Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy
 and Couch
Spring 2014
Top_of_pageWelcome to the Spring 2014 issue of Cushion and Couch, the journal for IMP members!

In this issue:

An Interview with Janet Surrey, PhD

by Barbara Van Zoeren LICSW



Janet Surrey, PhD is a clinical psychologist and founding scholar of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She is on the faculty and board of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy. In 2008 she completed a two and a half year Community Dharma Leader training at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and is a faculty member of the Relational Insight Meditation program. Jan lives and practices in Newton, Massachusetts.


Barbara spoke to Janet about her personal path with meditation and psychotherapy and her current interest in Insight Dialogue. She will be presenting core concepts of Insight Dialogue at the Buddhist Psychology Lecture series April 7.


Barbara: What drew you to  meditation? To psychotherapy? And to the intersection of them both?

Jan: The same thing that drew me to both is a basic truth of my life. So much of my own experience of suffering has been in relationship and also that the potential for healing, liberation and the end of suffering can be through relationship.

Barbara: That's the basis of your life's work.

Jan: Yes. Early on, I saw that clinical practice was relational but the theories and language we had were intra-psychic, analytical, self -centered. 

I had lived through the women's movement and I was critical of the theories I was receiving in graduate school in the 70's. 

In the Stone Center work we started to look at the relational and cultural factors that were part of understanding any kind of suffering.

Barbara: So did you start as a meditator or a psychologist?

Jan: I started as a psychologist. I was always interested in investigating suffering and the end of suffering.

I did an internship and a post -doc at McLean Hospital and soon after began to meditate with Larry Rosenberg.

I remember the very moment of trying to decide whether to continue analytic training and deciding that the cushion would be the way to go.

I didn't understand all the ramifications at that moment but I knew what was right for me at the time.

Barbara: You knew your truth then.

Jan: Yes. The relational practice that we were beginning to write about, the movement to a more contextual relational perspective, a more experiential, moment to moment, present moment practice in therapy was at the core and could be called relational mindfulness.

Barbara: Who were your teachers, your influences in this work?

Jan:  I had many teachers. One major influence for me was Vimala Thakar.

Vimala's message was that living is the movement of relationship. She taught that the way of being with another is a reflection of one's state of being and also a practice in itself.

In the 90's I began to understand that Buddhist psychology and meditation were the underlying foundations that were being drawn on in relational practice in psychotherapy but weren't being named.

Barbara: Today, where would you say the most exciting work is happening in the intersection between meditation and psychotherapy?

Jan: I see relationality as a huge new field. Harnessing the power of relationship for liberation and awakening.  I am in the teacher-training program in Insight Dialogue with Gregory Kramer at the Metta Foundation. Insight Dialogue is directly relevant to the relational aspect of psychotherapy.

Barbara: You will be teaching this in the Buddhist Psychology Lecture next month.

Jan: Yes, it's a way of bringing the tranquil, calm insightful moments of meditation into your interactions with others. By co-meditating, including speaking and listening mindfully, deep insights can arise that are useful in therapy and in all of life.

Barbara: Thank you Jan and I look forward to your teaching in April.






I'll Be Present Tomorrow: 


The Uses of Mindfulness in Psychotherapy

by C. Anthony Martignetti, Ph.D.


Anthony is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Lexington, MA. He is the author of Beloved Demons: Confessions of an Unquiet Mind, Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections, and a chapter in Unlocking the Emotional Brain.  He has presented at the Harvard Medical School Annual Symposium: The Addictions, and the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy lecture series, "Conversations At the Edge," among others. 


In our training, we were told that we must sit, be present and listen non-judgmentally; that our awareness should take in the whole field of the other; we should speak less, listen more, remain a blank (but empathic) personality.  That is all well and good . . . but how?  Nobody actually instructed us how to do these things.  No one gave us the tools or the skills to use them.  They pointed out when we didn't seem to be doing things correctly, through the glass of two-way mirrors and in their reactions to our audiotapes.  


Mindfulness has given me, and us, a way.


How do I apply mindfulness in working with my clients?


Naturally, it begins with me.  In the clinical dyad, I use mindfulness practice to settle and quiet down, allowing myself to tap into spontaneous, intuitive, universal wisdom and intelligence.  The least I can do for the person needing and paying for help is to show up.  For real . . . in present flesh and bones.  


In the therapy process, when I'm attuned (i.e. mindfully aware) I'm not really "thinking about" what I'm saying or going to say, as much as I'm sensing the moment and responding to it.  Because I'm not in fealty to the tyranny of thoughts, nor am I shackled to bodily contractions, I'm able to be relaxed, close, flexible, and to listen openly and deeply to the person with me.  With access to the constant symphony of my own physical sensations, I can truly sit there-just sit there-and better remain in the disposition of  "evenly hovering awareness," of fluid and free, relatively "objectless" presence  (though there is an object of focus, which is the dynamic, ever-shifting, wholly human encounter between caregiver and care-seeker).  Sounds complicated, but it feels like a natural state.  


