What is Mindfulness?
"Mindfulness" is a hot topic in Western psychology: increasingly recognised as an effective way to increase fulfilment, reduce stress, raise self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and undermine destructive emotive, cognitive, and behavioural processes. While many people think mindfulness means meditation, this is not the case. Mindfulness is a mental state of openness, awareness and focus, and meditation is just one way amongst hundreds of learning to cultivate this state.Click here to download an article on Mindfulness Without Meditation -- published in the Healthcare, Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal (HCPJ Vol9, No 4), a quarterly journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Although mindfulness has only recently been embraced by Western psychology, it is an ancient practice found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism and Yoga. Mindfulness involves consciously bringing awareness to your here-and-now experience with openness, curiosity and flexibility. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world authority on the use of mindfulness training in the management of clinical problems, defines it as: "Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."
Mindfulness is about waking up, connecting with ourselves, and appreciating the fullness of each moment of life. Kabat-Zinn calls it, "The art of conscious living." It is a profound way to enhance psychological and emotional resilience, and increase life satisfaction.
Definitions of Mindfulness
"Bringing one's complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis." (Marlatt & Kristeller)
"Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." (Kabat-Zinn).
"The non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise." (Baer)
"Awareness of present experience with acceptance." (Germer, Segal, Fulton)
My own personal definition is: "Paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility."
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Practising mindfulness helps you:
- to be fully present, here and now
- to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely
- to become aware of what you're avoiding
- to become more connected to yourself, to others and to the world around you
- to become less judgmental
- to increase self-awareness
- to become less disturbed by and less reactive to unpleasant experiences
- to learn the distinction between you and your thoughts
- to have more direct contact with the world, rather than living through your thoughts
- to learn that everything changes; that thoughts and feelings come and go like the weather
- to have more balance, less emotional volatility
- to experience more calm and peacefulness
- to develop self-acceptance and self-compassion
Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
Mindfulness training has emerged as a powerful, evidence-based tool for enhancing psychological health. It is empirically supported as an effective intervention in a wide range of clinical disorders, including chronic pain, anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, OCD, substance abuse, and borderline personality disorder.
The 'third wave' of behavioural therapies started in the late eighties with Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, and now includes therapies such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). These 'third wave' therapies all emphasise mindfulness as a core principle in undermining destructive cognitive, emotional and behavioural patterns. Since the first publications in 1984, ACT has seen more published studies, more randomised controlled studies, and more participants in outcome studies than DBT, MBCT, or any of the other 'Third Wave Therapies'.
The Benefits of Mindfulness for Therapists & Coaches
- Facilitates empathy, compassion, and unconditional positive regard.
- Allows you to stay focused and present, even when your client is not.
- Helps you stay grounded, centred and composed, even in the midst of clients' emotional turmoil
- Enables a healthy attitude to therapeutic outcomes: neither complacent nor overly-attached.
- Helps you maintain direction and focus for therapy.
- Increases your skills at observing your clients' responses.