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  PSYCHOLOGY AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES PAGE 1

Depression, anxiety, panic attacks and other psychological issues.  Marital, sexual and family conflictsExistential matters of death, grief and basic self-identity.

More related information at www.hrobbinsphd.com—the site of Dr. Heather Robbins' private practice

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GENERAL

 

WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY?

Psychology, and particularly psychotherapy, is a discipline halfway between a science and an art form.  Its primary aim is to understand how the personality is formed early on, and why that personality later goes on to interact with its environment in certain habitual ways—many of them self-defeating, ambivalent, inefficient or otherwise less than ideal. As such, psychology—like all metaphysical and wisdom traditions—can never be altogether "proven" or "disproven" from an entirely objective perspective.  Much like meditation, psychology is an extremely subtle craft of understanding the intricate workings of the mind and resolving its many unconscious tensions.  It is, that is to say, both structured and intuitive, logical and creative.

Unfortunately, there are many common misconceptions surrounding psychotherapeutic methods and techniques, the primary of these being that "Therapy is for crazy people."  Although acutely mentally disturbed individuals can certainly benefit from psychotherapy, they are by no means the only suitable candidates, nor or they necessarily even the best-suited.  In fact, the stronger and more flexible one's ego functioning from the outset, the more one stands to benefit from psychotherapeutic methodologies.  Although individuals who suffer from clinical depression and other acute psychological distresses such as panic attacks, etc., benefit from psychological healing approaches, many of us suffer from much less overt symptoms of psychological and emotional discomfort.  Some of these symptoms, often quite subtle, might manifest in one or several of the following forms:

These, and related issues, are addressed by Dr. Heather Robbins both in her work with Dallas Mindfulness and her local private practice.

 

SIGNIFICANCE OF EARLY EXPERIENCE

In working with these and numerous other issues, the emphasis, once again, is on developmental patterns.  Early experiences—both psychology and wisdom traditions such as Buddhism agree—tend to play a particularly powerful role in the formation of certain personality traits, tendencies and habits, as do significant or repetitive current life experiences. 

Contemporary psychotherapeutic methods seek to better understand these personality patterns—many of them likely so automatic and deeply-imbedded as to go relatively unnoticed—so that their influence on present behaviors, feelings and thoughts can be more readily examined.  Rather than simply judging this or that behavior as "good" or "bad," "correct" or "incorrect," the real idea of depth psychology is simply to cultivate a more honest, open and inclusive awareness of one's inner and external happenings and situations.

It should be emphasized, then, that psychological and meditative paths are in no way mutually exclusive.  In fact, as both disciplines aim to increase awareness of the subtle and hidden workings of the mind, heart and spirit, it is difficult to authentically pursue the one without ultimately integrating the other One of the primary aims of Dallas Mindfulness is to integrate the disciplines, techniques and perspectives of psychology and meditation.  Properly understood, there is no true boundary between spirituality and psychological well-being, nor is one approach ultimately "higher" than the other. 

The vast majority of Westerners, when pursuing the meditative path, quickly encounter certain emotional obstacles which are best resolved when approached from a variety of perspectives.  Both meditative and psychotherapeutic formats seek to cultivate both a refined, energetic focus and relaxed, contemplative loosening of the mind.  In pursuing these paths in tandem, one's personality more quickly becomes increasingly dynamic and flexible, more spontaneous and creative, while simultaneously strengthening its ability to hold fast, maintaining individuality, confidence and independence in trying or unexpected circumstances.

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COMMON EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES

Below are listed common psychological conflicts which can be helped through meditation, dreamwork, psychotherapeutic methodologies and other approaches described throughout this site.  It should be emphasized that each of the following issues may manifest along a continuum from severe and disruptive to extremely subtle and relatively non-disruptive.

DEPRESSION

Depression is one of the most common issues addressed through psychotherapeutic methods.  When symptoms are relatively severe and persistent, the individual is said to be suffering from clinical depression.  As there is often a neurochemical component to this sort of depression, such individuals often make use of both psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.  Many individuals, however, suffer much less severe symptoms, and antidepressants are not necessarily essential to the treatment process in these cases.  In such situations, the patient works with the therapist, counselor or spiritual guide to examine the causes and effects of his or her symptoms and patterns.

