It seems like mindfulness is such a hot term currently, but what does it have to do with psychotherapy? At the most basic level, mindfulness simply refers to paying attention. It is simply noticing what is going on around you and inside of you. Mindfulness is also associated with meditation, in which case it usually refers to picking one thing to focus on such as the breath, or it can refer to a noticing of thoughts and sensations without getting too caught up in them. Without going into deeper, older practices associated with Eastern traditions, this is mindfulness simplified.
What does that have to do with psychotherapy? Mindfulness can play a valuable role in many types of counseling. In order to make any meaningful changes, we first have to know where we are. We need to know where we are starting from, and that means paying attention to what is going on inside of us. For example, say you want to be in a relationship. You have a strong desire to be with someone long-term, but can’t figure out why it’s not happening. So you go to a psychotherapist to help you figure out what the problem is. It can be very helpful to take some time to really understand where you are at this moment, not just where you want to be. Perhaps when you stop and really pay attention, you realize that you have a deep fear that you are inadequate in some way, and that no one will want to be with you. So without realizing it you put up walls when you get close to someone so that they won’t see your shortcomings. But you do this so subtly that you don’t even realize it is happening. Using mindfulness, you can uncover some of these things that are standing in your way to getting where you want to be.
Another important aspect of incorporating mindfulness with psychotherapy is a quality of kindness. Once you uncover something that you did not realize was there, it’s easy to judge or be harsh with yourself for having that obstacle or feeling or whatever it is. That feeling is there for a reason, and I’m pretty sure the reason is not to punish you. At some point, that feeling or belief made sense and probably served a purpose. Be kind. Be gentle. Meet yourself with compassion. So often we think that we have to be tough on ourselves in order to make a change; we have to push ourselves and often even berate ourselves for things that we wish weren’t part of us. Pushing ourselves might work if we are trying to get to a new physical fitness level, but when it comes to mental health, kindness and compassion go a lot farther than being tough on ourselves. Mindfulness is all about recognizing and allowing with kindness.
Does that mean that if you come to me for therapy we are going to spend a lot of time meditating or something like that? Not unless that’s what you want to do. If doing some guided meditations would be helpful for you, then we will absolutely do that. If that does not sound like something you are interested in, then we will incorporate mindfulness in a way that make sense for you. I will help you slow down and become more aware of what is going on in your body and in your mind. Paying attention give you more options, and it give you more flexibility in how you respond to things. Some people really need help slowing down their racing thoughts, other people need more help being present in their body. Whatever is going on, we will work together to find what works for you.
For more information on mindfulness, check out the following sites: