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What's all the fuss about mindfulness?

14 May 2015

Stuart Baker, counselling psychologist at Hammersmith & Fulham explains the benefits of mindfulness.

At its simplest, mindfulness is about being present in the here and now, acknowledging and opening to our unfolding experience in a non-judgmental way, with an attitude of self-kindness and acceptance.

There are many definitions of mindfulness and some sound a bit fluffy or technical.

Mindfulness can also refer to a general approach to life or to specific mindfulness meditation practices.

The best way to get a sense of mindfulness can be to experience it for yourself – mindfulness is everywhere these days, it’s hard to escape it whether you work in the NHS, are an MP or are in the US Marine Corps.

Though it didn’t come up in the electioneering last week, a recent parliamentary working group is looking at expanding mindfulness in education, health and business with over 100 MP’s already trained with an eight week mindfulness course  (not sure how this splits across party lines).

Even big business are at it, Google have courses in mindfulness and compassion for all staff and the programme leader has written a best seller ‘Search Inside Yourself’.

I’ve taught this to a wide range of business professionals and financial institutions, and have a colleague who specialises in teaching mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) to London based advertising agencies.

So why all the fuss?

Perhaps the convergence of a number of factors:  developments in neuroscience, a growing body of evidence and the widespread adoption of mindfulness by psychological therapists, spreading into business and schools.

One of the key mindfulness studies was back in 2002 (Teasdale, Segal and Williams) which showed that for individuals with 3 or more episodes of depression that an eight week MBCT course was as effective as medication…what are the implications of that? Since then, research is starting to show how mindfulness might benefit a wider range of medical and psychological conditions, from anxiety to insomnia and over-eating.

In the Hammersmith & Fulham Back on Track IAPT Service, we offer a range of mindfulness courses to the community, from one hour taster sessions to eight week Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) courses.  The courses are used both for relapse prevention for clients that may have already undergone individual CBT and as a treatment in itself for mild to moderate depression and anxiety – and more recently how mindfulness might support working with pain and long term health conditions.  Many of our team also use mindfulness concepts and techniques in their one to one client work, as well as practicing mindfulness meditation themselves.

But mindfulness isn’t just for our clients.  There is a growing body of research linking mindfulness to practitioner self-care and how it can build resilience and protect against burnout or compassion fatigue.

In my doctoral research, I investigated the impact of an eight week MBCT course on trainee psychological therapists: participants reported that the mindfulness helped them connect better with both themselves and their clients, stay more easily with difficult feelings arising in the therapy, and increased their confidence in coping with uncertainty and the emergent therapeutic process as well as improving their well-being.

Don’t take my word for it – give it a go yourself. There’s so many free resources about. You could try looking for a‘Mindfulness Taster Session’ with Jon Kabat Zinn on YouTube or a good book is ‘Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams &  Danny Penman (cheap, easy read and includes a meditation CD).

If you want to know more about Hammersmith & Fulham back on track service, you can visit their website.

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