Mindfulness Meditation in Therapy

Table of Contents

What is Mindful Meditation

Originally developed as an extension of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, mindfulness meditation cultivates awareness of thoughts, emotions and sensations in the here and now. Instead of rehashing the past or projecting into the future, a person who is practicing mindfulness focuses on the present moment and is open and receptive to self, others and the surrounding world.

This modern practice of ancient techniques can be useful to social workers in helping their clients and also helping themselves become better social workers. Therapists and psychologists also use mindfulness for treatment purposes and in their personal lives.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, defines the practice of mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Kabat-Zinn has also called mindfulness “the art of conscious living.”

How is Mindfulness Meditation Used?

The emergence of mindfulness as an evidence-based tool for enhancing well-being is partly the result of Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, which combines mindfulness meditation and yoga. Since the program’s development at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979, thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental benefits of this form of therapy.

As a result, mindfulness meditation has been incorporated into other modes of therapy, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Developed in the 1980s by Dr. Marsha Linehan, a clinical psychologist at the University of Washington, Dialectical Behavior Therapy is used as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and a variety of other mental health conditions.

The treatment of borderline personality disorder can be one of the greatest challenges faced by a therapist or mental health social worker. The condition is marked by impulsivity, emotional instability, intense fears of abandonment and equally intense anger that often leads to suicidal behavior and self-harm.

Clients who suffer from this condition typically present a constant stream of emotional outbursts, demands and crises that can lead to therapist frustration and burnout. Sensing this frustration can increase the client’s feelings of abandonment and sabotage the therapist’s efforts.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy uses the concept of dialectics, which is the examination of opposing ideas, to help people with borderline personality disorder develop skills for coping with modes of thinking that lead to mood fluctuations and self-harming behaviors. Mindfulness meditation is incorporated to help clients become aware of negative thought patterns and accept them for what they are, with the goal of allowing these thoughts to recede on their own.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation?

Proponents of mindfulness praise the personal and professional benefits of mindfulness for social workers, therapists and counselors. It can help them develop greater compassion and understanding along with a more acute awareness of a client’s mental state. Greater self-awareness allows treatment professionals to stay grounded and composed, even when faced with a client’s emotional turmoil. Mindfulness is also said to foster a healthy, accepting attitude about therapeutic outcomes.

Chronic exposure to human suffering can leave social workers and other health care professionals vulnerable to emotional exhaustion and professional burnout. By practicing mindfulness and other stress-reduction techniques, professionals can improve self-compassion and quality of life while maintaining the desire to provide much-needed services for people in need.