Whether an individual suffers from a clinical depression or only manifests less acute features of depression, the symptoms are very similar in quality.  Depressed individuals commonly report a general lack of energy or motivation, along with significant changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns.  Pervasive feelings of sadness and guilt are often experienced, sometimes accompanied by sudden fits of crying or irritability.  The libido is often affected by an episode of depression, temporarily diminishing the individual's desire and even ability to have sex.  Activities the individual has typically enjoyed, such as hobbies or other special interests, are experienced as somewhat flat and less fulfilling while depressed.  Not all of these symptoms are necessarily experienced by a depressed person, nor do they necessarily interfere with that individual's daily life in a dramatic way.  Many individuals, in fact, may experience a somewhat chronic sense of boredom, dullness or low energy, without even realizing they are likely suffering from some form of depression.

ANXIETY

Stress, physical discomfort, persistent worrying and obsessing, fear of social situations and other phobias, as well as panic attacks, are all various forms of anxiety.  Although anxiety is experienced in numerous forms, ranging from the concretely physical to the intensely emotional, it is a condition for which both psychotherapeutic and meditative techniques are particularly well-suited.

As with depression, anxiety falls along a continuum from mild to severe.  Fairly disruptive anxiety, which often results in panic attacks and unhealthy physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, can be addressed with various, highly effective anti-anxiety medications.  Even so, psychotherapy is essential in such cases if the core issues leading to anxiety are to be understood.  In cases of more moderate anxiety, therapy and/or meditation is often enough to treat the unwanted symptoms.  As contemporary medical research has shown, the mental, psychological and physical aspects of the individual are intricately intertwined.  For this reason, the holistic, psychotherapeutic treatment of anxiety is one of the most effective means of addressing related patterns of phobia, obsession and physical stress.

Anxiety may be experienced as a result of some significant life change, or may seem to come "out of the blue".  Dramatic shifts in one's life role, such as marriage, changing jobs, going off to college, the loss of a loved one, etc., are likely triggers of anxiety.  It takes time to adjust to new expectations and situations, and anxiety is one mechanism individuals may use to keep a sense of security.  Perhaps a successful businessman unconsciously grinds his teeth in an unusually stressful business meeting.  Similarly, a newly married husband may unconsciously maintain his "personal space" by obsessing about details of work projects, financial matters or even something as trivial as lawn care.  Anxiety is also commonly experienced when one feels unable to express certain emotions such as fear, anger or disappointment.  If one has anger toward an authority figure, for example, but does not feel free to express this emotion, anxiety may result.  Developing a stronger sense of self identity, through psychotherapy and/or meditation, helps the individual to remain relatively secure even when powerful emotions and stressors are abundant.

PANIC

Panic is a particularly disruptive form of anxiety.  Many individuals suffer from "panic attacks," relatively brief episodes of compressed anxiety which can seem to arise out of nowhere.

Some common symptoms of panic are listed below.  If you have experienced four or more of these symptoms during a relatively brief time (typically less than 10 minutes), you may have had a panic attack.  If such attacks recur, especially if accompanied by a dread of situations which may trigger another episode, you may be suffering from a panic disorder.  These symptoms are as follows:

  • sweating

  • rapid heartbeat

  • nausea, stomach cramps

  • shortness or breath, feeling of smothering

  • chest pain

  • numbness

  • feelings of disconnection or unreality

  • hot or cold flashes

  • fear of dying, losing control or going crazy

As with other forms of anxiety, panic is often treated with a combination of anti-anxiety medication, psychotherapy and meditation.  Whereas the medication addresses the most immediately disruptive symptoms of panic, these other methods go deeper to address core issues that are likely affecting one's life in other seemingly unrelated areas.

 

SEXUAL ISSUES

Couples of all ages, married and otherwise, commonly report sexual dissatisfaction.  Perhaps they feel they are not having sex as often as they once were, or simply that the passion is somehow missing from their sex life.  Similarly, many single individuals report sexual issues to be one of the main obstacles to a healthy, intimate relationship.  Sexual issues often lead to heated and persistent conflicts and frustration. 

