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Mindfulness Practice in Mental Health Therapy

By Sam White, 10/29/2021 - 09:34

Mindfulness Practice in Mental Health Therapy

In recent years, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has been used by mental health professionals to treat certain issues. In this blog post, we’ll look at a quick history of mindfulness therapy and explore how it's being used by therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals. 

There is no questioning the boom in popularity of mindfulness in the western world. From the invasion of yoga studios to mobile apps with guided meditations, practicing mindfulness has reached a mainstream peak. Meditation alone is said to be a multi-billion dollar industry with plenty of room to grow.

Mindfulness has become popular in many circles, including psychotherapy. What’s most interesting is the evidence of its success. Science is proving that ancient mindfulness practices are useful cognitive therapies for treating mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, chronic pain, ADHD and more. 

As more evidence continues to present itself, it's crucial for mental health professionals to understand the fundamentals of mindfulness and the options for treatment. In this article, we’ll look at some evidence for mindful practice and its potential impact on mental health.

Why is Mindfulness popular? 

Looking at the current cultural landscape, it’s easy to point a finger at the instant gratification cycle facilitated by new technology. The internet, computers, and smartphones have provided easy access to dopamine-rich distractions, feeding a cycle that many believe has morphed into an addiction. 
Whether these new technologies help or hinder the human experience is still up for debate. Yoga’s first spike in western popularity came in the 80s, long before the proliferation of personal computers and smartphones. Nonetheless, instant access to entertainment and information appears to have made a very mindless society. To combat the cycle of distraction, a new need has arisen - to slow down the mind. 

Why does it work?

As Dr. Siegel puts it “We did not evolve to be happy, we evolved for survival. This gives us the ability to analyze the past to avoid future pain and aim at pleasure.” Unfortunately, our biology doesn’t know how to regulate itself, often leaning toward a negativity bias. Any choice we make that results in something negative will stick in the mind as “bad”.

Practicing mindfulness helps with controlling these thoughts at any given moment. Be it a thought, emotion, physical feeling or situation - Mindfulness helps train our brain like a workout trains the body. Neuroscience shows it actually downregulates the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the fight, flight, and freeze response.

With practice, mindfulness allows the mind to observe sensations, both conscious and subconscious, from our mind as good or bad. This allows us to “let go” of thoughts and feelings that do not have a positive effect on our well-being. Mindfulness can strengthen the part of the brain that can silence any preconceived notion, way of thinking, or cognitive distortion without judging them as positive or negative. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has been proven to be a reactive and proactive treatment for a myriad of mental disorders, providing non-medicinal relief for people stuck in negative thought patterns. From chronic pain to panic disorders, mindfulness has the ability to mitigate symptoms, manage episodes, and prevent future thought patterns. Research has even suggested that practicing mindfulness can enhance one's experience of positive emotions.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why learning mindfulness-based cognitive therapies would be a powerful tool for any therapist, counselor, or mental healthcare provider. 

Evidence of Mindfulness' Theraputic Success

The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review
Results suggest that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction: a literature review and clinician's guide 
MBSR is an effective treatment for reducing stress and anxiety that accompanies daily life and chronic illness. MBSR is also therapeutic for healthcare providers, enhancing their interactions with patients. No negative side effects from MBSR have been documented.  

Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program 
Time spent engaging in home practice of formal meditation exercises (body scan, yoga, sitting meditation) was significantly related to the extent of improvement in most facets of mindfulness and several measures of symptoms and well-being. 

Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility
Meditators performed significantly better than non-meditators on all measures of attention. Furthermore, self-reported mindfulness was higher in meditators than non-meditators, and correlations with all attention measures were of moderate to high strength. This pattern of results suggests that mindfulness is intimately linked to improvements in attentional functions and cognitive flexibility.

Mindfulness for Therapists

Mindfulness practices can range from eating a raisin to a week-long meditation retreat. Below are some of our mindfulness continued education courses for therapists, social workers, counselors, or anyone looking to learn mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques:

Integrating Mindfulness, Compassion, and Forgiveness Practices into Psychotherapy

Ronald D. Siegel, Psy.D.
11.5 CE Hours Available

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Making Mindfulness Stick! Neuroscience of Mindfulness and Compassion

Christopher Willard, Psy.D.
11.50 CE Hours Available

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Mindful Self-Compassion: Core Skills Training

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.& Lesley Huff, Psy.D.
10.50 CE Hours Available

Click Here to Learn More