Mindfulness-based psychotherapy simply means when mindfulness is explicitly used as a therapeutic intervention. There is no substitute for direct mindfulness experience. I use mindfulness meditation with my clients and regard it as one of my most useful interventions. My clients report insight realized in guided meditations as invaluable.
Contact with the life concern (i.e., “I feel the depression and its crushing weight, like I am deep under water. When I focused on my breath and I was willing to get closer to the feeling instead of resisting, it seemed lighter and less scary”) is more important to transformation than talking about it (i.e., “I feel depressed. Life seems meaningless. What can I do to live with this?”). I sometimes use the metaphor of stepping towards or closely contacting an experience to represent mindfulness, whereas stepping back could be considered the reasoning and verbal explanation of that experience. Both are essential in personal growth work.
We need distance to observe, give context to, and integrate experience, which requires cognition and memory. Alternatively, closely contacting phenomena requires exploration from the inside out, an immersion in and openness to experience, which requires awareness of sensation and emotion. Often we are familiar with taking distance from our experience, especially the painful or uncomfortable. However, closely contacting sensation, thought, or feeling is often a newer ability—one that can be honed through mindfulness.
Through my own practice, study, and reports from clients, I’ve found mindfulness meditation to yield an increased tolerance for discomfort and a widened, fresh perspective on experience. Mindfulness is particularly useful when cognitive reflection about an issue has taken the clinical discourse as deeply as it can go, yet there is still blockage, resistance, or a confusing impasse. Because mindfulness can go beyond conceptual reflection, patterns of thought and behavior can be subverted, allowing clients to peer through to what might be more useful.
1. Germer, C. K. (2005). Mindfulness: What is it? what does it matter?. In C. K. Germer, R. D. Siegel, & P. D. Fulton (Eds.) Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.