Mindfulness refers to a way of being in relation to our thoughts, feelings, internal content, and present-moment experience that promotes greater inter and intrapersonal functioning and our ability to more freely engage in and move towards what matters to us. Mindfulness can be developed and strengthened through everyday behavioural choices we make, psychological practices and skills, and formal practices such as mindfulness meditation. Many current psychological approaches make use of mindfulness-based skills and ideas and mindfulness is a foundational element of a few psychotherapy approaches including Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). Numerous studies have validated the many beneficial effects of mindfulness practice including reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression and improvements in specific disorders such as major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) among others. Some of the aims of mindfulness practice include:
Promoting one’s ability to flexibly move back into the present moment when it is useful to do so, breaking cycles of rumination, worry, or mental distress
Enhancing our ability to make space for difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences so that they do not overwhelm us or dictate our next behaviours
Allowing us to view our internal experiences as simple mental events rather than facts we must believe, thereby reducing the pain and difficulty these experiences can give us
Enabling greater access to our observing self; the bigger “I” that can stand back from our experiences and situations and provide a wiser, more resilient, and more compassionate perspective as needed
Mindfulness practice can take many forms. Some approaches place greater emphasis on deliberate practice in formal meditation practices. This may involve your therapist teaching you particular meditative practices related to your counselling goals and challenges and possibly asking you to complete these practices at home between sessions too. There are many benefits to formal meditation practice. You can think of meditation as a workout for your mindfulness muscles; there are definitely other ways to build those muscles but its a solid reliable and accessible method. While formal mindfulness meditation practice is certainly a great way to build mindfulness skills, it isn’t the best approach for everyone. Some people are not particularly into the whole idea of meditation (“Sorry, it’s not my style!), perhaps put off by associations with fad practices or various spiritual traditions. While mindfulness meditation in psychotherapy is generally wholly disconnected from any spiritual traditions - no spiritual tradition holds dominion over basic faculties of attention and awareness which is what mindfulness essentially is - negative associations of any kind can make it hard to get into for sure. Others like the idea of mindfulness meditation but simply struggle with ‘homework’ and maintaining a regular practice at home. In these cases, your therapist can work with you to adapt the length and style of any meditation practice to make it easier to engage in.
At the end of the day, mindfulness meditation is just one way to build the skill of mindfulness. If it is not your cup of tea or not something that seems feasible right now, there are still plenty of other ways to increase your capacity for mindfulness. Some approaches like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) place greater emphasis on equipping people with mindfulness skills rather than mindfulness meditation per se. Through the use of metaphors, in-session prompts, and skill instruction your therapist can help you learn how to get some distance from your thoughts, move flexibly into the present moment, access your wiser, more balanced observer self, and increase your ability to allow difficult experiences if it is in the service of moving towards what is important to you. For example, your therapist may teach you a basic noticing technique that can ground and center you when you’re struggling with racing thoughts or difficult emotions, such as the instruction to in these moments try to orient your attention to particular sounds you can notice in the room you are in. Or, the “I’m having the thought” technique can act as a very portable way of getting some space from difficult thoughts. Switching, “I’m going to fail this interview,” to “I’m having the thought that I’m going to fail this interview,” can give you some immediate space from that thought, facilitating your ability to more effectively act in the situation you are in.
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years. On the one hand, it is great that more and more people are hearing about and learning more about mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. On the other, as awareness of mindfulness has spread so have unhelpful associations and ideas about the practice. Mindfulness and related practices are often connected with images of serene young women, experiencing the bliss of a meditation retreat, or the calm cocoon of a relaxing spa. For many, it sure looks like a nice relaxing thing to do, but it becomes hard to understand how it connects to ‘real life’ or for those individuals turned off by such cliche stock images and posters. Yet, mindfulness - when engaged in as an authentic psychological practice rather than a quick cheesy and easy hip thing to do! - is an extremely beneficial psychological approach that is highly beneficial in the management of anger, anxiety, and intense emotions.
Mindfulness therapy is highly effective in addressing many challenges related to anxiety, anger, and difficult emotions. Many people enjoy mindfulness-based approaches and find them significantly practical, engaging, and helpful. In mindfulness therapy you will learn how to bring this perspective and its associated tools and practices into your life to deal with challenging thoughts and emotions, and gain increased emotional balance and mental clarity. We offer in-person mindfulness-based psychotherapy sessions in Toronto and remote mindfulness counselling sessions for anyone in Ontario.