What is mindfulness-based therapy? How does mindfulness-based therapy work? What are the connections between Mindfulness and psychotherapy? And how can meditation support therapy?
Mindfulness based psychotherapy is based upon a blend of two disciplines – psychotherapy and mindfulness meditation practice. Both of these traditions have a multitude of different schools, but meditation practice goes back thousands of years, and its roots lie in ancient Buddhist lineages, such as Zen, Theravada, and Dzogchen , which developed in many countries, such as Japan, Burma and Tibet. Mindfulness based psychotherapy is thus based upon an East-West fusion of philosophy and practice.
How can meditation practice inform therapy? The key lies in the concept of awareness. Simple awareness is transformative. This has been the basic tenet of many meditation schools for centuries, and it is also a cornerstone of effective therapy.
Pay attention to what you are experiencing in your body, feelings and mind – body sensations, feelings, thoughts, your underlying state of mind. Observe these arising phenomena, without judging them or trying to alter them in any way, simply accept what you are observing. Become the witness to your own inner experiencing. Through the process of learning how to do this, you can become slightly detached from the objects of your consciousness, the things you are observing, and instead you become the one who is observing. You get to open the door of your mind just a little, and let in more light. This is called witness consciousness. It enables you to enjoy a little more spaciousness in how you relate to yourself in everyday living, or in how you feel about yourself.
Instead of reacting to situations, you can instead pause for a moment. When you pause, you have the space to make a more balanced choice about how you are going to respond to the situation. In terms of mindfulness, our problems are not so much the cause of our unhappiness, as the way that we relate to our problems, by gripping onto them in our mind and seeing them in a fixed way. Thus learning to be a little detached, and less personally identified with all of our feelings and thoughts, can help us to deal with them more skilfully, because we gain a little perspective.
Practising mindfulness meditation or mindfulness exercises can support your therapy and help you attain a deeper self confidence, because it increases your sense of perspective about yourself and your situation. There is also another aspect that is more subtle, which is the discovery that your personality structure, behaviour and the way you do things are all more fluid and less fixed than you may have realised – and so you can change. In the beginning, you may find it very difficult to stop being distracted by your habitual thoughts – and this is why meditation is generally referred to as a practice, because our minds always try to get in the way and it takes time to learn to identify with a deeper sense of self awareness instead of the thinking mind.
Your therapist may even be practising a form of mindfulness while working together with you, and this can be described as a meditative or contemplative way of being present with you. This entails the therapist holding a body-oriented, inclusive, open-hearted and non-judgemental awareness. This allows them to be present with you, and to be open to receive all forms of communication from you, but paying attention to the whole joint field between you, and not just the things that you say. You may notice this, and that this helps you to become more centred, too.
There are various different trainings in mindfulness. Core Process Psychotherapy founded by Maura and Franklin Sills in Devon, is form of mindful-ness based, integrative psychotherapy that has an underlying psychospiritual approach. It brings together a psychodynamic understanding of personality with deeper aspects from the contemplative meditation traditions, to enable the client and the therapist create deeper coherence and wellbeing in the client’s sense of who they are. There is a profound orientation to the timeless, essential qualities of your nature, so that no matter what issues you’re grappling with, you can find some peace, clarity and spaciousness.