This talk was a nice balance between experiential work and a description of Mindfulness and its practices, and was based on some sound experience of client work. I did feel at times that it seemed to me to come close to a sales pitch however!
Mindfulness is based on Buddhist practice, repackaged for western secular consumption, and it has become extraordinarily widespread. There is even MBCT, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy. One of the criticisms of mindfulness is that it has become almost a commercial product, amusingly dubbed McMindfulness by some.
However, putting scepticism aside, can Mindfulness practices have a useful place in the counselling room? This was the question that Karen addressed, and she was also able to answer helpfully many questions that people asked her about how mindfulness practices can fit into work with a client.
Mindfulness practices were originally devised in the 1970s for work with those in pain by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the USA, and one can see how the practices can be useful for pain relief and for reduction of stress. More problematical is seeing how they work for other conditions.
However, Karen gave us a case history of a depressed client, “Helen,” who was able to shift somewhat away from automatic and fixed depressive thoughts by mindfulness practices. (the slides distributed along with this bulletin give some mindfulness practices.) Karen talked about the importance of engendering curiosity in clients about the way their minds and bodies and feelings work, and in establishing some distance from their thoughts and feelings when doing so. For example the client can notice,“ah there is a thought about failing” rather than “oh, I am thinking about failing.”
A case history about “Steven” who suffered from anxiety, especially felt in his stomach, showed us that a body-scanning mindfulness practice was useful in helping him to pay attention more to the realities of his body experience and to become more aware of his body. This also helped him to be less analytical.
Karen told us that experiential familiarity with mindfulness practices by the therapist is important if the therapist is to use the practices with a client. My own feeling is that good counselling is a mindful practice in itself but I can see that there is always value ever being reminded to have “beginner’s mind” when being with a client.
Answers to questions from the floor gave us a clearer idea of how the practices might be knitted into counselling work. It may take some weeks or months before a client is ready to do such work and the practices may take up only a few minutes in a counselling hour and can yield information about issues that can be worked with. Also we heard that certain client groups such as the bereaved and the borderline psychotic may not be appropriate for mindfulness practices.
The two mindfulness practices we did with Karen’s guidance were powerful in my view and certainly shifted one’s perspective. Personally I don’t take the view that the mindful perspective is the only healthy perspective on life. Some life tasks can be very effectively and usefully performed on “automatic pilot.” After all, most of our bodily functions work perfectly well on automatic pilot. We may need to be mindful how and what we eat but not so much how we digest it.
So in my view we need to untangle the value of mindfulness practices from the Mcmindfulness industry. Mindfulness is not a new way of being – it is part of the life experience of most of us. It has also been around under different labels in psychotherapy for a long time. Practices of a mindful nature have been offered by Jung and Assagioli, Maslow, Perls and Rogers for example, and therapeutic approaches including a focus on mindfulness/awareness are many including Autogenic Training, Psychodrama, and body-work of many kinds.
Perhaps we need to demystify mindfulness and perhaps de-commercialise it too, and then we can use the practices selectively and usefully (dare I say mindfully!) with clients. Thank you Karen for a well-organised, stimulating and helpful evening presentation, which pleasingly was also extremely well-attended.