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Title: Ryo Imamura Interview
Narrator: Ryo Imamura
Interviewers: Stephen Fugita (primary), Erin Kimura (secondary)
Location: Olympia, Washington
Date: August 3, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-iryo-01-0025

<Begin Segment 25>

RI: There's a lot of people in the Midwest -- you know in old America that laugh at therapy. "Isn't that ridiculous? You sit in with a stranger and talk about these things all day and night, and pretty soon you're making up stories just to satisfy the therapist." And they think, "No, just good hard work does it." And so it's very akin to that. If it didn't have the Buddhist trappings I think they gave it another name. I think they call it Creative Living Therapy now. And so then it has a Japanese name, and then a Buddhist root, then Middle America would not touch it. Yeah, but there's a lot of basic, very basic differences in the assumptions of Western psychology and mainstream, and what I'm talking about in terms of Buddhist psychology. Even real basic things like Western psychotherapy has normal and abnormal. And normal is happy, this is unhappy, this is being productive, unproductive, having good family relationships. And everything is split down the middle, being healthy, being unhealthy. And the whole medical profession, mental health profession is taking all these people on the wrong side of the line and simply getting them over that line to be happy and productive again. And so we have this whole industry that labels people as abnormal or needing help. And billions of dollars are spent and whole professions are created over that.

Whereas Buddhism starts with the premise that life includes unhappiness. That's just part of life. Life is like a bumpy road. And so, sure if your marriage isn't going well, no one's to blame for that. And it's not supposed to be perfect, anyway. Marriage is -- just by getting married you know you're gonna have adjustment problems all the rest of your life. That's how it is. And so if you start from that premise, that suffering and unhappiness are just part of the human condition, rather than it shouldn't be. Then when someone comes and says, "Oh, I'm in an unhappy marriage." Welcome to the club. And maybe rather than, they want to sit there and blame their husband or wife for the problem, but just say, "Look, this is never going to be perfect because we're foolish human beings that always get caught up in little arguments over who's gonna do the dishes or who did this or didn't do that." That's human. So the only way you're gonna understand it is not look at your husband, but look at yourself, and how this happens over and over again like a broken record, and take responsibility for that. That's a whole different orientation to therapy to begin with. There's a lot of these very basic differences. Western therapy encourages you to emote, to talk about your feelings, and someone who doesn't talk much is seen as a poor client. Whereas, Buddhist form is, talking is often a distraction to get away from the problem, a smoke screen. And, the hardest thing is to just sit there and look within at the source of the problem. This is meditation. In Western therapy there's the distinct difference between therapist and client. One person is the helper, the other is the helpee. One person has the problem, the other person doesn't. But Buddhist ideal is the fellow traveler. You know, the so-called therapist who's guiding the process has the same issues as the client. And so what you're doing is trying to awaken the therapist in the client, inside the client, and the client inside the therapist. Therefore, then you're fellow travelers. And therefore, maybe there'd be some sessions where the so-called therapist says, "Hey, this is really great. This last hour I learned so much. Let me pay you this time," you know. [Laughs] "Or let me take you out to lunch, or something," right? That's really great what you told me because it made me learn a lot about my own relationship." If you did that in Western therapy, you can get reprimanded by the board for being unprofessional. But that's human. And this whole very sterile, dualistic relationship is the basis of Western therapy. And this is why people really never feel the compassion of the therapist. "Oh, your fifty minutes is up. Uh, pay on your way out." [Laughs] So there's all these basic differences that just point to the fact that we're not just talking about Buddhism being a -- meditation being just the tool for Western psychology. But it's built on entirely different premises, whether we're talking about the treatment, the therapist, the client, everything.

SF: How would this approach sort of work with, say, psychotics? I mean is that, is that possible? What would be the -- or is it...?

RI: Well, I think in the history of treatment there's always been -- it's been, you know, on one end it's the witch burning to get rid of the bad spirits and putting people in these terrible mental health prisons called Bedlam to, because they were seen as irrational, almost like animal type beings. And then you look in the history -- there's also periods where there was wonderful hospitals and kind treatment. Where the theory was, if you treat the patient with kindness and love, that it'll bring out their better side, and they won't feel so threatened, and then they will naturally evolve the bet -- you know, whatever the qualities are. And so I think that's very much the understanding from the Buddhist side. So if it's a psychotic... again, if you think about cure, it may not be effective. This takes a long time. But there are treatments like, very -- like, oh what's his name? He goes inside the ward with the psychotic patient and he himself joins the patient in acting psychotic too. He doesn't say, "I'm sane and you're insane." But he, he does all the actions and thinking of a psychotic. And then the psychotic sees himself in the doctor and says, "Oh, is that how I'm acting?" You know, kind of like that. So it's just getting out of the boundaries. But again the basis of Buddhism is the preventative. Psychosis is often the result of very extreme inhumane conditions, where there's up -- upbringing. And the treatment of someone who acts a little strange, instantly they call the police, put 'em in a strait jacket, drug them up, put 'em in Western State Hospital. That's enough to drive anybody, make them worse. And so Buddhist approach -- just like most countries in Asia, every village has their village idiot, people who don't function. But they don't put 'em away. They, they say, "Well okay, well you don't have to do so much there, then," right? People embrace them there in the community. So it's just a whole different mindset about human nature and whether to accept others as they are or as you want them to be, which is more of the Western way. Yeah.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.