What Is Mindful Therapy?
By: Jon Jaehnig
Updated February 18, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault
This is a very good question because "mindful therapy" is arguably not a thing. It's a common mistake, but the term is actually "mindfulness therapy."
Mindfulness therapy is a recent approach to therapy that involves helping the patient to more carefully notice and consider their thoughts.
It's fairly new, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't trust it. Mindfulness therapy has its groundings in older philosophies and the work of some very well-known and renowned psychologists. We'll get to all of that later in the article.
First, where does the "mindful/mindfulness" mix-up come from?
Mindful Vs. Mindfulness
"Mindful therapy" has been mentioned by Dr. Lorne Ladner in an educational video of the same title. In the video, Ladner talks about incorporating mindfulness into therapy practices - which is what mindfulness therapy is - and he calls it "mindfulness therapy" throughout the video.
The second major use of the term "mindful therapy" is in the title of a 2011 book and later website by Dr. Thomas Bien. Similar to Lorne, Bien seems to use the terms "mindful" and "mindfulness" interchangeably, so his mindful therapy isn't different from mindfulness therapy. He is more heavily influenced by Buddhism than Lorne or most other psychologists, but that's not a practical problem. Buddhism and mindfulness therapy both draw heavily on meditation. The only potential conflict is that some people, especially people from other religious traditions, can be scared away from mindfulness and mindfulness therapy because they see meditation as a religious practice in potential conflict with their own beliefs. This is unfortunate because meditation is not a strictly religious practice and all religious practices have some form of meditation. We will return to the idea of mindfulness meditation later.
Saying "mindful therapy" instead of "mindfulness therapy" on occasion doesn't mean that Ladner and Bien are wrong or stupid or that you should ignore their works. There is room to argue the grammatical pedantic and semantics of how mindfulness therapy and mindful therapy may imply slightly different things but, as mentioned above, this field is fairly recent to psychology. The fact that there are two slightly different terms for it shouldn't scare us away from people who use a less common version of the phrase. If this article piques your interest in mindfulness therapy, please don't be afraid to look into the links provided above - as well as those provided below - for more information.
What Is Mindfulness Therapy?
Now that that is out of the way, we can back to the question of what mindfulness therapy is.
Mindfulness Therapy is a form of therapy that encourages the patient to monitor carefully - and, if necessary, correct - their thoughts. Mindfulness therapy draws on the concepts of the larger idea of mindfulness, which we'll talk about in greater detail soon. While mindfulness is based on older traditions, the roots of mindfulness principles in therapy go back to the works of Dr. Aaron Beck, the last of the great Humanistic Psychologists who did most of his work before mindfulness was going mainstream.
Aaron Beck grew up in the influence of humanistic psychology but would later become a founder of cognitive psychology, which is very similar to mindfulness therapy. Humanistic therapy arose in the mid-twentieth century as a response to the more deterministic approaches of earlier popular psychologists like Freud and Pavlov.
Beck believes that people suffer unnecessary emotional distress because they tend to focus on themselves as the root of their problems. Instead, Beck encouraged his patients to look at themselves as agents in a larger system with lots of room for error rather than the sole cause. Cognitive Psychology, in general, can be seen as a sort of "metapsychology" that believes that how we think is one of the greatest determinants of how we feel. Some critics believe that this prevents patients of cognitive psychology from recognizing the roles that they may play in their problems, such as self-destructive or aggressive behaviors. Proper balance can be found by working with a psychologist instead of going through it alone. Other aspects of mindfulness therapy, like correcting your unproductive or harmful thoughts, can be done without professional guidance, however.
The only problem with correcting one's thoughts is that one must first be aware of one's thoughts. This is more difficult for some of us than it may at first seem. It's also where mindfulness comes in.
What Is Mindfulness?
If you think about it, our minds never really shut off. Not while we read or listen to music or even sleep. You may notice a rogue thought when it is particularly intrusive or even shocking but that kind of thing is happening behind our eyes and between our ears all the time.
Our brains deal with this in more or less the same ways that they deal with background noise: they kind of tune it out. This saves us energy by helping us to block out what some experts call " mind."However, it may also hurt us because what the monkey mind is saying behind our backs is sometimes a problem. At least, according to Beck and other psychologists like Bien and Ladner.
To "calm the monkey mind," you need to be aware of what it's up to, and that's the specialty of mindfulness and particularly mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation have their roots in Buddhism. The term "monkey mind" is an old Buddhist expression. Much of Buddhism and related religions and philosophies emphasize how we interoperate events in our lives and form relationships with those around us.
This doesn't mean that mindfulness meditation requires you to be Buddhist or that practicing mindfulness meditation conflicts with other religious systems. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is about health, and that means that mindfulness meditation is just as Buddhist as heart surgery is Christian or cataract surgery is Islamic.
So how do you practice mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness meditation can be as unique as the practitioner, but this article, other online resources, a mindfulness therapist, or other teachers can help you get started so that you can make the process your own.
One way to go about it is to sit or lie down comfortably. If you want to cross your legs at the shins and keep your hands on your knees if you want, if you practice yoga, you might choose to meditate in the yoga pose called "shavasana" - lying on your bag with your arms at your sides and your palms up. Whatever you do, be sure that you are comfortable, especially if you plan on meditating for more than a few minutes. How you look isn't nearly as important as how you feel.
Once you are comfortable, close your eyes and try to clear your mind. You can do this by trying to think of nothing, but that's deceptively hard. Instead, try to focus on a mental image, repeating a word, or just on your breath.
Once you've chosen something to focus on, just see how much time goes by before another thought distracts you. Eventually, the idea for some people is to gradually increase the amount of time that you can keep a clear mind. Starting, however, the idea is just to get used to "intercepting" your thoughts.
When a thought distracts you, instead of scolding yourself, take a moment to recognize what the thought is before trying to clear your thoughts again. Repeat this process a couple of times to get an idea of what your monkey mind is up to. This process can last as long as you want, but most experts recommend around ten minutes per day. If you aren't used to meditating, you can start with as little as two or three minutes and work your way up. Some people also like longer meditation sessions, but it isn't a competition, it's about doing what's right for you.
At first, doing this activity at least once per day but ideally, every day can do a lot of good. If you keep it up, however, it will gradually become easier for you to intercept your thoughts while you aren't meditating.
If you find that your monkey mind is usually saying things that you don't like, try correcting it with more positive and constructive thoughts. This can be hard at first but working with an instructor or therapist can help to guide you. Hopefully, one day, you will reprogram your monkey mind to be positive and constructive instead of distracting and depreciating.
How BetterHelp Can Help
As discussed above, it's possible to practice mindfulness on your own or with an instructor. However, if you think that you could benefit from mindfulness therapy, you will need to work with a mindfulness therapist.
Publishing educational articles like this one are just one of the services offered by BetterHelp. BetterHelp also matches users with thousands of qualified and licensed online therapists. They can get you started with mindfulness therapy and help you to develop your mindfulness practice as well as answer other questions that you may have. For more information, visit https://betterhelp.com/online-therapy/ .
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