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                            Antioch University
AURA - Antioch University Repository and Archive
The Personal and the Professional: Buddhist Practice and Systemic Therapists
	Joanne R. Grassia
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Antioch University
AURA - Antioch University Repository and Archive

Dissertations & Theses
Student & Alumni Scholarship, including

Dissertations & Theses


The Personal and the Professional: Buddhist
Practice and Systemic Therapists
Joanne R. Grassia
Antioch University - New England

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Grassia, Joanne R., "The Personal and the Professional: Buddhist Practice and Systemic Therapists" (2015). Dissertations & Theses. 202.
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Page 2




A Dissertation Presented to

The Faculty of the Applied Psychology Department

Antioch University New England

In Partial Fulfillment

Of the Requirements of the Degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy

Joanne R. Grassia, M.A., M. S.

April 2015

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training the mind to transform this experience as a practice of love and compassion. These

meditation practices are social and emotional skills that research is showing affect neurobiology

and actually change our physiology, offering powerful incentives to cultivate these skills

(Davidson & Begley, 2012). Vajrayana teachings introduce further meditation trainings to

develop the capacity to recognize clarity, the nature of mind, and to develop increasingly

sustaining moments of this awareness (Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, 2008).

Much of the research literature in the psychotherapies relating the effectiveness of

meditation practices in promoting awareness and well-being refer to the faculty of mind known

as mindfulness. As a psychological construct, mindfulness has been described in varying ways

and there have been various quantitative measures that define it (Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004;

Brown & Ryan, 2003). The research has predominantly investigated the role of mindfulness in

client interventions and in therapist qualities of presence and compassion (Block-Lerner, Adair,

Plumb, Rhatigan, & Orsillo, 2007; Gambrel & Keeling, 2010; McCollum & Gehart, 2010).

Much of this research regards mindfulness as an intervention secularized from its

Buddhist origins and accessible as a psychotherapeutic clinical intervention, particularly in

studying interventions such as dialectical behavior therapy or mindfulness based cognitive

behavioral therapy (Baer, 2006; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002). The meditation practices

that are often explored in this research are mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR; Kabat-

Zinn, 1990) and mindfulness-informed practices, as well as the four immeasurable meditative

practices of lovingkindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity (Boellinghaus, Jones,

& Hutton, 2013). There is growing evidence that even a small duration of time spent in

practicing the skills of mindful awareness can have benefits for changing mental and behavioral

habits, relationship patterns, and health and well-being in general. There is also a common

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thread in the literature, that mindfulness is not another tool, separate from a meditation practice.

The proponents of mindfulness stand by their convictions that to teach mindfulness or to use

mindfulness in clinical interventions, the teacher or therapist needs to also be practicing it

(Gehart, 2012).

To explore the phenomenon of what it might be like for a student of meditation who is

also practicing as a therapist with individuals, couples, and families, selecting students in the

Tibetan tradition offers an insight into how experienced meditators who are therapists live the

personal and professional of meditation practices. Ronnestad and Skovholt’s (2003) research

presents the implicit knowing characteristic of experienced counselors who can bring congruence

between their personal and professional lives and deepen their presence with clients. It would

seem that this intersection of professional application of a personal orientation, for experienced

therapists who pursue learning in Buddhist meditation and mind training practices, could be a

nodal point to examine their trajectory of professional development in bringing a more congruent

presence to the therapy room.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to inquire into the lived experience of actively practicing

psychotherapists as they describe their understanding of holding their personal Buddhist practice

with their professional practice. This research addresses a gap in the literature on the meaning of

professional development for experienced clinicians. This is important for the cohort of

professionals who are currently engaged in clinical practice beyond their training years, as well

as for those who are newly trained and entering their career paths.

This study serves to explicate strategies for continual professional development that

might facilitate clinical competence and ameliorate potential compassion fatigue. It provides an

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Appendix E

My Bias Statement as Researcher

As an experienced psychotherapist also training as a Marriage and Family Therapist in

the United States, I am curious about what I see as a difference in the marriage and family

therapy clinical field, from the growing awareness in other psychotherapies, regarding the

efficacy of mind trainings and contemplative practice skills to alleviate mental distress. I wonder

myself how to integrate the practice of mind trainings and the practice of marriage and family

therapy and have been seeking mentors in Buddhist dharma and professional communities who

can shed some light for me with their own experiences. As an experienced clinician, I have long

been experimenting with applying some of the trainings and adapting some of the principles to

my interventions with individuals, couples and families, as well as teaching and supervising

masters’ level marriage and family therapy students. Congruency and integrity within myself,

and transparency with my clients and students, are values that I hold in my professional practice.

I have actively sought the teachings of many different Buddhist teachers, and I have been

a practitioner for several years. At this point, I am interested in developing my own experience

of congruency as a psychotherapist. I set myself the task of studying meditation trainings several

years ago and also the task of achieving a doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy. I see

myself as still becoming a practitioner of both disciplines. It is this becoming experience that I

am interested in, both for my own professional development, but also as a teacher of novice

marriage and family therapists and as a marriage and family therapist with couples and families.

I have been teaching marriage and family therapists a course in Professional Orientation

and Ethics for the last four years. I advocate their connection to their professional communities

of practice and also to a personal development community both of which I feel are important to

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growth as one advances in clinical skills beyond training and licensure. As new therapists, their

concerns rightfully focus on their own uncertainties and skill building. I feel it is especially

important for them to realize that the skill building continues past their graduation and licensure,

and their ethical decision-making is continuously shaped by their personal and professional

learning experiences, as well as their way of being.

As a clinician, I have seen the relief of distress in clients when I have invited them

through guided shamatha practices to abide in calm and settle some of the emotional and thought

confusions in their minds for a few minutes in session. Their feedback to me has confirmed the

immense benefit these simple introductions have given them and their place in the therapeutic

relationship. I have also taught Professional Seminars to marriage and family therapy interns

using mindfulness-informed research and practices. This has encouraged me to go deeper into

how I might use these interventions and through this research, to learn more from my

professional peers what their experience has taught them in this professional development


At a deeply personal level, I have always seen my psychotherapy role as the instrument

of healing for others. Buddhist dharma practice and mind trainings have given me more ways to

do this for myself, and have given clarity to the actual how of doing this, that other spiritual,

wisdom, and psychological traditions have talked about, but which I have found, do not break

down the methods to achieve and sustain these profound states of mind. The experience of

calming and training my own mind is achievable using the skills carefully taught by Buddhist

masters I have worked with, and bringing these same skills and presence to the people I work

with is a value, to work in a way that is respectful, kind, and offers the best way for them to be

open to listening and experimenting for themselves in their own lives.

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