Therapeutic Models for Meditators

I’m going to leave this posted for a while, in case someone is interested in different conceptual models of therapy which I’ve found relevant to meditators. Hope this helps in some way!


INSERT: Here’s my current suggested use of the models, based on the nature of the meditator’s “problem”.

Use of Meditation Modalities

 Always the question: be with “the problem” or apply a method? I say tend toward being with the problem, unless a method speaks to us.

Always the question: is progress stage like, cycle like, fractal, or muiltidimensional? I say tend to think of it as multidimensional, nothing is without consequence, nothing is wasted, “progress” is actually beyond mapping.


Nature of Problem is… Practice is… Event is/are… Major Wisdom is 
Concrete/Operational Normal life, normal skill development Psychological insights, A&P type mystical insight Perception of world isn’t “real” , problems may not be real
Bodily Meditative movement – yoga, weights, chi kung, martial arts “forms” Psychological insights, A&P type mystical awakening Mind and body related, subtle body is mind
Personal Therapeutic “listening” meditation, the bubbling-up of personal thoughts Psychological insights, A&P type mystical insight Flavors of reactivity and neurosis limits self-expression, relaxed mind is best
Authority, Self-Will Fenner’s Natural Release/ Relaxation meditation Glimpse of Presence Basic self worth and self trust
Solid Time Biocognition, Past/present/future Thought/body Insights into shame, betrayal, abandonment Past is pride and shame, honor includes both.Future is hope and fear of betrayal,  faithfulness includes both.Present is self-presence and fear of abandonment, commitment includes both – we can meaningfully “lose ourselves” as presence
Impersonal Reality – “It” realm Insight Meditation, the bubbling up of impersonal states Nanas, Jhanas, Cessations No control of mindstates
Contextual Reality – “we” realm Surrender – 6 realms paradigm is helpful Nibbana – ending of mindstate Dependent Origination and “gone”
Uncontrollable, elemental reactive reality – “I” realm Introspection – 5 elements paradigm is helpful “Knowing”,  awareness found within reactivity No escape
No Solution All of above/No practice – reconciling emptiness and form Awakening 1 – reality doesn’t hide, yang Mind nature, no being (nor non-being)
No Problem All of above/No practice – reconciling self and other Awakening 2 – natural love, reality as beloved, yin Heart nature
No thing Spontaneity, success and failure to live from Awakening 1 & 2 Awakening 3 – reconciling of interior and exterior, void Gut nature, No interiority (remember, our gut is actually on the  outside of our body – we’re a donut, not a sphere)  

END OF INSERT, back to original list of models… 

Therapeutic Models for Meditators

  1. RAIN (Brach) Model
  2. Natural Release (Fenner) Model
  3. 6 Realms (Trungpa) Model
  4. Vipassina “Nana/Jhana”(Folk/Ingram) model
  5. Biocognition “Boundaries of Abundance” (Martinez) Model
  6. Aro “Neurosis” (Ngak’chang Rinpoche) Model
  7. Tibetian “5 Elements” (McCleod) Model
  8. My Stuff… still in draft 

RAIN (Brach) method:

Theory – if the right attention is brought to emotional suffering, it will be released.

Treatment Method – basically desensitization, experiencing the suffering with mindfulness.

Usage – suitable for a conscious practioner with desire to expose and explore emotional landscape. Perfect for a mature person with a spiritual heart like an over-ripe fruit, needing gentle handling.

Letter Meaning
R Recognize (note) what is arising (fear, hurt, etc.)
A Agree to “be with it,” to “let it be.”
I Investigate in a non-analytic way, get to know how the body, heart and mind experiences these energies. You might inquire by asking yourself one or more of the following questions: “What is happening?” “Where am I feeling this in my body?” “What sensation, feeling or emotion wants attention?” “What wants acceptance?” The “I” is also Intimacy: experiencing difficult sensations and emotions with a direct, gentle, kind attention; and offering compassion to the place of vulnerability.
N Non-Identification (disembedding) not having your full sense of Being defined by it. In other words, not taking it personally!


Natural Release (Fenner) method:

Theory: Basically psychological but highest/best state is presence. People move through predictable progression from a problem mentality to developing greater presence.

