The term mindfulness has become a buzzword. The rise in the number of available meditation apps shows how popular it has become. However, do we truly understand what it is, and how to practise it in our daily lives?
In this post, we will talk more about what being mindful means, its benefits and how to apply it as a counsellor or psychologist in the context of trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What is mindfulness?
As the term suggests, mindfulness involves becoming aware, or mindful, of everything that is going on, both within and around you. There are different techniques and methods for practising it, but essentially, it’s about being present and aware in every moment.
Even if you don’t have a formal meditation practice, everyone has undoubtedly experienced being truly present. Whether that is while savouring the taste of a delicious meal, appreciating your loved ones or feeling truly focused while doing yoga or watching a sunset.
While the traditional concept of focused awareness is rooted in Buddhist philosophy, you don’t have to be a devout Buddhist to practise it. In fact, many cultures us this concept to help reduce stress. For example, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is an eight-week group therapy programme that is now a recognised form of psychotherapy.
How do you practise focused mindfulness?
There are many varying techniques and schools of thought when it comes to becoming more mindful in your daily life. Some common practices include breathing exercises, meditation, or connecting your movement with your breath, such as in yoga. Others involve focusing on humming, making other sounds or chanting mantras to stay grounded in the present moment. Some of these practices, such as breathwork, are particularly accessible and you can do them for free on your own.
Although some of these techniques have been practised for centuries, some might be sceptical of how effective they are. Therapeutic modalities like MBCT are just as effective in treating depression as medication, according to the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
In a therapeutic context, you can achieve a state of presence by being guided by a therapist to become aware of your thoughts and emotions, without placing any judgement on them.
The benefits of being mindful
Aside from gaining clarity around your own thoughts and feelings being favourable, what are the benefits of being mindful?
According to the article “Benefits of Mindfulness” on Very Well Mind, a publication specialising in mental health and wellness, here are five practical benefits of practising the art of becoming truly present and aware of thoughts, sensations and feelings in your daily life:
- Decreased depression: becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations can help develop a sense of acceptance. In turn, this can relieve symptoms of depression and help prevent relapses.
- Improved emotional regulation: developing an awareness of your inner world can also help you choose better responses in situations to create more effective outcomes.
- Reduced stress and anxiety: therapeutic modalities based on mindful practices are effective in dealing with chronic stress and anxiety.
- Improved memory: mindful practices have helped improve short-term memory. This is clear from brain scans which show how the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with memory, increases in volume after regular practice.
- Better cognition: being mindful helps you to learn how to concentrate better, helping you become more effective at completing tasks.
Applying mindfulness in a therapeutic context
Thanks to widely available books like The Body Keeps the Score by Bessell van der Kolk, and various titles by well-known physicians such as Dr Gabor Maté, there is an increasing level of general awareness around trauma and PTSD. This has created a shift in how to integrate being mindful and apply this in the counselling and psychology field.
As we can see from the list above, there are many benefits to becoming more mindful in our daily lives. However, apart from becoming trained in specific therapeutic modalities, how can you incorporate a mindful approach in your counselling or psychology practice, especially when it comes to trauma and PTSD?
One way to do this is to develop a trauma-informed way of interacting with your clients, especially those who have experienced severe trauma and/or have been diagnosed with PTSD. According to SAMHSA, this involves developing key skills that acknowledge a patient’s life experiences to provide effective care.
Are you looking to become more aware of trauma in your own practice? Our workshop on trauma-sensitive mindfulness equips you with tools to broaden your skillset and treat PTSD using a trauma-sensitive approach.
Read our breakdown of the Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness for the Treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) workshop. The workshop offers 3 Continuing Education Units (CEU) points, or contact us to find out more.