Mindfulness is a central idea to many of the most successful therapies available today. Dialectical Behavior Therapy has an entire module on the process of becoming mindful due to the direct impact that a mindful state can have on decreasing harmful behaviors and increasing the likelihood of skillful choices. But how do we get our clients to use meditation to become mindful? Answer: make meditation one of your go-to, in-session techniques. Let's talk about when and how to use meditation in-session to enhance the therapeutic experience.
Mindfulness is a state of consciousness in which we "pay attention, on purpose, in a particular way, non-judgmentally," (John Kabat-Zinn) to whatever is happening right now. Meditation is one process through which we cultivate mindfulness by taking specific steps to engage with the present moment. We breathe, hold our bodies in an alert way, and turn our attention away from the chatter of the mind and toward the now.
Our clients are often experts at getting caught up in mindlessness--that state of being swept away by thoughts, judgments, emotions, and beliefs--and are likely in counseling as a direct result of the struggle to be present, though they probably won't articulate it in that way. For the anxious client, what is anxiety if not a preoccupation with negative predictions about the future, their abilities, or the treatment they will get from others? One antidote for anxiety built on past and future mind stuckness is present moment awareness. Eckhart Tolle brilliantly and annoyingly says in The Power of Now, "in this moment, there are no problems," which can shock us into the realization that our minds buzz furiously with content that we feel we have to act on or avoid when in reality, thinking, worrying, and planning are often bigger contributors to our anxiety than the situations that trigger the mental activity in the first place.
Teaching clients how to be mindful by engaging them in meditation helps them to see an alternative way of experiencing their inner worlds. Anxiety can be experienced mindfully (and tolerated) as a set of physical sensations and mental formations, reducing the urgent need to avoid anxiety at all costs. When anxiety can be tolerated, clients can dig deeper into the origin of their anxiety without fear that they will trigger emotion that will overwhelm them completely.
You're sold on meditation, but want to know how to use it in session. Great news! You don't have to be yoga certified, have spent weeks or months in silent meditation, or be at some other arbitrary point of guru development to lead your clients in meditation. In fact, there are so many apps for meditation out there that you may not have to lead the meditation at all. Your job is to recognize when mindfulness is needed.
Dr. Candice Creasman
Therapist, author, and counselor educator. Articles with tips and tools for living your most authentic and joyful life.