Cognitive Humanistic Therapy: Buddhism, Christianity and Being Fully Human


Richard Nelson-Jones

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    Cognitive humanistic therapy, or CHT for short, aims to bring the insights and methods of the cognitive behavioural, cognitive and humanistic psychotherapies and of religion to help clients, therapists and others to become and stay more fully human. Being more fully human entails possessing and demonstrating high levels of mental cultivation and human sympathy or, more simply, of reason and love. In the past, stipulating such qualities as goals has been more a feature of the world's religious traditions than of psychotherapeutic approaches, the latter concentrating mainly on helping patients and clients to attain normal functioning.

    Cognitive humanistic therapy represents an integrative or crossover approach in a number of different ways. For example, psychotherapy meets with religion, especially Buddhism and Christianity, in that humane religious aspirations are approached through therapeutic methods. West meets with East in that the approach is heavily influenced by Buddhist ideas of how to be a good human being, without making any demands on the reader to adopt Buddhist ideas like multiple rebirths, which many find unconvincing. An aspect of the Buddhist religious tradition central to the book's structure and content is the importance of cultivating positive qualities at the same time as curbing negative qualities. Normal functioning meets with supra-normal functioning, because humans cannot bypass problems and poor human-being skills related to deficiencies in their upbringing and move directly to working on superior functioning. Psychotherapy meets with continuing personal practice because being fully human involves a lifelong commitment to service and to working to attain and maintain high levels of mental cultivation and human sympathy. Finally, therapists' personal levels of mental cultivation and human sympathy meet with what they can offer clients. Becoming a better therapist means being more fully human oneself.

    One way to indicate the integrative nature of cognitive humanistic therapy is to name the sources that have inspired it. The following is a list of the ten people who have most influenced the creation of the approach: Alfred Adler, Aaron Beck, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, the current Dalai Lama, Charles Darwin, Albert Ellis, Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.

    For whom is this book intended? I hope that the book resonates with all those who, like me, feel that there is something missing in contemporary psychotherapy and counselling, which tends to be unnecessarily pessimistic about human nature and offers few specific strategies and practices for those clients and others wanting to lead meaningful lives by becoming and remaining more other-centred and less self-centred. Readers may be at different stages along their journeys as psychotherapists and counsellors, for instance as students, beginning or experienced practitioners, trainers, supervisors or supervisors of supervisors. Possibly, the book may be of interest to some clients and lay people who want to address issues in their own lives that are touched on here. Although I am an agnostic myself, I hope that the book will appeal to many religiously committed people who may then fruitfully integrate some of its insights and methods into their practice.

    The book is divided into two overlapping parts: understanding being fully human (mainly theory) and cultivating being fully human (mainly practice). The first chapter – ‘What is cognitive humanism?’ – defines humanism, discusses it in relation to philosophy, religion and psychotherapy, and mentions some distinctive features of the cognitive humanistic approach. Chapter 2 looks at what Darwin really said and presents a cognitive humanistic view of the nature of human nature and motivation. Chapter 3 develops the concept of human-being skills, with the two main areas being mind skills and communication/action skills. The chapter also looks at some other basic CHT concepts. Chapter 4 explores what it means to be fully human, in particular in terms of human sympathy and mental cultivation. Chapter 5 presents some of the main processes by which people learn and maintain skilful and unskilful behaviour, including reviewing seven contemporary dehumanizing contexts.

    Chapter 6 overviews CHT, breaking it into two overlapping components: adaptation CHT for normal functioning, and mental cultivation CHT for supra-normal functioning. This chapter also examines the processes of CHT, the therapeutic relationship and some applications of the approach. Chapter 7 presents a three-stage skilled client model of the therapeutic process, each stage having three phases. Chapter 8 reviews skills for calming and focusing the mind and looks at ways of challenging the illusions of an independent self and of permanence. Chapters 8 to 15 end with skills-building practices or activities that may be performed either as part of therapy or in personal practice independent of therapists.

