tara rokpa therapy

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Tara Rokpa Psychotherapy1 brings together Buddhist understandings of the human mind with relevant Western discourses coming from several disciplines, especially Constructivist and Systemic Psychotherapy, for the purposes of relieving mental suffering and fostering well-being. As the growing popularity of mindfulness-based2 and compassion-based3 approaches demonstrates, many health care professionals and others are progressively showing an interest in Eastern ways of working with the mind4. These are more and more recognised within the health sciences as being relevant in helping people to overcome what they see as problems in their lives, as well as for a range of clinically defined conditions. The core group of TRP has been working for thirty years, individually and collectively, attempting to integrate their understanding of the causes and means for relieving human suffering at practical and theoretical levels, in ways which integrate methods from Eastern approaches to mind with Western psychotherapy. This work of integration, be it for participants, trainee therapists or interested others, is a process which takes considerable time. 

The founder of the original group, Akong Rinpoche, came to the west in the 60's from Tibet already trained as a doctor of Tibetan Medicine and meditation teacher in his own country. From the beginning he emphasized the importance of both the significance of cultural milieu and the need to proceed cautiously in applying Eastern based practices to western contexts. Early on he identified lack of compassion for self and others as a primary cause for mental suffering. This is consistent with current research into compassion-based approaches within psychology5. Recent work in compassion based approaches suggests that our ability to embrace and be with others in a social context and to wish others well is life-enhancing both for the individual and for those around them. An emphasis on developing compassion for ourselves and others has been held at the core of the Tara Rokpa approach from its earliest beginnings.

In response to many requests--especially from psychotherapists and other health care professionals--in 1980 Akong Rinpoche began to work with a number of people to share his knowledge. This began a collaborative process over twenty five years which has integrated the feedback and results of early experimental workshops together with therapists' experience of specific aspects of western psychotherapy which were compatible in view and found to be effective in working with clients. It is not so surprising that all those therapists who joined together with Akong Rinpoche, had already become interested in approaches to suffering which dealt with the nature of reality and ways of looking into it: in particular the work of Constructivist, Social Constructivist and Systemic thinkers in psychotherapy. Some of the group had backgrounds in Existential and Phenomenological approaches. This collaboration developed into a method of psychotherapy (Tara Rokpa Psychotherapy) and more recently into a way of training therapists and others in the health area, particularly in the field of mental health.

Having completed the training of two groups of psychotherapists in the 1990s, and gone through the process of accrediting our graduates through the ICP in Ireland, the UKCP in Britain, and the EAP in other countries, the training faculty of TRP saw the need for more precise integration of materials coming from Western psychotherapy with what we had learned to practice and pass on from the Buddhist approach. This integration is being attempted in order to increase dialogue with other Constructivist/Systemic schools, exchange with other psychotherapeutic traditions and to make the work more fully accessible through pathways of public and private health-care, education and self-development.

Recent reworking of the TRP training has aimed to explicate the work more fully through attempting to distill the key areas. In doing so we have framed regions of enquiry which we feel are fertile ground for those who wish to pursue the venture of training as a psychotherapist within our method. We have, for this purpose, named 6 areas of exploration, three of which are strongly influenced by Western thinking and practice and three which we propose are richly relevant to the venture of psychotherapy and are substantially informed by Buddhist contemplation and practice. These areas which we have called ports are named as Enquiry and Science, Ethics and Values, Politics and the Power of Social Context, Awareness, Compassion through Understanding and the Innate Perfection of the Human Mind6. These are conceived of as areas of individual and social enquiry worth visiting and exploring. They have been chosen carefully but are hardly exhaustive or even fully-inclusive of the journeys which people might choose to take in engaging with this work. These areas are chosen as special topics of particular relevance to training psychotherapists and to reflect the work of integration of Eastern and Western approaches to mind. They are also seen as relevant irrespective of whether one approaches as a client, a fully trained psychotherapist or a human being on a unique path of becoming. They are not to be seen as solid entities or categories, but rather as rich areas for exploration and discovery both within ourselves and with others. Journeying to and between these ports encourages a measure of personal reflexivity and readiness to face whatever life may bring, which gives a sound basis for working with others.

1. Akong Tulku Rinpoche: Taming The Tiger.  Rider 1997

2. Kabat-Zinn, John: Full Catastrophy Living.  Piatkus 1990

3. Goleman Daniel: Destructive Emotions. Bantam 2003

4. Yongey Minjur Rinpoche: The Joy of Living.  Harmony 2007

5. Paul Gilbert (editor): Compassion-Conceptualisations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy.  Routledge 2005

6. Ricard Mattieu: Happiness: a Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill.  Little, Brown and Co. 2007