Starla Dean MA, LMFT
What is Holistic Soul-Centered
and Buddhist Psychotherapy?
Holistic Soul-Centered and Buddhist Psychotherapy differ from many Western psychologies in that they concern themselves with human potential rather than human pathology. Holistic body, mind and spirit connection rather than a mental head-centered world view.
This type of therapy is focused on the deepest core experiences, beliefs and meaning for the heart and soul, rather than trying to fix the personality or ego. When you experience problems with living, they don’t find you in need of fixing. Instead, they view all suffering and pain as an opportunity for transformation, growth and change.
With Soul-Centered Psychotherapy as with Buddhist Psychotherapy, it is a spiritually aware psychotherapy. I like to describe spirituality as the striving for a deep-rooted sense of meaning and purpose in life, a longing for wholeness that cultivates experiences of belonging, harmony and peace. It entails fully exploring the mysteries of your unique soul’s journey: your inner darkness and pain, however it may be showing up; your questions related to life and death, the divine and the infinite - the crucial soul-focused elements that emerge in times of stress, loss, bereavement, illness and death.
In the end, it often means living the questions, rather than struggling with the mind to come up with concrete answers, and I will gently and skillfully help you to deeply experience what I call “the great mystery” that is life.
With Buddhist Psychotherapy there is a strong unwavering commitment to empowering you to become aware of the internal processes that create inner suffering, and those activities and processes that can alleviate your suffering.
You may also want to explore a range of Buddhist-inspired practices and Buddha dharma that alleviate and elucidate our mental and emotional suffering such as insight and mindfulness meditation, mindful self-compassion and loving kindness, the four noble truths, the paramitas, and spiritual beliefs such as karma or reincarnation.
The core foundational work of these psychotherapies, and all of the work we would do together, would be founded upon Mindfulness-Based Therapy.
The Healing, Transformative Outcome
of Buddhist and Mindfulness-Based Therapy
Practicing the skill of mindfulness through mindfulness-based therapy, will help you become increasingly aware of old, limiting patterns of thought, belief, behavior and emotion, that we've been conditioned and brainwashed into acting out and believing, because of our past wounding and hurtful abuse by others. You will experience more and more clearly, that these patterns of unconscious behavior, are actually rooted in your inner world, and in your present adult reality are not being caused by external circumstances and people.
In this psychotherapy, we engage difficult feelings rather than avoid or try to extinguish them. We believe that sitting in awareness of your adverse feelings, ”staying present”, will reveal the true source of your suffering. You will learn how to be fully present with the energetic charge or contraction connected to the distressing thoughts, memories and body sensations, which will then digest, dissolve or “metabolize” the contractions into wholeness. (For more on how the digestion or “metabolization” occurs, please see my Mindfulness-based and Somatic therapies page).
This is how the deepest healing happens. The more present you are with the actual physical energy connected to your suffering, the more the difficult pattern, core belief, or reaction is lessened. Eventually, the reaction will no longer happen, or you will be able to feel it coming on, before it has a chance to unconsciously hook you into acting it out. This is called 'mindfulness', and is what mindfulness practice and mindfulness-based therapy helps you do. It helps you to become ever more self-aware of what is arising within you, from moment to moment.
In mindfulness-based therapy, I help you practice and develop mindfulness, or present moment awareness.
Mindfulness-based therapy, along with mindful self-compassion and loving kindness, is the core of the Soul-Centered and Buddhist Psychotherapy I practice. It will assist you in coming out of the trance of ego-based unconsciousness, to become conscious, and be able to actually perceive things as they are, in the here and now. You will be able to experience the world, more and more, as it actually is, rather than experiencing it from a trance of unconsciousness.
At times, as mentioned earlier, in addition to our mindfulness-based therapy, mindful self-compassion work and loving kindness practice, in Buddhist focused work, we might also talk about the Dhamma, such as the four noble truths, and the eightfold path, as it might relate to your inner emotional and spiritual awakening. You might also want to explore the spiritual enneagram work, a very useful and profound tool for ego liberation, awakening from the trance of ego, seeing clearly your egoic structure, and working deeply with dissolving and metabolizing it.
Mindfulness-Based Therapy Case Examples
Here is an example that might present itself in our therapy: You may be experiencing a deep loss accompanied by grief that is causing depression, anxiety, sleep loss, lack of motivation, profound sorrow, physical illness or other natural but painful symptoms. This loss may be due to the death of a pet or other loved one, your personal loss related to your aging or chronic illness, or perhaps a difficult life transition such as a job change, relationship break-up, retirement or an unwanted move.
