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Is it a good idea to expose yourself to situations that trigger fear and anxiety and use meditation to get through it, or is the desire to overcome fear and anxiety "bad" because it's technically a desire? (And fear and anxiety are only temporary states anyway and should be recognized for being just that.)

Would it even be possible to meditate through a triggering situation since one wouldn't be calm enough to see clearly in such a situation?

To put it more simply: could meditation be used as a substitute for CBT? If not, does Buddhism encourage or discourage CBT?

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    FWIW, there is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) targetting depression and anxiety, which ist mindfulness plus some elements of CBT.
    – eudoxos
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 15:24

2 Answers 2

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Is it a good idea to expose yourself to situations that trigger fear and anxiety and use meditation to get through it [?]

Maybe -- and it depends on what you mean by "meditation". But since the context is about CBT, I'm not sure this would be advised, specially without professional assistance.

or is the desire to overcome fear and anxiety "bad" because it's technically a desire?

Desires for well being, for good, and further aspirations are not considered "bad", on the contrary. In Buddhism, two technical terms for things we strive to overcome are craving (pali taṇhā) and clinging (pali upādāna). These are specific kinds of desire that present problems.

(And fear and anxiety are only temporary states anyway and should be recognized for being just that.)

Indeed, they should. But again, in context of CBT, I don't think recognizing the temporariness of such things are usually enough for remission.

Would it even be possible to meditate through a triggering situation since one wouldn't be calm enough to see clearly in such a situation?

Again, it depends on what you mean by "meditation". If you mean bringing up attention and mindfulness, calming the breath and "observing", yes, naturally.

Of course, the success will mostly depend on one's skill, and how strong these fears and anxieties are. Thus, if the former is weak and the later are strong, intentionally putting oneself in such situations where more harm can be done is probably a bad idea.

To put it more simply: could meditation be used as a substitute for CBT?

As someone who is not a doctor, but only familiar with DBT (a form of CBT) and who was close to people with disorders who relied on such therapy: hardly. While "mindfulness meditation" is considered an important and integral practice in the process, I personally think is nowhere near an adequate substitute of the entire therapy program. I also don't know of any research suggesting the remission efficacy of disorders with meditation only vs. CBT (or DBT).

If not, does Buddhism encourage or discourage CBT?

I don't see anything in these therapies that would present a dilemma with the Buddha's teachings.

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  • In context of CBT, I don't think recognizing the temporariness of such things are usually enough for remission. – can you explain more on this? What would make it enough in CBT (and related therapies)?
    – Ooker
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 16:03
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To put it more simply: could meditation be used as a substitute for CBT? If not, does Buddhism encourage or discourage CBT?

I don't have formal education in this but from what i've so far figured, in general the Dhamma superceeds in explaining behavioral conditioning but the general principles of CBT are similar.

When treating addiction a therapist might ask for something like a three page essay on how a patient's life could be in 5 years if managed to the best one's ability; and another essay on the worst possible outcomes and failure.

This is generally how The Buddha trains people as well;

"Kesi, I train a tamable person [sometimes] with gentleness, [sometimes] with harshness, [sometimes] with both gentleness & harshness.

"In using gentleness, [I teach:] 'Such is good bodily conduct. Such is the result of good bodily conduct. Such is good verbal conduct. Such is the result of good verbal conduct. Such is good mental conduct. Such is the result of good mental conduct. Such are the devas. Such are human beings.'

"In using harshness, [I teach:] 'Such is bodily misconduct. Such is the result of bodily misconduct. Such is verbal misconduct. Such is the result of verbal misconduct. Such is mental misconduct. Such is the result of mental misconduct. Such is hell. Such is the animal womb. Such the realm of the hungry shades.'

"In using gentleness & harshness, [I teach:] 'Such is good bodily conduct. Such is the result of good bodily conduct. Such is bodily misconduct. Such is the result of bodily misconduct. Such is good verbal conduct. Such is the result of good verbal conduct. Such is verbal misconduct. Such is the result of verbal misconduct. Such is good mental conduct. Such is the result of good mental conduct. Such is mental misconduct. Such is the result of mental misconduct. Such are the devas. Such are human beings. Such is hell. Such is the animal womb. Such the realm of the hungry shades.'" https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.111.than.html

This kind of training is also similar to behaviorism theory as operant conditioning because it modifies the motivation circuitry by giving of attention to reward & punishment.

