Buddhist Psychotherapy and Suicide Prevention

Project Activities for 2023

September 24: Public Symposium on Buddhism and Psychotherapy (Bangkok) Developing Buddhist Psychotherapy: Overcoming Contradictions in Psychotherapeutic & Spiritual Development

September 26-27: 3rd International Conference (Bangkok) by invitation only

September 29 – October 1: Concepts & Practices in Chaplaincy: A 3-day Workshop for Buddhist Caregivers (Nakorn Nayok, Thailand) click here for details and application:

Introduction & Background

Since 2017, the International Buddhist Exchange Center (IBEC) @ Kodosan has been working with INEB partners and friends to develop a series of conferences and workshops on the wide field of Buddhist and mental health, including suicide prevention, Buddhist chaplaincy, and Buddhist psychotherapy.

The COVID pandemic obviously slowed down our projects, but in the second half of 2021, we began a 3rd Round of explorations on these issues with a basic set of questions as follows:

  • What are the contributions Buddhist teachings, Buddhist teachers, and Buddhist institutions can make to contribute to psycho-spiritual health during this very difficult era?
  • While clinical and health care institutions may be important places of encounter in some countries, especially the United States, they are not as readily accessible for Buddhist chaplains and volunteers in other countries, especially Japan. Therefore we would like to see how this work can be done in a variety of settings, such as within the family, the community, and the temple, as well as a variety of situations, such as during natural disaster, as suicide prevention, as end-of-life care and grieving, for students and young adults, etc.
  • How can the ideas from the above two areas help to form a training system for not only professional chaplains but also volunteers, rank-and-file ordained persons, and engaged lay persons? INEB, which serves as a general umbrella for this work, has expressed interest in supporting such training sessions for candidates from a wide range of countries.

In terms of the process of this 3rd round, we developed a series of intimate, private zoom webinars starting in September 2021 amongst a group of 13 persons who are largely alumni from the first two conferences held in Japan in 2017 and Thailand in 2019. In our early meetings, we clarified an interconnected set of issues and interests, which we have been studying in depth since then.

The following is a short set of summaries of these sessions until July 2022:

  • #2 November 19: Neurobiology & Mindfulness with Jinji Eika Willingham (U.S.A.) and Dr. Prawate Tantipiwatanaskul (Thailand). Dr. Prawate focused on the neurobiology of trauma, how the brain and memory process in trauma, and how mindfulness helps in the healing process. Jinji focused on how she translates and incorporates mindfulness into Buddhist-based psychotherapy for clients with trauma/PTSD through implicit or explicit awareness of neurobiology, systems, and helping them develop the experiential practice of self-regulation and co-regulation (neuroception) to maintain connection with others.
  • #3 December 17: Buddhist Chaplaincy in North America, Japan, and Beyond with Rev. Fuminobu Komura (Japan/U.S.A.) and Prof. Elaine Yuen (U.S.A.). Rev. Komura discussed his path to becoming a Buddhist chaplain, how chaplaincy is the Buddhist path, and how he regards the role of prayer in his chaplaincy work. Elaine discussed “Mapping Buddhist Chaplains in North America – Chaplaincy Innovation Lab”. Buddhist-trained chaplains are increasingly becoming a presence in North America, and this project is a first step in documenting chaplains’ Buddhist identities, their professional and clinical education, and where and how they are employed. 
  • #4 January 21: Buddhist Meditation Practice for the Traumatized and Mentally Ill with Ven. Zinai (Taiwan) and Rev. Soin Fujio (Japan). Ven. Zinai presented various meditation Vipassana practices: 1) using visual ‘Open Focus’ to shift the mode of a narrow focus to open focus, 2) short version of practicing mindfulness in body, feelings, minds, and thoughts, 3) mindfulness of breathing meditation, and 4) discerning impermanence and non-self in mindfulness of breathing and body scan. She also gave a short introduction on how to help meditators to overcome their negative/traumatized experiences using Eugene Gendlin’s “Focusing” method. Rev. Fujio has worked with the suicidal and mentally ill for many years. He presented not only on Zazen, practiced while sitting on a cushion or chair, but also Dozen, Zen meditation through movement, based on his 40 year practice of Tai-Chi as a master of Yan Ming-Shi school. He also introduced Ritsuzen, Zen meditation in a standing position, and Gazen, Zen meditation in a lying or sleeping position.
  • #5 February 18: Suicide Prevention & Spiritual Friendship (kalyanamitra 善知識) with Rev. Gustav Ericsson (Sweden) and Jonathan Watts (USA/Japan). Gustav spoke on the significance of friendship on the spiritual path, building from an etymological exploration of the word religion, traditional and contemporary images of pastoral care, as well as Buddhist and Christian scriptural references to the significance of friendship on the spiritual path. He also presented examples and reflections from his years of pastoral counseling and service in the Church of Sweden’s suicide prevention helpline, as an invitation to discussion and sharing on the meaning and relevance of friendly connection in suicide prevention work and spiritual/contemplative counseling. Jonathan presented on this situation of suicide in Japan, especially its structural and cultural factors. He then presented the work of a number of individual priests, including Rev. Fujio, on the issue and how this has built into a national network of priests supporting one another in their work and engaging in collective activities and training of new priests.
  • #6 March 25: Family Systems Therapy & Mentalization—Practicing Mindfulness and Vipassana in the Family with Jinji Willingham (USA) and Rev. Masazumi Okano (Japan). Jinji discussed the three components of her therapeutic orientation and clinical model – the dharma, family systems, and neuroscience (the neurobiology of relational attachment, its impact on the autonomic nervous system which impacts mental health, esp. trauma, mood disorder, and self-harming behaviors). She discussed how they are aligned and how they emerge and how I integrate them in clinical work. Rev. Okano gave a talk entitled “Mentalization—Practicing Mindfulness and Vipassana in the Family.”The concept of mentalization originates in psychoanalysis, and, since the early 1990s, the Hungarian-born psychologist Peter Fonagy and his colleagues have revitalized it, making it relevant and applicable for the everyday lives of families. Normally these meditations are practiced in order to be aware of one’s own mental and physical processes but we could purposefully apply them to enhance mentalization. This could contribute not only to enhancing children’s inter-relational skills but also the skills of those who are engaged in various care-giving activities. In this way, it may be useful to apply the ideas of mentalization in order to open up new dimensions to mindfulness and vipassana.
  • #7 April 15: Suicide Prevention in South Korea with Prof. Pumsoo Lee and two colleagues: Prof. Seunghee Lim who holds a Ph.D from Birmingham University and is presently a professor at the Shinhan University Social Welfare Department. She is also the President of the Korean Academy of Culture for Life. Prof. Myoung Ho Hyun is a clinical psychologist and Professor in the Department of Psychology at Chuna-Ang University. Prof. Lee spoke specifically on the 2nd Life Respect Day Celebration and Policy Seminar sponsored by the Korea Life Movement Union.
  • #8 May 20: Maitri Space Awareness with Prof. Elaine Yuen (U.S.A.). This practice evolved from the Tibetan yoga tradition by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Developed in the early 1970s, Maitri Space Awareness practice is built around the mandala of the five buddha families, illustrating how the ordinary world of mind and emotions is full of wakefulness as well as confusion. The word maitri is a Sanskrit word that translates as “loving kindness” or “unlimited friendliness toward self and others”. The practice of Maitri Space Awareness is intended to evoke inherent compassion and offers the opportunity to be with experience from a ground of non-aggression.  Maitri Space Awareness has been taught as workshops, and is also a core element of the MA Counseling degrees at Naropa University. 
  • #9 & 10 June 22 & July 22: A wide-ranging discussion amongst everyone in the group without a main presenter on: Teaching Meditation: from physical comportment to psycho-spiritual balance and insight. & How do you evaluate the development of your meditation students and those that you work with? 

The group has been deeply moved and inspired by the level of sharing and camaraderie developed over the past two years. As the Covid pandemic slowly begins to lift, we are looking forward to not only meeting face to face in 2023 but beginning some public programs and workshops to share our discoveries with our INEB friends and wider networks. Stay tuned for more in 2023!!

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