Due to the deep grief you are experiencing, you recently had a debilitating and disturbing fight with a sibling. You had been speaking with your sister about how horrible you felt emotionally and that you weren’t suicidal, but told him it’s been very hard to get out of bed on most mornings. Your sister then told you: you just need to “get busy and get over it” as it has been many months since your loss and it’s time to “move on”. You felt shocked and shamed, and very angry, all at the same time, and told her defensively, that you never should’ve told her anything personal, that’s shes never really cared about you, and you hung up on her.
This angry, name-calling outburst of yours, surprised you, and you felt tremendous shame, self-blame and guilt, that over the next week, caused your symptoms to worsen. It prompted you to realize it was time to seek the loving, therapeutic support and wisdom of a grief therapist.
How We Would Work Together
Upon seeing you, we might begin by working with what is happening in your body. Or we may focus on you becoming aware of the thoughts or memories that are connected to the negative reactions, shame or self-blame you are experiencing.
We would also work deeply with helping you to cultivate self-compassion and loving kindness for all that you are having to go through due to your painful loss. Please see my page on Mindful Self-Compassion for more about how this will unfold in our therapy session.
If we were focusing on your body sensations when tuning into the anger or shame, you might describe a tightness in your chest that feels dark and ‘achy’. You then might note that it is heavy and hot, and suddenly feel a wave of emotion connected to a memory from your childhood, when your beloved pet died, and you were very sad and depressed. In the memory, you had received a bad grade on a test, and your father, upon finding out, was extremely disappointed in you. You confided in him that you couldn’t focus since your dog had died, and you woke up many nights with nightmares about your dog dying.
After telling him, he shamed you, told you “your dog has been gone now for six months and it’s time to forget about it”. He also said that “she was finally out of her suffering and you need to be happy about that, instead of selfishly missing her”. You remember feeling upset with yourself for being so selfish, that your Dad was right, and you began to see yourself as a selfish person. You had to repress the anger you might have righteously felt towards your Dad for shaming you in such a way, and that anger became internalized toward yourself. You also took on a belief about being selfish, for having feelings of loss that might disturb others.
After realizing all of this in our session, you would be able to see the reason why you reacted so angrily to your sister, and why the aftermath was filled with shame and self-blame. You would be able to see how you were reacting more to something that happened in your past, than to what was happening in the here-and-now.
With this new awareness, you would be able to identify this wound from your childhood as completely separate from your current relationship with your sister. You would begin to understand that your sister has likely taken on your Dad’s shaming behavior pattern, and is also unable to acknowledge her own grief, thus unable to validate yours as well.
The mindful self-compassion work would also help you to see clearly that you couldn’t help but be triggered into anger and shame in that situation, and you would learn how to nurture yourself through this experience - with kindness, empathy and compassionate understanding.
In a later conversation with your sister, it’s likely you’d able to apologize to her for the name-calling, and be present for her with empathy and understanding for how she’d been hurt in the same way, causing her belittling, abusive behavior toward you. It would be clear that her behavior was truly not personal, just a re-enactment of her own childhood wounding.
You would likely feel very grateful for facing and clearing this unfinished business from your own past. Additionally, you would have begun a process of observing the contents of your mind and body sensations, also called “mindfulness”, being “present for your self” or “witnessing”.
What is Non-Dual Psychotherapy?
As an alternative to, or an adjunct to the other psychospiritual therapies I offer, Non-Dual Therapy offers the opportunity to explore our life circumstances, and challenges of an emotional, relational, existential or spiritual nature, from the perspective of unconditioned awareness. Or what I call the “loving awareness that is the truth of who we are”.
These are, in essence, therapy sessions (in that they are designed to help our emotional well-being), that are highly informed by the Non-dual approach and centered on finding resolution through pure awareness.
Non-dual therapy offers its benefits as a result of the introduction to, and integration of, our basic nature of unconditioned loving awareness, in finding a resolution to our circumstances, and lasting fulfillment in our everyday life.
Two Aspects of Non-Dual Therapy
Through Non-dual therapy we bring radiance and ease into our lives by helping us go beyond our stories, constructions, fixations and misinterpretations of our reality, and rediscover our fundamental nature of pure loving awareness as the ground from which all our life experiences arise and into which they dissolve.
We will also practice sustaining the experience of loving awareness with more depth, so we can integrate it into our daily lives by embodying its essence.
Who Can Benefit from Non-Dual Therapy
Generally speaking, anyone can benefit from Non-dual therapy in that there are no preconditions necessary to be able to engage in this approach to well-being. However, the approach may be of particular interest to:
Individuals with a spiritual inclination or on a committed spiritual path.
Individuals already familiar with the concept of non-duality, and interested in working through their life circumstances primarily from this perspective.
Individuals interested in this alternative to other therapies.
There are many ways in which Non-dual therapy can be applied to our lives. If you are interested in exploring more, I offer a free half hour consultation by phone to connect more deeply, and answer any questions you have.
“The ultimate aim of psychotherapy is a
fully transparent, undefended heart”