However The Dhamma training goes further in modifying the circuitry than classical psychological conditioning because it sets one up to experience life-changing 'religious' experiences through meditation.

In psychology this aspect of behavioral modification is poorly understood and the closest thing is research on psychedelic experiences which proved to have drastic effects on changing character.

Psychology & psychiatry is connected to quantum mechanics through a niche discipline of 'general semantics' which posits that sanity is basically synonymous with having an understanding of the nervous system and it's coming into play as to observation mechanics.

General semantics is concerned with how events translate to perceptions, how they are further modified by the names and labels we apply to them, and how we might gain a measure of control over our own responses, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral.

... The influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, and of early operationalists and pragmatists such as Charles Sanders Peirce, is particularly clear in the foundational ideas of general semantics. Korzybski himself acknowledged many of these influences.[45]

The concept of "silence on the objective level"—attributed to Korzybski and his insistence on consciousness of abstracting—are parallel to some of the central ideas in Zen Buddhism. Although Korzybski never acknowledged any influence from this quarter, he formulated general semantics during the same years that the first popularizations of Zen were becoming part of the intellectual currency of educated speakers of English. On the other hand, later Zen-popularizer Alan Watts was influenced by ideas from general semantics.[46]

General semantics has survived most profoundly in the cognitive therapies that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s. Albert Ellis (1913–2007), who developed rational emotive behavior therapy, acknowledged influence from general semantics and delivered the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture in 1991. The Bruges (Belgium) center for solution-focused brief therapy operates under the name Korzybski Institute Training and Research Center.[47] George Kelly, creator of personal construct psychology, was influenced by general semantics.[48] Fritz Perls and Paul Goodman, founders of Gestalt therapy are said to have been influenced by Korzybski[49] Wendell Johnson wrote "People in Quandaries: The Semantics of Personal Adjustment" in 1946, which stands as the first attempt[citation needed] to form a therapy from general semantics.

Ray Solomonoff (1926–2009) was influenced[50] by Korzybski. Solomonoff was the inventor of algorithmic probability, and founder of algorithmic information theory (a.k.a. Kolmogorov complexity). https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_semantics

I doubt that Korzybski was exposed to Buddhist texts because his work's expression is quite different, he falls short of drawing many conclusions and the expression is much aligned with the physicists, therefore itt Buddhist influence is redundant.

Imo they probably mostly worked it out from experiments done on dogs where pavlov's students would confuse make dogs crazy and theory of quantum mechanics.

Thus being connected to both QM and Sanity, this is the closest behavioral disciplines have come and it is very far imo.

However behavioral therapy doesn't offer any categorically new experiences such that would override the base motivations like sensuality and therapy is generally aimed at finding outlets and damage control.

Dhamma offers training that will uproot defilements altogether through meditative attainments.

Whether it is good to expose oneself to anxiety & fear.

Setting oneself up to experience anxiety & fear can be good and necessary if the fear & anxiety are irrational.

If the fear & anxiety is rational then it is stupid to set oneself up to experience this. An example would be fear of blame from smart people and shame of wrong-doing associated with hypocrisy. That fear & shame guards the world from bad behavior and it is proper.

Whether desensitization is optimal for this or that person, that depends..

Another thing is that people in the west don't really know much of what the Buddha taught, nothing beyond rebirth and some heavenly nirvana thing. Therefore Buddhist convictions would be classed as magical thinking by many therapists, if one was fixated in that. It's kind of ironic.

The alignment with Buddhism isn't evident if one isn't familiar with the general course of development. People know only a few words like mindfulness as they read it about in a popularization of a popularization.

Also as psychologists aren't deep into physics, GM isn't taught in universities as it's very complicated to include for a psych major, one need not to be able to explain what precisely is a feeling to learn practical therapy. Therefore one can't really expect practicing clinicians to know the connection.

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