Mental Health
What Is Buddhist Psychotherapy?

What Is Buddhist Psychotherapy?

4 min read


Alison Pepper

In this week’s post, NYC therapist and My Wellbeing member Alison Pepper shares with us about what Buddhist Psychotherapy is and how it can be helpful for many people, even people who do not practice Buddhism.

People ask me from time to time: "So what is Buddhist psychotherapy?" or "Do I have to be Buddhist to see you?" or "Do I have meditate to work with you?"  

The quick answers to some of those questions is, “No,” but the longer answers will be explored here as it relates to the therapeutic work I do and the Eastern and Western philosophies of mind, body, and heart that I am inspired by.

We are all informed by our life experiences

After being in school most of my life, I discovered there were teachings I was interested in beyond what I had learned in the classroom. Those teachings were of Western psychology and Eastern Buddhism.

As I threw myself into both those studies, I was surprised again and again how similar they were. Despite not saying exactly the same thing, they pointed towards the similar ideas of wholeness, healing, love, and growth.

I have found over the years that my meditation practice and study of Tibetan Buddhism has greatly impacted my life. Because a large part of my life is work, time and time again, Buddhist ideas have shown up for me and clients in beneficial ways.

Therapy as a dance of ideas and support

There is such a dance of ideas and support that are a part of the therapeutic relationship.

Discussions of Western psychology, like the idea of Internal Family Systems (IFS) parts work, of challenging defenses, or somatic informed trauma practices happen in my office regularly. For instance, sometimes when a client is in pain, it can be helpful to identify that pain as a part, a depressed part or an isolated part. We can talk directly to that part or to other parts who protect it. This work allows the client to see and feel the complexity of their experience and make space to heal. In times like these, it is a Western psychological theory (IFS) that helps inform how that space is made for healing.

Discussions of meditation techniques, integration work following a retreat, or exploration of other Buddhist philosophies also happens in my office. For example, a few clients have expressed fears about going on retreat or having their significant other go away on retreat for a week or two. Conversations about what is coming up now and what might come up during the retreat can be very grounding and helpful for a client. In these times, Buddhist philosophies inform the retreat experience and also help us to work with the feelings that come up in response to retreat during session.

As if they were in a dance, ideas from both Western psychology and Buddhist philosophy weave in and out of the work I do with each client.

How Buddhist teachings show up in the work

The main Buddhist teachings that continue to be most present and helpful in my therapy practice are:

  • Learning to love yourself (releasing from self-judgment and self-hate)
  • Acceptance of what is happening now
  • Awareness that change is happening all the time
  • Opening up to the power of the present moment

Therapy is a very personal space, used differently by everyone. In my practice, working with children, teens, or adults, I hear again and again narratives of self-doubt, self-hate, self-judgment, and fear. Self love, acceptance, awareness, and opening up to the present moment are all important and helpful aspects to my practice as I see it today.

Exploring Buddhist teachings and psychotherapy further

Because psychotherapy is a unique experience between therapist and client, so too is Buddhist psychotherapy. If Buddhist psychotherapy or meditation are of interest to you, get in touch! You might also enjoy these resources:

Thank you, Alison, for sharing your perspective and experience with us today and for helping us to better understand what Buddhist psychotherapy is and how it can be helpful.

If you would like to learn more about the work that Alison does and connect with her to keep the conversation going, please visit this site.

Any thoughts, questions, or topics you’d like to see featured on our blog? We’re all ears: [email protected] or chat with us on social @findmywellbeing.

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About the author

Alison Pepper is a NYC Therapist and a Neurofeedback Trainer working with families and children dealing with mental health issues; with an emphasis on trauma informed work. She's a bilingual therapist for over five years (fluent in both English and Spanish), SIFI certified, and a meditation teacher. She recently became a Certified NeurOptimal Neurofeedback Trainer at Neurofeedback Training Co. in New York City.

“I believe all people have the tools to heal ourselves; grow, learn, and reach our full potential. No matter what your age or life circumstances therapy is a safe space to do that work.”

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