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Mindfulness in the Clinical Field: Complementing Standard Treatment

There is a growing body of research supporting the efficacy of mindfulness in clinical settings. Mindfulness, as defined by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, is “the awareness that arises from paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Studies have shown mindfulness can reduce the effects of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety and PTSD. It can help individuals who are considering making changes to their substance use and continue to help them as they put these changes into action and maintain them. There have even been studies done showing benefits in cancer patients – including a reduction in stress and depression, as well as reducing the intensity of their pain levels. Mindfulness has application with incarcerated individuals in processing the stress and emotions of living in prison, as well as coming to terms with and accepting the trauma that a vast percentage of them have endured. Studies on the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in six prisons in Massachusetts showed a decrease in hostility, an increase in self-esteem and an increase in emotional self-regulation (Samuelson et al., 2007). It also should be noted that an increase in self-esteem and emotional self-regulation can contribute to an increase in responsiveness to cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approaches.

As a supplement to standardized clinical treatment, mindfulness is proving to have widespread benefits across the industry. It can be practiced in a group setting, one-on-one or individually. Mindfulness can be practiced through breath attention, body scans and a wide range of meditations – everything from noticing your thoughts and emotions to Loving Kindness to walking meditations. While the benefits are numerous, it should be noted mindfulness doesn’t always work for every individual. Some people with a heavy history of trauma may find that they are retraumatized by triggers that surface during meditation. Others may find trying to sit still and tune in to themselves provokes anxiety. Still others may find that mindfulness causes them to detach too much from their emotions, causing them to become numb. It’s up to the care provider to find practices that work for the individual and check in to see how they’re perceiving treatment.

3 Practices for Bringing Mindfulness Skills to Your Clients

Perhaps the most attainable introduction to mindfulness is the practice of “noticing your breath.” For this practice, participants will simply tune in to the sensations and patterns of breathing – an automatic process that usually goes unnoticed. In a clinical setting, you might try helping lead participants through this with a guided meditation, using a steady and calm voice. You might have soothing music playing in the background as you guide your participants through the sensations and flow of the breath, without feeling the need to change or control anything.

A second common practice is “noticing your thoughts.” Here, participants will tune in to their thoughts without judging, proving or disproving them. You might have them imagine clouds drifting by in the sky or leaves floating by on a stream. This can help participants slow down and tune in to their thoughts before acting or reacting to stressful situations or emotions.

A third practice is “noticing your body.” Participants will simply scan each area of the body, from the bottoms of their feet to the top of their head, and tune in. Any sensations – including warmth, stiffness, tingling and lightness – are tuned into and noted. In this practice, participants don’t have to change anything, although more advanced extensions of this can include progressive muscle relaxation.

There are plenty of introductory – and advanced – scripts and practices available for clinical settings. The Change Companies© also offers mindfulness scripts in a number of relevant Facilitator Guides as a complement to Journals. You might try out one of the three basic introductions to practicing mindfulness listed above. Let us know how it goes! What worked and didn’t work for you? What obstacles did you see with your participants? What place do you think mindfulness has in clinical practice?