    Chapter 9 looks at how the heart may be awakened further by challenging the illusions of differentness and of human badness. Chapters 10 and 11 present some mind skills and communication skills for curbing anger and aversion, and greed and craving, respectively. Curbing negative qualities and cultivating positive qualities interact. Chapters 12 to 14 review mind skills and communication skills for cultivating goodwill/lovingkindness, sympathetic joy, gratitude, compassion, equanimity, generosity and helping. The final chapter on personal practice encourages therapists, clients and others to cultivate a service-oriented mentality in which they curb negative qualities and develop positive ones for the sakes of themselves, others and the human species.

    I thank my publishers, Sage, for having the courage to publish a book like this that falls somewhat outside conventional writing about psychotherapy and counselling. In particular I thank my editor, Karen Haynes, for her support and feedback. When asked to comment on an outline of the proposed book, I appreciated a very kind letter of encouragement from Dr Albert Ellis, President of the Albert Ellis Institute, New York City, USA. I have also been exceptionally fortunate in having two excellent consultants who acted as friendly critics during the writing process. My heartfelt thanks go to the Reverend John Butt, Director, Institute of the Study of Religion and Culture, Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and to Professor Danny Wedding, Director, Missouri Institute of Mental Health, St Louis, USA, and co-editor of Current Psychotherapies. Both the Reverend John and Professor Danny performed their tasks well above and beyond the call of duty. My thanks also to Andrew Chua, a counselling psychologist and Victorian Executive Officer of the Boys' Brigade in Australia, for providing feedback on the book's practices.

    In a nutshell, this is a book about how to use therapeutic tools to develop reason and love in the interests of oneself, others and humankind. Some may view the cognitive humanistic approach and its advocacy of connecting at deeper levels to the better natures of oneself and one's fellow humans as something akin to ‘small r’ religion. Many readers may prefer to place the approach within the context of a divine ultimate reality. Whatever readers' therapeutic and religious orientations, I hope they will gain something of professional and personal value from the book.

    I encourage readers to give me feedback about the book and to make suggestions about improving the theory and practice of cognitive humanistic therapy. To ease communicating with me, below I provide my postal and email addresses.

    RichardNelson-Jones Director, Cognitive Humanistic Institute Suite 715, Supakit Condominium Suthep Road, Soi 4, Chiang Mai, THAILAND 50200 Email address:
  • Appendix: Some Research Implications

    An important question is that of where research fits into cognitive humanistic therapy. The following are some points that address this issue.

    • Research consists of two overlapping components: creating ideas and evaluating them. All statements about approaches to the theory and practice of counselling and psychotherapy are attempts to articulate ideas relevant to understanding and helping patients and clients. As such, they are creations or accumulations of ideas that require assessment through evaluative research. The statement of cognitive humanistic therapy contained in this book represents an attempt to create ideas that overlap with, yet differ from, those of existing psychotherapies. Cognitive humanistic therapy's theory and practice require continuing, expanding, reorienting and building upon the psychotherapy research knowledge generated to date. If anything, the emphasis in contemporary psychotherapy research leans more heavily towards evaluating existing ideas than towards generating new and different ideas for later evaluation. This is a pity because over-emphasizing assessment at the expense of generating content stifles the creation and articulation of new or different ideas, which are the seeds of much successful evaluative research.
    • A research question of critical importance for humankind is that of what is a realistic and humane worldview for contemporary human beings. All people are personality theorists holding worldviews, sometimes tenaciously in face of conflicting evidence. Religious world-views receive much attention. However, the kind of worldview that lends itself most to a scientific approach is that of humanism, since it makes no requirement to believe in unproven divine explanations. There exists a worldview vacuum for those who find that traditional religious worldviews are unconvincing. To date, in universities and elsewhere, insufficient effort has been made to generate and evaluate a sound humanistic worldview to fill that vacuum. Further pertinent research can provide many of the building blocks for stating a humanistic worldview that unites and affirms people rather than risks dividing and destroying them.
    • Continued research into humankind's evolutionary and genetic heritage is of great interest and importance for understanding human motivation, including what might be variously termed the social instincts, innate goodness, social feeling, and co-operative behaviour. In addition, continued research is necessary into the extent to which and how humankind can take more responsibility for its own evolution by developing and using its mental potential.
    • The question of whether there are universal human-being skills for effective living requires much more research attention than currently received. Elsewhere the author has suggested that this critical ‘big picture’ question urgently requires a major international research effort similar to the Human Genome Project to address the many and complex issues involved in answering it properly (Nelson-Jones, 2002c). Cognitive humanistic therapy, and indeed all psychotherapies, would be much more soundly based if such research were to be conducted successfully.
    • Curiously enough, the concept of ‘mind’ does not feature prominently in cognitive behavioural therapies like rational emotive behaviour therapy and cognitive therapy. Though extremely useful, as the twenty-first century progresses such therapies may increasingly be viewed as pioneering practical attempts to understand the mind and how to use it to live effectively and humanely. Much more useful research remains to be done to underpin cognitive approaches to therapy and living. Cognitive humanistic therapy hypothesizes that it is useful for people to develop a concept of mind and of mind skills. Relevant areas for research include the nature of mind, how best to divide its processes or functions into learnable skills, and how to train clients and people in general to assume more effective control over their mental processes. In addressing such questions, cognitive psychology and cognitive psychotherapy could probably interact more fruitfully than at present, with more attempts made to overcome the academic-practitioner divide.
    • Echoing Maslow's idea of the value of studying superior specimens, more research is needed into what constitutes high level or supra-normal functioning. Maslow's work on self-actualizing people was descriptive rather than detailing the applied skills that highly self-actualized people used (Maslow, 1970). Research into high-level functioning needs to incorporate an applied focus that seeks to explain not only ‘the what’ but ‘the how’ of supra-normal functioning. To perform such research it is probably necessary to have the concept of human-being skills and then to break it down into its component parts.
    • The world's religious traditions seem to have much to offer psychotherapy in terms of articulating goals for being fully human. Psychotherapy has much to offer the world's religious traditions in applied strategies, other than traditional strategies like prayer and meditation, for attaining humanistic goals within religious frameworks. Psychotherapy research might become both broader and deeper by incorporating more of a focus on examining processes and outcomes connected with religious aspirations like mental cultivation and human sympathy. Research into the psychology of religion might be stronger if it incorporated more of an applied emphasis by using tools adopted from psychotherapy. For instance, use of psychotherapy methods might well provide practical insights for Buddhists in how to think, feel and act more compassionately and for Christians in how to become and behave more like Jesus Christ.
    • Cognitive humanistic therapy relies heavily on using cognitive behavioural methods to attain both adaptation CHT goals and mental cultivation CHT goals. Much of the growing literature on empirically supported treatments supports the use of cognitive behavioural interventions for specific problems, for example sexual dysfunction, marital conflict and anger management. Thus this empirically supported treatment literature is highly relevant for adaptation CHT. However, to date there has been little or no research on mental cultivation CHT or on how to help people become better human beings. For example, the author cannot readily recall any studies on how to be more compassionate, generous or on how to feel and show more sympathetic joy.
    • Psychotherapy process and outcome research might sometimes be more useful if it emphasized cultivating positive qualities alongside or even instead of curbing negative qualities. For instance, research into anger management might be broadened to include helping clients to feel, think and act more positively towards others.
    • Perhaps existing psychotherapy research insufficiently takes into account the extent to which some of the problems of contemporary humans are systemic rather than individual. Psychotherapy research needs to identify and create strategies for dealing with problems inherent in contemporary society as well as to identify new ones that may arise in future. For example, in Western materialistic societies people can have problems with greed and craving without even realizing it. Sometimes the bigger their greed problem, the more successful they and others will regard them. Similarly, technological advances may be creating systemic problems without people being fully aware of what they are. Pertinent research areas include identifying psychological problems with systemic components, devising strategies to inoculate clients and others against them, and looking at ways of creating more humane and less stress-inducing societies.


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    Name Index

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