Wegela (2014) thinks of Contemplative Psychology as “the child of two different parents: the Western psychological traditions of talk therapy and the ancient Eastern teachings of the sixth-century BCE teacher known to us as the Buddha or ‘the awakened one’” (p. 1). What I most appreciate in my training as a Contemplative Psychotherapist is the ability to be in relationship with a client in a way that is present, curious, non-judgmental, and compassionate, so that I can support the client in remaining with their experience of their sexuality, however it arises. In addition, Contemplative Psychology is based on Buddhist teachings that emphasize the importance of exploring one’s personal experience (Wegela, 2014, p.2). As a result, the opportunity to engage, understand more deeply, and accept my own suffering during my education and training has helped me relate to and find greater compassion for the suffering of my clients.
Organizing Around Sexual Health as Opposed to Sexual Dysfunction as an Analog to “Brilliant Sanity”
Wegela (2014) explains that one of the primary tenets of Contemplative Psychology is the concept of Brilliant Sanity, which suggests that each of us has a nature that is “fundamentally good: wise, compassionate, and open” (p. 5). It is the aim of Contemplative Psychotherapy to help the client connect (or reconnect) with this intrinsic health (Wegela, 2014, p. 5). I believe that organizing around sexual health as opposed to sexual dysfunction is an analog to connecting with Brilliant Sanity, in that each of us has a sexuality that is fundamentally good: wise, compassionate, and open. The expression of this sexuality may be covered by suffering, and even serve as a maladaptive attempt to self-regulate and soothe that suffering. Even then, there may be wisdom in what that defense is attempting to protect against. As a result, if the client only learns to refrain from and manage unwanted sexual behavior, the opportunity may be missed for them to experience sex as nourishing, pleasurable, and as an aspect of themselves that is vital.
Qualities with Which to Meet the Client in Sex Therapy
Wegela (2014) encourages all therapists to meet their clients non-judgmentally, and that ability to experience whatever arises in the present moment without judgment may be cultivated and practiced through a meditation or mindfulness-awareness practice (p. 37). I think this is particularly important in sex therapy, as the topic of sex itself often feels taboo and shameful in the worst cases. In addition, I believe it is inappropriate for a therapist to impose their judgment of what constitutes (or does not constitute) healthy sexuality and sexual behaviors onto the client. The client’s ability to openly explore their sexual values and beliefs in order to determine what a healthy expression of their sexuality is (or is not) for them is directly related to the therapist’s ability to remain open-minded and suspend judgment.
It my experience, it is bringing curiosity to the client and their experience that enables me to remain open-minded and non-judgmental, which then can help the client do the same for themselves. Wegela (2014) explains that by bringing curiosity to our clients, we are inviting them to connect more deeply to their inner wisdom, free of (or at least with less) negative self-judgment (p. 92). It has also been my experience that once a container of openness and non-judgment has been created, clients are able to find compassion for the unwanted parts of themselves that they typically attempt to avoid or disown. Wegela (2014) trusts that it is “our very nature to be compassionate, caring beings who wish to alleviate the suffering we find in others and in ourselves” (p.8). As a result of this compassion there can be more kindness and flexibility in the therapeutic process of exploring one's sexuality and experience of sex.
Cultivating the Client’s Awareness of Compulsive Sexual Behavior in Sex Therapy
Wegela (2014) explains that awareness “refers to our ability to directly experience our sense perceptions and to recognize the contents of our thoughts and mental imagery without distortion” (p. 7). I find my intention to maintain awareness to be an invaluable resource for attuning to the client; I can use whatever thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations arise for me in service of the client. For those clients struggling with sexual behavior that feel out of control to them, inviting them to bring awareness to their compulsive sexual behavior–the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations of the rituals leading up to, during, and after the behavior–not only leads to greater insight but can serve as an agent of change. For example, it is entirely possible that when the client is truly present and aware of how they are experiencing the behavior, they may find that they do not like the behavior, or at least some aspects of it. Although that insight alone may not be sufficient to shift the behavior, it has been my experience that awareness is often the beginning of such a shift.
Wegela, K. (2014). Contemplative psychotherapy essentials: Enriching your practice with buddhist psychology [Kindle Edition]. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.