Letter to 11th Grader from Dallas, Texas

Recently I was asked by an 11th grade high school student from Dallas, Texas about my practice, Buddhist psychology and what I thought about working as a clinical psychologist for a paper they were writing for school.  I thought this might be helpful to post so with permission from the student, here is my response:

Hi ——–,

So I’ve been in private practice at Buddhist Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for about 2 years now.  I integrate Buddhist Psychology along with modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which share many of the same ideas and principles.  For instance, one of the major concepts in both types of psychology is that our thoughts, specifically our interpretation of things that occur affect our moods and behaviors.  This is important because while we cannot change what has already happened in life, we can often work with how we think about it.  I can do this with clients in my therapy office by having them think about facts that support how they believe things are and facts that don’t support their interpretation.  I can also use a central practice in Buddhist Psychology called mindfulness where my clients are taught to observe the process of thinking and learning that thoughts are not always true but often are more like stories or daydreams. This is especially helpful when my clients have frequently negative thoughts or what psychologists call rumination which is a repetitive thought that we can’t seem to get rid of.
Buddhist Psychology emphasizes the role of our attachments in creating our suffering. In Pali, the language of the Buddha, this is called tanha, which is a word which means craving in English.  For example, perhaps we want or crave a certain type of food or car or house or relationship.  When we don’t get those things we can create suffering for ourselves and sometimes others.  While it’s OK to want certain things in life  as we all do, we also need to learn to let go when we can’t get them.  Sometimes people have difficulty with accepting situations and letting go.  This is where I can help them practice.  Buddhist Psychology teaches a philosophy called the Middle Way which means not being too extreme in our thinking or our behaviors as the best path through life.
The Buddhist path towards happiness is called the Eightfold Path.  It is made up of 8 types of actions that can be divided into 3 main categories.  The first is moral and ethical behavior such as not killing, stealing, lying, or cheating.  The second is mindfulness which involves both seated meditation and being mindful about how we act in our everyday life.  The third is the development of wisdom and compassion for others including animals.  From a Buddhist perspective if you engage in healthy behaviors and are mindful of your thoughts and actions then you are creating the conditions for a happy life.
When I work with clients in my office we will use mediation and I will talk to them in detail about their problems.  I will listen carefully and try to help them think about their problems in different ways using my knowledge of cognitive behavioral therapy and Buddhist psychology.  I might have them do exercises or diagnose how certain events made them think and feel.  So far, my clients have really responded well to the type of therapy I do and have told me they are both feeling better and doing things they enjoy.  I really love what I do and the most rewarding part is seeing my clients get better, improve their life and relationships, and use the skills they learn in session.  Sometimes clients aren’t ready to change yet, and they can have difficulty using the techniques I teach.  In those cases, I try to be patient and offer emotional support as they develop greater readiness.  One thing I learned as a therapist is you cannot rush clients to change, they need to be ready for it themselves.
I hope this summary is helpful ——– !  Best of luck in your writing of this paper and future studies!
Warmest Regards,
(Image Credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash)

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