Author Topic: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession  (Read 1367 times)

Offline ZenFred

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Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« on: February 13, 2014, 12:04:12 pm »
Article by the very controversial Brad Warner, Soto Zen teacher and priest: http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/2011/04/zen-is-not-in-helping-profession.html

It seems an internet forum naturally attracts people with difficulties or mental illness. In fact, perhaps all religious group attract those with significant mental problems, because of its very nature of having a welcome sign on the door. I don't want to be judgmental or point fingers at anyone in particular, because 1) we wouldn't want to exclude people with illness and 2) I myself have Post-traumatic stress disorder which plays a key part in why I pursue a Buddhist path.

So here is what I think a slightly unanswerable question: To what degree do we here at forum give help and guidance to those with mental disturbances beyond the fact that we live in Samara and to what degree can those of us with mental illness expect help? (see even the question is hard to phrase).

I disagree with Zen Master Brad Warner that teachers are not a "helping profession." Perhaps in a very zen way they are not because there is no teacher and no student and "helping" is just feeding the ego and illusion. But we also live on multiple levels at once and teacher really does impart wisdom and help show the way, though it is up to the student to walk and experience it.

So that how does a teacher, or forum moderator, or just a concerned sangha member help? I think the answer may lie in helping as they can, but not expecting to be able to play therapist. Even more importantly, a person seeking help needs to understand the boundaries of Buddhist teaching and advice, and therapeutic teaching and advice. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that require medical treatments (not necessarily medication, but professional medical treatment). However, even the medical community acknowledges a person needs to take ownership over their recovery and need social supports to accomplish this. So we can and should give support but again don't play doctor. Does Buddhism have valuable teachings and practice that can be applied therapeutically? Yes, it does, but blurring the lines i think opens the door for unrealistic expectations on both sides.

So I don't know if there needs to be addition to the rules of the forum saying do not expect professional medical advice or anything but just offering it as a perspective. I know that even though I am a therapist (though technically not yet have a license) I don't plan to offer any more than a reference to a medical website/provider or give general support.

-Fred

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2014, 12:33:58 pm »
I don't believe that anything more needs to be added to the TOS, other than what's already clearly stated, namely that we're sympathetic to mental health needs that may arise and wish for members to be healthy and well, but we're not capable or qualified to give advice in such situations.

There's also a liability issue, especially in cases where a member might be seeking advice --- in such instances, the rule of thumb is that they're told to do so through their healthcare provider or another medical professional. Anything beyond this will normally get a post deleted and/or the thread locked.

Offline ZenFred

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2014, 12:42:15 pm »
The forum rules do state

"The FreeSangha staff are sympathetic to mental health needs that may arise and wish for members to be healthy and well. However, we are not capable or qualified to give advice in such situations. We recommend for people suffering from an acute phase of mental illness to visit http://www.befrienders.org
If you feel like you want to hurt yourself or someone else, please call emergency services in your area or home country.  (In the United States this would usually be 911.)"

Sorry for missing that. I think the statement is just fine. I think Brad's article points to how that is more than just a legal cover our butts policy. We really aren't in the business of providing therapy.

Offline Tara

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2014, 04:04:50 pm »
Article by the very controversial Brad Warner, Soto Zen teacher and priest: http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/2011/04/zen-is-not-in-helping-profession.html

It seems an internet forum naturally attracts people with difficulties or mental illness. In fact, perhaps all religious group attract those with significant mental problems, because of its very nature of having a welcome sign on the door. I don't want to be judgmental or point fingers at anyone in particular, because 1) we wouldn't want to exclude people with illness and 2) I myself have Post-traumatic stress disorder which plays a key part in why I pursue a Buddhist path.

So here is what I think a slightly unanswerable question: To what degree do we here at forum give help and guidance to those with mental disturbances beyond the fact that we live in Samara and to what degree can those of us with mental illness expect help? (see even the question is hard to phrase).

I disagree with Zen Master Brad Warner that teachers are not a "helping profession." Perhaps in a very zen way they are not because there is no teacher and no student and "helping" is just feeding the ego and illusion. But we also live on multiple levels at once and teacher really does impart wisdom and help show the way, though it is up to the student to walk and experience it.

