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Mindfulness skills training can be enormously beneficial for anyone who wants to increase their appreciation of life; to experience life fully, moment by moment, in its full richness – rather than ‘mindlessly’ going through life lost in thoughts and imaginations about yesterday and tomorrow. For many people mindfulness skills are what makes it possible to live a harmonious life, with appropriate balance between work-and-life, self-and-other, striving-and-enjoying.
Mindfulness practices are also increasingly embraced by therapists as a valuable component in the treatment plan for clients who suffer from a vast range of disorders in the physical and mental-emotional range, e.g. stress, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, chronic pain disorders, drug addictions, eating disorders, sleep disorders etc.
Mindfulness skills training develops clients’ skills for meta-cognition, and perceiving from the perspective of the “wise mind” that is non-reactive, space-giving, and accepting. Hence, it transforms clients’ relationship to their emotions and body sensations, and increases their ability to regulate affect.
Whilst client outcomes improve for clients who have developed a reasonable degree of mindfulness skills, the practical reality nevertheless is that relatively few therapists themselves have the training and experience that is required for helping their clients develop such skills. Nor do most therapists have the time available, within the restrictions of prescribed treatment plans, that is required for clients to be able to develop adequate mindfulness skills. It is also recognised as best practice to separate the teaching and learning of mindfulness skills from the client’s regular, ongoing therapy.
The purpose of the Mindfulness skills training program in this context, then, is to provide therapists with a support mechanism, which their clients can access as an adjunct to their regular treatments, where clients have the opportunity to develop mindfulness skills as a means to enhancing therapy outcomes.
Important notice to therapists
- The Mindfulness skills training program is NOT a substitute for the client’s regular treatment. It is delivered to the client as a support function to the therapy provided by the client’s therapist.
- The mindfulness skills training program focuses on helping the client develop skills, which increase the client’s ability to be mindfully aware of their experience, so that positive outcomes can be more readily achieved in the client’s regular therapy.
- The Mindfulness skills training program does NOT interfere with the client’s treatment plan. It does NOT specifically address any of the issues that are being addressed in the client’s therapy.
- The Mindfulness skills training program is provided to the client according to the needs of, and usefulness to, the client, as assessed by the client’s therapist. The contents of the program can be tailored to each individual client’s needs and skills level, as determined in cooperation with the client’s therapist.
- I do NOT permit clients who have been referred to the Mindfulness skills training program by another therapist to ‘switch’ therapists and start therapy with me instead of continuing with the referring therapist. In this context it may be important to notice also that I am NOT eligible to provide treatment under the Mental Health Care Plan.
Mindfulness in psychotherapy
Mindfulness in various forms has been practised since the beginning of time. In recent times researchers from the field of neuroscience have been able to establish the beneficial effects of mindfulness meditation on brain functioning, and there is now undeniable evidence that incorporating the principles of mindfulness into Western psychotherapeutic practice can be of benefit to a wide variety and intensity of psychopathologies (e.g. Baer, 2003).
It has furthermore been suggested, e.g. by Martin (1997), that mindfulness is a common factor which enhances therapy outcomes, independently of the theoretical orientation of the therapy. This suggestion is supported by the view that developing mindfulness skills will promote the client’s ability to access new perspectives on their experiences, and to disengage from ingrained habitual response patterns – including automatic thoughts and behaviours (Langer, 1989, 1992; Roemer & Orsillo, 2002; Teasdale, Segal & Williams, 1995; Wells, 2002).
Mindfulness and thoughts
We all have thoughts coming and going, all day long. Often thoughts are simply imaginations of future events, and/or rehearsing the actions we intend to take. Or they may be replays of past event, perhaps with alternative variations of actions we (or someone else) could have taken. Or thoughts can be mental commentary on the present moment, including speculations of what is going on in other people’s minds.
Most of the time thoughts in themselves do not cause difficulties; they come, they hang around for a while, then are replaced with other thoughts. However, in some circumstances thoughts can contribute to personal problems in ways that are difficult to control. Then we may need to learn how to let go of thoughts, rather than getting stuck on them.
Through mindfulness skills training we can develop the ability to recognise a thought as being just that – a thought – no matter what the thought may be about. To recognise that, whatever the contents of the thought, it is not necessary to accept and believe it as true, to cling to it, or to identify with it.
Mindfulness skills training teaches us how to simply acknowledge the presence of the thought, and then let it go, without becoming involved in it. We learn to observe thoughts more objectively; from a perspective where it is clear that they have no actual effects on the observer as such, but are simply mental phenomena that arise and pass of their own accord.
The benefits of mindfulness skills cannot be underestimated, in particular for those individuals who have a tendency toward negative ruminations, as is often the case for clients suffering from anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness and body experiences
Similar to with thoughts, mindfulness skills training helps us develop a new relationship to the experiences that occur in and on the body. We discover that, while the body experience may not be under our control, the degree of suffering that it can cause is largely dependent on our perspective and our relationship to the sensation.
We learn to recognise each body sensation as being just that – a sensation occurring on/in the body – regardless of the quality of the sensation, e.g. pleasant or unpleasant. We learn how to observe body sensations more objectively, as transient phenomena that arise and pass, or at least increase and decrease in intensity, of their own accord.
