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"If only I had a pound for every time a propspective new client asks me if I could 'do CBT on them'..." said one of my therapist friends recently. I didn't ask what they could do with the money they would amount, but from my own experiences, it is a question posed enough (in one shape or form) to make many humanistically trained therapists sigh and then ponder just what our modality is doing wrong in terms of marketing.


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy "is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave", so say the NHS help pages. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) - an independent body set up by the government in 1999 - the evidence-base for the effectiveness of CBT makes it the treatment of choice for depression and anxiety: and indeed, the research does look convincing especially in the context of its cost-effectiveness (it can be delivered in few sessions and in a manualised way, minimalising staff input). However, CBT is not without its critics: its philosophy and its research supramacy is being called in to question.

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I’ve recently returned from a week-long retreat with Buddhist psychologist John Welwood. I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up for the week at Omega Institute in upstate New York. I call it a retreat, but it was equally a workshop and at times, a group therapy session with 50 + participants!

In flight entertainment

I’ve followed JW’s work for several years now, having first come across his ideas concerning “spiritual bypassing” in an article for Tricycle magazine. His primary work – looking at how to integrate the spiritual and psychological paths – has fascinated and inspired me: especially in these past 2 years whilst researching Buddhist-informed psychotherapy for my thesis. I was therefore delighted to find that JW led an annual retreat for health professionals (especially in my beloved NY, a spiritual home since completing my meditation teacher training there in 2012). I travelled armed with a copy of his 2002 magnus opus: “Toward a Psychology of Awakening” and went on to complete it for the third time. In reading it this time around I feel I gained so much more, no doubt in part because I could feel the presence of this great teacher in the written word.

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One of the challenges that we all face in life is balancing the needs we have as individuals with the needs of others we are in relationship with: balancing self and other. This is a challenge recognised by many systems of thought: from the ancient wisdom traditions through to contemporary Western psychology. For example, the Buddhist teachings (or Dharma) speak specifically to the importance of "equalising self and other" - of being kind to others, but not at the expense of one's self.