A Phenomenological Study of the Experience of Psychotherapists Who Meditate
My research explores the work of six psychotherapists who meditate. Vipassana meditation focuses on developing sensitivity to body sensations, which are understood to accompany all emotion experiences; experienced meditators can feel in their own bodies physical sensations that reflect the experience of a person in close proximity. An aim of the research was to discover whether their meditation practice had enabled the participants to use this ability in their work with patients. The study focuses on psychotherapists' lived experience during clinical hours, and enquires about how they direct their attention to their body sensations, and to the relationship with patients. The study explores links between the practice of Buddhist meditation and the evenly-suspended attention recommended by Freud, and further developed by Bion in his psychoanalysis without memory or desire. Because I was interested in many aspects of therapists' lived experience, I chose the methodology of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, 2003) as a framework for analysing the data. I drew on philosophical underpinnings offered by Heidegger and van Manen. The study showed that the participating psychotherapists were helped by their meditative training to develop a sensitive receptivity to their own physical sensations and emotion experience, predisposing them to be aware of limbic resonance with their patients' emotional and physical experiences. Some participants focused their meditative awareness on the ebb and flow of closeness and distance between themselves and their patients, in an orientation to psychotherapy that can be described as relational mindfulness.