Question: What Is Mindfulness-Based Counseling?
Linda Lade: Mindfulness-based counseling is a method that combines the practice of meditation with counseling. Meditation instruction is given to the client and is practiced as a part of each session, along with regular counseling. Through the practice of meditation, the client learns to be more present (mindful) during sessions and in general and to sharpen their insight into the issues that they have brought into the counseling process. For most clients, sharpened awareness and insight helps the client go deeper into issues while feeling supported and heard.
Question: How does it work?
Linda Lade: We start with basic mindfulness meditation, a technique for training the mind. Our goal is to sit with ourselves and discover the self-existing state of calm abiding that is always present underneath the chatter and noise in our minds and the activity occurring outside of ourselves. We learn to sit in a good posture, place our mind on the breath, and notice (without judgment) what arises within and around us. As the client’s awareness grows, her insight into challenges and issues also arises and the counseling process naturally deepens. Using these discoveries, the client develops the muscles of heart and mind to work with whatever situations are arising. Clients are also encouraged and supported in developing a meditation practice beyond counseling and additional tools and resources are provided.
Is meditation a Buddhist thing?
Linda Lade: Yes, though meditation is also a part of the contemplative tradition of most religions and secular contemplative traditions. In the Buddhist tradition, meditation is used to help people discover the true nature of reality. Buddhist texts illustrate how these powerful practices show people how to work with suffering and impermanence, as well as develop compassion for themselves and others. In counseling, the client brings her own set of beliefs, which are always honored, to this closer examination of our human experience. Using the tools of mindfulness, the client develops the muscles of heart and mind to work with whatever situations are arising.
What kind of changes can I expect in myself as a result of mindfulness-based counseling?
Linda Lade: I notice that my clients often see their lives from a wider perspective and become more open to options for change and feel less stuck. It becomes easier for them to recognize emotional patterns and work with them, therefore making small behavioral changes in the present that lead to more desirable outcomes over time. They experience a greater sense of power over themselves as opposed to control over the outer conditions of their lives. This often manifests in greater self-confidence.
Working with body awareness, emotions, and persistent thought patterns through meditation and counseling can help the client see herself in a new light. Although a client may come to counseling with one or more stated problems, the underlying goal is to learn to work with herself more effectively and restore a sense of inner balance. Meditation also fosters a sense of connection to self and others. Experiencing greater connection is key to feeling supported and part of life rather than isolated and alone when facing problems.
Meditation practice, my clients tell me, gives them tools to address things on the spot and permission to slow down and take time for themselves. A former client told me that meditation made him feel more alive and also to remember to simply breathe at moments that signaled the onset of anxious feelings. Mindfulness-based counseling is a path to these and many other potential benefits.