Mindfulness skills allow body sensations to be experienced from a perspective of detachment, which can be of great benefit in the case of chronic pain, as well as for clients with disorders involving hyperarousal, e.g. panic disorder, impulse control disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mindfulness skills also make evident the dynamic relationship between thoughts and body sensations; that a thought may trigger a body sensation, and in reverse, that body sensations can trigger a thought.
Facilitator skills and experience
All well-established traditions of mindfulness practice for psychotherapy purposes recognise the importance of the facilitators’ own training, skills and experience with the practices that clients are introduced to. It is usually a requirement that facilitators regularly practise formal meditation, and are committed to continue developing their personal mindfulness skills through participation in courses and extended meditation retreats.
For optimal outcomes, it is not only essential that the facilitator is able to talk about mindfulness practice in easy-to-understand language (talk the talk), but also that the facilitator has solid experience of the application of mindfulness approaches in the context of psychotherapy (walk the talk).
I can confidently say that I fulfil the requirements in these regards. I have practised mindfulness meditation in various forms for over 30 years. I have over the years participated in several extended (i.e. seven to ten days) meditation retreats, and I have been teaching mindfulness meditation courses for the last 15 years.
I have been in professional practice as a psychotherapist utilising mindfulness-based approaches for more than 25 years, and as part of my Masters degree in Mental Health I conducted a research project on the application of mindfulness in the context of Clinical Supervision, which was subsequently published in an international research journal.
I am also an occasional lecturer at Universities, presenting workshops on the application of mindfulness in the treatment of insomnia, and on a mindfulness-based approach to enhancing the quality of the therapeutic relationship (Dialogical Mindfulness).
Mindfulness skills training program outline
The Mindfulness skills training program can be done either in the individual or the group format. There are advantages and disadvantages that come with each format;
- Doing the program individually is more costly, yet provides more personal instructions and guidance through the various mindfulness techniques involved, and allows for the program to be tailored to the specific needs that a client may have.
- Doing the program in a group setting allows for substantial cost savings, yet does not allow for extensive focus on individual difficulties or issues, nor tailoring of the program to the particular needs of each participant.
- Individual programs can be started whenever someone wishes to, and the day & time for each session can be adapted to what is best suited to the client.
- Group programs are offered on a pre-set schedule with regard to starting dates, and each weekly session takes place on the same day & time each week.
- The individual program format is divided into two levels, so that the client can choose to do one or both levels, optionally leaving some time between the first and second levels.
- The group program is done in a continuous 8-week block, going through the same steps as in the two individual program levels, yet without any break in between the levels.
Individual program format
The individual program is delivered as two parts;
- Level 1; 4 contact hours, typically spread over 3 weeks (1x2hours + 2x1hour).
- Level 2 (optional); 4 contact hours spread over 4 weeks or more (4x1hour).
Apart from the contact hours, during which clients learn the various mindfulness practices included in the program, the client is also expected to do daily practice at home, twice daily, as instructed.
Dealing with difficulties that the client experiences in the at-home practice is included as part of the program, and is an important aspect of helping the client develop adequate mindfulness skills for making a substantial difference in their therapy as well as in their life in general.
In Level 1 clients are introduced to mindfulness; what it is, what the benefits of mindfulness practice may be, and how this relates to their regular therapy as well as to life generally. They also learn, experientially, fundamental mindfulness practices, focussing on the presence of the body with all its parts, on the presence of the natural process of breathing, and on the presence of body sensations – both as a general phenomenon and in response to particular stimuli.
As clients develop their mindfulness skills, they also develop a greater capacity for equanimity, an increased ability to discern, understand and tolerate emotions and associated body sensations, and an enhanced ability to understand, interrupt, and shift focus from ruminative thoughts and other unhelpful cognitions.
Level 2 of the program is optional, and is provided to clients who wish to develop their mindfulness skills further – typically, clients who have found the mindfulness skills to be of benefit in their regular therapy and/or in their general life.
In Level 2 clients learn more advanced mindfulness skills, like variations on the “body scanning” technique learnt in Level 1, multi-sensory mindfulness practice, and also informal practices that can be applied in everyday living.
The benefits and learning outcomes from Level 2 are the same as from Level 1, albeit substantially further enhanced.
It should be noted, that for both Level 1 & 2 there is sufficient flexibility in the structure and contents of the individual program to allow it to be tailored to the client, according to their needs as assessed by their therapist.
Group program format
The group (4 to 10 participants) program is done over 8 consecutive weeks of 1.5 hour sessions. For upcoming scheduled starting dates for group programs see “Events” listing in right hand column ==>
The contents and learning outcomes of the group program are the same as in the individual program, only delivered according to a different schedule.
Read more about the benefits of mindfulness skills for clients as well as for therapists on this page: Mindfulness in therapy.
Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10, 125-143.
Langer, E. J. (1989). Mindfulness. New-York: Addison-Wesley.
Langer, E. J. (1992). Matters of mind: Mindfulness/mindlessness in perspective. Consciousness and Cognition, 1, 289-305
Martin, J. R. (1997). Mindfulness: A proposed common factor. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 7, 291-312.
Roemer, L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2002). Expanding our conceptualization of and treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: integrating Mindfulness/acceptance-based approaches with existing cognitive-behavioural models. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 9, 54-68.
Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G. (1995). How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (Mindfulness) training help? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 33, 25-39.
Wells, A. (2002). GAD, metacognition, and Mindfulness: An information processing analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 9, 95-100