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What is Psychology of Mind?

By Craig K. Comstock

Article published in the Utne Reader

Drawing on spiritual springs and shaped by the American vernacular, a new form of psychotherapy has grown with little attention from either the popular or professional media. Called "psychology of mind," this new approach is now being applied to a wide range of problems from substance abuse to marital discord.

Psychology of mind begins with four deceptively simple postulates:

• Thought creates our psychological experience and thus we each live in a separate reality;
• Thinking is a voluntary function;
• Emotions indicate our level of psychological functioning and, in particular;
• Low moods are a sign that we are identifying with our thoughts, rather than witnessing them.

The Dhammapada, an ancient Buddhist scripture, encapsulates these sentiments in its beginning declaration: "Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think." But how does this bear on what happens in psychotherapy sessions?

Instead of treating emotional as primary, as somehow "deeper" than thought, psychology of mind regards negative emotions as what therapist George Pransky calls "warning lights on the dashboard" —a signal that we have over-identified with momentary thoughts by "taking them too seriously."

"Suffering follows an evil thought," the Dhammapada continues, "as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it." If a cart is going the wrong way, the driver does not try to manipulate the wheels; he turns the oxen. In therapy based on psychology of mind, this means not dwelling on trauma or the usual presenting symptoms. It means focusing instead on natural good feeling as it emerges in our flux of moods.

In the view of many practitioners, psychology of mind offers an answer to the question that is now troubling 12-step programs: "Is there a next step after being ‘in recovery’?" The new therapists say yes. The next step is to find a way back to our birthright, which is natural good feeling. Psychology of mind seeks to offer clients direct access to good feelings, thus dissolving the need for substitute gratifications such as alcohol or cocaine. To recover serenity, they say, we first of all need to understand how it was obscured from us...



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