Jean-Louis Pelofi: Do not mix Buddhism and psychotherapy

- through Fabrice Groult

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Clinical psychotherapist and Buddhist from Marseille, Jean-Louis Pelofi emphasizes the importance of not confusing the psychic and the spiritual in the treatment of psychological suffering and in one's life in general.

Do your patients identify you as a Buddhist?

I have responsibilities in a Buddhist center, in which I receive people to treat their psychological suffering. Some come because they know that I am a clinician with a spiritual outlook. Others don't know that I am a Buddhist. I don't talk to them about it at all. It is their listening and their pathology that interest me. I am a Buddhist by my position, my politeness, my presence, and my ethics. I don't need to talk about it.

Do you use tools inspired by Buddhism to help your patients?

No, Buddhism is a way of transformation through spirituality, it is not a psychoanalytical psychological treatment. The psychic and the spiritual should not be confused. There is no ego therapy in Buddhism. Patients believe that Buddhism or meditation will help them and find that they will not. In fact, you have to do basic psychotherapy. Priests also come to see me. They tell me: "No matter how much I pray, I'm still sick". It's because they have a pathology that has never been treated. I tell them, "Sit down and forget your religion for now, and let's start investigating your psychic reality."

Do they then reconnect with their spirituality?

Absolutely. I treat pathology, but I'm very careful not to go too far. For example, I also have artists. Some create because they are bad, but they are afraid of losing their creativity by undergoing psychotherapy. It's wrong. It is not a question of replacing the meaning of the person's life, but of helping him by finding the right measure, so that he does not lose his existential vision. Otherwise we will create a second pathology which is the absence of meaning, which can go as far as suicide. We each have a meaning in life. The aim of a fair psychotherapy is to help the person to live with what he has, without introjecting his own idealism on him.

Do you offer them to do meditation?

Only for a few in order to install a mental calm the way of mindfulness. The goal of psychotherapy, of psychoanalysis, is to rebuild the self that has been damaged, destroyed, while the goal of deep meditation is to disidentify from the “I”. One who does not have a strong ego can decompensate. I have been sent as patients to people who have decompensated in three-year Buddhist retreats. For example, they are derealized, depersonalized, overwhelmed by delusions, hallucinations. Meditation does not treat these pathologies. It can even make them worse.

“Buddhism is a way of transformation through spirituality, it is not a psychoanalytical psychological treatment. The psychic and the spiritual should not be confused. »

Likewise, in cases of traumatic neuroses, meditation will solve nothing, because the dysfunctional memories are frozen in the right frontal neural apparatus. Until these memories have been reprocessed with a clinician, they will continue to function, as they are beyond consciousness. Alone, one cannot access repressed unconscious scenarios; we need the intervention of a professional. Meditation can calm a person who has a phobia or an ocd, but the source of the pathology remains inscribed in his psychic apparatus.

What do you offer them inspired by Buddhism?

I help them think. I'm not going to tell them about the law of cause and effect, but just say to them, "Do you think things come from nothing? Or: "Is there something that has lasted in your life?" to refer to impermanence. Or again: “Do you think you can keep sand in your hand without exhausting yourself?” to make them think about attachment. I don't give an answer and never say “You have to do that”.

How does Buddhism help you in your practice as a clinician?

The practice of mental calm Shin (Samatha in Sanskrit) allows me to calm my agitation when I see a person arriving who troubles me. A woman raped, a man beaten by his father, it always hurts. We are sensitive to the suffering of the other. But it's very difficult to do this job if our thoughts and our interpretations occupy the ground. Mental calm allows me to look at my own emotions, accept them, but not let them have the power. Clinicians are not always aware of what they are projecting into their patients. Even though we have had psychotherapy, we can be influenced by our beliefs, knowledge, and desires, and poison our patients with them. If I am present to myself, I can receive what the other says, because I am not disturbed by my own mechanism.

I also apply the Six Paramitas: giving, ethics, patience, diligence, one-pointedness, and contemplation. In Buddhism, there is no god or person to save us. This cognitive and behavioral method helps us to transform ourselves. Doing Samatha is not enough. This allows us to relax our mind, but many secular methods also exist for this. If a Buddhist does not apply the Six Paramitas in his life, there will be no transformation of being.

Finally, I try to actualize in me the natural state or unborn wisdom, which is also called awakened intelligence. I strive to be in a quality of being.

How does this improve the relationship with the patient?

He feels that I am not in a speech, but in a bond. Discourse is reciting Freud by heart. The link is created by language, experience, listening and an alliance in order to be in contact with the deep reality of the person. It is the difference between knowledge and the spiritual knowledge of being. If I am present to the other in my wisdom, that brings more to my quality as a clinician.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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