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mindfulness

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a treatment that was originally created by Marsha Linehan and her team to treat individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Folks with BPD have what’s called pervasive emotion dysregulation—in other words, they struggle to identify what they’re feeling, don’t have the skills to effectively manage the emotions that arise, and end up turning to problem behaviors (such as suicide attempts, self-harming behaviors, or substance use), in an attempt to cope.

When you practice mindfulness as a way of life, over time you start to notice that your understanding of what it means will naturally deepen. You may find an increased capacity to respond more flexibly to the present moment both in your personal life and your clinical work. But even when you have intimately experienced and felt the depth of the practice, you may somehow still struggle to describe it or put it into words when necessary for client work.

When you practice mindfulness as a way of life, over time you start to notice that your understanding of what it means will naturally deepen. You may find an increased capacity to respond more flexibly to the present moment both in your personal life and your clinical work. But even when you have intimately experienced and felt the depth of the practice, you may somehow still struggle to describe it or put it into words when necessary for client work.

Editor’s note: The following is an interview with John Forsyth, PhD, one of the authors of the bestselling Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which has recently published in its second edition.

To be a good mindfulness teacher, or even to use mindfulness effectively with your clients, it’s important that you have your own personal practice.

Luckily, the practice of psychotherapy has a number of built-in qualities that present clinicians with ample opportunities to do mindfulness in sessions.

Mindfulness in the context of psychotherapy is more than just a technique or a theoretical perspective; it is a way of being with and relating to experience. Regardless of whether or not you choose to incorporate formal mindfulness practices in your sessions with clients, having your own mindfulness practice will positively inform your work.

A Letter from Hugh G. Byrne, PhD

Our lives revolve around our habits; studies show that almost half of our behaviors are habitual rather than intentional. Some, like brushing our teeth or putting on a seat belt in the car, are obviously helpful. Others, like eating or drinking unconsciously, driving aggressively, procrastinating, or spending hours online, can be much more of a problem.

When severe violations of safety, trust, or vulnerability occur, including outright threats to survival, humans are wired to shut down higher-order neural functions and fight, flee, or freeze in order to survive the threat. Clients suffering from post-traumatic stress are faced with the dilemma of figuring out how to carry negative personal history in the present moment without letting it dictate or control their behav­ior. But when you have a nervous system that has evolved with self-protection as its number one mandate, this is hard to do.

Mindfulness techniques are often thought of as being synonymous with present-moment-awareness interventions; however, while the two are clearly related, they are not one and the same. Mindfulness interventions are basically a form of attention control training, and, yes, clients have to be able to control their attention to make much headway in a present-moment-awareness intervention.

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