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Mindfulness in mental health and prison settings
Mindfulness in mental health and prison settings

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2.1 Bringing mindfulness into therapy

The three ways in which counsellors can bring mindfulness into therapy are now explored.

1 Counsellors offering mindfulness ideas and practices to their clients

Counsellors can offer mindfulness ideas and practices to their clients in individual sessions, or in groups.

In one-to-one therapy, counsellors could offer mindfulness as:

  • a way for the client to prepare for the therapy before it starts
  • a kind of ‘homework’ to engage with outside therapy, to observe themselves and their thoughts and feelings
  • something to do in the therapy hour; for example, at the start to ground them, or in order to ‘sit with’ a difficult feeling that comes up
  • practices they can do in order to continue the work of therapy once therapy is over, in order to keep making time in their lives for self-care and self-reflection.

2 Counsellors practising mindfulness themselves

In ‘Mindfulness’, from Mad or Bad: A Critical Approach to Counselling and Forensic Psychology, you learned how important it is, from a mindfulness perspective, not to create a ‘them and us’ between therapists and clients, because we all struggle in similar ways.

Mindfulness practice can also help counsellors to develop important therapeutic qualities (Barker, 2013), these include:

  • Attention: Counsellors need to be able to focus their attention on the client. They also need to have a spacious awareness of everything that is going on in the therapy room, such as the client’s body language, the dynamic between themselves and the client, and any thoughts and feelings that are coming up for them as the client talks. Mindfulness is a good way to practise focused attention, and spacious awareness.
  • Empathy and compassion: These are the qualities which correlate most highly with positive outcomes of therapy (Cooper, 2008). There are loving-kindness and compassion meditations which directly cultivate our ability to empathise and to be compassionate with ourselves and with other people. Living in a culture which encourages judgement, criticism and comparison to others, we need to practise a different way of being, rather than it being something that comes easily.
  • Ability to sit with difficult feelings: Counsellors need to be able to sit with any difficult feelings that come up for the client instead of rushing to make them feel better, or giving them the message that those feelings are not okay. Joan Halifax (2011) says that meditation practice can help counsellors to learn how to sit grounded like a mountain, welcoming all emotions like the weather.
  • Self-awareness: It is important for counsellors to have self-awareness so that they can be there for the client, rather than bringing their own prejudices, assumptions or habits into the room. Sitting with themselves quietly, on a regular basis, can help counsellors to learn what assumptions they make, and how they tend to react.

3 Cultivating a mindful therapeutic relationship

You saw earlier in the video ‘Being present in therapy – key ideas in therapy’ that mindfulness is also a way of viewing the therapeutic relationship. Being present with the client, modelling compassion towards them and demonstrating how to stay with difficult feelings that arise are helpful in and of themselves.

Here are some practical ways in which a counsellor can cultivate a mindful therapeutic relationship:

  • doing meditation or journaling before sessions in order to be aware of where they are at, and to practise self-compassion
  • doing brief practices right before meeting the client, so that they’re ready to be present with them
  • employing mindful awareness in session: encouraging the client to attend to their whole experience and to give it time; noticing their own responses and slowing down to consider what to say and do next to best serve the client.

In the next section you will explore some of the ways that mindfulness can be used in prison settings.