How is Mindfulness Used in Therapy?
When therapists treat clients, there are several modalities they may utilize to help clients make progress and meet their treatment goals. One therapeutic modality that may be beneficial is the use of mindfulness. Here, learn how mindfulness is used in therapy, and what the research says about the benefits of mindfulness interventions.
What is Mindfulness?
Before exploring the use of mindfulness in therapy, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of what mindfulness is. Researchers have described mindfulness as a state of awareness, in which people acknowledge their thoughts, bodily sensations, and environment, without passing judgment on any of these things.
In daily life, we tend to operate on auto-pilot, without paying much attention to the present moment. Our minds are constantly wandering, and when we do turn our attention inward to our thoughts, we often tend to be negative and self-critical. Mindfulness teaches us a new way of being, by requiring not only that we focus our attention on the present moment, but also by asking us to acknowledge feelings and sensations without passing judgment upon ourselves.
For instance, if we are aware of the bodily experience of anxiety, we may have a tendency to ruminate and worry about the worst case scenario. When we train ourselves to be mindful, we can acknowledge that we might feel a little anxious in the present moment, but we are simply able to “let the thought go” instead of fixating on it.
Applying Mindfulness Interventions to Therapy
When used in therapy, mindfulness interventions teach people to become more aware of the present moment, instead of living in a constant state of autopilot, in which their minds wander from one thought to the next. Mindfulness can also allow us to become less fearful of negative thoughts and emotions. For instance, instead of reacting negatively to an unpleasant emotion like sadness or fear, we can acknowledge that we feel it, but simply accept it and let it pass.
In a therapeutic setting, a trained mental health professional may provide mindfulness interventions in either an individual or a group format. In mindfulness groups, a therapist leads clients in a mindfulness curriculum, by teaching them what mindfulness is and how it can benefit them. After group members develop an understanding of mindfulness, the therapist leading the group walks members through mindfulness exercises that focus on breathing, body scanning, listening, among others. Group members are also encouraged to take the exercises they learn in the group session and practice them individually in their own homes as a way to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives.
Mindfulness can also be applied to individual therapy sessions. For example, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) incorporates aspects of mindfulness into cognitive interventions. A client who struggles with depression may receive cognitive therapy to alter their negative thinking patterns. When mindfulness is incorporated into therapy sessions, the client also learns to identify their mood states but not to react negatively to them. Learning to become more mindful in therapy can help individuals with conditions like depression or anxiety to become better at regulating their emotions, so that negative mood states do not have such a significant impact on daily life.
Does Mindfulness Work When Used in Therapy?
Given that mindfulness interventions are becoming more popular, researchers have taken an interest in whether these interventions actually work. An analysis of over 200 studies in Clinical Psychology Review found that mindfulness-based therapy is effective for treating anxiety, depression, and stress. The analysis found the effectiveness of mindfulness was comparable to cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication, and it was superior to some other forms of therapy.
Based upon the research, there is evidence that mindfulness-based therapy practices are effective, especially if you live with a mood disorder like depression or need support in coping with stress and anxiety. Enrolling in a mindfulness therapy group or seeking out a therapist who incorporates principles from mindfulness into therapy sessions can help you to develop the tools to manage your emotions and achieve a state of calm, even in the midst of stress.