Book Review: The Guide to Buddhist Counseling

- through Francois Leclercq

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On March 12, Asia Society Hong Kong hosted the launch of Dr. Kin Cheung Lee's book The Guide to the Buddhist Council (Routledge 2023). Attendees joined the lecturer from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) for an insightful lecture as he described core concepts from his book and described case studies drawn from his extensive experience. The insights and case studies presented in Dr. Lee's book add up to a systematic integration of Buddhist teachings into a structured model of counseling.

As someone who scratched the surface of pastoral theology in my early years of college, I find this book inspiring and potentially a landmark publication. One teacher I particularly admired during my undergraduate period was a lay preacher from the Uniting Church of Australia, who had written several books on Trinitarian models of counseling with applicable case studies. I re-read these books often for some time, and for many years wondered when a Buddhist equivalent might arise – until now.

The Guide to the Buddhist Council. Image courtesy of Kin Cheung Lee

It seems fair to say that in The Guide to the Buddhist Council, I have covered enough ground to conclude that it is indeed this Buddhist equivalent of the writings of my former teacher, especially since three essential axes are approached: Buddhist philosophy; its place in a Dharma-inspired conceptual model of counselling; and the resulting interventions and techniques.

The book is structured in 12 chapters, covering a full range of topics for the caregiver or pastoral counselor. *As Dr. Lee described in an interview with BDG, the basic intervention is the Note, Know, Choose model, a three-phase psycho-spiritual treatment approach. "Note" is to cultivate stability of mind and awareness, "Know" is to foster the client's understanding of their underlying bad habits including attachment and aversion, and "Choose" is to practice moving in an alternate direction, to begin exercising the control muscle over the mind to make healthier decisions.

The Four Noble Truths, as with all orthodox Buddhist work, form the conceptual core of Buddhist-oriented psychotherapeutic work. Dr. Lee aligns the first truth of dukkha with the idea of ​​compassionate harmonization; the second truth of samudaya with evaluation; a third of nirodha with conceptualization; And Magga with interference. (40) Another important starting point is that true Buddhist counseling starts from non-self (Anatta) as the basis of treatment, rather than the presupposition of a self, as is common in Western psychology: "The focus of treatment should be on reducing the client's grasping, particularly the attachment to the notion of a reified self. (34) Dependent origination and the Noble Eightfold Path, two other fundamental Buddhist teachings, also play a central role.

It turns out that I wasn't the only one all those years ago wondering when it would be “our” turn to develop Dharma-centered frameworks for pastoral care and psychotherapy. In fact, it was this desire to fill the void in the literature that prompted Dr. Lee to initiate this project, while a psychology student in the United States. He admits that Buddhist leaders and teachers lag far behind their theistic counterparts (Christian, Islamic, and Jewish pastors and psychotherapists) in knowledge, application, and depth of intervention.

“There's a lot of room for improvement,” says Dr. Lee bluntly. “I hope this book can at least provide a reference for many others to see Buddhism as a viable treatment of choice for mental health in contemporary society. Buddhist pastoral care has so much potential, and the idea of ​​mental health counseling can be a useful addition to their work. From my experiences working with Buddhist monks and lay students, they are very knowledgeable about the Dhamma and competent in giving lectures on the Dhamma in general.

Image courtesy of Kin Cheung Lee

The reality, however, is that most of these people have had no training in counseling or related techniques. For Dr. Lee, these include different ways to listen deeply, ask processing questions to help clients reflect, notice and report emotional pain and attachment, or use certain mental techniques. or behavioral. He notes, “Their spiritual work may therefore become difficult for some clients when traditional methods of teaching Buddhism may not work effectively. I hope this book can add another way of teaching Buddhism, in a sense, to the toolkit of Buddhist pastoral care providers. I believe that Buddhist counselors and psychotherapists should embody the Buddhist teaching and use it in the counseling process. Hopefully this can open a conversation to invite more interested lay professionals and students to join in the development of Buddhist counseling, thereby expanding and defining it in a way that best suits the needs of the people they serve.

The skill of the mind lies in being aware from moment to moment, invoking the necessary skill of mindfulness. A key difference is that “right mindfulness and the common concept of modern mindfulness is the 'right' component. Modern mindfulness emphasizes awareness of the present moment to quiet the mind without judgment, while traditional Buddhist mindfulness emphasizes the rightness of a quiet mind that realizes the true nature of things, such as the non-self. (43)

Dr. Lee has noted at various times that the caregiver or counselor is as central to his program as the client. His book contains many pointers to "spiritual formation" that result in a cultured counselor. This is important because, as Dr. Lee notes, in all religious traditions in counseling and psychotherapy, “spiritual formation is an essential foundation in the training of chaplains, ministry care providers, and other providers. spiritual care. It is a common belief that the ability to form and nurture personal and congregational spiritual lives enhances one's ability to foster the spiritual lives of others. (57)

Buddhist spiritual training takes many forms for the author, ranging from advising counselors to do cushion practice – at least 20 minutes of seated fundamental mindfulness meditation or compassion meditation a day seems realistic (59) – useful “tips” boxes for counselors to use, such as the one on contemplative questions. (“During the moment of suffering, what was my first immediate response and my first choice?” “How did my suffering change with my choice?” 174-75) At its core, spiritual formation is a commitment of the counselor in Buddhist discipleship as a servant of the Three Treasures:

Buddhist counselors must also uphold Buddhist ethics and take a vow to follow at least the Five Precepts to guide their Buddhist counseling practices. The calming and therapeutic presence of a cultured Buddhist counselor can be one of the most therapeutic factors in the counseling process. In particular, such a counselor will have an increased ability to notice the personal causes of suffering in clients.. (57)

Dr Lee is still awaiting more responses to the book, admitting reception remains modest at the moment. “Some students and colleagues (both in psychology and Buddhist studies) have contacted me to say how the easy-to-read style, the authentic use of myself as examples and the illustrations of dialogues and examples cases are very helpful,” he said before. the book launch at Asia Society Hong Kong. “In general, some people recognize the value of having a structured Buddhist counseling model that gives a clear conceptualization pattern as well as interventions. »

Will the various institutions and leaders of Buddhism heed this call for a richer engagement between Asian philosophy and Western foundations of counseling and psychotherapy? Dr. Lee's book is rigorous enough to provide a solid foundation upon which Buddhist writers, leaders, and chaplains can conceptualize Dharma-centered models of care. Some Western institutes, such as Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, are already looking at Buddhist counseling models, while HKU's own Master of Buddhist Counseling (MBC) degree trains students to be able to see clients in the comfort and tranquility of dedicated rooms in the Wang Fat Ching She temple in Hong Kong. This practical work holds great promise for a generation of Buddhists who have been competently trained in modern methods of psychotherapy and healing. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of theoretical work to be done and many more case studies are needed to set precedents and guide future practitioners.

* "A Brief History of Buddhism as Indigenous Psychology", "Buddhism and Science: Implications for Buddhist Counselling", "Major Theoretical Assumptions in Buddhist Counseling", "Overview of the Note, Know, Choose Intervention Model", "Training Counselor", "Assessment of Buddhist Counselling", "Conceptualizing Buddhist Counseling Cases", "Intervention and Techniques: Note", "Intervention and Techniques: Knowing", "Intervention and Techniques: Choosing", " Termination” and “Ethical Considerations” in Buddhist Counseling.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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