This week I was asked to do a Skype consult with someone who is working hard to learn Mindfulness Meditation and couldn’t quite get “there”. His struggle reminded me of my struggle, as well as the struggle I often hear about when teaching Mindfulness techniques to my clients, family, and friends. I was first introduced to Mindfulness Meditation when learning about Dialectical Behavior Therapy for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. The concept of being in the present non-judgmentally was appealing – so I started a practice of my own.
I found so many benefits to using Mindfulness in my everyday life that I started using it for more than just the treatment of my clients with BPD. I started reading books and articles about Mindfulness based therapies and integrated them into my practice.
Perhaps the word “meditation” precipitates the struggle so many of us encounter. Do we expect to find Nirvana? Do we expect to clear our minds fully? Do we expect to land in an altered state of consciousness? Perhaps it is different for each of us. However, whenever I mention Mindfulness to clients who have anxiety, panic, depression, or obsessive thought patterns, the first thing I hear is “I can’t do that!”
We are just so wired for the outcome; the destination. We pay lip service to appreciating the process of our lives, but most of us are very goal oriented even in our day to day routines. I guess teaching Mindfulness is more like teaching a way of being rather than a meditation technique. Some clients really respond positively to the perspective of being in-the-moment without judgment, and observing rather than commentating. Just that shift in focus helps them to soar into a way of being that is often quite pleasing to them.
But… what do we (as clinicians) do with clients who like to intellectualize; or those who are not very spiritual; or those who are frustrated and cannot get past their (erroneous) belief that they must turn off their minds in order to “succeed” in this practice?
Well, that is when I shift my own focus in teaching. Meet them where they are – isn’t that what “they” say? Teaching the skills associated with Mindfulness is often more acceptable to those who don’t embrace the (or downright reject) the overall experience. I’ve found that most of these clients find some relief or some benefit from the skills whether or not they integrate them into their worldview.
I guess this is what we as therapists must do from time to time in our work. Although we may have a vision of what might best help our clients, we are humbled by the fact that they will (and should) pick and choose what they need from us – in the moment; and we should appreciate that process – non-judgmentally.
What do you think?
Deborah Legge is a counselor, a Private Practice Mentor, and the founder of InfluentialTherapist.com . She is a counselor in private practice and an assistant professor at Medaille College.