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Using Mindfulness Clinically

By January 1, 2015November 19th, 2020Blogs, Dr. Jenny Yip

As the definition of “therapy” continues to grow, so does that of “mindfulness.” This term is slowly becoming part of our daily vernacular; however what truly is “mindfulness?” On a day-to-day basis, mindfulness can be conceptualized in a countless number of ways. This holds true within the parameters of therapy. Traditionally speaking, mindfulness can trace its roots back to Eastern philosophy and the practice of Buddhism. In this practice, mindfulness (or Sati) is the state of heightened awareness of mental and physical phenomena as they arise within our body (Follete, Palm and Pearson, 2006). Thus, in a very basic form, mindfulness is the practice of attention. This discipline can also be utilized in our daily lives to increase awareness and understanding of what we are thinking, feeling, and perceiving in the world around us.

One often enters therapy in a time of emotional or physical pain to learn how to cope, process and discover the core root of this pain. Within the framework of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the therapist and patient will begin looking at the patient’s thought processes and how that thinking is impacting their emotion and subsequent behavior. This is where mindfulness can play a key component within therapy. The therapist is asking the patient to have a heightened awareness of thoughts and emotions, most of which they have been consciously (or subconsciously) avoiding for years. Integrating mindfulness techniques will help that patient better prepare and execute this uncomfortable task. However, at this juncture, what is being asked is to simply observe without change.
Within our society, much time and energy is given to fixing and escaping negative feelings. We tend to experience emotional pain and tell ourselves “I don’t like that, it must be bad, I want it gone” and we fight our natural emotional responses. Within Western traditions, the focus is on controlling these emotions, rather than experiencing them (Kumar, 2002). Mindfulness practice helps individual learn how to sit with uncomfortable emotions, with no intentions to control them, and to simply “be” without “doing.” This may seem counterproductive to the goal of therapy; however how can one change without knowing what “it” is they are changing?
Mindfulness is not simply a philosophical ideal; it is a practical tool that when used is quite powerful. It is also something that can be done anytime, anywhere, with only our bodies as the mechanism of change. A task to start you on your way to Mindfulness would be to pick one daily routine, maybe brushing your teeth or walking to your car, and truly note each and every step that goes into the behavior. Notice how the bristles feel on your teeth or how you step into your car; however be aware (be mindful) of the process and the sensations that occur. From A to Z, be aware of what your body feels, and simply experience it, with no agenda to change it.
Follette, V., Palm, K., & Pearson, A. (2006). Mindfulness And Trauma: Implications For Treatment. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 24, 45-61.
Kumar, S. M. (2002). An introduction to Buddhism for the cognitive behavioral therapist. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 9, 40-43.