Unfortunately, many individuals have come to accept such dissatisfaction as unavoidable changes due to monogamy or aging.   Another area of concern that many individuals struggle with is sexual orientation.  Although sexual issues may be buried at the core layers of personality, psychotherapy, meditation and related traditions have been particularly effective in helping the individual to deal with these issues. 

Due to cultural and family influences, many individuals experience much guilt, shame and embarrassment when it comes to sexuality.  At the core of these feelings, many healing disciplines have shown us, there may be complicated and unrecognized feelings of anger, confusion and devaluing of the self.  For this reason, sexual issues are often treated not as a simple conflict in and of themselves, but rather as part of a larger difficulty in understanding and accepting one's own personality.  Someone with disruptive sexual issues, for instance, could discover on closer examination other seemingly unrelated life areas that are affected, such as career advancement, physical well-being, creative "blocks" and so on.  In psychoanalytically-oriented therapy and other contemplative disciplines, the patient examines the ways in which his or her childhood and upbringing unconsciously influenced his or her current sexual conflicts.  In cognitive-behavioral therapy, focused mindfulness practice and similarly concentrated formats, specific goals and behaviors are targeted which allow the client to become more at ease with his or her sexuality and overall self.
 

MARITAL/INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT

Many couples experience certain persistent conflicts, such as sexual issues, that seem to resist resolution.  It is not uncommon for a couple which seems to be otherwise comfortable and intimate to complain of some particular area in which they feel stuck.  Typically, in such cases, these seemingly isolated areas of conflict are discovered to be much more pervasive than originally perceived.

If a couple experiences difficulties in communication, for example, those same issues may underlie other close relationships, albeit subtler and less disruptive.  One of the principal goals of any path of self-actualization is to understand how certain emotional and cognitive patterns tend to pervade one's life and relationships.  In psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy and other contemplative formats, the client works to bring those subtle patterns more to the surface in his or her relationship with the therapist, mentor or spiritual guide, a process which is traditionally known as transference.  The therapist or guide can then work with the individual to become more aware of these tendencies, and thereby by allow for a safe environment in which to resolve these persistent conflicts.

FAMILY ISSUES

In virtually all schools of psychological and metaphysical thought, the family unit is treated as one of the most essential mirrors of individual personality and unresolved developmental issues.  Because individual issues are so intricately intertwined with family matters, individuals often find themselves in some very heated and persistent conflicts with family members.  Whether it is a mother struggling with issues of independence with her adolescent son, a father who seems to have difficulty being emotionally present with the rest of the family, sibling rivalry or any other core family conflict, it can often be difficult to sort out such issues without help. 

By definition, we are typically closer to our family members than most other individuals, so certain strong feelings we have toward one another can make it difficult to keep a relatively objective point of view.  In addition, family issues tend to be so compelling that we feel the need to unconsciously play these dynamics out in our other close relationships.  A daughter who complains of an angry, emotionally volatile father, for instance, oftentimes finds herself marrying the same type of man later on.  Similarly, parents often unconsciously repeat certain patterns and behaviors of their own parents, both  desirable and undesirable, and can find themselves stuck in a kind of repeating loop over generations.

When working either with entire families or individual members of a conflicted family, a skilled psychotherapist brings a less biased third party perception into the conflict.  Certain issues which may seem impossibly complicated within the closed system of a family may seem considerably less intimidating to a skilled psychotherapist or spiritual guide.  Similarly, individuals who have unknowingly inherited certain undesirable traits from parents and other early figures may find that a mentor offers a more detached, helpful viewpoint when discussing the issue.  This allows the client to bring more awareness to the his or her interpersonal relationships and to make more informed life choices as these issues rise to the surface.

CHRONIC PAIN/MEDICAL ISSUES

In the last few decades, there has been increasing cooperation among Western medical disciplines, psychological communities and Eastern wisdom traditions.  In the same way that psychotherapy and spirituality have benefited immensely from the development of more and more effective medications for treating emotional issues such as depression and anxiety, the medical community has begun to use psychological and meditative treatments as an adjunct to medical treatment for a variety of illnesses. 

