morita therapy, the psychology of action

once in a while i tell people that the name of my company is moritherapy and they say, “oh yes, i know moritherapy!” what they usually mean is morita therapy.

it’s about time i explore what that is. the information here comes from the ToDo institute.

morita therapy is sometimes referred to as the psychology of action.

morita psychotherapy was developed by japanese psychiatrist shoma morita in the early part of the twentieth century. he was influenced by the psychological principles of zen buddhism. his method was initially developed as a treatment for a type of anxiety called shinkeishitsu but in the latter part of this century the applications of morita therapy have broadened.

if we find out we have won the lottery, we may be excited. if we hear about the death of a friend, we may feel sadness. such feelings are natural responses and we need not try to change or “work through” them. this is acceptance of reality as it is (arugamama).

thus, if we feel depressed, we accept our feelings of depression; if we feel anxious, we accept our feelings of anxiety. we can then direct our efforts toward living our life well, coexisting with unpleasant feelings from time to time. it is not necessary to change our feelings in order to take action.

“trying to control the emotional self willfully by manipulative attempts is like trying to choose a number on a thrown die or to push back the water of the kamo river upstream. certainly, they end up aggravating their agony and feeling unbearable pain because of their failure in manipulating the emotions.”
shoma morita, m.d.

often, taking action leads to a change in feelings. for example, it is common to develop confidence after one has repeatedly done something with some success.

in western psychotherapy there are a great many labels which purport to diagnose and describe a person’s psychological functioning – depressed, obsessive, compulsive, codependent. many of us begin to label ourselves this way, rather than investigate our own experience. if we observe our experience, we find that we have a flow of awareness which changes from moment to moment. when we become overly preoccupied with ourselves, our attention no longer flows freely, but becomes trapped by an unhealthy self-focus. the more we pay attention to our symptoms (our anxiety, for example) the more we fall into this trap.

when we are absorbed by what we are doing, we are not anxious because our attention is engaged by activity. but when we try to “understand” or “fix” or “work through” feelings and issues, our self-focus is heightened and exercised. this often leads to more suffering rather than relief. how can we be released from such self-focused attention?

“the answer lies in practicing and mastering an attitude of being in touch with the outside world. this is called a reality-oriented attitude, which means, in short, liberation from self-centeredness.”
takahisa kora, m.d.

the successful student of morita therapy learns to accept the fluctuations of thoughts and feelings and ground her or his behavior in reality and the purpose of the moment. cure is not defined by the alleviation of discomfort or the attainment of an ideal feeling state but by taking constructive action, which helps with living a full and meaningful existence and not being ruled by emotions.

what do you think?  would this sort of therapy work for you?

11 thoughts on “morita therapy, the psychology of action

  1. Cindy

    I think you need to pay attention to your emotions a little to feel yourself but I like this. You shouldn’t get wrapped up in your emotions because they fluctuate all the time. If you are depressed you should recognize it but then carry on your life. You shouldn’t mull over the fact you are depressed because nothing will change.

  2. Evan

    I like this emphasis on acceptance, and not buying into all the labels.

    As to the confidence about getting in touch with reality, hmm. A big discussion I know, but the interior is just as real as the exterior.

    How do practising and mastering fit with acceptance? This is a dilemma for many of us (including me) – I think there are answers but often the paradox is left unaddressed.

    What is this moment with purpose and reality from which the person (or at least their feelings) are excluded?

    Sounds like a great form of therapy – especially for anxiety and depression perhaps.

    Evan’s last blog post..Living Authentically Brings You Lasting Satisfaction

  3. isabella mori

    @evan, i agree with you – reality (whatever THAT animal is) applies as much to the interior as to the exterior.

    i’ll be interested to learn more about this. i wonder, for example, how and whether this outside-orientedness is different from busyness.

    on the other hand, i am reminded of the 12-step programs, where part of the “cure” is to turn away from navelgazing and towards “a person who is still suffering”.

  4. julie

    How does this form of therapy fit in with meditation (say, focusing on the breath as in Buddhism for example)

  5. isabella mori

    hi julie – good question! i haven’t found much on the official site (the todo institute) but there are references to meditation or meditation like processes to it everywhere on the internet. (that’s where my information comes from right now; i’ve also ordered a book from the library to find out more about it).

    here is something from wikipedia about morita therapy. apparently there are four phases to it. i had heard about the “rest phase” before.

    “phase one is the “rest phase”. it is a period of learning to separate ourselves from the minute-by-minute barrage of the constant assault on our senses and thought processes by a loud and intrusive world. we learn to turn off the television, close the door temporarily to demanding work, well-meaning friends, and yes, even family. we use the solitude to meditate with simple, non-religious based meditation. though this simple meditation we learn to re-familiarize ourselves with the warm and healing peace that has been beaten out of us by work stress, the media, psychological and physical pain. yes, you can have profound meditation even if experiencing profound pain.”

  6. Keen

    @isabella mori:

    I’m afraid your reply to Julie is incorrect.

    The rest phase in Mortia Therapy is NOT about meditating or feeling inner peace and quiet and getting away from the world. Infact its to teach the exact opposite. That running away from the world is not the solution. We are social beings and we survive and thrive on meaningful activity.

    The purpose of the rest phase is to realize that we are physical bodies and as long as our physical bodies are active and our attention is occupied by some kind of activity, we’ll be happy. Otherwise our bodies will decay and with it our spirit to live.

    During the first few days of the rest phase the patient experiences inner peace, quiet and bliss. But by the third day he is dying to get out of his little, empty and quiet room and willing to do anything to move around and do some kind of physical activity and interact with the outside world.

    So the instructor might provide the patient with a broomstick to sweep the floor of his room.

    And it is at this moment the patient realizes the peace and quiet wasn’t at all it was cracked up to be. He realizes that this same peace and quiet would turn into a dreadful burden after only 2 days of living in it. So for the first time the patient takes pleasure in physical activity. Any kind of activity. When he brooms the room, he experiences true pleasure and life with all its glory.

    This is why Mortia Therpay is called the Action Therapy because it makes people fall in love with the activities they’re involved in everyday. Because now they’ve seen the other side of the life and its not as fun and lovely as it sounds to be.

    Mortia therapy has changed my life a thousand times better than any other therapy could have. I recommend it to anyone. To Do Institute is a great place to start and I can guarantee that after Mortia Therapy you will fall in love with life all over again. You wont just get your motivation back but will also get rid of all sorts of psychological problems such as low self esteem and procrastination. So do yourself a favor and give Mortia Therap a try!

  7. Izu

    Thank you for your interesting thoughts and reflections. The book I think is best to explain the true nature and practice of Morita’s therapy is the writings of Dr Shoma Morita himself and is edited by Dr Akahisa Kondo ,and Dr Peg LeVine of Monash University’s Asia Institute:

    “Morita Therapy and the True Nature of Anxiety-Based Disorders (Shinkeishitsu)”

    7th International Conference of Morita Therapy was held in Australia in 2010:
    http://www.conferenceworks.net.au/morita-therapy/

    There is a new book just being published on Japanese Psychotherapy by a JCP Psychotherapist who was trained and qualified in Japan under Japanese Senseis and who has been practicing psychotherapy in Japan for 25 years. You may be interested to read it and it is available this week from CreateSpace publisher on Amazon at this e-store:

    https://www.createspace.com/3483950
    And you can see a full description of this book at:

    http://tokyocounseling.com/english/media/japanesepsychotherapy.html

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