Welcoming the Psychology Field to the Mindfulness Movement

Buddhism and mindfulness is capturing the interest, heart, and imagination of the counseling field.  Over the last fifteen years the psychology field has seen a resurgence in the use of mindfulness for a variety of conditions.  Meditation and mindfulness practices are being used effectively for the treatment of  stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and personality disorders.

John Kabat-Zinn used mindfulness training and meditation to help clients with stress, pain, and anxiety disorders (Kabat-Zinn, 1992).  Marsha Linehan (1993) integrated mindfulness practice in her Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for the treatment of personality disorders.  Steven Hayes (1999) developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for the treatment of depression and anxiety.  Zindel Siegal et. al. (2002) developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as a relapse prevention tool for depression, and Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. (2007)  developed  Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) for alcohol/drug recovery.

The teachings of Buddha (dharma) have been described as a “living psychology”, an effective, wholesome and spiritual way to live your life.  This “living psychology “(i.e. mindfulness) brings benefits to those already in counseling.  It follows that mindfulness is finding its way into more and more therapy offices.

As a result, we counselors are wanting to find out more about Mindfulness.  We are attending Mindfulness conferences in large numbers.  Not only are we attending to learn about the application of Buddhism in Psychology,  but we are also curious about using mindfulness in our own lives.

There are many reasons for our field to learn more about mindfulness.  The first is obvious – “mindfulness works”.

There is also the personal benefit for counselors.  We have a high-stress occupation, that requires balance, and the ability to be compassionate and caring.  Meditation and mindfulness practices help us to achieve that balance.

Under the auspices of my company FACES Conferences (www.facesconferences.com) I have put on over one hundred mental health and alcohol/drug recovery conferences over the last fifteen years.  Each conference averaged between 300-750 attendees.  So, it is fair to say that I am a seasoned veteran to the mental health conference field.  I have also been in the counseling field for over thirty years.

I attended the UCLA Conference on Mindfulness (October, 2007), and “The Wise Heart and the Mindful Brain” (a two day conference with Jack Kornfield, Ph.D. and Dan Siegal, M.D. in Seattle, Wa. June, 2008).

The UCLA conference had keynote presenters Jack and Dan, Trudy Goodman, Ph.D., Tara Brach, Ph.D. and the venerable Zen master Thick Nhat Hanh.   Over 1,800 counselors came together to not only learn but also to experience mindfulness.   A long procession of counselors followed Thich Nhat Hanh and his Plum Valley disciples in a silent walking meditation on the UCLA campus.  Slowly the procession walked, repeating over and over to ourselves the mantra  “We have arrived.  We are home…… We have arrived.   We are home……”  Indeed, we counselors had arrived and come home .    We came together as a community of caregivers, connecting with one another, acknowledging each other, proud of our common mission as healers.

The procession culminated with a silent mindfulness lunch on the UCLA quad that sunny Saturday.   Some sat on the steps, or on the grass, under the shade of the trees, or in the warmth of the midday sun.  All of us silently, and slowly eating our vegetarian wrap, contented in the power of being together and present in the moment.

Jack Kornfield, a trained Buddhist monk, and psychologist, and the founder/director of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, is  the force behind this new mindfulness movement.  He describes the significance of this gathering at UCLA in the opening of his new book “The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, Bantam, 2008.

“As I stood at the podium looking over a crowd of almost two thousand people, I wondered what had drawn so many to this three-day gathering.  Was it the need to take a deep breath and find a wiser way to cope with the conflict, stress, fears, and exhaustion so common in modern life?  Was it the longing for a psychology that included the spiritual dimension and highest human potential in its vision of healing?  Was it a hope to find simple ways to quiet the mind and open the heart?”

At the UCLA conference I felt encouraged, and hopeful.   A new mission had arisen for me.   A mission to bring together our field to a conference that  would “Celebrate Mindfulness”.  This would not just be a conference but a retreat, a coming together of counselors  in a spirit of hopefulness.  We could be strong again as a field, a kind of rebirth of baby boomer therapists, like myself, who could revive our roots of love, peace, and desire to change our world in positive ways, much like the “peace” movement of our youth.  But this time with a more grounded and purposeful mission.  A mission to bring Buddhism and mindfulness to the counseling field.

My hope is that we as counselors will play a major role in bringing mindfulness to our clients lives, our own lives, to our family and to our community.   I invite you to participate in this “Mindfulness Movement”.   I invite you to join me in this revitalized mission of bringing mindfulness to our field and exploring its many applications.   I hope your participation will revitalize your personal and professional lives as well.  We counselors can play a primary role in bringing mindfulness to our Western culture.   Yes, as Thick Nhat Hahn reminds us “We have arrived…We are home…We have arrived….We are home.”

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