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Another path to contentment

Tuesday, October 24, 2000

By Deborah Weisberg

Clients who parent-bash in therapy sessions would achieve better mental health if instead they talked -- with gratitude -- about all the times their parents changed their dirty diapers.

It's an example Gregg Krech of the ToDo Institute in Vermont uses to illustrate the Constructive Living alternative to psychotherapy.

"The goal isn't ultimately to forgive the people we feel have wronged us. It is to ask them to forgive us," said Krech, who was in Pittsburgh recently to educate health professionals and lay persons about Constructive Living, which is rooted in two Japanese therapies called Naikon and Morita. The ToDo Institute promotes alternative paths to mental health.

    For more information

For details on Constructive Living, call Neal Griebling at 412-431-8016.

The ToDo Institute in Vermont, which promotes alternative methods of mental health, can be reached at (800) 950-6034, or visited on the Web at

Helping patients work with their own resources.


Neal Griebling of Mount Washington, a planning consultant to nonprofit organizations, recently became one of about 200 Constructive Living counselors in the world. He has practiced Buddhism for 30 years and was attracted to the Japanese therapies used in Constructive Living because of their ties to Buddhist principles.

"People go into conventional therapy and nothing changes," said Griebling, 57. "And if they stay in therapy a long time, managed care won't pay. Morita and Naikon are short-term, action-oriented therapies, which require hard work. They also provide a way for us to integrate spiritual values, whatever they may be, into our daily lives."

Psychologist David K. Reynolds of Oregon fused these Japanese therapies into Constructive Living 25 years ago.

Morita, named for the Japanese psychiatrist who founded it 100 years ago, asks the client, or student, to define his goals, both long-term and immediate, to accept and live with whatever feelings and thoughts emerge around those goals, and to do what needs to be done in spite of them.

Naikon, developed 60 years ago by Ishin Yoshimoto, a businessman turned Buddhist lay priest, means "self-reflection." It directs the student to ponder what he has received from others, what he has given others, and what difficulties he has caused others.

"Usually, you'll find that the credits far outweigh the debits," Griebling said. "And, even when they don't, we should give until we wave goodbye."

Krech talks about the student whose wife asked him for a divorce. Unable to persuade her to stay in the marriage, the man was directed by Krech to continue to behave lovingly toward her.

"Even on the morning when he moved out of their house, his last act was to wash her breakfast dishes," Krech said. "Years after the divorce, he said that no matter what he felt at the time continuing to act as a good husband brought him a sense of peace.

"In a culture where there's a pill for every ill, we should learn instead to embrace our feelings instead of run away from them, do something, and get on with our lives," Krech advised.

Will mainstream psychology embrace these psychotherapies?

For an old behavior to change, it takes confronting that same situation about 50 times and responding differently in each case, said Dr. Bryan Chambliss, a psychiatrist who directs residency training at St. Francis Hospital in Lawrenceville.

Chambliss likes to explore alternative psychotherapies, but cautions against the simplistic approach. "I like to make room for complexity in therapy. We strive too much for purity of experience. Most things are a mixture. We can be tremendously grateful to our parents and disappointed in them at times, too."

Constructive Living teachers contract with students for a set number of sessions -- usually 12 -- many of which might take place in the student's home, Griebling said.

"For example, if a student comes to me about why he can't manage to keep his house clean, instead of our talking for an hour about why he can't, about what happened in his childhood that might have made this a problem, his purpose will be to clean his house, and, if he finds he still can't do it, I, as the teacher, will come over to his house and help him," Griebling explained.

Krech recalls accompanying a student to a singles function so that the man could ask a woman for a date, something he had been too shy to do. "I was acting as his coach in that situation," Krech said. "I was helping him take action despite his feelings.

"In Naikon, he could reflect on the shyness not as a frustration or fear about being with others, but as a desire to be liked and accepted," Krech said. "Desire and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. Both have an energy you can deal with. The Morita aspect was about taking action."

Herb Stierheim, 74, of Moon, a mentor with Alcoholics Anonymous, attended Krech's seminar because he found that Constructive Living "dovetails perfectly" with the 12-step program that has helped him remain sober for 31 years.

"Both believe in a higher power. Both believe in seeking forgiveness from those you have hurt," he said. "Both advocate living one day or one moment at a time."

The roots of Constructive Living

Morita advocates the following:

-- Know your purpose. Define short-term and long-range goals. Decide what is most important in your life.

-- Accept your feelings. Instead of fighting uncomfortable feelings, learn to live with them.

-- Do what needs to be done. Take steps immediately to achieve your goals, despite whatever you are feeling. Action is the key.

Naikon advocates living with gratitude by doing the following, especially in troubled relationships:

-- Identify what you have gotten from others. Even if someone has caused you pain, focus on how he has enhanced your life.

-- Identify what you have given others. Look at your contribution to that person's life.

-- Identify any difficulties you have caused others. Instead of dwelling on the other person's behavior, reflect on your own.

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