The jewel in the heart of the lotus: bringing Buddhist wisdom and compassion to psychotherapy

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Jones, Lisa E (2007) The jewel in the heart of the lotus: bringing Buddhist wisdom and compassion to psychotherapy. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This thesis was designed to explore the experiences of psychologists in Australia who work as psychotherapists, and who have an interest in Buddhism. The core research question was: What are the professional and personal experiences and perspectives of psychologists in Australia who are informed by Buddhism in the way they conceptualise, approach, and conduct psychotherapy? Two related supporting questions were: How do Buddhist principles inform different aspects of psychotherapy (e.g., therapist self-care, client interventions)? and In what ways do therapists incorporate Buddhist concepts (e.g., compassion) and techniques (e.g., mindfulness) into psychotherapy? In Study 1, the qualitative core of the research, I explored the experiences and impressions of psychologists interested in bringing a Buddhist perspective to psychotherapy. Initial and follow-up interviews were conducted with 14 participants. Buddhist understandings, including suffering, compassion, and mindfulness, were discussed in relation to psychotherapy. Participant psychologists revealed that certain Buddhist ideas and techniques contributed to their perceived efficacy and wellbeing as therapists, as well as to good therapeutic processes and outcomes for clients. Using an interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) approach, the two guiding principles of compassion and wisdom emerged from the interviews. Under the guiding principle of compassion, the two major themes that emerged were: the truth of suffering (sub- themes: an acknowledgement of suffering, causes of suffering, and suffering as a path), and compassionate engagement (sub-themes: empathy, openness, and hopefulness). The guiding principle of wisdom also incorporated two major themes: mindful presence (subthemes: a present orientation, the primacy of direct experience, and being with what is), and empowerment through understanding (sub-themes: responsibility, disclosure, and sustaining). The benefits participants perceived for themselves included being sustained by Buddhism, and having increased empathy and mindfulness during therapy. The Buddhist techniques and ideas that participants employed with clients were selected with discernment for their therapeutic benefits along with their compatibility with Western psychology. Participants also used their discretion to select those techniques and ideas that had wide applicability in that they were common to many philosophical and religious systems. Although some participants took an integrationist approach to drawing on Buddhism in psychotherapy, and others took an eclectic approach, all shared the concern of remaining client-centred. Attributing Buddhist sources and labels to concepts and techniques was considered unnecessary in most cases. Study 2 provided descriptive background information and gave support to the qualitative themes that emerged from Study 1. Members of the Buddhism and Psychology Interest Group, the Christianity and Psychology Interest Group, and the College of Counselling Psychologists of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) completed a personal details survey, the Spiritual Orientation Inventory (SOI; Elkins, Hedstrom, Hughes, Leaf, & Saunders, 1988), and the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale – Short Form C (W. M. Reynolds, 1982), indicating their spiritual paths and religious affiliations, and the relative importance of different dimensions of spirituality. The main dimension on which the Buddhism and Psychology Interest Group scored higher than the other two groups was the Awareness of the Tragic dimension. The results are interpreted with reference to Buddhist, Christian, and secular understandings. The thesis concludes with a chapter on my personal reflections as researcher in the research process.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 380000 Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords psychotherapy, Buddhism, Buddhist perspective, suffering, compassion, mindfulness
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