In short, the fields of medicine and psychology are beginning to agree with Eastern wisdom traditions that the body and the mind are much more connected than Westerners have previously realized.  As Eastern culture has long been aware, some illnesses seem to be closely related to mental and emotional distress.  As continuing research indicates, even clients with illnesses such as cancer or severe neck injury, for example, can benefit from psychotherapeutic and meditative techniques.  Although severe neck injury rarely dissipates simply through psychological or meditative intervention, symptoms and symptom management may be significantly improved.  Learning to deal with physical pain, as well as the constraints it puts on one's emotional and cognitive experience, is a particular specialty of cognitive-behavior therapy.  Similarly, many troublesome physical conditions may improve through a careful and intensive exploration of one's core psychodynamic and existential/metaphysical issues.

GOAL/ACHIEVEMENT OBSTACLES

Oftentimes, people come to psychotherapists and/or spiritual teachers out of a feeling of lack of direction or a generalized dissatisfaction with their achievements or career paths.  They may feel that they are not living up to their potential, or simply that something is missing from their vocation or other significant life projects. 

It has been noted, both in psychotherapy and within the meditative paths, that some individuals have a strong unconscious need to thwart their own success.  This hidden desire to fail may be the result of unrecognized  guilt and shame, as well as buried feelings of worthlessness and insecurity.  According to psychodynamically-oriented therapy, for instance, there can be numerous sources for this desire to frustrate one's success and gratification.  For example, for many individuals, the idea of being more successful than one's parents or other family members is very uncomfortable.  Similarly, at a certain stage of personality development, certain individuals learn to  punish themselves through negative feelings such as guilt and shame to control behavior.  Although such a process has a much-needed place in civilized society, it is common for the individual to over-learn this mechanism, feeling guilty for having thoughts and fantasies he or she finds socially unacceptable.  Within this context, the therapist or spiritual mentor helps the client to let go of maladaptive self-punishing behaviors that may be frustrating his or her success and achievement of deserved satisfaction.

DEATH AND DYING

It is very common for an  individual to seek psychotherapy and/or spiritual guidance in times of grief.  The death of a loved one is perhaps the single most intensive emotional experience an individual must face.  These feelings are often intense enough to be quite debilitating and disorganizing. 

Although a certain period of anxiety and/or depression is expected throughout the natural grieving process, these intense emotions sometimes activate deeper layers of psychological and spiritual unrest that have not previously been of concern.  The therapist or spiritual teacher can help explore the seemingly insurmountable feelings of pain and loss by providing a stable context from which to understand the natural process of grief.  Oftentimes grieving individuals must continue to maintain normal functioning in the context of career or simple day-to-day tasks, and feel unable to experience their pain at its deepest levels.  As both psychotherapy and the various wisdom traditions have shown, the more the individual is able to truly experience and accept his or her intense feelings of loss and suffering, the grieving process is less likely to be complicated by overwhelming and extended feelings of anxiety and depression.

Faced with the death of a loved one, an individual may begin to struggle with existential issues, grappling with the inevitability of death.  This could include questions about the nature and permanence of the self, as well as questions regarding beliefs about religion and spirituality.  These issues are also likely to arise in the context of terminal illness, aging, or deteriorating health.  Although the therapist or mentor does not claim to be an absolute authority on such matters, he or she can help the client achieve a stable psychological and spiritual base from which to consider these issues.  From this more stable emotional context, the client is then encouraged to begin to re-examine and sort out these issues.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUES

  • What, if anything, is the ultimate meaning of life?

  • What is my purpose for being here?

  • How does the inevitable fact of death affect ongoing struggles in life?

  • Is there a god?

  • Am I all alone in the universe?

Each of these questions may arise when an individual struggles with religious, spiritual, or existential issues.  Examining existential issues in the context of psychotherapy and/or meditative disciplines can help to deal with the conflicts and struggles that necessarily surround the phenomenon of existence.  At times, relatively simple emotional conflicts such as depression or anxiety confuse the individual's basic perceptions of life and may lead to feelings of hopelessness or meaninglessness.  Typically, the therapist or spiritual teacher does not aim to solve these issues directly so much as help clear the way for the individual to more easily make up his or her own mind about some basic life questions.

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two convenient locations    call for details: 214-828-1745 (ext.2)