Anglia Ruskin University
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Zen and psychoanalytic practice: questions of attention and desire

posted on 2023-08-30, 17:02 authored by Eleanor Richards
This is an investigation of my experience and those of other psychoanalytic therapists in the UK who practise Soto Zen, a branch of Buddhism. Religion and spirituality are areas that, historically, psychoanalysis has tended to pathologise, but in recent decades practitioners have more openly acknowledged the spiritual dimension in their own lives. Many have found their place in Buddhist practice, including Zen. To my knowledge, this is the first study that focuses on the potential interconnection, from the therapist’s perspective, between Zen practice and psychoanalytic practice. I examine critically existing literature. Through reflection upon some of my own clinical practice, and through analysis of three extended conversations with a group of other therapists, I consider and analyse the ways in which Zen practice may inform clinicians’ experience, especially in relation to attention and desire. The reflective dimension of this research is also articulated through the inclusion of improvised music. The group conversations confirmed the value of continuing collaborative enquiry; participants acknowledged from various perspectives that Zen practice positively informs their self-awareness and actions in clinical practice, and that the focus on attention and desire was welcome. Examination of literature shows that most writing in this field concerns itself primarily with comparison of theoretical ideas, with relatively little attention to the therapist’s subjective experience. It also demonstrates an increasing interest in the spiritual dimension of analytic practice. This research contributes to the growing interest in, and knowledge of, spiritual practice in relation to analytic practice, through consideration of casework and the relating of it to Zen practice. It concludes that Zen practice has great potential for addressing problems of attention and desire by deepening the therapist’s self-awareness and capacity for focus. It demonstrates the need for more wide ranging enquiry and for consideration of the implications for the training of therapists.



Anglia Ruskin University

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