Meditation in Psychiatry

It takes courage to use new techniques when everyone else is going in a different direction. It takes courage to break out of the old patterns and accept change. More than this though, it takes intuition and independence of thought to see into things clearly enough to realise that there may be more there than we first surmise, especially when we are going on the opinions of others.

Psychiatry is one field where new innovations are being introduced all the time but where conservatism is the rule. This has the advantage that we have time to look carefully into the system and to see if there are any major faults that may be undesirable. We can then eliminate them and create new and better systems. However, we have to be careful that we do not stagnate because of the fear of change. This is an easy trap to fall into.

With the increased knowledge and clinical evidence accumulating, more and more psychiatrists are making breakthroughs into new fields of therapy. Examples of new fields are Transactional Analysis, Jungian therapy, Reich's system of releasing orgone (prana) energy, encounter groups and the use of yoga and meditation. All these systems require certain experiences on the part of the therapist if the therapy is to be successfully transferred to the client (patient).

Carrington and Ephren are psychiatrists who have used meditation on themselves and who have experienced improvements in their own professional accomplishments through the meditative experience. They cite many advantages and disadvantages of meditation based on their experiences and these can stand as a good guide to other people.*1

They cite the following positive effects:

  1. Decreased tension levels
  2. Fewer hyper-reactions to disturbances and frustrations
  3. Decreased psychosomatic conditions such as headache, asthma, hypertension, insomnia and excess sleep
  4. Decreased use of psychoactive drugs
  5. Freeing blocks in the creative energy which in turn is experienced as free spontaneous association, decreased need for daytime sleep, increased productivity
  6. Better ability to see humour in various situations.

The authors also cite important changes in the relationships one experiences with oneself:

  1. Less tendency to waver, that is, better stability and a steadier mind
  2. Less paranoid tendencies
  3. Greater tolerance for guilt producing material
  4. Greater contact with internal impulses, feelings, etc., that is, better understanding and acceptance of oneself
  5. A feeling of being more centred with greater energy to stand up for one's own rights (especially important for psychiatric patients), that is, greater independence of thought and bringing this into action
  6. Decreased drag abuse (marijuana, tobacco, alcohol, etc.)
  7. Decreased overeating (generally associated with the suppression of painful internal material).

These very positive changes in one's being can be experienced by everyone, no matter whether they are psychiatric patients or not. At the same time these two psychiatrists state that there are certain limitations and possible negative experiences which can come with meditation and these have been observed by them in the therapeutic setting. They apply to all, but especially to the psychiatric patient and those people attempting to learn meditation from inexperienced guides or by themselves:

  1. Excessive meditation is a trap for young players. Too much repressed material can surface at one time and cause unsteadiness of mind. We can easily go inside because the techniques are very powerful but we do not know what we will find; thus the need for the guide. Strong emotions of fear, anger, and even excessive happiness or love can be experienced and lead to imbalance. If this release becomes a problem the authors suggest that one decrease the time of meditation. Here at BSY we recommend a ratio of half an hour's meditation to eight hours of hard work to balance the inner and outer energies.
  2. Meditation can go counter to the 'sick' lifestyle of the patient's defence systems. Happiness, love, contentment and peace, though positive in themselves, run counter to the patient's picture of himself as a martyr or a depressive, for example. This can paradoxically give rise to anxiety in which all pleasures seem to be forbidden.
  3. Counter-transference, the build-up of negative feelings towards the technique, can occur. This, the authors state, can occur especially when the technique itself is looked upon as an ideal parent or a magic helper. That is, instead of using the technique to enhance independence, the patient transfers his dependence on the technique. Because this situation cannot work effectively, the individual may feel that he has failed which can lead to frustration and eventually rejection of the technique.

Thus especially in the therapeutic and hospital situation, meditation must be practised under careful supervision so as to avoid potential dangers. The advantages of meditation, however, far outweigh the disadvantages, and make it a valuable adjunct to most traditional forms of psychiatric therapy.

Once the individual concerned is under way with the technique, it has its own self-regulating mechanisms, because the feelings of well-being and peace are addictive, just as is the taste of good food, or fresh mountain air. Once we achieve the beneficial effects of meditation it is remembered and we strive to repeat and surpass it. When the attempt is slow and steady, success is assured, as is health and peace.


*1. P. Carrington & H.S. Ephren, "Clinical Use of Meditation", 'Curr. Psychiatr. Ther.' 15:.101-108,1975.