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David Brazier

I'd like to comment at a tangent. I want to pick up your remark about how you have changed and how some of what you did in the past was more to protect yourself then to help the client. Many of us can identify with this, I'm sure. I notice a disturbing trend in the contemporary therapy world toward much greater emphasis on therapist self-care and self-protection. In fact, as you say, as one becomes more skilled one needs less protection and one is correspondingly able to help more. The situations where therapists might feel that they needs more self-protection are essentially ones in which what is actually needed is more wisdom in the mode of expression of compassion. Buddhism emphasises that compassion needs wisdom - this is why fiugures of Quan Yin commonly have a small Amida figure in the crown. Of course, fledgling therapists need some protection but the real protection is to become wiser in one's compassion, as one does. It would be a great shame if the therapy profession were to become any more aloof than it already is. Professionalisation has some advantages, but it has many pitfalls. One of the reasons that we need therapists is that it is often difficult to get a fully human response in other professional situations in modern life. If therapists become as immured within their professional walls as all the others, the whole point of their existence will be undermined. Thank you for you blog post Fiona. I hope you receive other comments that are more in line with your main theme than mine has been. Namo Amida Bu.

Fiona Robyn

Thank you Dharmavidya. "One of the reasons that we need therapists is that it is often difficult to get a fully human response in other professional situations in modern life." This feels particularly relevant to me, as I see a client embroiled in lots of contact with other professionals who can't afford (or don't want to) see his humanity. 'Becoming wiser in one's compassion' - I'd like to hear more about that... maybe we could persuade you to write a blog post!


I am so grateful for your perspective. As a mental health counselor, I tire of the field's insistence on certain boundaries... I believe it can be therapeutic fodder for therapists to show their humanity. It all has to be undertaken with care and intention. But ultimately, we are not prison guards; we are therapists. And if some of our personality, preferences or values are exposed, a client may use that to decide if or how to work with us. All grist for the mill. Thank you!

Teresa Williams

Finding the middle path with boundaries in our profession is an interesting and dynamic process. I have lived in small towns and large cities and the boundaries between clients and therapists were vastly different in these settings. In the small town, there wasn't an option to be a few valleys away and everyone saw each other in a variety of different contexts whether they wanted to or not. In the city (where I am currently living), sometimes I feel we are overly focused on keeping too much distance which seems to be symptomatic of larger cultural and economic issues. At least where I live, the distance and separation between everyone is significant and I believe this contributes to our struggles with forging strong, close communities with each other.

I often envy the therapists who have their practices at home, but I have yet to let go of the need for some privacy about my home life. I think the very fact that we don't go out for tea after our sessions or share a lot about our own lives with the client keeps the nature of the relationship out of the "friendship" realm and sets enough of a boundary that we don't need to move a few valleys away in order to do our work effectively.

I agree with David's comment about becoming more aloof. An aloof attitude is the last thing our profession and/or our world needs.

Thanks for your comments about this topic.

Susthama Kim

Thank you Fiona and everyone else who have commented.

Perhaps, because my own training has been in Pureland Buddhism, which is very much grounded in the ordinariness and reality of human foolishness, I would offer a different interpretation to the one Robert Thurman offered. (HA! How bold and foolish I am!!!)

In my experience, my introduction to the Buddhist path was due to a breakdown that led to a search for meaning - which isn't so unusual. As a beginner practitioner, my faith in the teacher and the path was very weak, but out of desperation and a distrust in myself and life, I clung on and tried taking each step as instructed along the way. But eventually, time passed, new knowledge was gained, and the relationship grew. And as the relationship grew, the more faith and trust I felt, and the more faith I had in life, the more I could accept his (and mine, and others) ordinary, vulnerable, and less attractive qualities. And the more I could accept them, the more I could let him move further away. And the more distance between me and the teacher, the more faith I put in others around me.

I feel that this transformation can be experienced in the therapeutic relationship too. And perhaps we have come to a point in the West when we can look at how best ordinary beings can help another ordinary person access the wisdom and compassion that is found in this life, so that when they move away we can recommend which valley to move too and then go and visit.

Roslyn Ross

This is how I saw it, see it and found it: The trick with therapy is to find the right one or as the saying goes to know the right one: 'when the student is ready the teacher appears.' Pace yourself - if you feel like a break after one visit take it, weeks, or months - take time out to allow the hermetic process whenever you feel it and don't let the therapist dictate the time-frame; if you find you don't like your therapist as a person there is unlikely to be healing - one needs to connect- and therapy if it is working takes months, not years - the work takes a lifetime but therapy is but an experience on the path.

I would also say, having read thousands of books on psychology, psychiatry and spirituality and had personal experience with mental illness in family members, that I also believe there is no healing without 'connectedness.' The tendency for a lot of therapy to insist on separation between therapist and client limits the ability to heal. Without the therapist also 'risking' as the client (really patient) does, then healing is less likely.

I did a few bouts of therapy - about three or four, over 30 years, and none of it for more than a few months and I am not sure I see the therapist as 'holding one's projections' but as accompanying on on the path to Self; offering a supportive 'hand' and occasional insight just as one requires a 'professional' to guide a ship into port- the most difficult and dangerous part of the journey - but does not need the same professional for most of the journey 'home.'

The best therapist will act as a 'mirror' reflecting consciously and unconsciously ourselves back to us and the best therapeutic relationship will have the client/patient performing, to lesser and greater degrees, the same 'mirroring' for the therapist.

The Buddhist metaphor of 'not being too close' is a good one and reflects how I saw it in terms of the 'ship's pilot,' without whom we may not safely be able to 'complete our journey' to our desired destination.

And just as the 'pilot' joins us for a time and then leaves and we may never see her or him again, not for years if we do, so we value their skills but cannot and do not depend on them all of the time.

And no, just as one cannot be friends with one's parents because the relationship dynamic will not allow true friendship - the parent no matter the age of them or child will always have far more power than the child and a greater power to cause harm or hurt; and so too this applies to therapist and client/patient. You can make friends and you cannot make parents; you can hire a therapist but you cannot hire a friend.

Fiona Robyn

Thank you all so much for your comments - very rich and affirming to read.

Susthama - I love your description of starting with blind faith and then being able to accept the more human parts of your teacher as time went on and you grew in faith - the opposite way that most people imagine it, but I resonate very strongly with this myself, through my experience of twelve steps and the necessity of some kind of 'surrender' before growth.

Angela - glad to have been a voice that helps you believe in your own! I too like to hear from other professionals who have a different experience to the 'establishment', whatever that is.

Roslyn - much to think about here, thank you. Can we even hire a therapist, I wonder? I guess the therapist has to willingly 'turn up' and be present too, which is an act of love rather than business...


The Tibetan saying is telling, isn't it? If a teacher gives us all these teachings and empowerments, yet doesn't embody them... what does this say about all those teachings and empowerments?! I think we need fewer gurus, teachings and empowerments, in the spiritual life and in the healing professions, and more kindness, communal appreciation and an ability to learn from and heal each other. Blessings, Zang :-)

pai youguo

Should the best psychotherapists live at least three valleys away? - Institute for Zen Therapy


Everyone loves what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the excellent works guys I've included you guys to my blogroll.

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