Art, Culture & Society

Morita Therapy Treats Mental Health and Brings Hope to Japan

In the previous post Influence of Cultural Traits of Japanese Society on Mental Health Problems, we discussed how the Japanese view mental health problems. They have a different way of looking at the individual. In this entry, we will briefly describe the Morita therapy.

It was developed with these particularities and can be used for any patient. Masatake Morita (also known as Shōma Morita) was a psychiatrist contemporary of Freud, who originated The Morita Therapy. He was influenced by Zen Buddhism and started a branch of clinical psychology.

Morita Therapy

For those who suffer stress or negative emotions, Morita answers the question, “What should I do now?”

This is a mental attachment that blocks energy and causes mental rigidity. To counteract this attachment, the following must be developed arugamama, that is, the ability to experience things “as is” and embrace reality.

Therefore, according to Morita’s therapy, having anxiety is not a problem. The problem is created when we worry about having anxiety. Considering that one of our emotions is not appropriate does not help us at all. 

Treatment, therefore, should focus on framing anxiety within constructive desires, states of happiness, meaning in our actions, and goal attainment.

The goal is to help patients focus their attention on their lives and help them choose specific actions despite anxiety or other negative feelings. It is necessary to rebalance and mobilize the internal healing capacities of the subjects. It is also necessary to awaken the interests that will gradually appear in their lives.

Main ideas of the Morita Therapy

The main idea of the Morita method can be summarized in three statements: accept your feelings, know your purpose, and do what you have to do.

By accepting our feelings and not avoiding or ignoring them, we embrace them as part of us. Some people recommend saying to ourselves phrases such as: “Hello, sadness, how are you today?”

We have to see our own emotions as something healthy and generous with us. When we do this, they are put into action and eventually disappear.

As for knowing the purpose, Morita believed that we cannot control our emotions, just as we cannot control the weather. What we can and should do is set our goals well so that we know what needs to be done at any given moment.

Finally, he believes that when you know what to do, you should do it. Knowledge is acquired through direct experience.

Morita Therapy Techniques

The main techniques applied in this method are:

▪ Detect the traps or vicious circles that appear in our thinking, which make it inflexible and lead us to want to control everything, but that end up catching us.

▪ Positively reinterpret symptoms. For example, when we are feeling anxious it may be because we want to do something. In this case, the right thing to do is to determine what we want to do and not try to repress or control this anxiety. 

If we are depressed, it may be because there is something in our life that we would like to change. It is an opportunity to consider what we should do to achieve the proposed goal.

▪ We must stop aiming to reduce the negative feeling. On the contrary, we must accept it and welcome it with gratitude.

▪ We must distance ourselves from the too-aware, the trap of the “self ” and mental worries. We can achieve arugamama (intuitive acceptance of the self and the situation).

▪ Some people think that what they do is to please an internal audience. On the contrary, we must focus our attention on the needs of others and the community.

▪ Therapists must show subjects how to stop paying attention to the symptoms and start involving themselves in the actions to be taken.

Information source

Llewelyn, S., & Shimoyama, H. (2012). Working with CBT across Cultures in Clinical Psychology with Particular Reference to Japanese Clinical Psychology. Japanese Journal of Clinical Psychology, 12(3), 415-421.

Read more in “Japanese Society and good practice in Mental Health

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