There are many benefits to using mindfulness in counselling. Mindfulness is a cornerstone of Hakomi psychotherapy, and is fundamental to how I work. It creates safety and gives us the resources to be present with uncomfortable emotions without them overwhelming us. How does it give us resources? Our emotions may be so powerful that they swamp us, and then we act out in reactive ways. Mindfulness in counselling helps us to have a container so that we can hold ourselves even if we are experiencing strong emotions. This means that we can more easily work with those emotions in a counselling session and that in daily life we are less likely to be reactive and act in ways that cause us problems.
Why live in the moment?
Mindfulness generally helps us to be more focused on what is happening now and research shows that when we are in the present we are happier. We can spend a great deal of mental energy worrying about the future and regretting the past. Mindfulness helps us to get out of these repetitive mental patterns; the stories we tell ourselves over and over, and to focus on what is real for us right now. It also helps us to be more pragmatic and effective in our actions. We still plan and learn from past mistakes but we don’t dwell on them in ways that are distracting and upsetting. It lowers the volume of our mental chatter so we can focus our attention on the core issues that are effecting our decisions, or in a counselling session, the core issues we have come to counselling to deal with.
Building Resilience and Reducing Overwhelm
Importantly, using mindfulness in counselling helps us to hold ourselves, not to be overwhelmed by our painful emotions and mental chatter. This creates a container, quietening the background “noise” so that we can focus on what is important in a counselling session which frees us up to work on things more easily. It helps us to focus on what is happening internally so we can explore it and come to terms with it in a way that feels comfortable and safe.
- “Studies have shown that the single client factor which best predicts success in psychotherapy is whether or not the client can stay present with his or her experience” Eugene Gendlin
Once the background noise has quietened down we can more easily access what is going on for us and ultimately to explore the limiting core beliefs that we have about ourselves and change them. This is important …. Mindfulness is not simply about relaxing and feeling better, it is about being able to be present with our (possibly uncomfortable) material so that we can understand it and accept it. When we do this with mindfulness, it generally actually feels really ok and comfortable to explore the things we have been afraid to touch on. As Carl Rogers, the founder of person centred counselling, says “The curious paradox of change is that when we can accept ourselves as we are, we change”. When we can sit with our discomfort without trying to push it away, or being overwhelmed by it, we accept it. When this happens we can see it more clearly, access its roots, understand it and can ultimately take in new information so that our limiting core beliefs open up and change. This is where the promise of counselling is unleashed and we make the changes that allow us to live more satisfying and fulfilling lives!
In summary, Mindfulness in counselling is about
• Being with what IS
• Focusing attention on whatever is happening
• Quietening the system – this allows unconscious material to surface
• Accessing Core Beliefs
• NOT to relax and feel better
• NOT to fix things
• Allows us to gather information
• This can be unsettling
• “can you let yourself feel the discomfort… can you just let it be, as long as its there, even if it hurts?” Chris Germer
• “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Carl Rogers
• “You cannot be conscious of what you are not conscious of” – Julian Jaynes
• “80-85% of ‘who we are’ may be below our surface of awareness” Lorenda Monda
Once unconscious material is conscious, it can be integrated:
This is very freeing – and we can turn off the autopilot and reactive patterns that have caused us problems!
Look here for some suggestions for how to build a mindfulness practice, and some simple tools you can try yourself right now.