Buddhist Psychology

This site working in conjunction with www.buddhistpsychology.info. It will include answers to questions relating to courses at Amida Trust and will give explanation and comments on aspects of Buddhist psychology.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Helping with sickness

my question is how can buddhist psychotherapy aid the sick? i'm working with this one on a personal level myself and am not sure how to cope/make sense when the body breaks down in some way and one's quality of daily life is affected.
Tharakesh asked this in response to my previous post.

I guess there is no simple answer. At one level, sickness is just as much an inevitable part of life as death - indeed the sick man was one of the four sights that the Buddha encountered, alongside death, which set him on his path. This "noble truth" is dukkha; it's just how it is. We get sick.

The first point, then, is that we do not have to feel ashamed of sickness. It will come and go, just like the vicissitudes of weather, and in a gross sort of way we cannot control it. Some people see sickness as something we do to ourselves, and go through lots of psychological contortions to try to determine what mental pathology might have caused it (was my cancer due to guilt? Does my deafness mean I don't want to hear?) Personally I feel quite disturbed by such approaches because not only do they assume we have much more control over the world we inhabit than we in fact do, a kind of grandiosity, but also they can be quite pernicious, making the person who is already suffering sickness feel responsible for their own symptoms.

This said, some illnesses do seem to have psychological causes, or at least to be exacerbated by psychological factors. Any illness can be compounded by our attitudes. Depending on their outlook, one person may be felled by an illness that another would take in their stride. Fear, unhappiness, anger, resentment of the symptoms, laziness or a whole range of other emotions can make us feel a whole lot worse. We mostly feel better when the sun shines. We hardly notice our toothache when we are in love.

Sometimes reflecting on our illness can bring us significant psychological messages or insights, though often I think it better, even where there is a psychological component, to dwell on the real element of the illness's physicality rather than getting bogged down in the psychological elements. This is a more typically Buddhist approach (rather similar to Morita methods)

And of course, even at a physical level, we do things that create illness or health. We can think of this in terms of karma and dependent origination. Whether it is at the gross level of smoking or overeating, or at more subtle levels of holding habitual body tensions, we create the conditions for our physical wellbeing.