Clinical Social Work Journal

, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 241–251 | Cite as

Maneuvering Difficult Emotional Terrain in Psychotherapy: A Buddhist-Informed Conceptual Framework

  • Pamela Szczygiel
Original Paper


Clients often enter psychotherapy with struggles and concerns related to their direct experience of emotion. Though most of the major psychotherapy theories in the West address the general issue of emotion, very few have developed a framework or theory for supporting clients in their direct encounters with difficult feeling states. Since Buddhism is highly experiential and Buddhist philosophy is mainly concerned with the issue of human suffering, its relevance to maneuvering difficult emotions in a clinical context is profound. While the use of Buddhist concepts and practices in mental health treatment in the West has proliferated in recent years, the clinical use of Buddhist material has often bypassed the larger philosophical framework of Buddhism. This decontextualized use of Buddhist material has limited the potential value of Buddhist philosophy in mental health treatment. This article offers a conceptual framework for approaching difficult emotions that is grounded in the wisdom of Buddhism. The framework consists of four themes that serve as guides for clients and clinicians as they maneuver emotional experiences in psychotherapy: Sitting With, Middle Path, Healthy Interdependency, and Compassion. Common threads between Buddhist concepts and Western psychotherapy approaches are explored. A case vignette will demonstrate the clinical utility of the framework.


Clinical theory Emotions Mindfulness Psychotherapy Buddhism 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that the author has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Practice and PolicyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Psychotherapist, Private PracticePhiladelphiaUSA

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