Many people ask me what place meditation has in therapy. Often I get asked if this is some sort of religious practice. People have a number of reactions around these questions. As I have just finished meditating (the photo of me on this page is post-meditation) and am in a very good space mentally, I will attempt a start of a response – this is only a start, as the topic of meditation is a large one (and paradoxically quite straight-forward).
First, meditation has found application in a number of therapeutic approaches, including a central place in a synthesis between mindfulness (meditation) and Cognitive Therapy, known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. This approach was developed at Oxford University and a good introduction is found in their podcasts here. Oxford did research into the use of mindfulness meditation and cognitive techniques to treat depression. A very interesting project!
Second, meditation is as simple as focusing on your breath (something that is always readily available). The focal point can be a number of things. An exhaustive list is note possible but it could include:
- focusing on your breath
- focusing on a flame
- focusing on chanting
- focusing on mala beads which chanting
- focusing on the food you are eating
- focusing on the sensations of your feet making contact with the ground (referred to as walking meditation)
Meditation is focusing – it would be a stretch to say that focusing is a purely religious act and I would suggest it is not. There are also other sorts of meditation – including loving-kindness mediation, which I will discuss at some point on this site in relation to Compassion-Focused Therapy.
So, how does meditation help in therapy? Some ways include:
- focusing stills the mind
- focusing can allow us to “sit with” unpleasant thoughts and emotions
- focusing helps to centre a person in the body
- focusing allows a person to see thoughts come and go and helps the person to realise that they are more than just these fleeting thoughts
- focusing helps in therapy including pain management
- focusing can help with anxiety and depression (but support needs to be provided initially)
We are more than our fleeting thoughts, which seem to crowd our mind every waking moment. Learning to still our minds and sit with thoughts (some unpleasant) gives us a new vantage point to understand ourselves and our interactions with stimuli.
Also, it can bring incredible calm to life!
I once told a friend that meditation was the greatest gift I had ever given myself. If you try it, remember to be gentle on yourself – there is no “right” way and don’t be down on yourself if you can’t focus at first. Learning to do so is the whole reason to practice – and it is exactly that, a “practice”.
That your evolving narratives will bring you strength and joy!