So that how does a teacher, or forum moderator, or just a concerned sangha member help? I think the answer may lie in helping as they can, but not expecting to be able to play therapist. Even more importantly, a person seeking help needs to understand the boundaries of Buddhist teaching and advice, and therapeutic teaching and advice. Mental illnesses are medical conditions that require medical treatments (not necessarily medication, but professional medical treatment). However, even the medical community acknowledges a person needs to take ownership over their recovery and need social supports to accomplish this. So we can and should give support but again don't play doctor. Does Buddhism have valuable teachings and practice that can be applied therapeutically? Yes, it does, but blurring the lines i think opens the door for unrealistic expectations on both sides.

So I don't know if there needs to be addition to the rules of the forum saying do not expect professional medical advice or anything but just offering it as a perspective. I know that even though I am a therapist (though technically not yet have a license) I don't plan to offer any more than a reference to a medical website/provider or give general support.

-Fred


I'm just curious... how would you even be able to tell if someone has a "mental illness" or not, unless they specifically tell you?  If that is the case, there really wouldn't be any online forums (of any kind-- not just Buddhist), because there would be no need for advice given and/or received.

Offline ZenFred

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2014, 04:47:47 pm »
You can't tell if someone has a mental illness anymore than you can tell any other illness. Often people self-disclose (ie tell you they have a diagnosis) or they exhibit particular behaviors that are highly suggest a particular illness. (Just being a little "wierd" isn't an illness). But perhaps the spirit of your question is more important, its not really our business and even if we know, we shouldn't judge or treat that person any differently.

Right, if this forum banned everyone who said they had an illness or was suspected of having an illness we'd have no members and it would be totally wrong to do so.  I suppose there are support group forums for particular illnesses or for mental health in general and we should be clear we aren't that. I don't know if AA has an online presence like that. Of course we can offer support but we are not a "support group." But i suspect even true support groups have disclaimers about seeking professional medical advice on serious issues.
 
Side note: I am big believer in person first language. So you would say a person with depression, not a depressed person, or a person suffering from depression. It might seem like a subtle difference but how people refer to themselves or hear themselves referred to all day long makes a big difference. I also am writing about this from an objective, clinical perspective which might come of as a bit... cold, but i don't intend to be so. I know first hand the real suffering that mental illness can cause and also the freedom of not letting it define you or control your life (partially due to my Zen practice).

Finally, this all may be a case of trying to over-explain it. Ask a school kid what a giraffe is and you get a 5 second answer. Ask a zoologist and you should better take notes : )


Offline Tara

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2014, 05:55:51 pm »
You can't tell if someone has a mental illness anymore than you can tell any other illness. Often people self-disclose (ie tell you they have a diagnosis) or they exhibit particular behaviors that are highly suggest a particular illness. (Just being a little "wierd" isn't an illness). But perhaps the spirit of your question is more important, its not really our business and even if we know, we shouldn't judge or treat that person any differently.

Right, if this forum banned everyone who said they had an illness or was suspected of having an illness we'd have no members and it would be totally wrong to do so.  I suppose there are support group forums for particular illnesses or for mental health in general and we should be clear we aren't that. I don't know if AA has an online presence like that. Of course we can offer support but we are not a "support group." But i suspect even true support groups have disclaimers about seeking professional medical advice on serious issues.
 
Side note: I am big believer in person first language. So you would say a person with depression, not a depressed person, or a person suffering from depression. It might seem like a subtle difference but how people refer to themselves or hear themselves referred to all day long makes a big difference. I also am writing about this from an objective, clinical perspective which might come of as a bit... cold, but i don't intend to be so. I know first hand the real suffering that mental illness can cause and also the freedom of not letting it define you or control your life (partially due to my Zen practice).

Finally, this all may be a case of trying to over-explain it. Ask a school kid what a giraffe is and you get a 5 second answer. Ask a zoologist and you should better take notes : )

Hmm, interesting.  Well, having gone to an accredited graduate school for my Masters in Counseling Psychology, I still think a 5 second answer would have been best for this thread.  ;)  I personally don't see what all of the hub-bub is about.

