A phenomenological study of clients’ experiences of ‘lightness’ and ‘aliveness’ in psychotherapy within the context of Vajrayana cross-cultural therapeutic practices.
Rice Weber, Vicki
This thesis aligns itself with a critical tradition that asserts that current mental health assessment and treatment has its basis in symptom classification and quantification methods, which in turn have roots in the empirical traditions of modernity, in the demands and discourses of capitalism (Foucault 1961) and in Cartesian dualism. This critique further asserts that such embedded epistemologically-grounded practices have an initial impact on a client’s sense of personal agency as their own experiential sense of self, the potentially fluid, idiosyncratic nature of learning from their life journey as embodied beings, is negated. I would like to create and research a treatment model from a different ontological and epistemological base which represents more of an open enquiry into the embodied totality of the client’s experience and sense of self, drawing from Gendlin’s Focusing model of experiencing and defining the self from within, and on Vajrayana Buddhist practices. Therefore the aims of the study were:- 1. To describe an innovative model of conducting psychotherapy that combines a Western approach (Gendlin's Focusing) with Tibetan Vajrayana practices of transformation. 2. By means of a phenomenological research method, to clarify the essential structure of two pivotal experiences relevant to clients' experiences of change in this form of therapy: 'experiential lightness' and 'experiential aliveness'. 3. To answer the following three research questions that are enabled by pursuing the above two aims: a) What is the phenomenon of ‘lightness’ and ‘aliveness’ as experienced in psychotherapy and how does it impact upon process and outcome? b) Can Vajrayana Buddhist practices be effectively integrated into Western Psychotherapy? c) What happens when Gendlin's Focusing is combined with adapted Vajrayana practices? Giorgi’s descriptive phenomenological method was utilised with eight of my own psychotherapy clients who had experienced Vajrayana adapted practices and Focusing in therapy. Retrospective interviews were used to explore the experience near question: “Can you describe any moments you have had in therapy in which you felt an increased sense of ‘aliveness’ or ‘lightness’ which began to change your sense of self...you may want to use your own words for this ... but any experience in therapy which energised you and led to a shift in your sense of who you are. If so, can we begin by describing this experience as fully as possible.” The interviews took place a minimum of two months after participants had finished therapy at a College of Further Education. Five key constituents were illuminated by participants’ descriptions of lightness and aliveness. These were 1) freedom from the experience of heaviness as pain 2) freedom as independence 3) a sense of the opening up of possibilities 4) the integration of freedom and possibility into one’s life 5) pathways to lightness and aliveness. This study concludes that exploring the phenomena of ‘lightness’ and ‘aliveness’ has revealed that identity has roots in transpersonal experiencing. This presents an argument for an epistemological and ontological framework within the psychological therapies which is capable of encompassing this domain. In delineating the phenomenon of ‘lightness’ and ‘aliveness’ and its outcomes for my clients, I argue that this study also makes an innovative contribution to the cultural integration of Western and Eastern models of suffering and their resolution.
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