The Mindful Therapist®

Mindfulness in The Therapeutic Context


The Mindful Therapist

The application of mindfulness practices in the therapeutic context is a vibrant and fascinating endeavor – perhaps even enlightening.  At the same time, it can be difficult to tease apart where a therapeutic method ends and a mindfulness practice begins.  And, at their core, the two may well be one and the same.

One such example is how mindful awareness naturally infuses skills such as active listening and mirroring -- the lesson being that those living a mindful life “naturally” exhibit the interpersonal skills taught in these programs and those learning these programs become more mindfully aware.  The evolving neuroscience underlying some of these processes offers the promise of long-term benefits, and the validation of models that had fallen out of favor.

The explicit overlay of mindfulness in therapy is evident in the extraordinary number of research grants, research and meditation-oriented articles, clinical treatments, and books addressing the two.  As an example, DBT, ACT, and MBCT with their emphasis on borderline personality, anxiety, and depression, along with efforts in play to broaden the application of these treatments to different populations.  MBSR plays an important role as a source and inspiration for some of these methods (most explicitly MBCT), and as an enormously well researched and validated treatment/practice.

To zero in on the heart of what it means to be mindful, the breath is often selected as an object of awareness.  In addition, there are different kinds of awareness that can be brought to the breath.  In many mindfulness practices, the breath is used as an anchor to create a more grounded, stable, and concentrated presence so that a deeper awareness may be brought to the arisings of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. 

So that this experiential quality of mindfulness could be placed more formally into the therapeutic context, it can be useful to consider its application in MBCT and the groundbreaking work of Zendel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale, and in Jeffrey Schwartz’ work with OCD, along with Dan Siegel’s work on the application mindfulness across many disciplines, including the therapeutic context.

As we explore mindfulness in the crucible of the work therapists do with children, parents, and families, the conversation broadens to the important and perhaps transformative role played by the therapists embodiment of mindful awareness in the therapeutic process.  Research on the efficacy of MBCT reinforced long held anecdotal belief that such embodiment is fundamental if mindfulness skills are to be explicitly imparted to clients. 

Increasingly, the therapist’s mind – and the benefits to flow from being mindfully aware (of the arisings of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations) in the midst of therapy is receiving greater attention.   In some respects, this looks to the heart of the Freudian model – of the role of talk therapy, silence, mirroring, and therapist’s expressions of insight  -- and the challenges therapists face in their heartfelt efforts to offer their clients a container in which to be able to look deeply into their true nature, explore the source or conditions of their suffering, and move into an expanded state of well-being. 

As we are all journeying on our life’s path – as therapists, meditators, partners, parents, spiritual seekers, and, ultimately, human beings – our work and our life continue to intersect in ways that inform and elevate the other.  And on those occasions that our mind is cloudy and caught in reactivity, as we bring awareness to this cloudy mind, the opportunity for deeper growth surfaces – both for the client and ourselves.

Wishing you all well,

Scott Rogers, M.S., J.D.

Director, Institute for Mindfulness Studies

Miami Beach, Florida

March 2009