The Origins of Tara Rokpa Therapy
The origins go back to Akong Rinpoche-s experiences of leaving his homeland at the age of 20 in 1959. Akong Rinpoche is a Tibetan lama and a trained doctor in Tibetan medicine. Before he left Tibet he had responsibility for a number of monasteries and nunneries. He later came to live in Scotland in 1967 and founded Samye Ling Tibetan centre together with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
His journey out of Tibet was very difficult and involved much hardship from which many did not survive. Akong Rinpoche was aware that it was only by applying the wisdom of his Buddhist training and realization that he was able to endure such arduous conditions.
His training was also invaluable in helping him face the challenges he later encountered as a refugee in India and in Britain.
Gradually people in need of healing gravitated towards Akong Rinpoche seeking advice about meditation and spiritual development. Over time, through observation and direct involvement, he realized that what people were often wanting was help with difficulties they encountered in their daily lives, especially emotional and physical well being.
He also wanted to find ways of helping with the inevitable stresses and strains of modern living. This was when the notion of therapy began to emerge in his work. Having appreciated the value of his own training, he began to develop exercises designed to help others overcome their difficulties and reach a level of maturity of mind that would enable them to accept and face their situations in life.
During this time Edie Irwin became involved. Her previous training had been equally focused on Buddhist and Western therapy. Throughout the 1980s alongside Akong Rinpoche, she began presenting these methods in the UK and Ireland, Europe, USA and Canada, Southern Africa and Australia. People from all backgrounds and cultures found something of true value in the work. From these experiences Tara Rokpa Therapy began to take shape.
The Integration of Eastern and Western Approaches
As the therapy evolved professionals in the field of medicine and psychotherapy who had engaged with the work began also to exchange with Akong Rinpoche to find ways to integrate their experiences within their own disciplines.
An incredibly creative process then began, bringing together eastern and western understandings of the mind. Four other western practictioners, Carol Sagar, Art Therapist within the NHS, who worked closely with Akong Rinpoche from the late 1960s, Brion Sweeney, Dublin based Consultant Psychiatrist, Dorothy Gunne, psychologist, psychotherapist and family therapist and Trish Swift, clinical social worker and psychotherapist all worked together with Edie Irwin and Akong Rinpoche over a period of many years to achieve this integration.
Tara Rokpa Therapy was presented by Edie Irwin at the first Western Buddhist Teachers- Conference in Dharamsala, India in 1992. There are currently a number of psychiatric, psychological and medical settings which have incorporated Tara Rokpa Therapy methods into their work. In addition there are many professionals in various contexts who have engaged with the therapy for themselves and subsequently integrated it into their working practices. Increasingly Buddhist teachers of various schools are also interested in Tara Rokpa Therapy as a model for working with the psychological difficulties that arise when introducing meditation practice to westerners.
Over time the fruits of this work evolved into a six-year Tara Rokpa Therapy programme (Back to Beginnings). While the initial phases of this programme are more typically recognisable within the application of Western psychotherapy, the later phases are founded primarily on Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices. Nevertheless, each phase is comprised of exercises which have evolved from both systems of understanding. The stages of the therapy are clearly defined and participants can choose to withdraw from the process having completed any number of phases. One of the distinguishing features of this therapy historically has been the intention that each person is training to become their own therapist.
The Development of the first Tara Rokpa Professional Psychotherapy Training - 1993.
As demand for this work grew, it became evident that there was a need for more therapists to facilitate the work. There was also a growing awareness by Akong Rinpoche and the Western therapists involved in the development of this therapy that if it was to gain credibility in the West, it would need to find a way of achieving more formal recognition by other professionals in the field of psychotherapy.
Having completed the training of two groups of psychotherapists in the 1990s, and gone through the process of accrediting graduates through the ICP in Ireland, the UKCP in Britain, and the EAP in other countries, the training faculty of TRP saw the need for stepping back, for further exploration and explication of what they were about in attempting this collaborative venture.