Reading time – 10mins
Can Mindfulness & Psychotherapy go together?
In this month’s article I will be outlining some of the principles of mindfulness and psychotherapy and how they go hand in hand in the healing arts. We will take a look at some philosophical foundations that align within the principles of mindfulness and psychotherapy. We will also take a look at five ways that I integrate mindfulness into a therapy session.
Mindfulness is the ancient art of paying attention in the present moment to what is. This practice brings awareness to our mental, emotional, physical and relational life and transforms suffering through insight & compassion. We can practice mindfulness alone sitting on a meditation cushion, lying on the couch, going for a walk or even doing the dishes. The most effective way to learn and develop mindfulness is with the support of an experienced facilitator and often with a community of mindfulness practitioners.
Psychotherapy, according to PACFA is “a holistic engagement that focuses on the mental, emotional, relational or spiritual health of a human being.” Psychotherapy is a process of making the unconscious conscious. As Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate”. It is usually practised in a therapy room with a therapist and sometimes in a group therapy setting.
The marriage of mindfulness and psychotherapy can be aptly described in one of my favourite poems from Jellaludin Rumi, the 13th century Sufi poet titled, The Guest House.
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
Rumi poetically emphasises that the “obstacle” is the path. In the old Buddhist formula we say Suffering = Pain X Resistance.
Pain is inevitable. This is the planet we are on. Everything is in a constant state of change, no form of satisfaction endures, we have limited knowledge, we sometimes get what we don’t want and we sometimes don’t get what we do want. We often get what we want and either realise we don’t actually want it or we lose it. We get old, sick and inevitably perish, and while we are alive we are subject to witnessing our nearest and dearest endure the same vicissitudes. These facts of life are a gold stamp guarantee if you are on this planet.
Resistance is every conditioned way we refuse to acknowledge and accept pain. We hold a visceral and painful felt sense of No to what already is. We complain, we fight, we worry, we fantasise and we disassociate.
Suffering is therefore, the experience of our resistance to pain and is equal to the degree with which we resist. A classic example of this might be running late to a meeting in traffic. There is no amount of worry, beeping or yelling that will ease the traffic, and we sit and broil when we could be breathing, feeling and accepting that which we have no power over.
With mindfulness as well as with psychotherapy we invite this willingness to see and be with what arises within us. It is within this way of being that the source of our suffering, our resistance to life’s pain, is transformed into presence, wisdom and compassion as our minds, hearts and body’s slowly unwind and open to ever greater degrees of peace.
Let’s take a look at five ways I integrate mindfulness into psychotherapy.
MINDFULNESS IN THERAPY
By working with thoughts, emotions and behaviours mindfulness based psychotherapy has a deeper and more holistic scope of potential for healing and personal development. Some ways I bring mindfulness into a session includes:
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Somatic Awareness
- Breathing Loving Awareness
Mindfulness Meditation can be as simple as paying attention to the sensation of your breathing. It can be practised at the beginning, middle or end of a session to set the tone, show the participant ways to self-regulate or to ground the participant before heading back out into the world. Try out this 5-Minute Breath Awareness Meditation on Insight Timer.
Somatic Awareness is purposefully bringing greater awareness to kinesthetic (sensory), interoceptive (internal) and proprioceptive (posture and movement) experience. I guide the participant to become aware of and name their physical experience with curiosity and kindness. It can be practised throughout the session.
Breathing Loving Awareness is an adaptation of the Buddhist practice of loving kindness. In this practice I guide the participant to regulate their breathing by gently slowing and deepening the rhythm of their breathing. Then guiding them to bring awareness to the part of the body that they feel the emotion most intensely and name the quality of their experience within that part of the body. I then guide them to imagine that their breath is loving awareness, non-judgmental and benevolent, and that they are breathing loving awareness in and out of the painful emotion within the body. This can be practised whenever there is a significant triggered emotional response in session.
Inquiry is the ancient and simple yet profound practice of questioning our experience. It can be done as a meditation, on paper or in dialogue. Not too dissimilar to CBT and yet in this form derived from Buddhist mindfulness practice, inquiry is based on the principle that erroneous thoughts can generate suffering. One of the most fundamental questions we can ask ourselves when we are suffering is “is that true?”, just taking a moment to question our thoughts can give us the perspective we need to learn from our stressors. Inquiry can be practised at any point during a session.
Education involves bringing useful concepts from mindfulness and psychology into the conversation as devices for developing a deeper understanding of the present conflict as well as challenging conditioned assumptions about interpersonal dynamics. One example of this could be reflecting on the principles of mindfulness such as the constant of change, cause and effect, or the principles of nonviolent communication.
So this sacred healing art of mindfulness and its therapeutic contemporary psychotherapy are more similar than some may have originally thought. With the unified goals of dismantling erroneous thought structures, unwinding painful emotional contractions and making space for something beyond suffering, mindfulness & psychotherapy can go hand in hand when handled with care.
If you enjoyed this article then please like and share.
This article is one part of a monthly newsletter called The Monthly Value offered by Michael Vaccaro, sharing free resources to inspire positive change for those that are willing. If you would like to receive this newsletter straight to your inbox click subscribe.
Do you have a question or topic you would like to learn more about?
If so please feel free to email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will incorporate what’s most relevant for you in up and coming articles, podcasts and youtube videos.
Michael Vaccaro is a sort after men’s coach, relationship therapist, mindfulness facilitator, blogger and podcaster. He is working from Thrive Clinic Mullumbimby on Wednesday and Fridays. You can contact Michael through this website contact page or directly at email@example.com