Author: Anonym/Thursday, February 5, 2009/Categories: Spirituality
Wendy Mullen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified
Professional Life Coach in Los Angeles, California, as well as
co-founder and director of SOAR Outpatient and Recovery located in
Malibu, California. SOAR offers a modern approach to healing from
alcohol and drug addiction integrating Mindfulness, Life Coaching and
12-Step Recovery as core life skills to develop one’s own inner wisdom
for living and awareness.
Wendy received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Smith College
in Northampton, Massachusetts and completed advanced training in
Mindfulness, Buddhist Psychology and Relational Psychotherapy at the
Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy in Santa Monica, California.
Her book, Mindfulness and 12-Step Recovery, is now available.
Question: What inspired you to integrate Mindfulness
Practice as a core therapeutic tool to treat alcohol and drug addiction
in the outpatient setting?
Answer: Many clients who seek treatment for
addiction also exhibit severe, chronic, co-occurring disorders that are
difficult to treat using traditional treatment modalities. These
individuals struggle with impulsivity, emotional sensitivity and a
deeply polarized worldview leaving them extremely vulnerable in between
weekly therapy sessions. Mindfulness is a self-directed technique that
can be used in any moment to initiate mind-body awareness. This is very
Clients learn mindfulness skills and are encouraged to practice
in-between sessions. As their practice deepens so, too, does their
commitment to make positive change in other areas of their life. The
benefits include positive self-regard, increased motivation and progress
toward establishing a life worth living.
Question: How does Mindfulness Practice work as a therapeutic tool?
Answer: Clients learn how to directly experience sensation in
their body without thinking and judging cultivating a different, wiser
way of knowing, a different way of being. This new moment-to-moment
awareness offers a release from the habitual impulsive cycle of thoughts
and behaviors that lead to relapse, allowing space for new ways of
being to unfold.
Clients learn how to cultivate awareness throughout their entire
body, extending to their thoughts, behaviors and environment. They learn
to identify signals in the body they can trust. This is a huge step
for many in recovery especially those individuals with trauma histories.
Clients are empowered to befriend thoughts, emotions and feelings
without judgment. As tolerance to face painful negative affect develops
so does acceptance, interrupting the vicious cycle of anger, shame and
pain that ultimately leads to relapse.
Question: What is Mindfulness Practice?
Answer: Mindfulness Practice is just one of many
teachings (Dharma) descending from the Buddha “the Awakened One” over
2500 years ago. Today there are two main schools of Buddhism: Theravada
and Mahayana. Theravada means “the teaching of the Elders” and Mahayana
means “Great Vehicle”. The two main goals of Buddhism are getting to
know ourselves and learning the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha who was
said to have achieved Enlightenment taught, “All living beings have
‘Buddha nature’ and can become Buddha’s”. ‘Buddha nature’ refers to the
part of us that is pure, wise, and perfect opposed to ‘ordinary nature’,
which is ruled by unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger and jealousy.
The Basic Teachings of the Buddha include The Three Universal Truths
(Nothing is lost in the Universe, Everything Changes, The Law of Cause
and Effect known as ‘karma’); The Four Noble Truths (Suffering, The
Cause of Suffering, The End of Suffering, The Path to the End of
Suffering); and The Noble Eightfold Path known as ’The Middle Way’.
Contained within the Eightfold Noble Path you will find the Buddha’s
explanation of Right Mindfulness Practice (moment-to- moment awareness
of thoughts, words and deeds without judgment). “Like all spokes of a
wheel are necessary to keep the wheel turning so, too, does one need to
follow each of the eight steps on the Noble Eightfold Path to cultivate
wisdom and achieve happiness,” taught the Buddha.
Question: Does practicing Mindfulness mean I am practicing Buddhism?
Answer: No. Practicing Buddhism is a life long
process including a commitment to study all teachings of the Buddha
while striving to achieve self-awareness, inner wisdom and
enlightenment. In the Theravada tradition the goal is to become an
Arhat, which means a person free from suffering. The goal of Mahayana
Buddhism is to follow the Bodhisattva Path. A Bodhisattva is one who
enlightens oneself as well as others.
Question: Do you require your clients to meditate in-between sessions?
Answer: Like any new skill we wish to acquire
Mindfulness Practice will require a certain amount of energy, homework
and commitment. I am very clear with clients that I am not a meditation
teacher and I am not asking them to take up a formal meditation
practice, although I will refer them to a qualified teacher if they so
desire. I explain that I am adapting mindfulness exercises. The goal is
to bring focused attention into the present moment, increase awareness
in the body for sensation, emotion, and behavior while enhancing skills
for observing thoughts and letting go of judgment.
Question: Is Mindfulness really “Ancient Wisdom” or just the latest craze?
Answer: In 2004, Scientists met at the home of the
Dali Lama in Dharmsala India to present research findings on a study
involving Buddhist monks and one of the hottest topics in brain science:
“Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change its
structure and function, by expanding or strengthening circuits that are
used and by shrinking or weakening those that are rarely engaged.”
The study compared MRI scans of brain activity in volunteers (novice
meditators) to those of Buddhist monks who reported more than 10,000
hours of formal meditation. The study asked participants to practice
“compassion” meditation, generating a feeling of loving kindness toward
all beings. The results were simply amazing!
Buddhist monks showed dramatic increases in high-frequency brain
activity known as gamma waves during compassion meditation, allowing
researchers to suggest that mental training can bring the brain to a
greater level of consciousness.
Activity in the left prefrontal cortex (the area of positive emotions
such as happiness) showed overwhelming activity compared to the right
prefrontal cortex (site of negative emotions and anxiety). Surprisingly
significant were findings to support that even novice meditators showed
an increase in brain activity in the same areas. Scientists report that
like muscles in the body, which can be trained and developed, so too
can the brain be altered intentionally through mental training.
Later, in June 2007, the same researcher, Richard Davidson, a
professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin,
in collaboration with colleagues from the UW-Madison W.M. Keck
Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior released findings
comparing newly trained meditators to experienced meditators with up to
54, 000 hours of meditation experience. This time practitioners were
instructed to focus attention intently on a stimulus, and when the
attention wandered off, to simply bring the attention back to the
As expected all experienced practitioners exhibited greater activity
in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which controls and regulates
attention. However, when looking at those meditators with 40,000 hours
of experience and above “There was a brief increase in activity as they
started meditating, and then activity returned to baseline, as if they
were able to concentrate in an effortless way” (Davidson, 2007). When
subjects were blasted with disturbing noises the experienced meditators
showed less effect on the brain areas involved in emotion and
decision-making than novice meditators. Among those with 40,000 hours
and above these areas were hardly affected at all. Although they did
hear the sound as measured in the auditory cortex, they virtually showed
no emotional reaction in the prefrontal cortex.
Davidson and his colleagues concluded that areas of the mind known to
control attention, concentration and decision-making could all be
trained and improved dramatically through systematic meditation
Number of views (672)/Comments (0)