Meditation as a Form of Psychotherapy

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Meditation as a Form of Psychotherapy 

INTRODUCTION

Although meditation practices have been in use for over 3000 years they have only been introduced into Western society in the last half a century (Walsh 1995). Before the 1960's meditation was rarely practiced and was widely misunderstood, labelled as "an attempt at psychological and physical regression. . . a sort of artificial schizophrenia" (Alexander et al 1946, cited in Walsh 1995: 388) by a well known psychiatrist. Recently, however, psychologists have become aware of the psychotherapeutic aspects of meditation. These aspects  have proven to be so beneficial that meditation has even been controversially labelled by some as a form of psychotherapy (Walsh 1995).

HOW MEDITATION FITS INTO THE DEFINITION OF 'PSYCHOTHERAPY'

Contraversy over the labelling of meditation as a form of psychotherapy both arises and is resolved in the ambiguous nature  of psychotherapy itself. The general definition of psychotherapy could be classed as:

A formal process involving a professional and legally trained 'therapist' helping a person who has distress or disfunction in the areas of emotion, cognition, or behaviour. The therapist has a logical theory about how the problem developed and treats the patient in relation to this theory. (Based on Corsini 1995).

Based on this definition some argue that meditation is not a psychotherapy because no professional therapist is needed, it can be be practiced purely on an individual basis (Walsh 1995).

However, the above definition, although seemingly comprehensive, does not completely fit many Western  psychotherapies that are formally acknowledged (Corsini 1995). One such therapy is Freud's 'self-therapy' which involves looking into ones own inner psychological processes(Corsini 1995; Walsh 1995). A similar concept was developed by the founder  of academic psychology, Wilhelm Wundt, it was called 'introspection' and involved the study of one's own consciousness (Matlin 1995).  Both 'self-therapy' and 'introspection'  do not require a therapist and can be done individually yet they are still considered as valid forms of psychotherapy.

Whilst meditation can be done alone, beginners usually learn the practice through a trained and skilled meditation master or guru. This meditation master can be seen to fit into the general definition of 'psychotherapy' mentioned above in that he often fulfils the same roles as the 'therapist' of western psychotherapy by dealing  with his 'student's' problems based on a logical theory. Like western psychotherapies different meditations are based on different theories and have different spiritual purposes. These different spiritual purposes do not seem to have different effects upon their psychotherapeutic benefits. All meditation techniques seem to have the same therapeutic benefit to the same specified disorders. 

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THE THERAPUTIC ASPECTS OF MEDITATION

Therapeutic aspects of meditation include relaxation, stress management, and management of some psychological and psychophysical (physical symptoms are affected by psychological processes) disorders (Bernstein, Roy, Srull, and Wickens 1991; Walsh 1995). Research has shown that meditation decreases generalised and phobic anxiety disorders, it can also decrease drug and alcohol use and be beneficial to patients in psychiatric hospitals (Walsh 1995). Uses of meditation for psychophysilogical problems can be seen in its use in rehabilitation after heart attacks, treatment of bronchial asthma and irregular heartbeat, management of chronic pain, and reduction of high blood pressure (Walsh ...

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