Psychotherapy and meditation have long been at polar opposites, the rational and scientific versus the intuitive.
In The Observing Self (Beacon Press, 1983) Arthur Deikman M.D. relates how the mystical tradition of meditation can enable Western psychology to come to terms with the essential problems of meaning, self, and human progress. Deikman was a contributor to The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. His books include Personal Freedom: On Finding Your Way to the Real World (1976) and The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society (1990).
Intrigued by his experiences of altered awareness while he vacationed alone in the wilderness of the Adirondacks, noted psychiatrist Arthur Deikman became a pioneering investigator of mystical states in the 1950s. In the following decade he created a humane form of psychotherapeutic treatment for patients suffering from psychosis, sometimes defined as loss of contact with reality. Deikman also became a student of Zen meditation under Suzuki Roshi, of Sufism under Idries Shah, and engaged with leaders within the 1970s Human Potential Movement.
“Adverse effects are common”
An advocate for meditation, mysticism, and intuition, in The Observing Self Deikman also warns:1
“In considering the potential usefulness of meditation for psychotherapy, we must recognize that some people are unable or unwilling to meditate. Most who start quit, in spite of obtaining initial benefits. [The same applies with prescriptions for drugs and other therapeutic treatments]. Not everyone is improved by the experience; on the contrary, adverse effects are common. Some people find intensive meditation a convenient way to withdraw from social interaction and defend against intimacy. Good results are not guaranteed: certain meditations can increase obsessiveness and schizoid tendencies. Impressive altered states of consciousness are not necessarily accompanied by an increase in maturity. In fact, the reverse is just as likely. Misinterpretation of altered consciousness may result in an increase in grandiosity, magical thinking, and paranoia. Anxiety, even terror, may be occasioned by the weakening of conceptual and perceptual boundaries.
Adverse effects are almost certain for those who reason that if thirty minutes of meditation is good, three hours is better, and three days even more so. Such dubious logic seems to flourish in the field of esoteric practice. These people would not ordinarily consider taking one hundred aspirin simply because two had relieved their headache. Although they begin meditation on a modest enough scale, they soon proceed to gorge themselves. The result can be psychotic decompensation.
Because of these possible effects, authors who advocate meditation for psychotherapeutic purposes usually specify the techniques be employed selectively by a therapist trained in the procedure and able to deal with idiosyncratic [adverse] reactions.
The problems attendant to using meditation in psychotherapy are not limited to the patient. When the use of meditation is at variance with or unintegrated with the therapist’s natural style and clinical training, the effect on therapy is likely to be detrimental. As with any other intervention, the prescription of meditation by the therapist may be in the service of countertransference [when the personal feelings of the therapist are transfered to the patient] or overlook an impasse that should be explored or resolved. Equally important, the need for meditation techniques may be reduced or eliminated by a more adroit use of a therapist’s own techniques and clinical knowledge. Unless these different considerations are borne in mind, the patient could easily end up with neither good meditation nor good therapy”.
1 Deikman, Arthur, J. M.D., The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy, Beacon Press, Boston. 1982. Paperback. p 149-51
See Deikman for written works by Arthur J. Deikman