First-personhood and Identity: the Implications of the Teachings of Douglas E. Harding on the Practice of Therapy
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Western psychotherapy models have historically been based on dualistic models of the therapeutic encounter, but in recent years there has been a growing interest in more non-dualistic approaches to therapy, based predominantly on Eastern spiritual traditions. Consequently, there have been a growing number of models that incorporate traditional practices like mindfulness and self-compassion into their therapeutic approaches. Despite these developments the therapeutic encounter is still conceptualized based on dualistic notions of identity. Pioneers like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers hoped to rectify this problem by identifying ways in which the therapist can ―be in the room‖ with clients. Other theorists, working from a more strictly non-dualistic paradigm, have stressed the importance of therapists addressing the question of identity for themselves as the primary task, and then working from this realization. However, the lack of a clear basis for accomplishing this is confounding for most. This manuscript thesis will look at the teachings of the English philosopher and mystic Douglas E. Harding and how they might relate to therapy practice, and specifically to the therapeutic relationship, therapist qualities, and to an understanding of mind. Harding proposed that the question of identity was indeed the primary issue and that, contrary to many expressions of non-dual teachings, the discovery of one‘s true non-dual identity is accessible and available with a mere shift in attention. He called this non-dual experience first-personhood or, more popularly, headlessness.