Morita Therapy – a Challenge

It’s been said that I am interested in the practical steps we can devise to improve our health and well- being. This is so, and strategies have been around for many years! For instance, on the physical health front, consider Morita therapy. This has been described as “a novel and sustainable treatment for various mental health issues“. It was developed by Dr Shoma Morita from 1928. It is widely practised in Japan.  In the UK, it is the focus of research at the University of Exeter, where I was born and brought up!

The underlying premise of Morita therapy is that symptoms of depression and anxiety are part of the natural ecology of the human experience. Therapy helps patients to re-orientate themselves in the natural world and takes a restorative approach to our natural capacity to seek out good health. 

By understanding the place of human beings in the natural world, Morita Therapy wants to encourage us not to accept our unwanted symptoms as inevitable or requiring control.

So here is my challenge to you: Morita Therapy offers a structured and rather prescriptive approach to ‘getting better’. I am wary of prescription as it can undermine our ability to see what it can do for ourselves. Consider, for example, my input on treatment of sleep disruption. Were you able to see beyond my finger-pointing and find out how those general suggestions could work for YOU?

If you did, then can your creativity be extended to the greater demands of Morita Therapy?

The principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) might help. What small and safe experiment can help you explore a new normal evolving in a direction of your choosing? For example, Morita Therapy might be relevant to any-one facing pain and discomfort that seems not to respond to a doctor’s advice.

Here is the four-stage process of Morita Therapy:

  • Absolute bed rest: seclusion-and-rest lasting 4- 7 days .
  • Occupational therapy (light): light, monotonous work done in silence.
  • Occupational therapy (heavy): moderate work without social interaction .
  • Complex activities: and a reintroduction into the community.

The first stage is a period of learning during which I separate myself from the daily barrage of a loud and intrusive world. This will involve turning off the TV, closing the door to work, and even family – for the duration. When I experience boredom, and wish to be productive once more, then I can move to the second stage.

This second stage is set for 3 – 7 days and may see mental activity slowly return. Rituals are re-established (including journal-writing that could include recording the results of my safe experiments!). Morita Therapy advises me to go outside and to re-connect with nature but strenuous physical work is discouraged, e.g climbing stairs and sweeping.

In the third stage, lasting another 3 -7 days, I move from passive treatment such as medicines and massage, to healing through stretch-and strength-building programmes. I would be encouraged to spend time in creating art – writing, painting, wood carving – any activity that puts me into contact with my creativity. The purpose of this stage is to restore and build confidence, patience and self-empowerment through work.

The fourth stage can last from one to two weeks. I apply what I have learned and re-integrate myself back into the everyday world. At the same time, I am asked to evolve yet another ‘new normal’ – a new lifestyle of meditation, physical activity and clearer thinking. Through my new order, I can renew my relationship with the natural world.

This process is likely to bring unanticipated challenges, not least how to fit it in to your daily life. For instance, it’s a rather extreme version of “Time Out”! Even so, such experiments, with all the adaptations you might need to make, could generate unanticipated results. A number of ‘small victories’ and ‘small defeats’ – and my responses to them – may allow me to progress on my journey of recovery. Body scanning may well help me to identify the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise in this new order.

Given that much of this structured and disciplined approach sits uneasily with my rather more easy-going Western ways, can Morita Therapy be absorbed into my daily practices? Now there’s my real challenge!!

Anyone want to give it a shot?!!


David Brazier came back to tell me {in edited form]:

“Morita therapy can also come in smaller packages. A significant part is journal-keeping in which one separates feelings from facts/actions so as to realise that the former do not determine the latter.

Good books on all this are the series by David Reynolds and Gregg Krech is an important figure in all this….. [He reports that] there are about 40 Naikan centers in Japan and Naikan is used in mental health counseling, addiction treatment, rehabilitation of prisoners, schools, and business…. Naikan centers [are] now established in Austria and Germany. The ToDo Institute has been offering Naikan programs and retreats since 1989.”


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How to give yourself a nudge

Naiken Therapy