Monday, June 24, 2013

BOOK REVIEW and Reflection on Buddha and the Borderline, by Kiera Van Gelder...Help for your Life

Buddha and the Borderline did not just have an impact on my life, it haunted me.  And not just because I have lived through some of this woman's experiences but because I have experienced so many similarities between this Kiera Van Gelder's experiences and the many, many people who've sat in my offices over the years I've been a therapist.  In those years I felt there was no substitute for the long, painful, often dangerous process of individual psychodynamic therapeutic process in recovery from severe trauma and I was aware of the high incidences of hospitalization and suicide attempts and declarations along the way.  This was the world of the person diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.  Now, in this book, and in other places, I was hearing about a new form of therapy where clients took responsibility for their behavior at a very early stage in therapy, avoided hospitalization, worked in groups, and worked at behavior modification as opposed to deep intrapsychic change as the primary mode of therapy.  I was flabbergasted.  It triggered a major change in my approach with the integration of new skills into my therapeutic approach. Eventually I became a life coach and spiritual director, choosing to explore skill-building and people's spiritual paths in life, rather than working as a therapist.  But that's another story.

I was a skeptic at first.  I signed up to attend an introductory workshop, and I sought out a supervisor who was already working with Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the therapeutic approach in question.  The information I gained was anti-climactic.  Information that was common knowledge to a healthy person.  Skills we might take for granted:  how to distract ones' self from a distasteful or uncomfortable situation.  How to deal with conflict in a myriad of helpful coping ways.  Who to call on when needing help and unable to cope on ones own.  How to make a list of ways to cope when in a crisis.  We all know how to do these things, right?

The further I read on in this book, the less convinced I was that we do know how to cope.  I'm convinced now that the busier we become with our lives today, the less we have spent on reinforcing our daily coping skills and attending to our emotional needs AND the less time we have spent teaching them to our children!  So I am left with a funny taste in my mouth as I finish this book that it may be true that it is not just people diagnosed with this serious borderline personality disorder who need help to learn these helpful traits. Many others possess some of the same traits or have some similar deficits and can benefit from Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Perhaps the reason that there's a profound rise in professions like mine -- spiritual and life coaches -- is that there's also a profound need to learn or relearn the skills that are so pointedly demonstrated in this book, albeit in extreme.  Keira learns how to make healthy choices in relationships and how not to sacrifice herself in the process.  She learns how to differentiate herself from others.  She learns how to cope with a crisis and how to perceive what an actual crisis is or is not.  Most importantly, she learns how to manage, physically and emotionally, her daily life, and to feel good about her choices in doing so.  Ask yourself, how are you doing in these areas of your life?  Pathology or not, I look around me and see that there are many around me who have not acquired a lot of these skills while they have ardently pursued the important life skills needed for their careers.

The book is a good read about how a person, who was admittedly extremely damaged, uses Dialectical Behavior Therapy and the principles of Zen Buddhism to find manageability in her life.  It is also a tool to help you decide if that''s what you need in your own life.  Kiera Van Gelder has given us that gift in revealing her own life.  It is a huge gift for which we owe her a big thank you!

There are still good uses for heavy therapy and there are good uses for wonderful tools like Dialectial Behavior Therapy.  There are workbooks being produced that can be purchased online or in mass market bookstores.  If you'd like to work with a person in a group or individually, that the job for a coach like me!  I'd be glad to talk to you about it.