal realm. In the same section, Kornfield, who is both ameditation teacher and a psychologist suggests that "Even the best meditatorshave old wounds to heal" (in an article with the same name) and indicateshow a skillful combination of meditation and psychotherapy may be superiorto either alone.

There is an ever growing bibliography concerningthe subject of integrating meditation with the more traditional schoolsof counselling/psychotherapy. In Thoughts without a thinker , (Epstein,1996)offers an integration of psychodynamic practice with Theravadan Buddhism,in Zen Therapy (Brazier1995) presents an integration of person-centredpractice with Zen and inPsychotherapy,Meditation & Health (Kwee,ed;1990)the integration is explored at an international conference from a cognitive-behaviouralperspective. And Boorstein(1996) provides numerous illustrations of meditationin Transpersonal Psychotherapy. and in Clinical Studies in Transpersonalpsychotherapy (1997) Despite his observation that: "meditationshave generally salubrious effects"

he goes on to say that intense meditation maybecome problematic to people with less stable ego-boundaries, and alteredperceptions of body sensations and mind states may become frightening topeople who are borderline psychotic. Another potential pitfall of psychospiritualwork is

" the tendency to retreat into a 'spiritual'space as a means of avoiding painful and difficult feelings" (Donnington,1988,in Rowan&Dryden 1988,p.65 )

Clearly, the judgement of the therapist - regardingthe timing and kind of meditation to be used - is a crucial factorin this. It is clearly important that she has familiarity with the techniqueshe and her client are working on. This familiarity is likely to have benefitsover and above the effective presentation/teaching of a practice. Keefe(1975,p284) argues that:

"the practice of meditation should lead toa greater awareness of feelings, enhance interpersonal perceptions, andincreased present-centredness."

These are all qualities cherished within the therapycommunity.

There is research evidence to show that meditationpractice increases empathy in counsellors (Leesh,1970; Leung,1973) Morerecently (Sweet & Johnson, 1990) report on the use of 'MeditationEnhanced Empathy Training (MEET)’, using Benjamin's(1974) structuralanalysis of social Behaviour (SASB). It - MEET - is found to aim at:

"an empathically friendly and autonomous stancetoward self and other, and to be congruent with the objectives of contemporarypsychotherapies"

Speeth(1982) suggests that meditation practicecan be a highly effective form of attention training for a therapist. Boththe 'narrowing down' - as in concentration practice - and the 'panoramicview' - as in awareness practice - are useful in therapy. She goes on todescribe a 'higher' level of attention which she calls 'witness consciousness'which involves and awareness of the kind of attention being given(narrow/panoramic) as well as the object of attention (ie, client's behaviour,words and other co-related events) Freud's (1900) suggestion that the analystshould maintain an 'evenly hovering attention' between themselves and theirpatient is similar to this 'witness consciousness' stance. (Epstein,1996).

And, from his perspective of twenty five yearsof therapy supervison, Dubin (1991), describes how he uses meditation techniquesin his supervision practice to challenge what he sees as the typical supervisees'preoccupation on 'what to do with a client, as contrasted with howto be with the client.

The therapy profession may have ambivalence aboutthe integration of meditation into practice; some meditation teachers regardtherapy as a serious distraction to the work of achieving enlightenment(Cohen,1994: Khemadhammo,1995) in that it encourages a preoccupation withthe (illusory) self and it's story.

The last word in this section, before specificallyexploring the transpersonal perspective, comes from Goleman, who best sumsup this researcher’s thinking on integration.

"Consciousnesss is the medium which carriesthe messages which compose experience. Psychotherapies are concerned withthese messages and their meanings; meditation instead directs itself tothe nature of the medium, consciousness. These two approaches are by nomeans mutually exclusive; rather, they are complementary. A therapy ofthe future may integrate techniques from both approaches, possibly producinga change in the whole person more thoroughgoing and more potent than eitherin isolation" (Goleman,1988)

Updated 16 June 99
by Martin Wilks