Tara Rokpa Therapy

The Process

How it began

Tara Rokpa Therapy is a unique system of psychotherapy which brings together ways of working with the mind from West and East. It has been developed over the past twenty-five years by Akong Tulku Rinpoche, Tibetan Lama and physician of traditional Tibetan medicine, in an ongoing collaboration with a small group of Western mental health professionals (psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, art, family and massage therapists). It developed out of Akong Rinpoche’s wish to share his knowledge and insights with Westerners in a form which would be accessible to all, whatever their belief. The resulting therapy has now been presented worldwide and has evolved into a 7 to 8 year programme.

Tara Rokpa Therapy is based on a Mahayana Buddhist model of the mind and holds the Buddhist understanding of compassion at its core. It also draws upon several western psychotherapies, especially the radical/experiential constructivist approach, which holds a compatible philosophical view.

As demand for this work has grown, so also has the need for trained therapists to present it. In 1993 a four year professional Tara Rokpa psychotherapy training was established. A second training was completed in 2001. Since 2004 both the Irish and UK councils for psychotherapy have accredited this training. Many of its graduates hold the European Association of Psychotherapy Certificate. Tara Rokpa Therapy will begin its third four-year professional psychotherapy training in 2007.

The Process

The Programme is made up of a number of different stages. The experience gathered from one stage is the basis for practising the next. Each stage of Tara Rokpa Therapy is clearly defined and participants can choose to withdraw from the process having completed as many stages as they wish.

The work is introduced by Tara Rokpa therapists in a series of weekend workshops. Participants meet each other in between the workshops in small groups to practice the methods together. The primary focus of the work is, however, on individual process – awareness evolving over time with the least possible intrusion from the outside, be that from individuals engaged in the same stage of the therapy or from therapists supporting the work. The guidelines for the therapy workshops and small groups are in keeping with these principles.

Learning to Relax is based on the book ‘Healing Relaxation’ by Edie Irwin. It explores the benefits of developing calmer states of mind and body and introduces simple methods of relaxation/ visualisation, taught by Akong Rinpoche, as an aid to self-healing. Instructions on how to get started with the practice of massage and self-massage are presented, along with simple physical exercises. All of the components of this course form the underlying basis for the following stages of the therapy.

Therapy Stage 1

Back to Beginnings is a process with a two to three year commitment, for those who have completed a course in Learning to Relax and want to go deeper into this work. It involves an indepth and systematic review of one’s life. Writing and work with art materials are the main therapeutic tools. The life story is recollected chronologically, starting from the present, back to the age of one, then forward again to the present and then back again a third time. The process is about becoming aware of habitual tendencies and patterns of behaviour, so that one is more free to move beyond limiting ways of seeing self and other.

Back to Beginnings also incorporates principles of Tibetan Medicine which relate to balancing mind and body through awareness and skill in living. There is an extensive investigation of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space. This brings understanding of our total environment and the need to take responsibility for the way we live within it.

The continuing use of the relaxation and visualisations encourage an open attitude of mind in approaching both personal past and present reality. Massage and physical exercises support an exploration of one’s sense of embodiment and connectedness to others. The method provides training in maturing the mind by clarifying feelings of blame towards self and other and by developing compassion through deeper understandings.

At the end of this phase there is a short retreat which allows participants to review the time from conception through birth. This retreat is also seen as a symbolic new beginning, an opportunity to cease looking to the past for answers and to learn to trust the moment by moment unfolding of life in the present.

Therapy Stage 2

Taming the Tiger, which takes about six months, is based on part one of Akong Rinpoche’s book, “Taming the Tiger”. This graduated sequence of exercises and texts helps participants to remain in the present moment and face situations as they arise. The experience of the exercises combined with continuing group work allows an integration of Back to Beginnings and new insights into a less solid way of perceiving negative experiences.
This stage also introduces simple sitting practice of meditation with guidance on posture and method.

Therapy Stage 3

A further six months is spent working with the Six Lights practice. Arrogance, Jealousy, Attachment, Ignorance, Craving and Hatred are six states of mind that lead to inevitable experiences of suffering. Yet thinking alone about these states often does not help. Coloured light visualisations and use of particular sounds, combined with reflection are used in what is essentially, a work of inner transformation.

At the end of Stage 3, the therapy phase of this programme formally ends. Stages 4 and 5 provide a transition out of psychotherapy and onto a path of personal and spiritual development.

Stage 4

The Six Realms stage, which takes six months to one year, develops the use of the light and sound exercises cultivated previously. The focus is on learning to imaginatively relate to these mind states and the associated fields of suffering as they manifest throughout the universe. The range of empathy has a chance to develop towards impartial Compassion.

Stage 5

Taming the Tiger Part 2 returns to Akong Rinpoche’s text and over six months completes the final chapters of his book. The exercises given help one to approach suffering with less fear and more openness.

Stage 6

The Compassion stage of Tara Rokpa is beyond therapy. Over a period of three years those who continue, approach classic Mahayana Buddhist texts and practices in a relaxed and open way. Compassion retreats, are offered for all those working at this stage.


Edie Irwin MA, TRTA, UKCP, EAP

Born in 1946 in New York, Edie worked in the therapeutic team in Soteria House in California, an alternative to psychiatric hospitals for people in acute mental health crises. From 1972-1977 she trained with RD Laing and the Philadelphia Association in London. Thereafter, she worked in the Wellsprin therapeutic centre in Edinburgh until 1986 when she co-founded Tara Edinburgh. She has completed a three-year meditation retreat in SamyƩ-ling. In addition to her work as a Tara Rokpa Therapist she has a psychotherapy, massage and supervision practise in Edinburgh.

Dr. Brion Sweeney MB, MRCPsych, M.Med.Sc. (Psychotherapy)

Brion is Consultant Psychiatrist in the Eastern Health Board Addiction Services in Dublin. Before his training in Psychiatry, he was a general practitioner. He has been a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists since 1983 . In 1996 he received his medical degree as a Master in Psychotherapy, University College Dublin. His focus is the constructivist psychotherapy. Brion wasappointed as head of Tara Rokpa therapy as well as for the Institute of Tibetan medicine.

Carol Sagar BA Hons, ATC, Dip.A.Th, RATh

Carol worked as a supervisor of Art Therapy teams of the Norfolk Mental Healthcare NHS Trust, a body of the English National Health Service. By mid-1997, she had been Senior Art Therapist of Child and Family Psychiatry Centre in this institution for 13 years. In 1984 she graduated as an Art Therapist from Goldsmith’s College, University of London. She wrote a chapter titled “Art Therapy with Sexually Abused Children” for the book “Working With Children in Art Therapy” (ed. v. Caroline Case & Tessa Dalley, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1991).

Trish Swift

Trish lives in Harare (Zimbabwe). She began with Tara Rokpa Therapy in the 80s working with Akong Rinpoche and later in the Tara Rokpa process began to teach. She oversees the Tara Rokpa groups in Africa and travels several times a year to them. Her training is in Humanistic / Client-Centred psychotherapy and has a large psychotherapy practice in Harare.