With hundreds of therapeutic modalities to learn about, it can be challenging to pick just one technique to use as a therapist. In the 21st century, more professionals are taking an integrative approach, using techniques from multiple modalities to personalize sessions for their clients. One method more therapists are exploring is mindfulness, which can be integrated into many different therapeutic approaches. There are a few ways you can start learning mindfulness techniques to effectively support your clients, starting with further education. Continue reading to learn more about mindfulness, including how you can learn more about this practice and use it during sessions with your clients.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of becoming aware of your bodily sensations, environment, thoughts, and desires with the intent to focus on the present moment instead of the past or future. While mindfulness is often used to reduce anxiety, stop racing thoughts, or become more aware of one’s needs, it can also be a daily practice or a lifestyle for some people.
With roots in Buddhist teachings, mindfulness has grown from a spiritual practice to a standard treatment for mental health conditions. Several therapeutic modalities use mindfulness practices to help clients reduce anxiety, understand their thoughts, and cope with challenging experiences, including mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy (MBSR). As mindfulness is often versatile and personable, it can be added to multiple therapeutic modalities as a treatment technique.
Many therapists use mindfulness to treat their clients because of its proven effectiveness. Research has shown that mindfulness can significantly reduce stress, depression, and anxiety in adults while also improving self-compassion. Other studies have found that it can increase optimism at work and lower attachment anxiety and avoidant behaviors in relationships.
How Does Mindfulness Differ From Meditation?
Mindfulness and meditation practice can go hand in hand but are two different techniques. Meditation often involves sitting or lying quietly while considering one’s thoughts, sensations, and experiences. Mindfulness can be done in a meditative state but can also be practiced throughout the day. For example, someone might partake in mindfulness while jogging by paying attention to the colors and scents of their natural surroundings. Contrarily, someone might practice mindfulness meditation by focusing on their breathing patterns while meditating.
How To Gain Mindfulness Skills As A Therapist
If you want to add mindfulness skills to your practice, there are a few ways to gather more information about this technique. However, know that mindfulness techniques can be subjective, and what works for one therapist might not work for the techniques of another. Below are a few first steps you might consider taking to learn more.
Go On A Mindfulness Retreat
One way to learn mindfulness is to go on a mindfulness retreat with expert gurus in mindfulness and meditation and learn from those who have dedicated their lives to the practice. Some mindfulness retreats are dedicated to a therapeutic space to learn mindfulness, whereas others may function as a class for professionals looking to master the skill.
Multiple retreats are dedicated to learning mindfulness in the context of modalities like mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). Compassion Works holds one such retreat, which integrates EMDR and mindfulness techniques and teaches therapists how to guide their clients using modern research.
Get Certified In A Mindfulness-Based Therapy Modality
Mental health professionals can take several professional mindfulness-based therapy certification courses, depending on the modality they’re interested in learning more about. Some courses are held by organizations or mindfulness training institutions, whereas others are offered by higher education institutions like universities.
One such program is the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teaching certificate program through Brown University. Part of the course requirements are three silent retreats. The overall time expected to complete the Brown course is nine months to two years, depending on the extensiveness of your training. This course may be ideal for those looking to offer MBCT as an expert.
You can also achieve mindfulness-based training from the official mindfulness-based cognitive therapy organization. They offer online workshops that take a hands-off approach to teaching mindfulness, as well as an official MBCT training pathway and instructor training workshops offered in person.
If you want to learn mindfulness as a skill outside of MBCT, you can take mindfulness courses online or in your area by looking at opportunities available for mental health professionals. Research has shown that therapists can also benefit from learning mindfulness. In one study, therapists reported that attending mindfulness training helped them create personalized mindfulness practices and integrate this skill into sessions with their clients.
Practice Mindfulness At Home
Beyond what you learn from experts, it may be beneficial to practice mindfulness at home before integrating it into therapy. A person can read many books, studies, and course materials to learn mindfulness, but without practicing and understanding the technique personally, the results may not be as accurate or supportive.
For example, in the past, researchers had to draw images in their studies of animals and other concepts that they had never encountered personally. Although they had studied these subjects in detail, their renditions of the figures were off, with features not appearing precisely as they would be if the person had seen them in real life. This example shows how experience can be just as essential as knowledge in developing a skill.
Mindfulness Methods To Use In Session
As you build a mindfulness practice, there are a few techniques you can start with to support your clients, including the following.
