Mindfulness in Therapy
By Karen Lenzi, MA
Mindfulness, bare attention, being in the present moment. These meditation concepts seem to be cropping up more and more frequently in the area of psychotherapy and counseling. What’s up?
“Mindfulness” is a Buddhist concept for how we work with our minds. In meditative practices, it refers to giving one’s full attention to what is happening right now, in the present moment in our experience. It means to quiet the mind and observe the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise – without judgment – and simply notice them. Mindfulness is about letting go of preconceptions and thoughts that our minds manufacture habitually. This quiet mind is very useful in therapy because it allows an evenhanded observation of how we view ourselves, our relationships in the world and the stories we tell ourselves about what and why and who.
Some form of mindfulness and kindness are part of any therapeutic relationship, although in western psychology “empathy” or “unconditional positive regard” may be the terminology. Contemplative therapists provide a compassionate and gentle stance and guide the client to observe their internal experiences fully, with curiosity. Without judgment we begin to notice how we edit or avoid or distract ourselves. When accompanied by the belief in the client’s “brilliant sanity”, or inherent health, contemplative psychotherapists create a safe therapeutic space where the client becomes aware of their essential, albeit unrealized, health and their potential for new ways of being.
So do you have to learn how to meditate to become mindful? No, actually, being fully aware in the present moment is available to all of us at any time. We simply notice what we are doing, slow down and really taste our food, feel the texture of our clothes, notice and feel our living breath move in and out of our bodies. Mindfully observing these bare sensations brings us back to the present, and gently steps us out of the spinning thoughts and stories that crowd our minds. We become observers of our mind and our sense of self.
While meditation is simple, it is not easy. Even so, its benefits are significant. A serious contemplative psychotherapist will have a regular and committed meditation practice of their own and should be able to refer you for meditation instruction if you want to explore further.
Karen Lenzi, MA, LPC, works with individuals, couples, and children. Her areas of focus include marriage and relationship counseling, as well as working with parents and their children. She is a member of The Therapist Group at Maria Droste Counseling Center in Denver, CO.