Psychotherapy and Indian Thought

Psychotherapy, the treatment of mental health issues through psychological means, has a long and varied history that can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In Indian thought, mental health and well-being have been integral to philosophical and spiritual practices for centuries. In the following text, we will explore how ancient Vedic ideas have found new life in psychotherapeutic practices and rediscover valuable texts like the Bhagwadgita and the Vedas for their healing, insight-inducing properties.

Therapy in Indian Context: Indigenous Approaches

India is familiar with therapy. Since the beginning, our sages have endeavored to comprehend the workings of the mind and various techniques for controlling it. As is generally acknowledged, religious and philosophical books are essentially intertwined into the Indian psyche, combining cosmology, theology, mythology, and philosophy. Detailed and nuanced descriptions of several psychological concepts, including mind, cognition, personality, emotions, etc., may be found in ancient Indian scriptures.

Traditional literature offers a tonne of proof that Indian approaches to psychology, especially therapy, exist in this environment. This fact has also recently been brought to light by several scholars who have drawn attention to the similarities between certain psychological theories from the west and those put forward in classical Indian works. There are many psychological theories found in ancient Indian writings and scriptures that might help understand therapy procedures.

Additionally, India has used various culturally appropriate psychotherapy approaches for ages. Vedas and Upanishads are India's fundamental sources of knowledge concerning therapy procedures. The Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda are the four Vedas. The Yajur Veda and the Rig Veda explain various psychological concepts, such as the mind and mental disease. The Upanishads explain perceptions, awareness, cognition, and so forth.

In particular, psychopathology and mental health issues are described in terms of the imbalance of the Tridoshas and Trigunas. Traditionally, parents and teachers are seen as the main providers of therapy at various points in a person's life. Therapy, which strives to help children develop their faculties and become decent people, is thus a natural component of the socialization process that occurs as children grow up.

Understanding the Self

In Indian thought, the concept of "self" is understood differently, depending on the particular philosophical or spiritual tradition being considered. However, a few key ideas are common to many of these traditions.

One of the central ideas about the self in Indian thought is the concept of "atman," which refers to the innermost essence or true nature of the individual. The atman is often described as eternal, unchanging, and indivisible and believed to be the source of consciousness and ultimate reality. In some traditions, the atman is seen as identical to the ultimate reality, or "Brahman," while in others, it is seen as a spark of the divine, or "jiva."

The idea of "Maya" is also significant, referring to the illusion or delusion of separate existence. According to this idea, the individual self is an illusion that arises from the identification with the body, mind, and ego and is separate from the ultimate reality. In order to realize the ultimate reality, it is necessary to overcome this illusion and see through the veil of Maya.

Bhagavadgita and Answers to Big Questions

The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture written in Sanskrit, is one of the world's most widely read and influential texts. The Gita, as it is commonly known, is a dialogue between the prince Arjuna and the god Krishna, in which Krishna offers guidance and wisdom to Arjuna on the eve of a great battle. The text covers a wide range of topics, including the nature of the self, the nature of the universe, and the path to enlightenment.

One of the key themes of the Bhagavad Gita that is relevant to mental health is the concept of "samadhi," which refers to a state of deep meditation and spiritual absorption. In the Gita, Krishna describes samadhi as a state of perfect mental and emotional balance in which the mind is free from all distractions and fully focuses on the divine. This state is believed to bring about a sense of inner peace and contentment and is considered essential for mental health and well-being. This raw and unfiltered experience of reality is highlighted in modern phenomenological theories like the one by Abraham Maslow, who has titled a similar state of being a 'peak experience.'

Another important concept in the Gita related to mental health is the idea of "karma," which refers to the law of cause and effect. According to the Gita, our thoughts and actions have consequences. To achieve mental clarity and peace, it is important to act with integrity and follow dharma (moral and ethical principles). This idea is similar to mindfulness, which is often emphasized in modern psychotherapy and has been revived in Logotherapy by Victor Frankl, who invites patients to conduct themselves based on a belief in something meaningful.

Dharma and What Should One Do?

The concept of "dharma" is a central idea in Indian thought that has played a significant role in the development of psychotherapy. Dharma refers to an individual's moral and ethical duties and responsibilities and is believed to be essential for achieving inner peace and happiness. When we act following our values and principles, we are more likely to experience satisfaction and fulfillment, which can contribute to good mental health. On the other hand, when we act in ways inconsistent with our values, we may experience feelings of guilt or remorse, which can negatively affect our mental well-being.

In addition to promoting inner peace and contentment, living following dharma is believed to help individuals achieve a sense of balance and harmony within themselves and the world around them. When we act following our duties and responsibilities, we can align our actions with universal principles and find a sense of purpose and meaning in life. This sense of purpose and meaning can be important in promoting mental health and well-being. In modern psychotherapy, the concept of dharma is often incorporated through values-based approaches, which focus on helping individuals identify their values and guiding principles and align their actions with those values. Steven Hayes uses a similar notion in developing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which uses the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to invite one to examine their values and let them guide their actions.

The Guru-Shishya Relationship

Indian thought also emphasizes the importance of the "guru-shishya" relationship, in which an individual seeks guidance and mentorship from a spiritual or intellectual mentor. This relationship is crucial for personal growth and development. It is often incorporated into modern psychotherapy through therapeutic relationships and the therapist's role as a guide and mentor. This healing and insightful relationship has been revived better by none other than humanistic and existential psychotherapists like Irvin Yalom and Carl Rogers, who place a great deal of emphasis on the dyadic relationship between the therapist and the client as the therapeutic force.

The Integrative Approach

An individual is viewed from an integrative perspective as an integration of intellect, body, and soul. This method is centered on the interdependence of various areas of a person's life, in contrast to many western philosophies. The Taittiriya Upanishad, which holds that a person has five dimensions, or five Koshas, gives rise to the integrative view of a person.

Annamaya Kosha − It speaks of the bodily physiological systems and how they work. It is referred to as the sheath of food and is the outermost kosha.

Pranamaya Kosha − It alludes to the psychophysical component, which essentially comprises sensational sensations. Prana, the power that binds the body and mind together, makes up this sheath. Breath is the physical representation of this kosha.

Manomaya Kosha − While it refers to the mind, it also relates to various mental processes and emotions. The existence of humans depends on this sheath.

Vijnanamaya Kosha − The term "VijanamayaKosha" alludes to the higher cognitive processes and is associated with intelligence and learning. Vijnana implies intelligence. The power of intelligence and thinking makes up this sheath.

Anandamaya Kosha − Anadamaya, a person's kosha, is their spiritual side. Anand describes a situation that cannot be described with words. It alludes to transcendence, a concept that is beyond understanding, and it is the kosha that is deepest.


Indian thought has significantly influenced the development of psychotherapy, with concepts such as dharma, yoga, and the guru-shishya relationship playing important roles. These ideas continue to be incorporated into modern psychotherapy practices and are used to help individuals achieve happiness and live relatively distress-free life.

Updated on: 06-Feb-2023


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