Naikan Therapy: The Japanese Art of Reflection


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Naikan therapy is a method of self-reflection that has been used in Japan for over 50 years. The goal of Naikan therapy is to help people understand the relationships they have with others, and how those relationships have impacted them emotionally. It can be helpful for people who are struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety, or addiction. If you are interested in learning more about Naikan therapy, or if you think it could be beneficial for you, please talk to your therapist or doctor.

What is Naikan Therapy?

Naikan therapy is a mindfulness and gratitude-based counseling technique that was developed in Japan in the 1940s. The word “Naikan” is composed of two kanji characters: “nai” meaning inside and “kan” meaning view. So, Naikan can be translated as “looking inside.”

The basic premise of the therapy is that we all have a tendency to take for granted the good things that happen to us, while dwelling on the negative events or experiences. This cognitive distortion creates feelings of dissatisfaction and leads us to pursue external gratification as a way to make up for our internal sense of deficiency. This therapy helps people become aware of their thought patterns and see how they are impacting their everyday lives.

Naikan Therapy, also referred to as the four-hour kindness exercise, integrates consciousness-raising goals with psychotherapy. It was developed in Japan by an ordained Buddhist minister and clinical psychologist named Dr. Yoshimoto Ishin.

Naikan breaks down personality into three aspects; 

  • Behavior – how one behaves towards oneself
  • Attitude – how one feels about others
  • Evaluation – how oneself is evaluated by society or others.

Some benefits of Naikan therapy include:

  • Improved communication and interpersonal relationships
  • Increased self-awareness and insight
  • Improved mental and emotional health
  • A greater understanding of oneself, others, and the world around them
  • Enhanced spiritual growth and well-being
  • Deepened sense of gratitude and contentment in life

Naikan therapy is a powerful tool for personal growth and transformation, providing a unique opportunity for self-reflection and insight into one’s relationships with others. It can be helpful for anyone interested in improving their mental health, emotional well-being, or interpersonal relationships.

How to Increase Self Reflection with Naikan Therapy?

Though Naikan therapy is used in a clinical setting, it can be practiced by anyone. There are three steps to practicing Naikan:

1) Observe your own thoughts and feelings.

2) Pay attention to the favors you’ve received.

3) Express gratitude for the favors.

Keeping a journal can help with this process by allowing you to track your progress and keep track of your thoughts and feelings as they relate to Naikan therapy.

There are three questions that concerns different aspects of your life as well. They are:

  1. Others’ care and assistance: We start by looking at what we’ve gotten from a specific person, object, or particular moment. Start by making a list of everything you got on a specific date. It’ll force you to go beneath the surface. For example, when you go to a restaurant the waiter gave you a warm welcome with a smile, he/she gave you the menu to help you, the cook made you a delicious meal, etc. Each of those people played a great part in your lunch. This train of thought promotes gratitute.
  2. My contributions to the other people: We should examine our life balance, according to Yoshimoto. There are both deposits and withdrawals in our life balance, just as there are in our bank account. When you think about it, the majority of the support we receive often goes unnoticed. We are, however, not entitled to anything. Make a list of good deeds that you do for other people. Be specific as much as you can be. This will promote self-realization.
  3. Problems and challenges we cause to the others: We rarely acknowledge, or choose to ignore, the harm or discomfort we inflict on others. For example, throwing trash on the street may not seem to harm anyone immediately, but seeing it can be annoying and distressing, and someone will have to clean it up in the end. Create a new list to document the problems and difficulties you have caused others in the previous 24 hours. Again, be specific as much as you can. This will promote self-control.
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Aaron Beck

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