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Ira Helderman

Adjunct Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture

Ira Helderman PhD, LPC is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Religion, Psychology, and Culture in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Helderman’s research examines how psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic frames influence the way diverse people are religious, primarily in the United States. His work is grounded in decolonial theories that critically examine the history of Christian European constructions of the modern concept of “religion” as bifurcated from spheres of life constructed as “not-religious,” particularly psychology, medicine, and science. Drawing on multiple methodologies, he is especially interested in how caregivers define psychotherapeutic health and healing in relationship to their understandings of what is and is not religious.

Dr. Helderman’s book Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion (University of North Carolina Press 2019) is the first comprehensive examination of the surprisingly diverse ways that psychotherapists have approached Buddhist traditions. His second book project, with working title Sick of Meditation, is an history and (auto)ethnography of how psychotherapists have responded to so-called “adverse meditation experiences” or “meditation sickness” as case study of how questions of what is “religious experience” and what is “psychopathology” significantly shaped the fields of both mental health and religious studies.

Dr. Helderman has contributed chapters to peer-reviewed book collections such as The Oxford Handbook of American Buddhism and Mysticism and Depth Psychology and has been published in peer-reviewed journals like The Journal of the American Academy of Religion and Buddhist Studies Review. Committed to public scholarship, he also writes regularly for popular publications such as Religion Dispatches, Psychology Today and Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

Dr. Helderman is also a practicing psychotherapist and clinical supervisor who has worked in the mental health field for over 20 years. He has worked in a variety of clinical settings from in-patient addiction treatment centers and psychiatric hospitals to his current private practice. He also previously taught as Adjunct Assistant Professor/Instructor in Vanderbilt’s Department of Human Development Counseling teaching classes such as “Counseling Diverse Populations” and “Addictions.”

Dr. Helderman davens at West End Synagogue (a Conservative Jewish synagogue) and on occasion attends meditation retreats with One Dharma Nashville.