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February 20, 2018

The Zen Of Counseling

By Dr. Richard Boyum

We often think of Zen as an Eastern philosophical religious experience, but in reality there are certain aspects of modern day counseling that relate to Zen Buddhists’ philosophy. The purpose of this short piece is to give individuals an opportunity to think about the relationship between Zen and counseling. Counseling regardless of any particular school of thought emphasizes living fully and being fully in the moment without judgment, but with awareness and insight. Such an approach in counseling is one of the key concepts of Zen. The idea that in our doing and in our focusing we are also BEING. Zen also has a focus that is oriented in the present. There is a movement from moment to moment to moment. Often in counseling, we work to help individuals resolve and dissolve issues in their past so they can live in the present. We often find ourselves saying "learn from the past, plan for tommorow, but live for today."

This emphasis on the now is as much a part of Zen philosophy as it is a part of a powerful counseling model. A third component of a counseling model is tied to the idea of acceptance. We often have clients understand the importance of acceptance by getting them to understand the importance of a statement such as "that's just the way it is or was: So what do I do now?" Often it is acceptance that allows an individual to move forward. Without clear acceptance of what has happened, a client may stay stuck. The Zen Buddhist Model teaches the importance of taking experiences for what they are and then deciding what one must do with that experience. So often clients are put insituations that are not really their responsibility or fault. Yet, they have a responsibility to choose healthy reactions to those situations. Acceptance allows for this to occur. Another way that counseling relates to Zen is through its action orientation.

For example, in counseling we often work to change someone' s worry to a concern and a concern to action. If a person cannot do this, we often find ways to help a client learn to leave or let go of a worry. Zen addresses the concept of mindfulness. By having a concern and taking action, the individual is fully using the powers that are available to them. There is a connection between a client's choice to take action in the Zen concept of mindfulness. When we are mindful we draw upon all the resources we have available and choose a path of action that reduces chaos and enhances peacefulness. By reviewing the connections between Zen and counseling, it is easy to see that the relationship between east and west has some significant common ground. The philosophical/religious approach of Zen Buddhism and a secular counseling approach have more in common than we often realize. Take the time to think about how these ideas may be acted out and experienced in your everyday life.