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2014, 06:16:20 pm »
The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image.


Offline ZenFred

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2014, 06:18:07 pm »
Tara,

Do you think I sounded like I was saying that someone shouldn't seek advice on anything here, including Buddhist/spiritual questions? I didn't mean to.

Since you're a counselor you are more of an expert than I. OTs can work in mental health and its part of our coursework, but not the sole focus.

It is a reality of religious groups, including Buddhist forums, that they attract people with deeper mental or emotional difficulties. In my own experience here, I've notice on several occasions of people crossing the line in seeking advice or overly displaying troubling behaviors indicative of serious diagnoses. On a practical level, the moderators of the forum do a good job of regulating it and a good policy is in place. However, as a deeper philosophical question, how do we as a forum and in a greater sense as Buddhist sanghas handle people who bring issues we aren't equipped to handle in a fair and compassionate way? That was the point of the thread and of Brad's article. Perhaps, Brad could use more compassion but his abrasive nature is a trademark of his "hardcore zen" approach.

Gassho  :namaste:




Offline NepalianBuddhist

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2014, 06:50:11 pm »
I already go to a separate deal with a Psychiatrist. So all that stuff is taken care of. Thanks! ...

Offline NepalianBuddhist

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2014, 07:11:46 pm »
I don't believe that anything more needs to be added to the TOS, other than what's already clearly stated, namely that we're sympathetic to mental health needs that may arise and wish for members to be healthy and well, but we're not capable or qualified to give advice in such situations.

There's also a liability issue, especially in cases where a member might be seeking advice --- in such instances, the rule of thumb is that they're told to do so through their healthcare provider or another medical professional. Anything beyond this will normally get a post deleted and/or the thread locked.

So ... Are you copping out because of the mental health diagnosis? ...

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2014, 07:17:21 pm »
I don't know what to say if you don't like the policy, but you're certainly welcome to see if you can find another forum without such a policy.

Offline NepalianBuddhist

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #11 on: February 13, 2014, 07:22:49 pm »
Maybe these forums on the Internet are a prerequisite to mental health diagnosis.

Offline ZenFred

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2014, 07:24:04 pm »


So ... Are you copping out because of the mental health diagnosis? ...

Did you read the article? Cause that would answer that question.  ;D

Offline Dharmakara

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2014, 07:26:13 pm »
No forum should ever be considered the proper place for such a diagnosis, no sooner than considered as an alternative for seeking advice on mental health issues, outside the scope of Buddhism itself.

Offline FutureSage92

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Re: Zen Teachers not therapists, not a helping profession
« Reply #14 on: March 13, 2014, 07:31:47 pm »
Although on a technical level I tend to agree with what he's saying. Zen teachers aren't therapists. (and by extension a Bhikku of any sect for that matter). As in, being a buddhist master doesn't grant you a degree in psychology. But in consideration of the fact that the ancient knowledge and wisdom of the buddha continues to extend beyond modern psychology's understanding of the mind, Id say that on the level of who to go to its just as well you see a buddhist master. ( Just read the art of happiness and you'll see what I mean!  :lmfao: )  Now this is where the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is very important. we cannot replace a psychiatrist by any means. We can't do things like diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications. Thats what a psychiatrist does. A Psychologist generally deals with family issues, behavior counseling,depression, (not pathological or genetic) etc. And refers a person to a psychiatrist if he senses the person is not operating under neurotypical standard. in other words, psychiatrists work with the brain and psychologists work with the mind. I believe that a qualified buddhist teacher can replace a psychologist in every way! Thats what I do with my life anyways. As a sage I want to help people with their lives. Restore hope to those who have given up, inspire goodness, offer wisdom to people in tricky situations, and provide that gentle buddhist touch to emotionally unstable situations. But for this, I also specifically study human behavior and rely upon my own well-developed empathetic abilities. It is odd though, I understand people so well that the hardest thing for me was being understanding when other people don't understand each other.  :teehee: anyways... thats all I have to say on that for now...  :namaste:

 


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