Buddhism-based therapy helps man overcome addiction

By JOE ORSO, La Crosse Tribune, May 29, 2006

La Crosse, Wisconsin (USA) -- Jerry used to let his feelings dictate his actions. Not anymore. That didn’t work, said Jerry, whose father’s death when Jerry was 14 caused a 33-year battle with alcohol and drugs.

With the help of his therapist, Mark Taylor, Jerry feels he is finally progressing. Instead of eliminating problems, Taylor has been showing Jerry, 47, how healing comes from shifting his attention.

“I can get a lot of negative stuff going on in my head,” said Jerry, who asked that his last name not be used. “Mark really has helped me stay in the now and helps me know that my feelings are not me. They’re something there that I don’t have to let basically rule my life.”

The methods of psychotherapy Taylor uses with Jerry come from Japanese Buddhism. By focusing on awareness, Taylor encourages patients to engage with the world instead of getting trapped by compulsions.

“If we take the Western view on feelings and emotions, we have a view where you’re not supposed to feel bad,” said Taylor, who works at Gundersen Lutheran.

In Taylor’s view, suffering is part of life. If you’re not sad when your mother dies, he said, that would be abnormal.

“Everybody and Oprah is talking about feelings,” Taylor said. “We don’t really need to fix them. The task is to co-exist with them.”

Taylor uses two methods of Japanese psychotherapy.

Naikan teaches self-reflection using three questions: What have I received from ___? What have I given to ___? What troubles have I caused ___?

The blanks can be filled in with anything: a spouse, alcohol, a car.

Morita aims to help patients understand that they have little control over their feelings and thoughts.

“From a traditional Western standpoint, you can’t get off the couch until you feel better,” said Gregg Krech, executive director of the ToDo Institute, which offers certification in Morita and Naikan. “With Morita, you can actually get off the couch while you’re depressed.”

He said one of the premises of Morita “is that it’s much more important what you do in the course of your lifetime than how you feel.”

The ToDo Institute was founded in 1992 in Vermont. The institute usually holds two residential programs a year for between five and nine people.

Taylor, who is working on his ToDo certification, said that he’s not teaching Buddhism but the importance of some kind of spiritual practice.

“Spirituality isn’t part of what I do,” he said, “it’s all of what I do. Addictions are part of a spiritual rupture.”

Jerry, a welder at a local manufacturing facility, said he is a Christian by birth. Since meeting Mark, he’s explored Buddhist meditation and books like “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh. He also reads a Lutheran devotional daily.

He hasn’t had a drink since April 2005, when he got a D.U.I. When his license is revoked this summer, he knows it will be a challenge, but he’s accepted it.

“I guess the state has implemented a walking program for me,” said Jerry. “I did the crime, I do the time.”

He credits Alcoholics Anonymous with much of his recovery, and also Taylor, whom he considers a best friend.

“What I can dream up can be just terrorizing,” he said. “Sometimes just what is is enough.”