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Mindfulness and Psychotherapy

Do you ever find yourself stuck with a feeling or thought that you just can’t get to go away? Sometimes the more you try to get the feeling or experience to go away, the more stressful it becomes, and now you are dealing with that struggle too. In my practice, people describe this experience all the time. For example, a person might have a pattern of thinking that they are worthless, and alongside that thought, they feel sad and depressed (or perhaps a depressed feeling triggers the thought of being worthless), they are sick of feeling this way and they beat themselves up inside because they can’t stop the experience. Now they feel crummy in the first place, and extra crummy because they are angry at themselves for feeling that way. Ugh.

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, on purpose, to the moment to moment unfolding of one’s experience, with gentle kindness towards oneself. We often go through life on ‘autopilot’, unaware of thoughts feelings and experiences until we are so overwhelmed that they come to our attention. At this point we often feel stuck, defeated, and it feels as if difficult thoughts or feelings are just happening to us outside of our control.

The practice of Mindfulness can be a powerful skill to support mental health awareness and growth. Take the above example, Mindfulness can support a person to begin slow down and become aware of their experience, they can experiment with catching themselves beating themselves up inside about feeling crummy and begin to practice with being gentle, kind and compassionate towards oneself for having this painful experience, like they might be towards a friend. It is likely they are not even aware that they are doing this in the first place, and this practice in and of itself can create some supportive growth.

As one becomes more aware of their internal landscape, they might notice repetitive thoughts that they have that make them feel bad, they can become gently curious about the thoughts and experiment with ‘catching’ themselves stuck in a thought and intentionally setting the thought aside, or imagining it floating away on a leaf in a river or a balloon in the sky. They can learn that thoughts are happing all the time, and those habitual thoughts that make them feel bad don’t have to be ‘believed’ as true, they can be caught and let go. They might start to notice that certain situations trigger these thoughts and feelings, become curious as to why, and practice supporting oneself with gentle self-care and coping skills to get through those situations.

The practice of Mindfulness is used in psychotherapy to create space for a person to have more freedom and flexibility in their life, to develop a new relationship with their minds and their feelings that becomes a source of support rather than internal conflict. Over time, with practice, mindfulness becomes a more regular part of a person’s daily life that can help them when things feel difficult or overwhelming.

Contributed by Kim Welch, Licensed Professional Counselor with Therapy Matters.

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