The Importance of Mindfulness in Psychotherapy
Seeking psychotherapeutic treatment can be a stressful endeavor – full of self-analyzation of emotions, thoughts, and opinions. Throughout this process, it is important for a therapist to set aside time for patient mindfulness. When considering mindfulness, many think of spirituality, as it is often used in yoga and meditation practices to bring oneself to the present and clear the mind. The concept is similar when utilized as a psychological tool, but applied differently. When used correctly in a controlled, therapeutic environment, mindfulness can be highly efficient in helping a patient cope with life and therapy stressors.
Mindfulness, when used in psychotherapy, is an act of acceptance of the present. It is simply about being where you are currently sitting. For example, you are currently sitting and reading this sentence while thinking only of what I am saying. It may seem easy enough; however, for patients with psychological conditions, it’s not always as easy to “be” as it is for others. Many patient experience racing and habitual thoughts, which makes it difficult to respond to therapeutic treatments solely based on analysis of answers to questions.
Mindfulness training teaches patients to gently concentrate on the current moment without thinking of anything else. Often, the therapist will assign a task to anchor the individual to the present. Using the anchor, patients can attempt to be in the moment. Many therapists will use a physical yet calming task for patients to focus on, such as the counting of breaths. With this method, the patient will count each inhale and exhale without emotion and without allowing thoughts to enter.
It’s important to note that mindfulness training is always gentle. Although the patient will be avoiding thoughts and emotions, it is not handled as a stress. Instead, a thought or emotion is labeled, then the patient moves on to start over with counting breaths. For example, if a patient counted three inhales and exhales when a distressing thought suddenly came to mind, the individual would label the thought as “sad” or “upsetting.” Then, the patient would let go of the thought and continue counting breaths.
By acknowledging and accepting thoughts and emotions of the present, mindfulness allows for the development of self-management. Perhaps the most useful benefit of mindfulness training, self-management and emotion control can be developed through the process. Studies have shown that the frequent practice mindfulness can reduce anxiety, paranoia, and aggression. According to a study published online in 2014, researchers studied adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and found a significant correlation between the practice of mindfulness and the decline in the prevalence of sleeping problems, rumination, depression, and other factors of negative psychological well-being.
In addition to providing peace to the patient, the therapist can receive valuable insights as well. If the individual chooses to label thoughts and emotions out loud, it provides an unprecedented opportunity to understand exactly what is happening inside her mind. How the patient reacts to silent thought management and acceptance can be an important factor in how the therapist approaches the remainder of treatment. Additionally, mindfulness is often a useful way for a therapist and patient to bond.
Mindfulness is started to be used in psychotherapy more often. Although the process of psychotherapy entails an analysis of the patient, it is crucial to teach the individual how to cope inside and outside of the therapy office. Mindfulness offers an extraordinary opportunity for therapist-patient bonding and for the development of self-management strategies, as well as providing an anchor to the present to alleviate distressing symptoms.