Mindful counselling and psychotherapy

A brief report Meg wrote for her publishers (Sage) on the thinking behind her forthcoming book on mindful counselling and therapy:

Mindfulness has become a major buzz-word in recent years, filtering into domains including eduction, the workplace, and the criminal justice system. Its prevalence in psychology and psychotherapy is such that it would be impossible to keep up with all of the publications in this area (over 40 per month).

Mindfulness is a form of wakeful attention. Buddhists practice meditation in order to cultivate this way of being in their lives. When we approach things mindfully we see more clearly that our struggles are rooted in grasping hold of the things we want, and trying to eradicate the things we don’t. Some have argued that the reason mindfulness has become so popular in the west of late is because our consumer culture has exacerbated this tendency to crave fulfilment and to avoid any unpleasant experiences. The radical message of Buddhism is that we need to face the inevitable suffering in life rather than trying to escape from it.

Most of the writing on mindfulness in counselling and psychotherapy has come from the cognitive-behavioural approach.Mindfulness-informed therapies have been hailed the ‘third wave’ of CBT (following the behavioural and cognitive waves). However, therapists from other approaches (psychodynamic, humanistic, existential) have been engaging with Buddhist ideas for a while now too. Indeed C. G. Jung wrote an introduction to D. T. Suzuki’s introduction to Zen Buddhism back in the 1940s.

For these reasons I decided to write a book exploring the ways in which all forms of counselling could usefully engage with mindfulness. I try to outline mindfulness (and the Buddhist theories behind it) in an accessible way, examining three key ways in which all practitioners might bring it into their therapy. We can teach mindfulness techniques and practices to our clients, we can try to cultivate mindful relationships with our clients in the therapy room, and we can practice mindfulness ourselves. Drawing on some of the main research and theory of recent years I cover the different mindful therapies that have emerged from dialogues between Buddhism and western counselling. Then I look at the main presenting problems which counsellors deal with (depression, anxiety, addiction, etc.), asking how mindfulness might inform our work with each of these.

Some Buddhist scholars have criticised mindfulness therapies for losing the ethical stance that is integral to Buddhist philosophy. In Buddhism, wisdom cannot be cultivated without also cultivating compassion. In my book – and on the related website – I try to retain this sense of mindfulness as a form of social engagement, not just another method of individual self-improvement.

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