Treatment Method: Basically needs therapist to undercut perceived problems until arrive at presence. Can also work for self-treatment but Dilemma can be confusing without a guide/model.

Usage: Lower phase emotions are realm of basic psychotherapy. Coexistance is healthy psychological human and is gateway to more spiritual dimension of Dilemma and Presence. Not sure if this model is limited because it doesn’t seem aware of “enlightenment” but Presence could be the point of enlightenment.   

Phase Emotions Emotions Generic Problems/Comments
Disconnection Isolation, Rejection, Fear, Distraction, Separation What is the point? I give up. This is ridiculous. This is dangerous. This has nothing to do with me. They have no business in how I feel.
Conflict Anger, Vindictiveness, Blame I’m furious. It is their fault. I can’t bear feeling like this. They make it difficult for me.
Codependence Dependence, Neediness, Boredom I have to please them. Without her I can’t do this. I have to ask him if it is okay. What will they think if I do this.
Coexistence Vigilance, Application, Ambition, Learning I’m getting better at this. I can see what I need to change. I’m making progress. I’m getting closer. When you do this, you get closer. What else can I do?
Dilemma Confusion, Laughter, Perplexity, Anxiety I don’t know if I’m making progress or not. There is nothing to do. Should I continue or stop. Is there something to do? This is crazy.
Presence Aware, Alert, Relaxed, Calm, Clear, Spacious, Present  


6 Realms (Trungpa) Model:

Theory: There are major modes of being that capture how we think of ourselves in terms of our effect/integration with the environment. The realms are a tautology – the subjective sense of inner being is co-created with the objective sense of the outside world; the evidence of the reality of the inner world is supplied by the outer world and vise versa. Because there is not a causal thing that links one realm to another, living with this paradigm can feel like being completely re-born is different realms.

Treatment Method: This works as a way to get someone sensitive to the gestalt context in which they live. It can be used to help sensitize people living in the lower realms to how they create the conditions for their suffering. It can be used as a cautionary and humbling device for people living in the upper realms. Wisdom is lived out in the human realm, the other realms are not conducive to maturation.

 Usage: For increasing sensitivity to base psychological conditions, but this model works on ever more subtle levels. Might be good reminder of the wisdom in human realm for advance practitioners who want to define themselves by higher attainments.


Conditions and attitudes which characterize and hold  in this realm

Attitudes which cause Descent

Attitudes which cause Ascent


Abundant pleasures that are gently enjoyed

Holding too tightly to pleasures, fear of loss of pleasures

Not possible to go higher, but acceptance and honest enjoyment tends to keeps one here

Jealous Gods

Abundant pleasures that are easily taken from others

Devoting more energy to taking or competition rather than enjoying pleasures

Letting go of taking and simply enjoying the pleasures available


World of nuance, where decisions must weigh the trade off between competing pleasures, between effort expended and resulting gain, wisdom in avoiding suffering

Repeating old patterns which have worked in the past

Obtaining and becoming fascinated with using power of discernment


World of patterned behavior, going through life on autopilot and obtaining basic satisfaction

Worry/anxiety that old patterns will not work into the future

Investigation of experience and being more conscious in decision-making

Hungry Ghosts

Desperately seeking pleasures in a world of scarce (but enough) pleasures

Fixating on never having abundance, intense striving for next pleasure

Enjoying pleasures that one has

Hell Beings

World nearly empty of pleasures, many opportunities for suffering, pain feels   unavoidable

Impossible to go lower, but lashing out and anguishing over suffering tends to keeps one here

Unnecessary pain is avoided by  acceptance, not fighting pain that is already here


Vipassina “Nana/Jhana” (Folk/Ingram) model






Ñana, a.k.a. Knowledge of

Basic Insight(s)

Basic Flaw(s)



(The Waterfall)

It is time to meditate, my mind is a mess Poor concentration, poor investigation, usually swamped by the content/stuff



Mind and Body

Thoughts, intentions and mental echo (consciousness) become objective Don’t see Causality, easily solidified to first jhana



Cause and Effect

Intentions precede thoughts and actions, consciousness echoes sensations Don’t see Three Characteristics



The Three Characteristics

Begin to see Three Characteristics: impermanence, suffering,  no-self Fight them, don’t see them very clearly, mostly at physical level



