Naikan Therapy: The Healing Art of Self-Reflection

What do you think about yourself? How are your relationships with others? What stage of life are you in? At times, we all need to take stock of our existence. There is some therapy that can help.

Naikan Therapy: The Healing Art of Self-Reflection

Last update: May 29, 2023

Self-reflection doesn’t really fit into today’s busy world. Indeed, the ability to go deeper into ourselves and recognize what is in tune and what is out of tune in our lives is a quality we tend to lack. We usually don’t have time. And, if we have it, we choose to spend it watching Netflix and disconnecting from everything around us.

This means that, almost without realizing it, we move away from our inner spaces that build who we are and from the realities that define us. Indeed, stress locks us in and suffocates us, and unhappiness from unknown sources appears as we continue to operate on autopilot. And the the more we move away from ourselves, the closer we get to mental discomfort.

In Japanese, there’s a very inspiring term. It is known as naikan. It means having the ability to see ourselves with our mind and soul. This concept served as the basis for the creation of a therapeutic school. Despite being over 80 years old, it remains fascinating and useful today.

There comes a time in our lives when we need to take stock of where we are and what we have been ignoring.

Image from Japan to symbolize Naikan therapy
Naikan therapy allows people to understand themselves and their relationships much better.

Naikan therapy

Naikan therapy is often said to be like climbing the highest peak of a mountain to gain a greater perspective on our lives. From this wide-angle position, we become aware of infinite realities. For example, we see some gray areas that we have allowed to grow excessively. We also notice territories with great potential that we know we have to exploit. We may even hear the voice of the wind whispering a secret.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that this approach originated in the land of the rising sun. It was in fact Ishin Yoshimoto, a Japanese Buddhist, who laid the foundations for this based therapy on self-reflection, meditation and the practice of questioning yourself.

What began in the 1940s as an ascetic technique eventually reached the United States as a therapeutic practice. University of California School of Public Health faculty member David K. Reynolds introduced it and created the initial programs.

Naikan therapy is the most popular in Japan. It has its roots in Buddhism.

1. Goals

Naikan therapy is a resource on which scientific literature and self-help books abound. An example of this is Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection (2002). Its author, Gregg Krech, explains the goals of this form of therapy. Its main objective is to awaken the sense of self-reflection in the human being.

To achieve this, we need to work on three strategic areas:

  • Develop deep, meaningful and useful knowledge about who we are, what we need and where we are in our lives.
  • Reflect on our relationships with others. We need to recognize which connections benefit us and whether our interactions with the people we love are appropriate.
  • Reflect on the fundamental nature of existence. This is an exercise we may not be used to.

2. Who benefits from Naikan therapy?

Today there are Naikan centers in major cities around the world, not just Japan. The fact that it has not only endured over time, but has emerged as a therapeutic approach worthy of interest, is mainly due to its effectiveness in different population groups.

  • Naikan therapy it is extremely good for patients with generalized anxiety disorders (GAD) and panic disorders. This is highlighted by a study conducted by the University of Tottori (Japan).
  • It is useful for people who are going through crises, transitions or life changes.
  • It is an enriching resource for increasing self-esteem and relationships with others and enhancing personal growth on all levels.
  • The fact that it promotes self-reflection can be beneficial in patients suffering from depression, trauma, etc.
  • A research camp is currently evaluating its benefits for the prison population. Indeed, Naikan therapy could be useful for improving self-awareness, personal responsibility and the perception of guilt.
  • Intensive therapies are also carried out to solve specific problems. For example, alcoholism, gambling addiction, etc.

The Naikan method invites us to be more grateful. Because valuing who we are and what surrounds us is the best exercise in awareness and self-reflection.

Elderly man in Naikan therapy
Naikan therapy makes it easier for us to become aware of our responsibility in various problems so that we can take action.

The techniques

We know that Naikan therapy addresses vast areas ranging from personal development to more spiritual aspects. However, as a rule, it is used for therapeutic purposes and originates from a scientific and empirical basis. It begins with three basic questions that every individual needs to work on. Are the following:

1. Think about the care and support we get or don’t get from the environment

In the first part of the therapy, the patient is asked the following question: What did you get from? This premise is a direct invitation to a profound reflection on our bonds and our daily interactions. It is not only limited to our families but we also have to open our eyes to the different types of scenarios that we face on a daily basis.

It helps us recognize if we were happy in our relationships, at work, with our friends and family, where we live, etc.

2. Contributions to others

Ishin Yoshimoto, the creator of Naikan Therapy, insisted that we should aim for this find a vital balance in our life. To do this, we need to think about the following ideas:

  • What have we given and received in these months?
  • Are we taking more than we were offering?
  • What do we need from others?
  • Think about the actions we take for the people in our lives every day and how we feel when we do them.

3. The problems and difficulties that we and others cause

One of the goals of this therapy is to become more thoughtful and also more responsible people. This means that, on the one hand, we must be aware of the suffering we cause to others. On the other, we mustrealizing which relationships or situations cause us the most unhappiness that existential balance.

Only then will we wake up and recognize what problems and difficulties surround us. Furthermore, we will be able to face them in a confident and mature way.

Looking inside ourselves

People are stories. To write the best life stories, we need to know where we want to go. This implies reviewing our lives and the bonds that surround us.

Only when we are able to look inward are we able to be aware of how to live better on the outside. Naikun therapy can facilitate this goal.

You might be interested…

All sources cited have been thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography for this article has been deemed reliable and of scholarly or scientific accuracy.

  • Ding X, Liu Z, Cao G, Wei S, Qiu Z, Wang K, Guo X, Di Z, Ren P, Fucha H. The efficacy of Naikan therapy on male offenders: changes in perceived social support and externalized guilt. Int J Delinquent Ther Comp Criminol. 2018 Aug;62(11):3499-3508. doi:10.1177/0306624X17742839. Epub 2017 November 21st. PMID: 29161911.
  • Nukina S, Wang H, Kamei K, Kawahara R. [Intensive Naikan therapy for generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder: clinical outcomes and background]. Seishin Shinkeigaku Zasshi. 2005;107(7):641-66. Japanese. PMID: 16146184.

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