Second Annual Mental Health Conference
Posted June 21, 2003
ISKCON Washington, DC, Potomac Temple had the pleasure of hosting the 2nd annual Mental Health Conference -- Counseling, Therapy, and Social Care: Their Application in a Krishna Conscious Society. Saturday's topics included "Coping with Grief" presented by Bhakti Tirtha Swami, "Active Problem Solving" presented by husband and wife team, Chandramukhi dasi and Aghari dasa (both hold an MA in Counseling Psychology), "Psychological Testing and Ethics of Guru-Disciple Relationship" by Vishnugada (PsyD. Clinical Psychology), and "The Modes of Nature: Implications for Mental Health Care" by Jaya Sacisuta dasa. On Sunday the Presentation began with Cintamani dasi (Ph.D. Psychology) speaking on "Cultivating Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Resiliency in ISKCON Communities", and Ravindra Svarupa (Ph.D.) presenting a synopsis of Anto Boisen's theory "Laws of Spiritual Life" as they apply to pneumapathologies of ISKCON (pneuma = spirit + pathology = diseases).
Bhakti Tirtha Swami spoke of the symptoms and stages of grief, with the symptoms starting with despair and anger leading ultimately to a distance from God, if not properly dealt with. The stages of grief, beginning with shock and denial in a healthy progression, ultimately lead to acceptance and a return to pursuits of love. The Swami's recommendation for coping with grief was journal writing, stress relief technology, sharing with community, understanding that grief is not a "thing", but has to do with how we are processing the situation, and looking for a hidden meaning. In other words, using our grief as a catalyst for growth -- "Our greatest realizations come from our greatest problems." The "experiential" process he put us through had Anuttama dasa (ISKCON Communications) and his wife Rukmini hearing the group's thoughts and feelings about them in absentia, due to their untimely leaving of the planet. As a result the group realized the importance of taking the opportunity to speak to others, to not have regrets -- unfinished business. We discussed this sense of unfinished business as a factor in impeding the healing process of grief and loss.
The husband-wife team, Aghari and Chandramukhi, started their session with a physically interactive icebreaker. The overall effect of this experience was expressed as creating a safe environment, feeling healed, coming back to part of self, and a general sense of family. Next, the real life issue of a temple "stay-back" devotee vs. a sankirtan devotee was acted out by volunteers from the group, with Arcana Siddhi dasi playing the "superior" sankirtan devotee and Nanda Patni dasi playing the unappreciated temple devotee. The end result of the role-play was that we can maintain our individuality and sense of what is right for ourselves, while respecting and appreciating those who are different.
Vishnugada surveyed the appropriate and questionable use of psychological testing with devotees and people in general. Highlighted was the use of psychological testing for child abuse investigations. He also led an open- forum talk to weigh the merits of applying some ethical principles of psychology to the Guru-Disciple relationship with the aim of fostering trust within the devotee community. Potential hazards arising from dual relationships between gurus and their disciples were discussed. The participants also exchanged interesting views contrasting confidentiality and secrecy between the guru and disciple.
Cintamani dasi described resiliency as "The human capacity and ability to face, overcome, and be strengthened by and even be transformed by the adversities of life." Drawing from her work with families and her personal process in Krsna Consciousness, she explained the growing field and specialization of Positive Psychology and the Resiliency Model, which emphasizes the strengths and resources of the client, enlisting their focus in building on positive aspects of their experience and lives. She wove excerpts from Srila Prabhupada's books and lectures with positive psychology in order to help each participant visualize themselves as "Victorious Vaisnavas," successful in their personal struggles to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual congruence and authenticity in their lives.
Ravindra Svarupa correlated the possibility that some "mental disorders" stem from a spiritual crisis and should be approached as such if the afflicted is to come out of their pathology as a whole individual. He mentioned the dark night of the soul as a sometimes-inevitable part of being "on the path." The spiritual path not necessarily being a linear event, but having its' ups and downs (and sideways) as part of the process of advancement. "Good meaning that wherever you are, you are continuously trying to get better."
A panel on Spousal Abuse was formed to allow open dialogue on domestic violence in our communities. Panel members represented field worker with teenage boys, group homes, counselors, and survivors of abuse. Opinions expressed were community should involve in spousal abuse intervention; somehow abusers were given permission by way the philosophy was interpreted; we need to raise empathy level of offenders; overlap in families-effects everyone. Disussed ws "what can we as a Vaishnava community install as preventative, educational and coping tools." Some of the suggestions were: hotlines, peer counseling, understanding payoffs, giving options rather that advice, empowering victims to be independent, and acknowledging that there is a problem in our community to provide detection/prevention for future generation of ISKCON.
The Mental Health Conferences will continue on a yearly basis, with the next
meeting scheduled for June 5-6, 2004, in Potomac, MD (DC temple). We would
invite anyone interested in taking an active role in this pursuit to contact
ISKCON Communications office at 301-299-9707 or email@example.com.