Nondual Therapy and Nondual Coaching – Some Distinctions
Question: What is the difference between nondual therapy and nondual coaching?
Peter Fenner: Nondual therapy has emerged from within the field of psychotherapy. Nondual therapists are credentialed psychologists or psychotherapists who have easy access to nondual awareness, who recognize this as the ultimate state of being and are skillful in supporting their clients in resting as awareness when this can arise naturally and appropriately. They have received training within one or several therapeutic modalities such as transpersonal, humanistic, existential, eclectic, cognitive-behavioral or depth psychology. Nonetheless, nondual awareness sits in the foreground as an ever-present possibility in each clinical encounter.
The therapeutic context means that clients tend to approach a therapist feeling that some event or events in their life history negatively impact the quality of their present and future life. With this assumption, entry into the nondual is often preceded by the release of somatically embedded emotions and detachment from personal narratives prior to engaging with questions such as; “Who thinks that?” or, “Where are those feelings being received?”
In nondual therapy, nondual awareness itself is also used as an agent for clearing past traumas and for seeing that less work—or even no work—needs to be done in terms of processing the past in order to be totally complete and fully integrated with the present moment. Awareness is used as the ultimate healer. For the most part, nondual therapy augments other forms of therapy. Ultimately there’s no such thing as “nondual” therapy since there is “no one” in need of anything.
These days, many informed spiritual people specifically decide to work with therapists who have access to the nondual and can integrate this into their therapy. People recognize a need to work with their obsessions, fears, traumatic memories, shadow side, but want to do this in a way that doesn’t fortify the energy of their limitations, or conflict in any way with ever-present awareness.
Nondual coaching differs from nondual therapy in at least two ways. Firstly, nondual coaching can be a “stand alone” offer. People approach nondual coaches with the specific intention of discovering nondual awareness and learning how to become more and more familiar with this state. In contrast, people tend to engage nondual therapists with the dual objective of improving their emotional wellbeing and exploring pure awareness. The tacit or explicit agreement when people work with a nondual coach is that the coach will “speak from, and relate from, the space of awareness itself.”
This means that skilled coaches can operate more consistently at a “results level” in which there is little deviation into the stories and interpretation we have about our life and conditioned experience. The function of the coach is to continually reveal centerless awareness in ways that allow their clients to become more and more familiar with this space. When clients identify with their personal experience or begin to construct that they are resting or not resting in awareness, the coach observes this deviation into the dualistic mind.
I know many therapists who work with the nondual, who weave the nondual into their therapy in a very skillful way, but this is different from unfolding a session at the 100% results or acausal level. In fact, very few coaches unfold their sessions at a purely acausal level because no matter what people say, this isn’t what they want. In the same way that we say we don’t want to suffer, but nonetheless continue year after year with energizing the very experience that we complain about. It’s demanding on a client to function purely at the results level. When therapists and coaches sense that “coming purely from the nondual” is too much for their clients they shift into a causal paradigm and begin to look into their client’s personal stories. Sometimes this shift is a skillful means, but it can also come from a fear of losing clients.
Another significant difference between nondual therapy and nondual coaching is that therapists (and this includes nondual therapists) have a professional obligation to help people who come to them in need of support, even if this means referring people to other mental health professionals. From a nondual perspective “picking and choosing” clients can’t happen. The process of engaging with a nondual teacher arises through a self-selecting mechanism that goes beyond personal preferences or professional obligations.
Question: From what you are saying, from the nondual perspective, it is better to work with a nondual coach?
Peter: I haven’t said that. In the course of any session with a therapist or coach, most people can only rest in awareness for a few minutes at a time. The advantage of working with a licensed psychotherapist is that they have received many years of training and supervision in the art of caring for people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. Nondual therapists pace their introduction to centerless awareness to the intrinsic capacities of their clients. They also aren’t newcomers to the block. Many have spent 20, 30 or 40 years exploring nondual awareness. And there is an essential guarantee that psychotherapists treat their clients respectfully and practice in a way that clients needn’t be concerned about any relational intrusions or ethical transgressions. This is important to most people.
Coaching as a professional intervention is much younger than psychotherapy. While there are professional associations that aim to uphold the standards of their members, no professional training or license is needed to set up shop as a coach. In general, coaching focuses on the future, on creating and leveraging opportunities and on achieving specified outcomes.
It is misleading to think of nondual coaching as a specific form, for instance, of life coaching. Nondual awareness can be integrated into life coaching, career coaching, sports coaching, health or even financial counseling. Within this framework the coach takes on the future orientation of their clients, but also shows how none of our planning for a better future is needed if we rest in nondual awareness in the present moment. They may also show that the best thing to do to “secure the best future” is to presence awareness whenever this is possible. Nonetheless, a life coach who is using the nondual will continue to return to their clients’ agendas.
Nowadays, the term “nondual coaching” refers to the specific action of introducing people to the nature of mind. At its essence, nondual coaching is the same as “mind-to-mind” transmission in Zen or pointing out instructions in Mahamudra or Dzogchen. People work with a nondual coach with the very specific intention of discovering, resting and acting from centerless awareness. Of course, we know that this intention presupposes that presencing awareness isn’t happening in this moment. And this is precisely the type of assumption that a coach points out.
In the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training we don’t explicitly differentiate between nondual therapy and nondual coaching. We offer a process that’s equally applicable to both; that can be used by both coaches and therapists. If, for example, someone feels that a particular life event—a trauma or their upbringing—is an obstacle to presencing awareness, then the initial tack may seem to be therapeutic. On the other hand, if someone is seeking to improve their living circumstances—their financial wellbeing, finding a career that’s more consistent with their values, etc.—the initial conversation may look like life coaching. But very quickly the conversation will transform into an inquiry into what’s missing in the here and now.
Nondual coaching and nondual therapy share a focus on “working in the here and now,” and both approaches use nondual dialogue, or unfindability inquiry to dissolve our constructions that anything is wrong or missing in the present moment. Whether the approach is more like therapy or coaching is determined, in part, by where people are coming from in terms of being located in a past or future concern, and whether the perceived obstacles to fulfillment are emotional or situational.
The outcomes of both nondual therapy and nondual coaching are the same. The endpoint can’t be different because the result—the embodied presencing of nondual awareness—goes beyond dualistic ideas of sameness and difference.
Question: So what would you recommend for a beginner?
Peter: For a real beginner I’d recommend gaining more familiarity with nondual awareness itself. At some point a particular direction will come to you, or it may not.
Question: I’m at the point where I’m familiar with this state. I rest here often, and I’m beginning to support others in terms of discovering how to be “here.” What would you recommend to me in terms of perhaps training as a psychologist, or beginning to tell people that I’m a nondual coach?
Peter: You don’t need to think about that right now. That question just gives you something to think about. The question of a direction will become obvious. This isn’t about becoming a therapist, a coach, or anything else. This is about being here, complete in this moment, and sharing this space through whatever structures and labels present themselves in the moment.
If you are to become a nondual coach, you don’t need to tell anyone about who you are. It will become obvious to other people that you can contribute to them in this way. People will start to talk about you as a nondual coach. If there is anything you “need” to do from your side, you won’t be doing nondual coaching or nondual therapy.
Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2011
Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom. Pioneer in the development of nondual therapy, he created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training. Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.
Peter was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism. Over a period of 40 years Peter Fenner has distilled the essence of traditions like Zen, Dzogchen and the Buddhist Middle Way, and adapted them to suit creatively our post-modern culture. He is the Director of Education of Timeless Wisdom.
The Radiant Mind Course (www.radiantmind.net) is taught in North America, Australia, and Europe, as well as the Natural Awakening Training, (www.nondualtraining.com.) Peter also offers retreats on 5 continents. He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa.
Peter Fenner has written extensively on Buddhist nondual traditions. His books and CDs include:
- “Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditional Awareness” (Sounds True, 2007) translated in French: “L’Esprit Lumineux” (Almora, 2010) and in German: “Reines Gewahrsein”;
- “The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy” (ed. with John Prendergast and Sheila Krystal, 2003).
- “The Edge of Certainty: Dilemmas on the Buddhist Path” (2002) translated in French: “Le Fil de la Certitude, Dilemmes de la voie bouddhiste” (du Relié, 2001).
Stay in touch with Peter Fenner
- Subscribe to Timeless Wisdom newsletter (in English mainly)
- Join Peter Fenner’s network on LinkedIn
- Receive the latest news by “liking” Peter Fenner’s page on Facebook
- Follow Peter Fenner on Twitter
- Visit Timeless Wisdom’s website