Borrowing From The Basics Of Buddhism To Chase Away The Blues

A growing number of mental health professionals are employing the Buddhist concept of “mindfulness” to treat depression. Patients are encouraged to sit up straight and focus their attention on their bodies, thoughts and feelings.

Does that make you feel better? (Wiertz Sebastien)
Does that make you feel better? (Wiertz Sebastien)
Daniela Kuhn

BERN - Behavioral therapy, a psychotherapeutic method based largely on the rules of learning, is not known for its spirituality. But increasingly, behavioral therapists have begun applying the ancient Buddhist concept of Mindfulness in helping patients overcome depression.

This follows an earlier advance in the behavioral field known as "cognitive behavioral therapy," which seeks to change perceptions and mindsets. Now the field is being transformed by a "third wave," which focuses directly on regulating emotions through mindfulness.

For the past four years, the University Hospital and Polyclinic for Psychiatry in Bern, Switzerland has been using mindfulness-based therapy with patients suffering from depression. During the course of eight weekly group meetings, patients learn how to be mindful in various ways. They learn to be in the moment and – sitting upright, in a comfortable position – to focus their attention on their body, their thoughts and their feelings. Their inner attitude should be neutral and non-judgmental, and they should also pay attention to breathing in and breathing out. The process aims not at changing feelings and thoughts but rather one's relationship to them. Negative feelings are not judged, just recognized as constructs -- so they lose their power.

Taking responsibility

"We have had good experiences with this therapy," says University Hospital psychologist and lecturer Zeno Kupper. The therapy is called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (MBCT) and the hospital uses it to prevent recurrence of depression. Their program is conceived for groups of up to 12 people, most of whom live at home.

"Depressive symptoms that patients may still have, and negative thought patterns, decrease markedly during the eight-week program," Kupper says. "Patients are more alert and more together."

Patient reaction has largely been quite positive. "This is the best thing I've ever done," one noted. Another said: "I see the world in a completely different way." Many undergoing the therapy also say that they realize for the first time that they themselves play a role in how they feel and are thus in a position to assume responsibility.

"By practicing mindfulness daily and experiencing new things as a result, a patient's sense of effectiveness increases. MBCT is also an excellent way of complementing standard therapies," Kupper says. He cautions, however, that it is not a panacea, nor is it a replacement for individual psychotherapy.

The therapy was developed by British researchers working with Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale. It is geared especially for patients who had suffered three or more depressive episodes.

But the roots of the "third wave" of behavioral therapy can be traced back to John Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist and professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts. When, in 1979, he developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and opened a clinic for patients with stress symptoms, his main interest was the connection between what was going on in the body and the activity of the mind. His eight-week program included some elements of Hatha Yoga and Vipassana and Zen meditation practices.

No such thing as a quick fix

Both MBSR and MBCT have been tested empirically in recent years. An Anglo-American study published in 2008 showed that in preventing the recurrence of depression in a 15-month time-frame, MBCT was just as effective as treatment with medication. Research conducted at the University of Geneva and published in 2010 showed that patients who underwent both MBCT therapy and pharmaceutical treatment were free of depression for much longer periods of time than were people who had been treated with medication alone. The difference was approximately 3:1.

One of the first Swiss to use MBCT is Daniel Hell, head of the "Depression and Anxiety" competency center at the Privatklinik Hohenegg and former director of Zurich's University Clinic of Psychiatry. Dr. Hell says psychiatry will benefit by opening up to elements from the realms of religion and philosophy. He also points out that mindfulness is not only a Buddhist concept, but is to be found in all mystical movements.

Dr. Hell also warns against having exagerated expectations for the method. What may prove very effective during the course of two months of group work may be harder to sustain once the patient is back on his or her own. Mindfulness-based methods are not quick fixes, he warns, nor are they suitable for acute stages of an illness. Instead Hell says they work best as complements to psychodynamic talk and behavioral therapies, or in conjunction with medication.

"These methods aren't anchored in our culture," he says. "For them to work, you need to be able to listen to what is going on inside."

Read the original article in German

Photo - Wiertz Sebastien

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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