How mindfulness can help psychologists and their patients

With its emphasis on acceptance, continual exploration and compassion, the practice of mindfulness makes sense as a tool for clinical psychologists and their patients, said author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. She spoke before some 200 psychologists in a conversation with Donna Rockwell, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who is also a meditation teacher.

By training the mind to focus on the present and accept thoughts without judging or dwelling on them, mindfulness can help patients who ruminate over past events, catastrophize or worry about the future, Salzberg said.

“It’s a quality of awareness where our attention is not distorted by bias or fears of the future or physical discomfort,” she said. “By relinquishing the hold of some of these add-ons, the belief is we have a chance of a cleaner, clearer experience of what’s happening right now.”

That calm contemplation may lead to greater insight into how our emotions come to be, and a better chance at managing them, Salzberg said. “It’s the understanding which comes from the equanimity — knowing there’s something going on, but not immediately reacting and jumping in so we have space to look more deeply,” she said.

Mindfulness skills might help psychologists with their own stress, too, Salzberg said.

“Mindfulness might help the clinician who is really dealing hour after hour and day after day with some really difficult material that others are presenting,” she said. “It’s independent of a belief system and equipment, and it’s an experiment in itself. If you practice every day for 10 minutes and you’re then at work and there’s a crazy situation … you can be breathing and it’s there for you.”

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