See the Three Characteristics more directly, set up for deep insight into them Mind not fast or precise enough yet  



The Arising and Passing Away

Shift into direct observation, mind speeds up, deep insights begin Like a kid moving from a bicycle to a car



Ten Corruptions of Insight arise Ten Corruptions of Insight not seen as they are, like a 16-year-old driving a Ferrari



Ten Corruptions of Insight seen through, Peak Experience on spiritual path Still holding back, precision not as all-encompassing as they think, arrogance, unbalanced evangelism  



The Three Characteristics are hints of the Ultimate, Realization can be attained They don’t know as much or see as clearly as they think they do




(Beginning of Dark Night/Dukkha Ñanas) With highs come lows, with extreme highs come crashes Attachment to A&P, long for past abilities, clarity and balance fade  



Hints of the implications of transience at a more mental level. In 3rd vipassana jhana, center of attention vague, periphery open and more clear. Effort must be more gentle and accepting, vagueness must be understood, insights now coming around to shake observer




Acceptance difficult, Fear can be frightening and fun. Insights coming around at observer, violating Fascination with fear, lost in the content




Acceptance is difficult, Misery can be miserable and fun Fascination with misery, lost in the content  




Acceptance is difficult, Disgust can be disgusting and fun Fascination with disgust, lost in the content  



Desire for Deliverance

Realization must be beyond reality, A Lack of Enlightenment is Unacceptable Effort still made to create this, lost in the content




The GREAT KICK in the ASS, You won’t find the answer in any phenomena or reaction to them. Sense of observer shaking. Basic acceptance of implications of previous insights low, large potential for messy bleedthrough into life  



You can’t do it, and so you completely give up and accept defeat Exhaustion  




Realization can be attained, formations become obvious, begin to include full field of experience, name and form as integrated experience Mind still speeding up, synchronizing, and recovering



Realization is imminent, the true nature of formations becomes obvious Anticipation, over-confidence  



Mastery of seeing the true nature of formations Still holding back, center still seems to be that which masters



Attachment to mastery vanishes, effort to attain or do vanishes, it all happens by itself Very few  




Effortless conformity of perception with the Three Characteristics of Full Formations. None  



Change of Lineage

This is realization/changes made in relationship to phenomena None  




The first/next Path is Attained None



Fruition (Nirvana)

This is the non-experience of Nirvana beyond space, time and the universe N/A




The Path has been attained, hints of limitations shown soon enough Mind too powerful to really be stable or balanced, aftershocks of realization  



The stages of the path can be mastered and integrated Still working on mastery and integration  



The stages of the Path are Mastered Integration is lifelong, Dualities May Remain if this not the Last Path  


Biocognition “Boundaries of Abundance” (Martinez) Model:

Theory: Our sense of self is vulnerable early in life to overwhelming negative experiences, these experiences cause biological-psychological-cultural wounds that can be re-triggered. Positive states are also linked to wounds because this is the original context in which the triggering insult occurred. They are inflicted by those with authority over you and dependent on survival.  Occur within the context of intimacy, love.

 As a result, wounds cause limits to dimensions of happiness because they are re-awakened by both similar insults as well as similar contexts of happiness. You can only experience joy to the extent that you feel worthy of the experience, wounds associated with happiness is the limiter of joy. 

Treatment Method: Essentially desensitization. Find a safe place, a safe posture (solid seat, warm, back protected), imagine happiness, look for the “kill joy” negative feeling, that is the wound, experience the sensations of wounds without judgment. A more active method is to apply an antidote by creating a healing field, as described below.

Usage: Basic psychotherapy usage, but good model for why spiritual openings can have negative rebounds.


Stress Neurotransmitter


Healing Field, Re-Empowerment

Shame, creating Hopelessness

pro-inflammatory products (not cortisol) – auto immune disease

hot, humiliating, shrinking, embarrassment, want to disappear

Honor: what is the honorable thing to do now? Do this without carrying forward the sensation of shame.

Abandonment, creating Fear

Adrenaline, flight response – cancer disease

cold, isolation, aloneness, fear

Commitment: commitment to oneself. if person x abandons, I will commit to doing y for myself.

