Using Mindfulness in Counselling
This page is about how mindfulness can be used during counselling and in daily life to increase your awareness of your thoughts, emotions, inner body and behavior. The intention is to show, through general examples how mindfulness is used and how it leads to positive change.
Mindfulness of thought
Mindfulness of thought patterns is a good place to begin with an example. Imagine we notice while working together that some of your thoughts are falling into the trap of black and white thinking. Perfectionists do this for example, by seeing their actions as either perfect or terrible.
With mindfulness and some exploration of this thinking trap, you may begin to see that there are many possible outcomes that fall in-between perfect and terrible. This begins to expand your perspective and increase your awareness of how this particular thought pattern is causing you grief.
With this awareness you will now be on guard for this pattern in your daily life. Sometimes you will miss it in the moment but recognize it hours or perhaps even days later. Slowly, with practice, you begin to recognize it earlier and perhaps even as it is occurring.
When you recognize a thought trap, it’s no longer a trap. It’s just an old thought habit - and you now can choose differently. The growth of awareness in this example is a game changer. It brings about choice which is not truly there when automatic thought patterns are continuously arising and running their course.
Mindfulness of the inner body
We can also use mindfulness to build awareness of what’s happening inside the body. This is called inner body awareness and it means to feel the body from within (rather than think about it). By checking into the inner body you will perhaps notice tension, pain, heaviness, a racing heart, shallow breathing, or other sensations in parts of the body.
Emotions in the body
Emotions might also be noticed when you check in with yourself and this can seem to block us from going into the inner body. When this happens, we first acknowledge and bring mindfulness to the emotions. In other words, we observe the emotion with curiosity and non-judgement. Importantly, we observe the emotion in the body as a felt sensation and let go of thoughts about the emotion.
We don’t try to stop thoughts from coming, but when thoughts arise we simply shift our attention back to the felt sense of the emotion in the body. By simply feeling the emotion and staying with the felt sense of it, the energy of the emotion changes.
Pain in the body
In addition to strong emotions, pain can also block us from going into the inner body. If pain or emotions are very intense, it is helpful to have someone supporting in this process. Ultimately, we all have the capacity to handle noticing whatever is happening in our inner body. It is empowering to observe the body from within with curiosity because as uncomfortable as sensations can be such as pressure, tension, pain and heaviness, our stance of curiously observing it creates a kind of space between the sensation and our observing self.
As with emotions, if we stay with the observation of pain and not give attention to thoughts about the pain, the pain is seen for what it is. This does not mean it goes away, but like a parent who attends to a child with an injury with patience and compassion, being there with the pain takes some of the suffering away.
Mindfulness of health and wellness
Besides paying attention to areas of the body where there is pain or tension, we also pay attention to other parts of the body that are feeling fine. We rarely notice the feeling of health in the body because it’s not demanding attention. Knowing the sensation of inner health in our body feels good and can be used to anchor us in the present moment easily and any time during the day even while we are busy doing other things. Being mindful of areas of health in the body can also help us deal with areas of pain. We can move our attention from painful areas to healthy areas which helps us experience our inner body as a whole not only problem areas.
Positive affects of mindfulness of inner body
Being mindful of the body in this way shows us that we don’t need to be afraid to pay attention to our inner body. We learn through our own direct experience that attention in the inner body has positive affects like releasing tension and stress and allowing a natural deepening of breath. This is a return to a state of natural ease. We learn that this state is always available to us when we intentionally move our attention inward.
As with mindfulness of thought, with inner body awareness comes choice. It may take some practice, but once you get a taste of it, it’s not difficult to practice. It’s quite possible, for example to be aware of your inner body as you’re speaking or listening to someone or as you are watching a show, cooking, walking, washing your hands, etc. We are then able to let go of tension and allow our breath and body to return to a calm state whenever we choose.
Mindfulness of behavior
We can also focus mindfulness on our behavior. Often our behavior is a reaction to a situation. By observing how we tend to react to particular situations, patterns of behavior often emerge. We might explore how our behavior is impacting the outcome of the situation. If our behavior is not supporting the outcome we want to get to, we can undertake a mindfulness experiment. We can observe our reactions in our daily life and begin to notice when those reactions occur. Once again, it may take practice to become aware of our reactions. In the beginning, we reflect on the reaction after it has happened. Later, we start noticing the reaction occurring in the moment and choice through awareness arises – the choice not to react.
Meditation and mindfulness
If you read some articles or books about mindfulness you might see lots of stand alone exercises to help you practice being in the moment. All of these exercises can be called mindfulness practices or meditations. But as you can see from the above examples, mindfulness is not only an exercise, it can be directly applied to your thoughts, emotions, inner body and behavior to help you make changes in your life.
The key to change: awareness
Dedicated meditation time is wonderful, but it doesn’t have to involve sitting alone in a room for an hour with legs crossed. Mini-meditations can be built into your day. I will write some pages about how to incorporate mini-meditations into your day that take 30 seconds or less to do. The idea is that bringing attention into what’s happening is more important to do frequently in daily life. The length of time you can stay mindful will increase on its own.
Motivation for mindfulness
For those who are new to mindfulness, it helps to understand that mindfulness is about increasing awareness and with awareness comes choice and with choice comes lots of good things in life like being at peace in your body and mind naturally.