Psychology in the Light of the East - Interview with psychotherapist Margot Borden

Today our guest is Margot Borden, a psychotherapist and author working from a spiritual perspective. She is originally American but has spent 21 years in France, 9 years in the UK and 4 1/2 years in India where she currently resides. Her approach does not stop at the western, pragmatic, externally focused understanding of psychology focused on the outer, observable self. Her approach is soul-centered. She works online and in person helping people from all over the world toward their psychospiritual healing and development. We have conducted an interview with her.

What inspired you along your way to write your book "Psychology in the Light of the East"?

My work with my psychotherapy clients, reading and my own inner work, have made me aware of the strengths and possibilities but also the limitations of Western approaches to psychology. The limitations in scope and understanding of the whole experience of being human translate into effective but limited therapeutic approaches. The Western approach is functional. While some schools are mechanistic, claiming that we are nothing more than the product of our conditioning, other schools stretch further to address more existential aspects of our being. Some of the newer schools even go so far as to take into consideration the psychology of faith and religiosity but they do not consider the mystical faculties that exist at the higher end of our developmental spectrum. Our spiritual dimensions carry inherent meaning and healing potential. Driven by a quest for truth, healing and transformation, I explored Eastern mysticism, yoga philosophy, and began a daily meditation practice. Although spiritual matters are much written about, spirituality is not a concept. It is only through direct perception and transformational experiences that we grasp and integrate spiritual concepts. My inner work led me to develop a worldview that includes body, emotions, mind and the indwelling soul at the center of our being. In turn, this gives meaning and perspective to my experiences and perceptions as I navigate through my personal life and work with my psychotherapy clients.

Over time, my perceptions and grasp of our spiritual potential translated into hands-on techniques such as working with the breath, mindfulness and past-life regression. These techniques take into consideration aspects of our being that are not addressed, or are even sometimes denied, by the mainstream schools of western psychology. Addressing our subtle or spiritual aspects in psychotherapy holds powerful, healing and transformative potential. The techniques I use complement the Western pragmatic approach and enhance the therapeutic potential of my work.

I felt inspired to write about all of this. My aspiration is for Psychology in the Light of the East to offer a holistic, psycho-spiritual worldview and practical applications for helping professionals and students of psychology but also to empower individuals to make informed decisions when pursuing therapy and psycho-spiritual development.

Why did you name it "Psychology in the Light of the East"?

Psychology does not have a country of origin but the predominant contemporary schools of thought, worldwide, are from the West. The theories and approaches of the mainstream Western schools stem from analysis, observation, pragmatism and tools for managing our issues, adapting and aiming toward various types of fulfillment and success. Psychology, as I define it, is not a discrete science, nor is it an end in itself. What of our non-ordinary experiences? Our spiritual nature and longings?

Sanatan Dharma, commonly known as Hinduism, is the cradle of Eastern religions and philosophies. Its spiritual insights provide a road map of the human psyche and show us the potential and the way toward realisation of our spiritual potential. Sanatan Dharma stems from direct mystical insights of the ancient sages. It has been interpreted and taught by some of the great sages of India. “[Spirituality] is nothing other than practical psychology.” said Sri Aurobindo. So, in our quest for a truly holistic theory and corresponding practical approach to psychology, we draw the scientific pragmatic view from the West and the mystical, holistic vision from the East.

Who do you want to reach?

Helping professionals and psychology students will gain perspective on the history of psychology over the years in terms of ‘psychology as a path to soul’. The theory, personal development, and techniques can help them find their own holistic approach to therapy. My book is meant to inform and empower anyone interested in personal growth, psycho-spiritual development and East-West psychologies.

The reader will come away with a broad understanding of a spiritually-based approach to psychology and the techniques that will help them undertake their journey of healing and evolution. Essentially, the book is the trajectory of my search for truth. This search brought me through many schools of western psychology and eastern and western philosophy and mysticism and finally through my work with clients, conveyed in vignettes throughout the book.

Which are your approaches?

Philosophically, my approach is a blend of western schools such as Humanistic (explores human potential rather than psychopathology), Transpersonal (non-ordinary states of consciousness) and, Integral Psychologies (combines an Eastern mystical branch based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and a Western branch developed by Ken Wilber) along with Eastern mysticism (which adds a broader, soul-centred perspective). Cohesiveness, breadth and depth are brought to my work through insights gained from meditation and study of Hindu scriptures.

Practically speaking, I began working with breath as a means to liberate blocked emotions, develop self-awareness and help individuals tune into the voice of their soul. Mindfulness provides deep, non-judgmental self-awareness that helps heal our deep wounds and leads to balance, self-understanding and acceptance. Past life regression is yet another powerful tool I use for rooting out the deep unconscious patterns and helping us to work toward self-mastery. While breath, past-life regression and mindfulness help root out the deep underlying causes of our issues, western cognitive and behavioural interventions help translate the changes into concrete action. I bring in other techniques as needed to help my clients heal their issues and become empowered with self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-love. These techniques are: person-centred dialogue (self-discovery and self-acceptance), inner dialogue (healing deep-seated ideas and emotions), Family Constellation (healing family blockages and wounds), Gestalt (liberating blocked emotions, empowerment), Psychosynthesis (guided imagery for inner discovery), visualization (building power of concentration, imagination, deep healing, broadening our perspectives), dreamwork, journaling (pro-active commitment, self-discovery, healing and autonomy), EMDR/Brainspotting (trauma), flower essences (emotional healing), Jin Shin Jyutsu (harmonizing energy), psychogenealogy (clearing ancestral karma), prayer and mantra (soothing the mind, building power of concentration, liberating blocked negative energies), and meditation (building perspectives, deep healing, stability, spiritual development).

When did you realize that stopping at Western, pragmatic, externally focused understanding of psychology focused on the outer, observable self is not enough?

Actually, I knew that from the start. I began my interest in, let’s say, what goes on beneath the surface of human consciousness—not only in terms of suffering but also of potential—as a child. I had a natural ability toward empathy or feeling what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes. When I was younger, my empathy was quite difficult to manage but personal development work and especially meditation turned this ability from a burden into a gift. As mentioned before, I started with breathwork, a holistic technique. It works at the level of the body, emotions, mind and soul. After several years of practicing therapeutic breathwork, I felt limited in the scope of my work and enrolled for my Masters so I could become an accredited psychotherapist. I was lucky to find a Humanistic Psychology course, which focused on human potential rather than on pathology. At the same time, in those days, Humanistic Psychology wasn’t necessarily open to spiritual experiences and worldview. So I found myself with a treasure trove of personal and clinical experiences not addressed by Humanistic Psychology. These days, things have changed. Many of my Humanistic colleagues are deeply spiritual or at least open to the spiritual dimensions of our being. My studies and practice led me to the importance of addressing the full range of human experience.

How is that different from taking the soul-centered approach?

The ego is a quirky thing. It is essentially our outer self, composed of our body, emotions and mind. It’s the part of us governed by desire and the impulse toward control and power. The disparate parts of the ego are never fully satisfied and may be in conflict with one another. For example, the mind wants to read a book and the body wants to take a nap. The soul, on the other hand, is the core of our being. It is more or less concealed by the ego. It is more subtle and its voice is only heard when we make room and learn how to listen to it. The soul’s desire is oneness, harmony, peace, truth, love and light. When that true desire is expressed or even stuck in the outer self or ego, it comes out in the myriad desires that can never be satisfied and that lead toward exploitation of ourselves, others and the planet. The voice of the soul, on the other hand is uplifting, liberating and congruent. Through practices that heal our emotional wounds and remind us of the deepest, inner truths such as love and compassion, our natural drive toward evolving toward soul consciousness can come to the forefront.
In psychology, when we place the ego at the centre of our psychological worldview, we run the risk of identifying with a part of ourselves that is self-serving, tends toward rigidity and will fight to defend its view. Needless to say, this does not lead to healing, evolving toward our higher potential or taking care of people and planet.

Addressing the spiritual dimensions in our therapeutic approaches helps us make meaning from our ordinary and spiritual experiences alike. We develop a healthy relationship to our whole self, including our spiritual aspects. Traditional western psychology denies our spiritual nature and potential. This may lead us into the trap of misunderstanding, mistreating, or even pathologising our spiritual experiences. These rich treasures, if worked with consciously, can become gateways toward our spiritual evolution. But if we do not understand or work with them consciously, they may become lost opportunities or can even be labeled as illness, a real tragedy.

Soul-centred psychology takes into consideration our ultimate spiritual potential. It enlarges the scope and the ways we can work toward healing our psychological and emotional wounds. It gives meaning to our every experience and perception and an invitation toward infinite learning and evolution.
Soul-centred psychology brings us to our deepest truth. We start to understand the play of consciousness and are empowered to consciously choose to align our thoughts, words, and actions to the soul, rather than to the quirky and fickle ego. This results in greater kindness, compassion and congruence toward ourselves, others and the planet.

In which ways do you help your clients discover and become established in their authentic self?

Every human has unlimited potential for healing and evolving in consciousness. The first step in becoming an integral (holistic) therapist is to walk the path for oneself. We must delve into the deepest and sometimes darkest places in our heart, and psyche. When done with compassion, humour and as much wisdom as one can fathom, this leads to finding light at the depth of our being. Therapy makes room for that light to shine forth and light up every aspect of ourselves. Our actions then become a congruent reflection of our inner harmony and wisdom. We don’t have to be perfect to be an integral psychotherapist, but it is essential to be on the path.

When we are ready to work with others, the first step is to create a safe and healing space. I work with each client in a unique way, according to their nature, their issues and what they are seeking from therapy. Through introspection, intuition and dialogue, we navigate our way toward identifying and bringing healing to the blockages stopping the client from being in harmony with him or herself. Many issues spring from the various levels of the subconscious (the memory of all experiences of this lifetime) and yet others come from the subtler superconscious (our memory of all experiences from all lifetimes) and the supraconscious (realisation of the divine). No matter what the client brings to the session, we gently and compassionately address these blockages or disharmonies and gradually walk the client home to their authentic self.

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