Some dhamma from "The art of counselling" by Rollo May

Hi all,

I bought the above-mentioned book last month due to my curiosity with counselling and I must say it is a really great book, so easy to read and understand.

I am up to the part of the book where he talks about “utilizing counselee’s suffering”, and I thought I would share with you some quotes which I thought were rather “dhammic” in nature.

“A human being will not change his or her personality pattern, when all is said and done, until forced to do so by suffering. Advice, persuasion, requests from the outside will effect only a temporary change in the cloak of the personality. And here is where mere rational understanding is shown to be inadequate, for to bring about a real change it takes a dynamic stronger than simply an abstract idea that another way would be ‘better’.”

"The human ego is a recalcitrant and stubborn affair; it fights off disturbance, as it very much fears the profound insecurity that comes when its style of life is shaken. In fact, many neurotic individuals prefer to endure the misery of their present situation than to risk the uncertainty that would come with change. "

“No matter how clearly the neurosis may be shown to be based on sheer falsehood, the patient will not give up until suffering becomes insupportable.”

“Fortunately the wheels of life do grind relentlessly on and bring a just portion of suffering as a penalty for every neurotic attitude.”

“When this misrery becomes so great that the inidvidual is willing to give up a wrong attitude, in fact to give up everything, he or she has arrived at that state of desperation which is a prerequisite for any cure at all.”

“People should then rejoice in suffering, strange as it sounds, for this is the sign of the availability of energy to transform their characters. Suffering is nature’s method of indicating a mistaken attitude or way of behaviour, and to the objective and nonegocentric person every moment of suffering is the oppurtunity for growth. In this sense we can be ‘glad we’re neurotic’ - glad, that is, if we are able to utilize suffering.”

I hope some of this is of some use to you. :grinning::anjal:



I say that faith has a vital condition.
And what is it?
You should say: ‘Suffering.’


This is a buddhist approach to counselling?

It sounds interestingly Buddhist, yet, it’s simply incorrect. People live in incredible suffering without changing anything (think of domestic abuse, addiction, etc). On the other hand there are people who do ‘self-actualization’ (as the humanists call it), ie perpetual personality change, especially when they are not suffering much.

This difference can be described in many ways - I would say it’s because of seeing a simple alternative that a way to change opens up.

What drives social workers nuts is trying to help people in despair, knowing that a solution is attainable. But the clients often feel trapped in their lives and don’t believe that a relevant change is possible, or they start and give up quickly and then become chronically frustrated.

So I hope that nobody believes that strong suffering is necessary. The Buddha also didn’t address the chronically ill but the young and smart motivated ones.


Suffering is a vital condition for faith, yet as “flammable” does not cause “fire”, so does suffering not automatically create faith. Perhaps the social worker’s grace is to plant and nurture the seed of faith that there is more than suffering.

Is that a dogmatic or an experiential statement? My faith was never based on suffering - so is my faith not real, or have I ignored my suffering? Of course you can say that per definition everyone is suffering, but then again that would be a dogmatic statement, irrefutable…

1 Like

Having suffered from wanting to kill someone, I wanted more. And is I learned about various traditions, faith slowly grew. And now, reading the suttas, that faith has grown to joy. When I read MN1 early this year, I laughed and it brought me peace.

I would actually ask how one’s faith might arise if not from suffering? I cannot see that as possible, hence your response is quite interesting. Please say more?


I’m sure we would find many variations if we asked people on the forum, there is surely not the one way to Dhamma. Personally I was fascinated by the beauty of it, the conceptual confidence. Until then I was investigating philosophies and psychologies, and when I came across the EBT I was amazed how it was two-three levels better (in my view) than what the best philosophies I could find had to offer. So it was clear to me that it cannot be just man-made. But again, it was not because I was suffering much that I was looking for a way out or a solution for my problems. And I’m sure there are even completely different stories out there…


I wonder if that very appreciation, that sense of beauty arose out of a personal understanding of impermanence and suffering. One need not be abused to feel the pain of the abused. Indeed, one might say that feeling other’s pain is also form of suffering. The compassionate suffer the overwhelming pain of others. When my parents argued with each other, I felt sad. So I pretended to be sick. And they stopped arguing. But that was unskillful. The beauty of the suttas is the vastness of skillful means.

1 Like

Not from my perspective even though I understand what you mean.

1 Like

This is not a buddhist approach to counselling, but just merely an approach to counselling from Rollo May’s perspective. I just thought I would post these passages from the book as it has a lot of similarities to Buddhism.

Ultimately ofcourse, there is no substitute to the teachings of The Lord Buddha :buddha:.

I guess it just amazes when I here or read quotes from people who have no buddhist background (at least I don’t think Rollo May is buddhist) yet there are certainly similatrities to the buddhist teachings. :anjal:


I agree, a lot of people will choose to stay with their own suffering, maybe because they feel like there is no other alternative or perhaps they fear the unknown.

I guess like a lot of things, when I read that passage, I considered my own experience.

5 years ago, my marriage came to an end, and so a lot of suffering arose.

I felt a great need to alleviate the suffering, and it seemd that I had to try something radical.

So long story short, I started meditating and took on the buddhist practice.
And happy to say I have not looked back since and am a better person for it :grinning:


Buddhist practice provides a container for the suffering and in the holding we can transform.

Actually many people approach services as their suffering has approached a peak. When someone is at their lowest mentally their ego defences are low and so they are open to new teachings. Maybe stronger the ego defence the less psychological insight , and perhaps more suffering must come to a head. However I don’t think the suttas describe what degree of suffering qualifies someone to benefit from Buddhism.

1 Like

And then there is Aṅgulimāla, who set a rather high bar for suffering. So perhaps less than that for the rest of us…

He was constantly murdering people, and he wore their fingers as a necklace.

I think being human is enough.