What do Psychotherapy and Mindfulness Have in Common?
A couple of decades ago, introducing meditation practices into psychotherapy may have raised some eyebrows – but more recently, people are beginning to view the integration of mindfulness and psychotherapy in a different way.
Mindfulness is becoming recognised as a powerful tool in psychotherapy, and there are a growing number of therapists who are trained in both modalities. Many people are seeing positive results when the two approaches are combined.
In a 2007 survey of 2,600 therapists, 41.4 percent of respondents reported they were practicing some form of “mindfulness therapy” with their clients. Mindfulness-based treatments are increasingly popular and there is a growing evidence base both for the effectiveness of mindfulness-based approaches.
What are the advantages of integrating psychotherapy and mindfulness? How can a combined approach help you heal?
4 Reasons Psychotherapy and Mindfulness Work Well Together
1. They complement each other well
Mindfulness and psychotherapy can be complementary practices. Psychotherapy primarily examines “self in relationship to other”, and mindfulness primarily examines “self in relationship to self.”
The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term “sati,” which originally meant "to remember" or "to recollect.” Mindfulness can help develop a greater awareness of our inner experiences (including our thoughts and feelings), which can help you recognise unhelpful thoughts as they arise in your everyday life.
Counsellor and Psychotherapist Lynn Barnes explains: “Mindfulness is increasingly used in counselling and psychotherapy to help clients become more curious about their body sensations, behaviour, thoughts and feelings. However, psychotherapy and counselling are also relationship-based processes, so incorporating the concept of ‘embedded relational mindfulness’ is important….embedded relational mindfulness helps the client and the therapist become aware of the client’s internal processes.”
Both mindfulness practice and psychotherapy are concerned with our ongoing processes of healing, cultivating our attention, strengthening our capacity for presence, and lessening the power of our inner critic or superego. They complement each well, because both practices are about suffering less, and nourishing our hearts and souls with loving, caring and wise presence.
2. Psychotherapy requires requires resilience – and meditation can help you cultivate it
Complex trauma takes time to work through, and you’ll need resilience to help you through the therapy process.
The healing process is nonlinear. It’s an ongoing, lifelong practice, and it requires commitment, resilience and love. Practicing mindfulness can help you strengthen your resilience for managing with difficult parts of the therapeutic process.
3. They both help you cultivate connections
Mindfulness and psychotherapy both help you create deeper connections – with others, and with yourself.
Mindfulness practice nurtures a deeper connection with yourself, with your own body, and can help you learn to regulate your nervous system. Nervous system regulation is particularly important for trauma survivors, as we can have PTSD-like symptoms, in which our nervous systems get overstimulated and hypersensitive to our environments.
Psychotherapy fosters connection with a trusted and safe other, who helps us to get to know “ourselves-in-relation.” In psychotherapy, we move toward empathy for ourselves by experiencing our therapist’s care for us, their empathy for us, for all we have been through, and their compassion for how those experiences are impacting us today.
Both kinds of connection are critically important for trauma survivors, because we often feel profoundly disconnected and lonely, and it’s important to build connections with others as well as with ourselves to continue along our paths of healing.
4. Both therapy and mindfulness encourage us to give caring and consistent attention to our experiences
Psychotherapy and mindfulness help us develop a deeper understanding of ourselves. In both therapy and mindfulness, we give caring, curious and sustained attention to something, like our breath or sound – and when our attention wanders, we return awareness to the object of our attention.
We are taking time to step out of “doing” and constantly being productive, and we’re taking time to simply be – either by resting in awareness solo (during meditation) or in relationship (in psychotherapy).
We live in a culture where we are discouraged from even feeling our pain, let alone talking about it authentically and exploring it. Yet, the pain is compounded and festers when we refuse to face it. We often put on a brave face and operate inauthentically to we stay outwardly positive and appear invulnerable.
We need to care for how things are right now, and mindfulness and psychotherapy can be powerful practices for deeply tending to ourselves in this way.
Are Psychotherapy and Mindfulness for you?
If you’re going to use mindfulness and psychotherapy in conjunction, it’s important that you find qualified psychotherapists or teachers to guide you.
An integrated approach of psychotherapy and mindfulness can work well for helping you heal the wounds of emotional trauma, and working with a teacher or a therapist can be incredibly supportive as part of that process.
As always, you should focus on creating a path of healing that works for you.
Welldoing.org posts about mindfulness