Essentially, my approach boils down to not chasing momentary thoughts down the corridors of fantasy and imagination, and not pushing them away into the closets of anxiety, insecurity and fear; simply chillin' out . . . thinking with the belly . . . feeling with the mind.  Allowing thoughts, sensations and the person before me to be who and what they are.  And in this moment, allowing myself to move along with the plasticity of the communion, the agility and gracefulness of the human encounter.  


When I represent this form of being with another, on my good and best days as a therapist, I serve as a model.  It is not so much what we say, in therapy, it's more what we do . . . and less what we do, than the way we are with people.  The way we remember to be linked with ourselves in compassionate awareness, and with others, in the same way.  And though it's not necessary to have mastered or grown fully beyond certain aspects of our own human pain and frailty to help another, it can profoundly aid the process to be in the process.  Mindful presence can help us to shed the shackles of the illusion that we are really there-really with the other-when, without it, so many of us have spent too long in the exhausting and painful drama of autistic self-pursuit.


Beyond that essential use of mindfulness as therapist, I occasionally give actual instruction on the concept of mindfulness; in the experience of quieting thoughts through the simple practice of breath awareness (which I use myself when with a client and I-as I inevitably do, and hopefully notice-find myself lost).  Here is where the connection between caregiver and care-recipient reaches its height.  Two individuals working inside the fluid boundaries of attention . . . in the safety and custody of mutual human trauma healing.  Here, where we hold the clinical space with an integrity, which is fluid.  Here, where awareness is both the light and the key to open our clients and ourselves to change and growth.  




bookBook Review  

by Laura Fisher, Psy.D.


Mindfulness for Prolonged Grief: A guide to healing after loss when depression, anxiety, and anger won't go away.  

by Sameet Kumar, PhD


Recently, I had a client enter my office for her regularly scheduled session and announce that a family member had died suddenly and tragically over the weekend.  She was clearly devastated by the magnitude of the loss. As her therapist, I quickly became a sounding board for her intense expression of grief.  After she left my office, I started to wonder about how one could implement mindfulness into the grieving process more completely.  After all, most of us will experience profound grief at some point in our lives.  A quick internet search led me to a book written by Sameet Kumar, PhD, called Mindfulness for Prolonged Grief: A guide to healing after loss when depression, anxiety, and anger won't go away.  


This book is geared for people that are actually currently wading through the process of grief.  It is set up as an instructive guide that provides both psycho-education about the process of "normal" grieving and mindfulness activities one can use systematically and methodically as grief dissipates. Dr. Kumar breaks this information down into manageable and digestible parts for people who have recently experienced the death of a loved one so that it is easy to read and even easier to implement.  He covers core aspects of daily living affected by the grieving process such as sleeping difficulties, eating concerns, physical activity, and daily chores- something he calls the "4 pillars of wellbeing"- and offers mindfulness exercises to help improve these pillars.  Some of these techniques could be pulled from any mindfulness book and are not unique to the grieving process (e.g. he shares the "raisin" activity in the eating section; there are body scans offered as a way to help with sleeping). And, although these are useful, they were not necessarily innovative.  


However, Dr. Kumar also focuses on more grief-specific activities such as how and when to let go of personal items of individuals, how to decide what to keep as mementos, and how to say good bye to a loved one.  He also has chapters dedicated to awakening compassion (especially important if a loved one was killed or died tragically) and building resilience for life after the death of a loved one.  He couches all of this through the lens of mindfulness.  This is where the content of the book really shines and blossoms into a creative healing process instead of a cookie-cutter approach to meditation and wellness.  


Overall, this instructional guide offers solid techniques and suggestions for how to mindfully and methodically work through the process of grieving.  Chapters are short and instructions are clear and concise- things I think would be very useful for someone who has limited energy due to grief.  Dr. Kumar  also does a wonderful job describing the myriad forms of grieving and allows the reader to understand that grieving is not confined to a one-week mourning  period, as our society sometimes implies.   I plan on giving a copy to my client next week.




SittingTogetherSitting Together: 
Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy


A new book from our friends -

Susan M. Pollak, Thomas Pedulla, and Ronald D. Siegel


This practical guide helps therapists from virtually any specialty or theoretical orientation choose and adapt mindfulness practices most likely to be effective with particular patients, while avoiding those that are contraindicated. The authors provide a wide range of meditations that build the core skills of focused attention, mindfulness, and compassionate acceptance. Vivid clinical examples show how to weave the practices into therapy, tailor them to each patient's needs, and overcome obstacles. Therapists also learn how developing their own mindfulness practice can enhance therapeutic relationships and personal well-being. The Appendix offers recommendations for working with specific clinical problems. Free audio downloads (narrated by the authors) and accompanying patient handouts for selected meditations from the book are available at


The next issue of Couch and Cushion will feature a review of this book.






A deep bow of gratitude to Laurie Rhoades for creating the beautiful images in this issue!




About Us
The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy (IMP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and training of mental health professionals in the integration of mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy.