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Mindfulness-based Psychotherapy - A Mindful Approach to Mental Health

7/11/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Bronwyn Robertson

From chronic pain to panic attacks, in settings ranging from preschools to prisons, the use of mindfulness-based psychotherapy has been proven to be highly effective. Its use is widespread and growing, entering the mainstream of psychotherapy. In 2010, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) noted the effectiveness of mindfulness-based practices in enhancing mental health. Currently, mindfulness-based psychotherapy is being used by the US military to treat trauma in combat veterans, by school systems to curb bullying behavior and by hospitals in the management of stress, addictions and other health related conditions such as hypertension and autoimmune diseases.

Mindfulness practices are skills and strategies that help people manage their emotions and tame their thinking, become more relaxed and reflective, and better able to plan and solve problems. They are "daily brain fitness practices", according to Dan Siegel, one of the world's leading neuroscientists studying mindfulness psychotherapy. These fitness practices build emotional strength and mental flexibility.

Mindfulness-based practices are evidenced-based. They have been scientifically studied for more than three decades; their effects measured in multiple ways, from brains scans to changes in behavior. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Emory, UMASS and UCLA are among the leading universities studying mindfulness. Their studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness enhances mood, memory, and empathy, decreases anxiety and stress, and improves focus, concentration, and problem solving. Research conducted via brain scans show that these practices can actually change the structure of the brain, enhancing its ability to repair itself, grow new brain cells, and function more effectively overall.

Mindfulness-based therapy can be provided in varying formats, from individual counseling sessions to group therapy, and can be individualized and loosely structured or time-limited and highly structured. It depends upon the specific needs of the individual and the approach taken.

  • Mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (MBCBT) can be provided in individual or group therapy formats. It is generally individualized, and can be flexible in terms of the number of sessions and level of structure. Research has shown it is very effective for people struggling with stress, anxiety, addiction, depression, mood disorders and trauma. MBCBT helps people explore and change dysfunctional and unproductive patterns of thinking and behaving. Therapists who provide MBCBT generally have graduate level training in CBT and extensive training in mindfulness-based practices.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is similar to MBCBT in that it is individualized, flexible, and can be used in individual and/or group therapy sessions. The ACT approach is to promote self-acceptance and acceptance of one's thoughts and feelings. It has been used effectively with children, adolescents and individuals with intellectual disability. ACT therapists generally undergo specific training and certification that involves post graduate training and personal mindfulness practice.
  • Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is structured, time-limited treatment in a group setting. It is manualized rather than individualized in that it adheres to a specific structure and sequence, and follows specific material or manuals. MBSR generally consists of eight weekly sessions, one to two hours each. Extensively studied for more than three decades, MBSR has been used effectively in schools, universities and prisons, and with active duty military, teachers, first responders and victims of trauma. Therapists must be certified in MBSR, a process which involves personal mindfulness practice.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), like MBSR, is structured, time-limited, manualized and provided in a group setting. It was originally developed to help people who have trauma-related disorders, have a history of self-harm and/or have addictions. It is typically a team-oriented approach in which the therapist and other treatment providers consult and collaborate.

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is quickly becoming part of mainstream psychotherapy due to its overall effectiveness and wide application. It has been and continues to be researched extensively with remarkable results.

Bronwyn is a licensed professional counselor with more than 20 years' experience in private practice and community agency service. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety, stress, trauma, panic, chronic pain, and depression, and works with children, adolescents, and adults, and individuals with intellectual disabilities. Bronwyn utilizes positive psychology, cognitive behavioral and expressive therapies, and mindfulness-based practices to help others overcome obstacles, manage challenges, and tap into their unique potential for healing and personal growth.

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