Contemplative Psychotherapy

Contemplative Psychotherapy


Contemplative Psychotherapy is a more spiritual form of psychotherapy that uses two very different approaches in order to help with any psychological problems the client may have. This form of therapy combines Buddhist philosophy with traditional Western culture clinical psychotherapy, and it differs from other therapies in the sense that clarity and compassion play a huge role. The origin of contemplative psychotherapy actually stems from a dialogue between a Tibetan Buddhist master and Western psychiatrists/psychologists, although the Contemplative Psychotherapy Department at Naropa University did not open until 1978. This therapy combines Buddhist awareness meditation with understanding the functions of our mind. This unique combination of therapies has proven to be successful by many.

Goals of Contemplative Psychotherapy

The goal of contemplative psychotherapy is to encourage and support patients to discover themselves and be able to walk their own paths independently. It teaches clients to be able to tackle their problems head-on as they experiencing them in the moment. Ultimately, the goal is for the client to experience self-acceptance, authenticity, a deeper trust in the way their lives flow, and an overall healed sense of wellbeing. Unlike cognitive therapy, the goal of this therapy is not to eliminate symptoms or improve dysfunctions, but to get through the obstacles that are in the way of our wholeness. It is based on the notion that there is nothing wrong with the patient because the patient is already a good, sane, knowledgeable person who simply has some healing to do. Just telling the patient this gives them a world of comfort because we tend to worry that we need therapy because we are not good enough people.

When is Contemplative Psychotherapy Used?

Unlike therapies that are mainly used to help certain mental disorders, contemplative psychotherapy can be used to treat just about any psychological problems (like Coherence Therapy, this form of therapy does not like to use words like “disorder”). It is mostly common for patients who have depression, anxiety, or other mental pain, though. While this therapy does have Buddhist origins, one does not need to be Buddhist (or of any particular religion) in order to practice contemplative psychotherapy.

How Contemplative Psychotherapy Works

The basic notion behind contemplative psychotherapy is that we need to be reminded of certain beliefs in order to be able to handle things as they come in the moment. This gives the client a sense of peace, hope, and change. It also gives the client proper coping skills during seemingly hopeless times. It is basically a form of liberation; you may not even have to see a therapist regularly to experience this. The main teaching in contemplative psychotherapy is the idea of “brilliant sanity”. This is the belief that we all have a natural wisdom and dignity inside of us, no matter who we are, but sometimes it might be clouded temporarily by something else. This process uncovers that goodness inside of us. The therapist recognizes the sanity in the client, and nurtures this sanity in him or herself.

Another approach aside from “brilliant sanity” is “space awareness”, which involves the client performing a series of movements and postures which enables him or her to remain in the present state of mind during difficult times. With practice, this type of training is supposed to increase the client’s awareness, communication, and the interplay of form and space. It can also help the client to experience more compassion and humor toward others as well as him or herself, which can lead to lowered fear and heightened relaxation.

Other practices within contemplative psychotherapy include contemplative practice and body, speech, and mind practice. Contemplative practice involves the client studying their own mind through meditation. Body, speech, and mind practice is a way of including the relationship with the therapist into the approach in order to establish a basis for interventions.

Contemplative psychotherapy also believes that one of the most healing aspects of therapy is to have someone that witnesses your happiness and paint along with you. Yet another belief is that rather than attempting to control our emotions, which is impossible, we should try to befriend these emotions as they occur in order to gain peace and control of our lives. There are many beliefs like these that help to enlighten the patient and give them a better understanding of their own lives.

One of the best things about contemplative psychotherapy is that it is made custom for each individual. Your culture, creativity, spirituality, personality, and beliefs all play a collaborating role in this form of treatment. At the same time, contemplative psychotherapy can help to identify the client as a person by asking the question “Who am I?”.


Brilliant Sanity: Buddhist Approaches to Psychotherapy Francis J. Kaklauskas, Susan Nimanheminda, Louis Hoffman University of Rockies Press, 2008. 396 pages.

The history of sanity in contemplative psychotherapy. EM Podvoll. International Journal, 2002. Contemplative Psychotherapy: A path of uncovering brilliant sanity.

KK Wegela. Journal of Contemplative Psychotheraphy, 1994.

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