Betrayal, creating Frustration/Anger

Adrenaline and Cortisol, fight response – heart disease

hot, anger, being tricked

Loyalty to self, valuing oneself: set boundaries, do something beyond the moment of betrayal.


Aro Neurosis (Ngak’chang Rinpoche) Model:

Theory: Our pain and confusion from the addiction to splitting experiences into form (knowing) and emptiness (not knowing) and then feeling aversion to empty experiences and grasping at form experiences, relaxing the aversion creates acceptance of emptiness (not knowing) and resulting happiness and freedom.

Treatment Method: Not sure, seems like desensitization again by consciously being with the experience of aversion until it yields the unified field of experience described in table below.

Usage: Good method for integrating peak wisdom experiences into daily life.

Element Symptom When we try to consolidate empty form quality of these elements…we experience of aversion to passionate empty quality Experience of aversion (passionate empty quality) So we relax the experience into the unified experience of…
Earth Territorialism Hollowness and Insecurity Generosity and Equanimity
Water Aggression Fear Clarity
Fire Obsession Isolation Indiscriminate Compassion
Air Suspicion and Paranoia Groundless Anxiety Self-accomplishing Activity
Space Depression Bewilderment Ubiquitous intelligence


5 Element (McLeod) Model:

Theory: Our reactive patterns are caused by avoiding sensations…

Treatment Method: Using visualizations to cultivate sensations and being able to fully experience the sensations and not fall into pattered reaction.

Usage: Good method for diffusing reactivity at the sensation-trigger level (as opposed to narrative story level


Initial Reaction

Feeling = Fear

Open Space

Pristine Awareness



hollowness or uncertainty = Instability Earthquake Balanced, knowing without judgement


external threat = Engulfment Tidalwave Mirrorlike, knowing clearly


aloneness  = Isolation Featureless Desert Distinguishing, knowing the particulars


groundless  = Destruction Falling Effective, knowing what to do


overwhelmed = Being nothing Blankness Totalness, knowing totality




5 Elements




Your position is weak. You are on shaky ground.

You position is solid. You are on solid ground.


There is danger everywhere. You are going to be overwhelmed.

You are safe, no one is going to hurt you. I’m going to make sure of that.


You are alone in this situation as far as I’m concerned.

You are not alone. This is a difficult situation, but you and I are going to get through it together.


You have no idea what to do.

You know what needs to be done, and I know you can do it.


You don’t even know where you are.

Where are we now? Here in this room, this is where we are.


Interpersonal 6 Realms (McLeod)



Principal Emotion





I’m right, that’s just how it is.

You are right.

Jealous Gods


I’m better than you.

You are better than me.



I want you.

You have me.



I’m just trying to survive.

You are living, not just surviving.

Hungry Ghosts


I’m taking everything.

You can have whatever you want.

Hell Beings


You are against me.

I’m on your side.




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6 Responses to Therapeutic Models for Meditators

  1. ona says:

    That’s lovely stuff! Thanks for sharing. Are you familiar with Listening From the Heart of Silence: Nondual Wisdom & Psychotherapy by Prendergast et al?

  2. ona says:

    Also possibly of interest to you, a blend of CBT and Orthodox Christianity:

  3. shargrol says:

    Thanks for those references Ona, I’m going to check them out!

  4. andy says:

    Wow! Just discovered this. And I was planning on going to bed early tonight…

  5. every3rdthought says:

    Hi Shargrol, thanks for this (I didn’t know you were developing your own model) – I’m interested in what you mean when you use the term ‘therapeutic.’ Could there be a meditative model or path that was not therapeutic? How does the ‘therapeuticness’ of these models align/interact/differ to psychotherapy ‘therapeutic-ness’? Does this have any relationship to ‘multiple axes of development’ type theories/ideas? And if so, can or should we take into consideration the actual life of the model developer (Trungpa would be the most obvious example here) when asking whether something is therapeutic or what its therapeutic-ness is? (in a way that might be different or similar to how we would do so if we were to frame something as a ‘method for awakening’ rather than a ‘therapy’)?

    • shargrol says:

      Sorry for the delayed response, I just noticed your (very good!) questions! I’m going to copy and paste the questions into the message board, to hopefully draw others in on the conversation.

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