Escaping the Karma of Addiction, an article in Insight Journal, Summer 2008

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This article is based on teachings given at BCBS in January, 2008 by Paul Simons & Gregory Bivens in a course called Working with Addiction: Spiritual Self-Schema Therapy.

It might seem strange to talk about “spiritual self schema” as something to aspire to in a Buddhist context. In the psychological language of Self-Schema Therapy, it describes an alternative to the “addict self,” the type of mistaken identification with one’s negative thoughts and feelings that perpetuates a cycle of addiction to dangerous substances and behaviors.

Spiritual Self-Schema (3-S) therapy, developed at Yale University, is designed for those trapped in cycles of addiction and for the mental health professionals who work with them. It combines Western cognitive-behavioral therapies with Buddhist psychology to provide a very practical, day-to-day set of tools for empowering people to free themselves from habits that harm themselves and those around them.

For those of us not trapped in addictions to physically dangerous substances and behaviors, some of this might seem strange and unrelated to our experience. On the other hand, while perhaps not as physically dangerous, some of our addictions to unwholesome mind states can seem just as strong, making the raw experiences discussed here seem oddly familiar.

The therapy process draws on all aspects of Buddhist psychology, notably mindfulness as a tool for interrupting dangerous thought patterns leading to addictive behaviors. This article focuses on how the moral discipline (sila) sections of the noble eightfold path -right speech, right action and right livelihood- and its relationship to karma (in this case, cycles of addiction) are brought into the process of mental health professionals working with clients.


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