What is Mindfulness-Based Counseling?
My approach to counseling starts with the belief that the better we can know ourselves, the more able we are to identify and enact the changes we want to make. Mindfulness is the best path I’ve found for fully, deeply, and openly knowing yourself and your world.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness practice helps us train our minds, allowing us to be fully aware, in the present moment, without judgement. For centuries, practitioners of mindfulness have experienced benefits such as greater ease, harmony, connection, and happiness. Now, scientific research is proving that these and other changes are real, measurable, and achievable by nearly anyone who fully commits to the practice.
Research has shown that a regular mindfulness practice can help to:
- Manage stress, anxiety, and depression
- Enhance interpersonal relationships
- Increase focus, memory, and attention
- Boost the immune system
- Reduce cravings for food and other substances
- Increase empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence
In addition, mindfulness allows you to:
- Respond to challenges thoughtfully, rather than react emotionally
- Identify, enhance, and act in accordance with your core values
- Focus more on kindness, service, and gratitude
- Resolve conflicts effectively
- Accept and appreciate reality as it is
To be clear, mindfulness practice is not a magic pill that will lead you to a pain-free life of unceasing joy. When practiced regularly over time, however, it can give you the tools you need to ride the inevitable ups and downs of life with greater equanimity and less reactivity. As the title of Dan Harris’s wonderful book suggests, mindfulness can get you to a place where you are 10% Happier.
At its core, mindfulness has three main components:
Paying Attention Have you ever been driving and all of a sudden realized that you’ve completely lost the last 10 miles? Often, we can get so lost in thoughts that we fail to notice what’s going on around us. Mindfulness practice helps us to start paying attention again. We become more aware of everything, from the external world that our senses percieve, to what’s happening inside us, including, most importantly, our thoughts and feelings. And the more aware we are, the less our thoughts and feelings control us. We enter into a conscious conversation with our inner world, one that can lead to greater choice in how we engage with ourselves and the world around us.
Staying Present Most worrying comes from living in an imagined future. Most regret comes from re-living an unchangeable past. When we learn to live in the present moment, we find that much of our emotional pain dissipates as we discover that what’s happening right here, right now, is far more manageable than our imagination would lead us to believe.
Releasing Judgment We tend to categorize our world into ideas about what is good and bad, or what is right and wrong. And we do that most often with our own thoughts and feelings. Whenever we use the word “should” we’re making a judgment about ourselves or others that suggests there’s a right way and a wrong way to think and feel. And when we tell ourselves, for example, that we’re wrong for feeling a certain way (sad, or angry, or scared), we compound our pain. Mindfulness suggests that we replace judgment with gentleness and compassion. Try this: Instead of saying to yourself, “I shouldn’t lose my patience” try saying, “I’d like to learn to be more patient.” How does it feel?
What part does mindfulness play in the counseling process?
The more we understand our thoughts and feelings, our habits and tendencies, our hopes and needs and desires, the more effective we can be at making the changes we want to make in our lives. And the first step in understanding ourselves is increasing our awareness of how we percieve and react to ourselves and others. Sometimes that means learning simple mindfulness exercises that we can easily incorporate into our daily life, and sometimes it just means shifting our perspective. It’s not a prescribed set of rules; it’s an opportunity to explore a new way of being in the world. As a counselor, I’ll often suggest we explore a mindful approach to an issue, and you’ll decide if it’s a good fit for you.
What other approaches are used in the counseling process besides mindfulness?
I incorporate many different threapeutic approaches into my work, and the one I use most often is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all closely connected, and are constantly interacting with each other. Generally, we find that when we have certain thoughts, those thoughts can lead to certain feelings which can then lead to certain behaviors. Change the problematic thoughts, and the feelings and behaviors change as well. Sounds simple, right? The tricky part is that some of our thought patterns are so deeply ingrained that it can be hard to even realize that they are problematic, and even harder to change them.
Mindfulness helps with the first part, by giving us greater insight to deep-seated thoughts and beliefs that don’t serve us particularly well. Once we see those thoughts for being the stumbling blocks they have become, we can then work to formulate and incorporate new, more useful thoughts, that then lead to a decrease in emotional pain and an increased ability to engage in behavior that helps us get our needs met.