Inquiring Deeply: Psychotherapy or Meditation Practice?

Inquiring deeply has aspects of both mindfulness practice and psychotherapy, so what is the best way to define its process? Should it be thought of as psychotherapy, or as awareness practice?

Delineating the basic differences between psychotherapy and meditation is itself more complex than might first appear. One might propose that meditation is a solitary activity whereas psychotherapy is an interpersonal one, but this would be an oversimplification. Buddhist meditation has elements of psychotherapy, and inquiring deeply in psychotherapy has elements of meditation.

In both meditation and psychotherapy, experiences of being alone are interpenetrated by experiences of being with others (Batchelor, 1983).20 As described throughout this book, relationality is inherent in the organization of the mind, and this results in a dynamic interplay between aloneness (relationship to self) and connection (relationship to other). Relatedness to others is present in both meditation and psychotherapy, although certainly they present themselves differently when we sit down on the cushion vs. when we are communicating with others.

In meditation, attention is focused on the internal world, but there is an implicit conversation that goes on between different parts of ourselves, and there is always a backdrop of “relationship held in mind” (Kramer, 2007).21 In psychotherapy, attention is focused on relationship with other, but awareness of subjective experience, especially our felt sense of things, is also essential. The autonomy of the subjective “private self” (Modell, 1993) is present even as we relate to others.

Relationships are the hub around which each person’s life revolves; they are the fundamental point of reference used to make sense of experience. Relatedness is an essential part of what’s so—a basic truth about human life—and so it behooves us as therapists to deeply understand how relationship works.

Because psychological wounds are fundamentally relational wounds, relationship is also a natural path of healing. By inquiring deeply into relationship, it becomes possible to begin to understand more clearly what is wounded, missing, or dysfunctional in someone. Deep emotional understanding of developmental psychological wounds, such as childhood trauma and neglect, and recognition of their impact on present-day life, lays the groundwork for psychological healing in psychotherapy.

Psychoanalytic theory has a lot to say about psychological healing and growth. Perhaps the most important thing it teaches us is that psychological healing is a relationally co-created event, one which always involves both people. Healing occurs when new experience in one person is met by empathic understanding and compassion on the part of the other. These relational conditions favor emergent moments. Chapter 5 described the dimensions of empathic attunement, resonance, presence, and compassion that contribute to such healing moments. Gradually, corrective emotional experiences—more properly corrective relational experiences22—forge new pathways in the brain/mind, which take the place of older, more dysfunctional patterns of behavior and feeling.

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