Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy & Stress Reduction
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been shown to alleviate depression, reduce anxiety and help people manage the many complex problems in living that cause stress.
Mindfulness is a method of focusing awareness on the present moment, a mental state of relaxed awareness, marked by openness and curiosity toward your feelings rather than judgments of them. When practiced regularly, it is a powerful tool for experiencing happiness. Mindfulness-based therapies are effective because they alter emotional responding by modifying thoughts and feelings that affect negative self-beliefs. By regular practice of the techniques in these structured sessions, you can reduce emotional reactivity and enhance emotion regulation.
Letting Thoughts Arise and Pass Away
The practice has roots in spiritual traditions, both eastern and western, and has similarities to meditation and contemplative prayer. Mindfulness is taught in psychotherapy as non-religious. It is a method of developing awareness of thoughts and feelings while focusing attention on breathing, letting thoughts arise, and then re-focusing on breathing and being present in the moment. The experience is one of moment-by-moment attention to thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and surroundings. To practice mindfulness is to become grounded in the present moment; one’s role is simply that of observer of the rising and passing away of experience. You do not judge the experiences and thoughts, nor do you try to “figure things out” and draw conclusions, or change anything. It has been shown that by practicing on a regular basis, you can modify habitual reactivity and negative self-beliefs. By strengthening coping skills you can decrease avoidance behaviors that only serve to maintain symptoms. Mindfulness combined with cognitive therapy teaches you to respond consciously, rather than automatically, to the various events and occurrences in your life so that you can learn to live all your moments with greater harmony and effectiveness, including those moments that present obstacles and challenges.
The formal practice includes breath-focused attention, body scan-based attention to the temporary nature of sensory experience, and open monitoring of moment-to-moment experience.
Over the last 30 years, hundreds of scientific studies have examined mindfulness and documented its effectiveness in reducing depression and anxiety, improving self-esteem, and controlling chronic pain. Research at Stanford University, the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, UCLA, and many other medical centers has produced solid evidence to show that these techniques help improve health and a sense of well-being.
I studied with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1999 to learn the techniques he developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. During this training for professionals, Dr. Kabat-Zinn admonished us that in order to teach this training we would need to have our own practice of mindfulness for at least two years prior to teaching. The reason for this is not just one of credibility, but of the teachers’ ability to embody the attitudes within themselves. I have taken professional training in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Preventing Relapse, with Dr. Zindel V. Segal.
I first became interested in health psychology as a graduate student. I was certified by the Biofeedback Society of California and used biofeedback, cognitive therapy, and stress reduction in my work at Kaiser Hospital in Vallejo, California. I had the good fortune to see hundreds of patients with chronic medical conditions such as intractable migraine, musculoskeletal pain, back and neck pain, and anxiety and stress-related symptoms. My work combined cognitive therapy, relaxation training, and self-regulation through biofeedback and other self-regulation strategies. I conducted research at Kaiser that demonstrated that this blended treatment helped people with chronic headache experience less pain and use less medication.
During this time I also worked with Dr. Thomas Hanna, who developed Somatics, and his partner, Dr. Eleanor Criswell. They were working with new techniques to help people with persistent pain. Dr. Criswell mentored me in yoga and meditation. Last year I chose to deepen my work in this area by completing training to become a Certified Yoga Instructor.
Mindfulness-based techniques have become an important part of my practice because I see how valuable they are for helping people overcome problems, manage stress, and increase their sense of well-being. While these techniques can be taught in individual therapy, it is often most helpful to use the model of an eight-week class as originally taught by Dr. Kabat-Zinn. Building on this work, I have incorporated an offspring of MBSR, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
Dr. Susan O’Grady leads you in a three-minute mindfulness meditation: