Did you know that mindfulness can enhance therapy, and reduce the symptoms of a number of mental health conditions?
Mindfulness is a practice in which we take up the observer position in relation to our experience.
Normally, we are caught up or lost in our thoughts, and our identity is very much based on what we think about. However, it is possible to merely notice all of our experience, the sights we see, the sounds and smells, the food we taste and the touch on our skin.
For many therapies to work well it is very important to be aware of our experience. We can even think of thought as a sixth sense (although not in a psychic way). Thoughts are important because what we think determines how we feel. Unfortunately most people are quite unaware of their thoughts and therefore unaware of why they feel bad. One of the goals in therapy is to become more aware of our thoughts and to restructure them in such a way as to improve the way we feel.
How Mindfulness Can Help Mental Health Conditions
Mindfulness and OCD
Mindfulness can really enhance Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) therapy with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
If we tend to be obsessive we might find ourselves bombarded by intrusive thoughts and impulses to act that seem in our more enlightened moments to be quite irrational. CBT is an excellent therapy to explore whether our obsessiveness has any real significance or meaning, or makes any real sense.
However having gone through the process of CBT, including exposure, it does not necessarily mean that all our impulses will disappear. Mindfulness can give us the ability to merely notice our thoughts and impulses, rather than to react automatically to them as though we are glued to them. This ability to detach from our experience can help us rewire our brain so that we are no longer plagued by our automatic thoughts and impulses – because if we don’t act or respond automatically to them, they will gradually fade away.
Mindfulness and Depression
CBT is a very effective-based treatment. Because low mood is caused by certain kinds of thoughts, being aware of these thoughts is important for CBT to be effective.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of all of our experience including thoughts, so it can be a great help in enhancing CBT. In addition, the practice of mindfulness can help improve our awareness to the extent that we can identify depressogenic-type thoughts before they take hold. In this way Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a very effective in preventing relapse.
Mindfulness and Anxiety
Because anxiety is caused by thoughts that alert us to any possible threat, being aware of these thoughts is important for treatment. Mindfulness can assist with this. CBT is excellent for identifying if our thinking defaults to catastrophising (imagining worst-case scenarios) and other anxiety-provoking ways of thinking. However mindfulness has another benefit. By learning to detach from our thoughts, and to be less controlled by them, we can stop avoiding the situations that make us feel anxious, and engage in life fully.
In addition mindfulness helps us reduce the stress caused by anxiety, resulting in more feelings of peace of mind, and emotional freedom.
Mindfulness and Eating Disorders
Whilst CBT is a good evidence-based treatment for eating disorders, mindfulness is a very helpful complement. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations, so it can help us challenge the beliefs and thoughts we have that lead us to restrict our eating.
Many people are also struggling with the feelings of being full or fat. Mindfulness helps us to be present with uncomfortable feelings and learn how to tolerate them, so that we can more realistically appraise them rather than react automatically and take actions that are harmful to ourselves.
Mindfulness helps us to also see how obsessed with food this disorder has made us, and helps us to reach our goals based on what we value and really want for ourselves in life, rather than having our whole life rotating around the disorder.
Mindfulness and Emotional Regulation
Mindfulness has been employed very successfully to improve how we regulate our emotions for many years. Those who are in a great deal of emotional pain most of the time, have not learned in childhood ways to soothe themselves. In addition, unconscious patterns of self and other destructive thoughts create emotional chaos.
As well as learning how to soothe ourselves and how to gain emotional nourishment and support in relationships, mindfulness helps us to be aware of the thought patterns that are creating emotional upheaval. We can learn to step back from our thoughts, identify them and even label them so we can recognise them quickly. Doing this opens up some distance between us and our thoughts, so that we don’t just go into autopilot every time situations arise, thus giving us the opportunity to examine our thoughts and to change them in ways that make us feel much better, and to adopt behavioural strategies that work for us rather than produce chaos.
Mindfulness and Addictions
Becoming free of addictions can involve the use of several therapy processes. Firstly we have to find the motivation to break free of something that short-term, might have helped us to feel better. Motivational Interviewing is good for this.
Secondly we need to look at our thoughts, or what AA calls “stinking thinking” to find out whether it is our thoughts that are making us feel bad. CBT is good for this.
Finally Mindfulness can help us tolerate aversive feelings, so we don’t succumb to our habit in order to deal with them. Mindfulness also helps us deal more effectively with triggers that can set off urges, so that we are aware and capable of going through situations that otherwise might have caused us to relapse.
Author: Paul Carver, B Sc, M Sc, PG Dip Health Psych.
Paul Carver is a Psychologist with a very wide range of experience, and is focused on bringing the very best evidence-based treatments to his clients – such as the use of mindfulness to enhance therapy.
To arrange an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Paul Carver at Vision Psychology Mt Gravatt, freecall 1800 877 924 or you can book online.
- OCD – Hershfield, J., Corboy, T. (2013). Mindfulness Workbook for OCD. New Harbinger Publications, Oakland CA.
- Depression – Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.W. (2012). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (2nd Ed.). Guilford Press, NY.
- Anxiety – Stahl, B., Meleo-Mayer, F., Koerbel, L., Santorelli, S. A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook for Anxiety. New Harbinger Publications, CA.
- Eating Disorders – DeSole, L.M. (2014). Eating Disorders and Mindfulness: Exploring alternative approaches to treatment. Routledge, NY.
- Emotion Regulation – Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT Skills Training Manual (2nd Ed.). Guilford Press, NY.
- Addictions – Glasner-Edwards, S., Rawson, R.A. (2015) The Addiction Recovery Skills Workbook: changing addictive behaviours using CBT, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing. New Harbinger Publications, CA.