Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Psychotherapy
Of all the health disciplines, it may seem to some that psychology and mental health are especially prone to fads. Jungian dream analysis, hypnosis, psychological kinesiology, recovered memory therapy – the list seems to go on and on.
Now along comes mindfulness, which has become something of a buzzword in psychotherapy circles. Mindfulness therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques are used by therapists to help clients focus on their body and breathing, to notice their thoughts non-judgmentally, and to generally live in the here-and-now.
While this all may sound a bit "New Agey," many health experts agree that mindfulness techniques have something that other questionable psychological theories have never been able to obtain: solid evidence to supports its efficacy.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be described as a mental state of relaxed awareness of the present moment.
Mindful states of being are marked by an openness and curiosity about one's feelings (as opposed to being judgmental of them), a heightened consciousness of sensory stimuli (one's breathing and body sensations), and an increased awareness of and attention to the present moment (as opposed to dwelling on the past or projecting one's thoughts into the future).
While mindfulness practices have their foundations in Buddhism, Eastern philosophy, and yoga, mindfulness techniques don't involve any religious components and anyone, with any belief system, can take advantage of the benefits of mindfulness.
Because mindfulness practices help individuals, reduce anxiety and stress, develop concentration skills, and focus attention on one's own thoughts and perceptions, professional counselors and psychotherapists have found mindfulness techniques especially useful in helping clients better understand themselves, their thought processes, and what's truly important in their lives.
How Does One Achieve Mindfulness?
Like most things in life, attaining mindfulness takes practice.
Achieving mindfulness usually consists of meditation practice, but mindfulness can be practices simply by quieting one's inner monologue and focusing on the present in daily life.
Some mindfulness professionals divide mindfulness into two component parts, which, while they can be worked on separately, are both requisite to mindfulness. These two components are:
- Self-regulated attention – Self-regulated attention involves conscious awareness of one's thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, as they occur. This means paying attention to each thought or feeling as it occurs and not concerning oneself with any past, future, or external associations the thought or feeling may produce. Among other things, practicing self-regulated attention can greatly improve one's concentration skills.
- Being open to experience – This involves acceptance of one's stream of consciousness and its associated thoughts and feelings, maintaining an open-minded and curious attitude towards whatever is experienced, and thinking using alternative categories.
Regularly practicing mindfulness-based techniques results in the development of what is often termed the "Beginner's Mind" as you learn to perceive and evaluate experiences as if for the first time.
Why is Mindfulness Used in Counseling and Psychotherapy?
In a speech on the topic of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of MBSR, described mindfulness using an example from Sufi poetry. He compared the mind and body to a guesthouse and the principle of mindfulness as being inviting in all the thoughts and feelings of life as guests, proverbially rolling out the welcome mat and reveling in their existence.
Being able to pay attention to and welcome our thoughts and feelings as they occur, and in a non-judgmental way, is the first step in being able to identify, understand, and change the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that are holding us back from living the life we desire. And better understanding ourselves and learning to create the change we seek is the whole point of counseling and psychotherapy.
Therefore, mindfulness practices are directly applicable to the achievement of counseling and therapy's goals.
Additionally, mindfulness techniques and mindfulness-based stress reduction in particular, have been shown to enhance concentration, problem-solving, and coping skills, decrease anxiety and stress, increase feelings of happiness, and improve the immune system and overall levels of health and wellness.
Specifically, mindfulness practices have been shown to be effective in helping people with:
- Anxiety Disorders – People with anxiety disorders have reported a marked reduction in anxiety symptoms after receiving mindfulness-based treatments.
- Depression – While mindfulness practices in and of themselves are usually not enough to overcome severe depression, mindfulness practices can greatly reduce the symptoms of severe depression as well as prevent future relapses.
- Relationship Issues – Several studies have shown that couples who practice mindfulness techniques have better communication skills, are more capable of coping with relationship stress, and exhibit more satisfying relationships.
- Sleep Problems – Numerous studies have shown MBSR particularly effective at helping cancer patients and others reduce sleep disturbances.
- Eating Disorders – Women with anorexia and bulimia have reported increased self-awareness, greater self-acceptance, and a significant improvement in their emotions and behaviors after undergoing mindfulness-based treatments.
- Stress Management – Countless studies have demonstrated the ability of mindfulness-based stress reduction to help people stop dwelling on negative thoughts, decrease anxiety about the future, gain clarity and perspective, and overcome daily stress as well as more serious occurrences.
Like most things in life, the positive, lasting effects of mindfulness techniques increase with practice.
While the regular practice of mindfulness meditation has numerous benefits for one's physical and mental health, many people find they get "antsy" during meditation. If this is you, don't worry, you're not alone.
The good news is that you can begin to practice mindfulness in your daily life while gardening, listening to music, even while cleaning the house: just focus on the present and quiet your inner voice – the one that is never at a loss to offer you a running commentary on everything you've done, are doing, or may be doing in the future.
If you're more serious about making mindfulness practices a part of your life, find a mindfulness meditation group or class in your area. And, if you're considering professional counseling or psychotherapy, don't hesitate to ask any prospective counselors or therapists whether or not they incorporate mindfulness techniques in their work.
Once you begin incorporating mindfulness into your life, you'll soon discover that practicing mindfulness and being mindful are anything but passing fads!
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For more information contact:
Haleh Rambod, M.A., MFT
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Turlock, CA 95382
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San Jose CA, 95117