Mindful therapy is where the therapist’s approach is underpinned and informed by their own practice of mindfulness. There are an increasing number of therapy training courses that include an element of mindfulness in the curriculum. However, for the majority of therapists, especially the more experienced ones who did their initial training some years ago, it is more likely to have been developed through personal commitment and practice.
Mindfulness is first and foremost a personal way of being in the world, based on an individual approach to bringing the mind into full focus in the present moment. This will typically involve a daily practice of some form of meditation as well as the integration of techniques of mindful attention throughout their lives. Meditation may be carried out in many ways, including sitting, standing, kneeling, with movement, walking or chanting. The key is that the practice enables one to bring mind, body, emotions and spirit together to focus on being, without becoming caught up in any of these and, in particular, the thoughts of the mind.
When a therapist practises mindfully, this may or may not be obvious to you as their client. They will not necessarily be doing anything differently from any other therapist, either themselves or with you. What they will be doing is bringing their whole selves into the room, with their attention on the full extent of their own experiencing and of yours as the client. This may come across as reflective and contemplative, or just as very ‘present’ or grounded. Or you may feel the therapist to simply be focused and professional.
Therapy with mindfulness
Therapy with mindfulness is an expression which is used when mindfulness is introduced as a practice for you to adopt, to contribute to your healing and growth in therapy. It has been known and taught for centuries that mindfulness is beneficial for health, well-being and spiritual fulfilment. There is considerable modern evidence that the practice can have positive benefits for depression, anxiety, stress, and many other psychological, and indeed physical, difficulties.
At its simplest, therapy with mindfulness may involve taking a moment together at the beginning of a session to ‘check in’ with our minds, bodies and emotions before continuing. This can bring attention to our immediate state of being, and enhance our awareness of what we are bringing to the particular moment and therapy session. Often we arrive with our attention focused on thoughts about what has happened since last week, what we want to talk about, or how we felt after the previous session. A moment of mindfulness can expand our awareness and offer opportunities to notice wider and deeper experience.
It is also possible to ‘use’ and develop mindfulness as part of, or alongside, therapy. As a client, you may be encouraged to learn about and adopt a mindful practice between sessions, and this might allow for further mindful moments or short meditations during therapy. These may be used at moments of stress or pain, or to offer the experience of two people being in the moment together. To be really helpful, mindfulness is best woven through life, not just a ‘technique’ to address a problem, or something you do once a week with your therapist.
A therapist is unlikely to offer ‘training’ in mindfulness practice as part of therapy sessions, as this would take time which might be used more effectively in other ways. Also, there are many places offering structured mindfulness training nowadays, locally and online, and this is likely to be the best way forward for anyone seeking to develop a full and regular practice.
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About Matthew Haggis
I became a counsellor/psychotherapist because I came to realise that achieving what we want from life is closely related to how we feel about ourselves. Understanding how we respond to what life throws at us often requires deep exploration. My training has included person-centred, psychodynamic, transactional analysis, and existential approaches.