Body scanning is considered a form of meditation and mindfulness. It involves being mindful of various areas of the body at different points. Some body scans focus on physical sensations, while others involve imagining your body in specific scenarios. For example, below is a body scan mindfulness practice that can be used to help clients with insomnia fall asleep:
- Lay down in a comfortable position.
- Pay attention to one body part at a time, starting with your toes.
- Imagine your toes filling up with sand or progressively relaxing. Let go of the tension in your muscles that might remain from your day.
- If any thoughts come in, acknowledge them, and let them pass, choosing not to judge their appearance in your mind.
- Move your attention to your ankles, legs, and knees, repeating the muscle relaxation and imagination exercise.
- Repeat the exercise for every body part until you reach the top of your head. Spend about ten to 30 seconds on each body part.
If the body scan is successful, clients may fall asleep before they finish it. However, if they continue to struggle, ask them to repeat the exercise until they feel sleepy.
In trauma therapy, somatic awareness can be utilized to help clients identify physical sensations and how they relate to memories and emotions. This exercise can also be considered mindfulness, as it involves controlled awareness of the body.
During a session in which a therapist is discussing trauma symptoms with a client, the therapist can check in with the client every so often to remind them to pay attention to a certain part of the body. For example, as a professional, you might ask the client what sensations they feel in their body. Ask them about a specific body part if they can’t identify a general sensation. For example, you could ask, “What sensations are you feeling in your stomach?”
Sensations in the body can be linked to different emotions. If clients struggle to identify their emotions, a therapist can guide them by reminding them of bodily associations. For example, anger has been associated with the liver, fear can upset the stomach, grief can impact the lungs, and stress may cause an increased heart rate. A client experiencing pain in their stomach might be experiencing fear or anger.
Mindfulness From DBT
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a modality inspired by cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques but geared toward supporting clients with intense emotional experiences, such as those with personality disorders. The first module in the DBT Workbook is the mindfulness mastery module, and there are six mindfulness skills examined, including the following:
- Observe: Observing thoughts, emotions, and sensations without labeling, judgment, or action
- Describe: Describing what has been observed without judgment or action
- Participate: Fully participating in every experience in life without self-judgment or inhibition
- Non-Judgmental Stance: Reducing judgment of one’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences
- One-Mindful: Doing one activity at a time while practicing mindfulness
- Effectiveness: Finding mindfulness practices that are effective for you instead of looking to find effectiveness in what works for others
DBT uses mindfulness in all modules to help clients regulate their emotions. Mindfulness is the basis of the DBT modality, guiding therapists and clients in present awareness, loving-kindness, and sensory connection. If you want to support clients with intense emotional experiences, you might enjoy taking a DBT course or becoming a certified DBT instructor.
Sensory awareness mindfulness exercises focus on all five senses, including taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. One practice that therapists can teach clients is the 54321 mindfulness exercise, which involves the following steps:
- Identify five items around you in your favorite color.
- Listen for four sounds and label them.
- Ask yourself what three smells are most prominent in your environment.
- Notice two physical sensations, such as the weight of your blanket or the feeling of sitting on the ground.
- Eat one healthy snack and mindfully focus on its taste, texture, and complexity.
Exploring Mindfulness With Online Therapy
Mindfulness can be a useful practice for your clients but may also be a helpful tool for you. To learn more about implementing mindfulness into your practice or using it yourself, consider speaking with a provider through an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp.
With online therapy, you can connect with a mental health professional using video chats, phone calls, or in-app messaging. This may make it a convenient option if you have a busy schedule or a demanding career, which can often be the case with mental health professionals. Whether you’re exploring options to use in your own practice or are curious about the benefits of mindfulness for yourself, online therapy allows you to get support from anywhere at anytime.
The Efficacy Of Online Mindfulness Therapy
Wondering how much your clients may benefit from mindfulness? One study found that individuals who participated in online mindfulness interventions experienced reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, those who had a schizophrenia spectrum diagnosis experienced fewer distressing voices. These outcomes were found to match those of face-to-face mindfulness interventions.
Mindfulness training for therapists is widely available both online and in person. Therapists can take mindfulness retreats, attend official intensive university training, or learn from experience. In addition, there are hundreds of mindfulness interventions to learn and practice, regardless of prior training. If you’re interested in learning more about using mindfulness with your clients, consider these resources and begin a personal mindfulness practice at home to gain further experience.