Contemplative psychotherapy is an approach to therapy that embraces the use of personal contemplative practices associated with Buddhism.
The contemplative psychotherapist brings to the therapeutic relationship qualities of mindfulness and compassion in an effort to help the client to get in touch with their intuition and natural wisdom.
Aligning with the elemental wisdom and rhythms of the natural world can be hugely supportive in transforming addictive behavior and perception. In doing so, we establish a perspective or view that’s in alignment with reality, and supports spontaneously “right” — healthy and harmonious — action.
In Buddhist practice, a similar notion is spoken of in terms of Samma Ditthi or Right View. The Pali word Samma was originally a musical term, and points to a kind of “right” that means “attuned” — in tune with the contexts unfolding in the present moment.
It’s about becoming sensitive to our surroundings, and our relationship to them, in a way that allows us then to act skillfully — rather than out of unconscious (e.g. addictive) preconceptions.
Drawing on Eastern Theories to Treat Addiction
Contemplative psychotherapy was developed by Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, recognized as a preeminent teacher of Tibetan Buddhism by Western psychologists and psychiatrists.
Contemplative psychotherapy came into the mainstream in the late 1970s when after Edward Podvoll, a follower of Trungpas and a psychology professor at Naropa University, opened the now well-known Contemplative Psychotherapy Department.
Contemplative Psychotherapies and Addiction Therapy
Many of the practices associated with contemplative psychotherapy have become widely used in addiction therapy. The most common technique is meditation. The goal of mediation is to learn how to maintain a calm state in the present moment regardless of current circumstances. It is thought that being able to enter this state is one way to counter the cravings and impulses common in the recovery from an addiction.
Contemplative psychotherapy respects the individual’s introspective knowing as innately refined and essential. Deep and lasting healing occurs when the obstacles that block inner knowing are removed. The belief is that past traumas and deep emotional wounds can heal with a connection to this inner consciousness.
The Therapist’s Role in Contemplative Psychotherapy
A contemplative psychotherapist focuses on the client’s relationship with all aspects of self. There is an emphasis on energetic boundaries in terms of managing how the client can deeply engage with others while maintaining a strong independent sense of self. In this manner, the client can learn more about their own strengths, needs, and wants and how they affected in different relationships.
Most therapists who practice contemplative psychotherapy have a tradition counseling psychology education in traditional psychology. However, they typically have other certifications and training in practices such as meditation.
In order for the therapist to be able to help their client to access their deepest parts of self, the therapist must be able to do the same. This means that most contemplative psychotherapists have personal mindfulness practices. The aim of these practices is to allow the therapist to reach within the depth of their mind while maintaining an awareness of the present.