Mindfulness meditation can assit in the process of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT), a study has revealed.
Virginia Tech is one of few universities to integrate mindfulness meditation into its MFT program curriculum, according to Eric McCollum.
"Mindfulness meditation helps students improve their ability to be emotionally present in therapy sessions with clients. It helps beginners, who can sometimes feel overwhelmed, stop focusing on themselves and think more about others," he explained.
Mindfulness meditation involves deliberately focusing one's attention on present experience - thoughts, physical sensations, emotions -- and doing one's best to stay present with those experiences without judging them or avoiding the difficult aspects.
Extensive research on mindfulness in health care points to benefits to be gained from the practice.
For novice therapists, another advantage is that mindfulness meditation helps them to switch out of problem solving into being more present, more empathetic, and more compassionate, all important aspects of the therapeutic process, said McCollum.
Mindfulness meditation has helped many students at the university in their interaction with clients.
As a course requirement (but not graded), students keep weekly journals, which are read by the instructors over the course of the semester and then returned to them.
McCollum said that the educational purpose of these journals is to provide an avenue for students to both communicate and reflect on their experience and to provide some accountability for their weekly practice of mindfulness meditation.
Of the 13 students included in the study, there are seven men and six women ranging in age from 22 to 60.
A variety of themes emerged through thematic analysis of these students' journal entries, including the effects of meditation practice, the ability to be present, balancing being and doing modes in therapy, and the development of acceptance and compassion for themselves and for their clients.
Mindfulness helped students be present in their sessions. They were able to attend to their inner experience during what was happening with the clients in front of them, and further bring these two domains together in the therapist-client interaction.
However, the students also made clear that this was not a process of becoming absorbed. They described instances where they were able to remain present with intense or difficult material in sessions without becoming "infected" with it; that is, in contact but not overwhelmed, a theme referred to as "centered."
The students credited several "effects" of their mindfulness practice with their ability to be present as therapists. They felt they were calmer in general and specifically in their therapy sessions; were more aware of their inner chatter and could either decrease or disconnect from it, and were able to slow down their perceived inner pace or sense of hurry.
The students reported explicitly experiencing a sense of compassion and acceptance.
"Our findings suggest that mindfulness meditation may be a useful addition to clinical training," said McCollum.
The paper was recently accepted for publication in a future issue of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.