Why Buddhist Practice? Why Psychotherapy? with Pilar Jennings, Ph.D.

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Jennings is both a Buddhist practitioner and a psychologist. Here she talks about when it’s appropriate to bring our psychological struggles to our Buddhist teacher and when it is appropriate to bring them to a therapist. In general, Jennings says the differences between them are: “When you are working with a therapist or an analyst, there is a sense of very personal explorations. The lens is to go in close and look at the particularities of the way a patient has gone through their life with very particular parents, family system, and culture, etc. Buddhist teachers tend to zoom out, and explore suffering from a more universal lens. So, when their Western students come to them with particular personal problems, they’ll tend to respond from this universal perspective that these are all manifestations of the same tendencies we all have.” She discusses how each has much to give and addresses the value of having a spiritual community where you can look for support and have conversations, as contrasted to the psycho-analytic process where it is a one-on-one and the support comes from a single individual in the form of the therapist. (hosted by Michael Toms)


Pilar Jennings, Ph.D. is a writer and researcher who has focused on the clinical applications of Buddhist meditation practice. She received her Ph.D. in Psychiatry and Religion from Union Theological Seminary, and has been working with patients and their families through the Harlem Family Institute since 2004. Dr. Jennings is also a researcher at the Columbia University Center for the Study of Science and Religion as well as a facilitator of a Columbia University Faculty Seminar. She is a long-term practitioner of Tibetan and Vipassana Buddhism and has also trained as a Buddhist chaplain through the Zen Center for Contemplative Care.

She is the author of:

To learn more about the work of Pilar Jennings go to www.pilarjennings.com.

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • What is the importance of the Buddhist concept of "friendly curiosity"
  • Why Jennings sees Buddhism as a religion
  • What are the up side and down side of American Buddhism
  • What are the primary similarities and differences between Buddhist practice and psychoanalysis
  • What is enlightenment
  • What is the importance of having a living teacher to guide one's practice
  • What are some cautions for finding a teacher or therapist
  • What is the difference between bringing our personal baggage to a teacher or to a therapist

Host: Michael Toms     Interview Date: 5/25/2011     Program Number: 3403

Music Playlist

From Album: Rhythms of Awakening
Artist: Glen Velez
2005 Sounds True #M923D 

Program Essay: Track 01 Ostia
Music Break 1: Track 04 Waking
Music Break 2: Track 10 White Throated Sparrow
Music Break 3: Track 06 Citric Motion