Meditation and Psychotherapy – Meditation, in its many varieties is being increasingly recognized as important for enhancing the benefits of psychotherapy. In fact, I suppose it can be regarded as a kind of psychotherapy in its own right. Since so many forms of therapy require that the client be involved in the observation of their own emotional, cognitive or other mental experiences, then it only stands to reason that cultivating the ability through meditation to be a quiet observer of ones own mind, would serve a critical role.
The empirically documented benefits of meditation are too innumerable to exhaustively list here. As indicated in earlier posts, regular meditation produces measureable changes in the structure and function of areas of the brain involved in regulating stress and reactivity to emotional stimuli.
The following are just eight of the many documented psychological benefits of regular meditation. There are also a number of physiological, behavioral, sociological and even intellectual benefits not listed here.
1) Increased resilience to stress.
2) Increased sense of well-being and joyfulness.
3) Enhanced concentration and mental focus (even for folks with ADD).
4) Improved memory.
5) Increased compassion and empathy.
6) Improved sleep.
7) Increased self-awareness.
8) Decreased anxiety.
As a psychotherapist, my main interest in teaching meditation practice to my patients, is to help foster an overall sense of openess and “radical acceptance” of emerging thoughts and feelings, especially when those experiences are unpleasant and painful. The notion of letting go and “losing control” are essential to my approach to therapy (Integrative Mindful Emotional Exposure). Therfore, the cultivation of a state of mind in which one can remain open and more present with “what is”, without judgement, analysis or interference, is essential.
The ability to mind surf through difficult emotions, bodily sensations and images as in the Emotional Surfing technique as described elsewhere, or the ability to engage in emotional exposure techniques such as in Flooding or Implosion therapies, can all be enhanced when one is practiced in meditation techniques. meditation is also indispensable in fostering an overall ability to engage in mindfulness; the internal non-reactive attention to arising mental events. The ability to remain mindful and centered in the presence of arising powerful emotions has been demonstrated to be extremely effective in addressing a variety of symptoms and issues including substance abuse, depression, anger, pain, anxiety/panic to name but a few.
It is important to recognize that the techniques of meditation, though primarily associated with Buddhism and other eastern mystical practices, are in fact not the sole property of such religions and disciplines. Meditation practices come in all shapes and sizes and have been practiced in a myriad number of forms throughout the world and throughout history. Most religions and cultures have developed their own unique approaches to meditation. While their are certainly important differences which deliniate these approaches, there appear to be some essential commonalities that underlie them. Researchers and clinicians, have saught to examine and elaborate these common principles and approaches so as to offer some techniques that are secular in nature. Thus, the practitioner does not have to worry that they are being unfaithful to their own particular faith or religion but can practice such approaches independent of any philosophical or religious orientation. In the next blog, I will describe such secular approaches to meditation.
The next post will summarize a secular approach to meditation!
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