As a psychotherapist as well as a teacher of spiritual awakening, I’m often asked how the two pursuits can be mutually enriching. After all, therapy seems concerned with supporting and improving the ego, whereas awakening is the realization that identification with the separate self is the root cause of suffering. Therapy generally aims to make us more comfortable and well-adjusted, while spiritual awakening cuts through all comforting stories and illusions and reveals the true nature of reality, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
Most forms of psychotherapy do appear, at least on the surface, to run counter to the radical approach of Self-realization. At the same time, therapy offers a wealth of techniques that can be used in service not only of awakening but also of the embodiment of this awakening in everyday life. For example, therapy encourages us to welcome our emotions without judgment and to challenge the negative beliefs that make us anxious and depressed. In my experience, the two approaches can work hand in hand to root out the habitual patterns that cause us suffering at every level and reveal the radiant truth that lies beneath, the groundless ground of silence and peace.
The key lies in the therapist’s understanding. In the hands of someone with deep insight into the nature of reality, whose primary intention is genuine, lasting peace, happiness, and freedom, therapy can play a powerful role in the transformation process. While pointing again and again to the bright sun of our inherently awake true nature, which has the power in itself to gradually burn off the clouds of delusion, the nondual therapist can guide us in actively investigating the clouds—the core stories, the ego structures, the habitual reactive patterns—and releasing their hold over us.
Freud himself said that the purpose of therapy was to exchange extraordinary suffering for ordinary human suffering and to enable us to love and work. In other words, therapy is designed to help us function as relatively healthy human beings, but it can’t relieve the deeper and subtler suffering of feeling separate from our essential nature. Yet certain therapeutic approaches, by dispelling some of the illusions that obscure our clear seeing, can be skillful allies on the journey of awakening.