Category Archives: Therapy
Apparently a ‘turn to happiness’ – or perhaps a near-obsession with happiness – is happening across government, science, therapy and popular culture.
The general idea is that: the purpose of life is to be happy, we all want to be happy, and that to be happy, be need to do certain things. Furthermore, we have a right to be happy, and a moral obligation or duty to be happy, for ourselves and others. As one psychiatrist remarks, “Happy people seem to wish to force their condition on their unhappy companions and relatives” (Bentall, 1991, p. 94). If we fail to find happiness, we have failed in life.
This idea is historically recent. We have lost the connection with the Middle English word ‘happ’ which means chance, luck or fortune. The idea that happiness is what happens to us, and is beyond our control, goes against the grain of contemporary understanding.
This ‘turn to happiness’ has taken place across at least three domains.
There’s a new post by Meg about mindfulness and happiness over on the Rewriting-the-Rules blog.
I just got asked a really interesting question over email about the mindful approach to emotions. I thought I’d share my answer here.
My friend was asking whether there is a conflict between how we’re encouraged to engage with emotions in mindful meditation and the idea of ‘owning emotions’ which is common in psychotherapy and counselling.
Basically they had understood the mindfulness approach to be that you objectively note things that arise (thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.) without identifying with them (this is my anger, my thought, etc.), and also noticing them fall away again.
But in psychotherapy and counselling they had come across the idea that it is important to ‘own’ emotions. This is important in terms of recognising that we do experience the full range of emotions (rather than having some we don’t acknowledge due to messages like ‘it’s not okay to be angry’ or ‘boys don’t cry’). It is also important because we often see our emotions as being somebody else’s fault (‘you made me angry’, ‘I’m jealous because of you’). Owning emotions is about recognising them as ours and not somebody else’s, and taking responsibility for what we do with them.
This is my answer to the question that the email posed, but I’d be very interested to hear whether others have different thoughts on this issue:
We might say that psychoanalysis and Buddhism are both therapies; diagnosing and alleviating our psychological or existential suffering. But the productive, one hundred year dialogue on the margins of these traditions did not begin quite so auspiciously.
Phase 1: Orientalism
Freud and Jung famously fell out over the issue of spirituality.
Happiness is a key issue in relation to mindfulness given that mindfulness has been taken up by the positive psychology movement as a way of improving happiness, but also the craving for happiness is something that mindfulness warns against.
There is a post about these kinds of issues, as well as how existential and mindfulness ideas around happiness may be in tune, over on the Northern Existential Group website here.
A brief report Meg wrote for her publishers (Sage) on the thinking behind her forthcoming book on mindful counselling and therapy:
Mindfulness has become a major buzz-word in recent years, filtering into domains including eduction, the workplace, and the criminal justice system. Its prevalence in psychology and psychotherapy is such that it would be impossible to keep up with all of the publications in this area (over 40 per month).
Mindfulness is a form of wakeful attention. Buddhists practice meditation in order to cultivate this way of being in their lives. When we approach things mindfully we see more clearly that our struggles are rooted in grasping hold of the things we want, and trying to eradicate the things we don’t. Some have argued that the reason mindfulness has become so popular in the west of late is because our consumer culture has exacerbated this tendency to crave fulfilment and to avoid any unpleasant experiences. The radical message of Buddhism is that we need to face the inevitable suffering in life rather than trying to escape from it.
Most of the writing on mindfulness in counselling and psychotherapy has come from the cognitive-behavioural approach. Continue reading
On my continued journey in exploring the meaning of mindfulness I’ve been re-reading several of the articles in the Contemporary Buddhism special issue on the topic from last year. As I reference these I’m adding them to a new section of the references on this website called ‘mindfulness‘.
It’s taken a while for me to get my head around it, but I’m now understanding that the popular definition (by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others) which includes the idea of attending non-judgementally to the present moment is problematic because it just represents one form of mindfulness.
It is useful to cultivate the ability to observe the here-and-now in a way that doesn’t evaluate (trying to keep ‘positive’ thoughts and feelings and avoid ‘negative’ ones, for example).
However, we can also be mindful of things that are not present. Given that mindfulness is something that we try to cultivate in everything, we would also try to engage with our memories and future plans mindfully. And there are specific mindfulness meditations which are not present-focused (for example when we bring to mind other people to cultivate loving-kindness, or when we meditate on the fact of our death).
Also, we can evaluate in a mindful way, for example when we try to determine the ethical thing to do, or when we notice unhelpful habits of mind and attempt to change these.
In this post, Meg Barker writes about self-care for depression awareness week:
This week is depression awareness week (11-17 April). The most important thing I have to say in relation to depression is about self-care.
Towards the end of this week I’m going to an event about which asks, among other things, how people can nurture practices of ‘self-care’. Towards the end of last year I ran a weekly workshop on self-care practices, and I’m running a day for therapists on the same topic this Autumn. The first chapter of the book I’ve recently written about relationships focuses on self-care. Here I want to look at why I think self-care is so important, what it is, and how we can build it into our lives (both when we are depressed and when we aren’t).