Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

I have a secret to share with you. I have a panic disorder, one that I have struggled with my entire life. Lately, for whatever reason, my panic disorder has been flaring up constantly, leaving me feeling helpless and shattered.
ROQUEREDONDE, FRANCE - AUGUST 22:  His Holiness the Dalai Lama sits on his throne during a tea ceremony in the Lerab Ling Buddhist temple on August 22, 2008 at Roqueredonde in Languedoc-Roussillon region, southern France. The Dalai Lama visited the temple to inaugurate and consecrate the temple.   (Photo by Pascal Parrot/Getty Images)

To deal with my latest attacks, I decided to try hypnotherapy because hypnotism was the one technique that I had never tried. But while calling around for a hypnotist that my health insurance would cover, I found something else—mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

I practice mindfulness therapy…

the psychologist told me on the phone.

My ears pricked up immediately. Mindfulness therapy, as in Buddhism mindfulness?

In further explanation, the psychologist confirmed that this is, indeed, the type of therapy that he practices. I must admit that chills went down my spine at the coincidence of me—me who is fascinated by all spiritual practices—stumbling upon a therapist that specializes in mindfulness.

By the way…you probably know that I don’t believe in coincidences.

What is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy?

It seems strange that I had never heard of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy because I have long been interested in the principles of Buddha-inspired mindfulness.

In simple terms, mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of every moment as it arises. It is a present moment awareness that is said to be truly calming and powerful at the same time. I can see why mindfulness-based cognitive therapy could be effective at treating panic disorder. Most panic attacks are triggered by anticipatory anxiety which, by definition, comes from future-oriented, fearful thoughts. In fact, I have tried to use mindfulness on my own, with mixed results, at combating my panic attacks.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Kabat-Zinn had practiced mindfulness at a Buddhist Center and believed that it would be helpful as part of a psychotherapy practice.

He was right. Although there are few controlled studies of the effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, the few that exist indicate that it is effective at treating depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Dr. Peter Strong, a Mindfulness Psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado explains our reactive emotions this way:

“Depression and other anxiety disorders have an internal structure in the form of habitual cognitive reactions to which we have become blindly attached through the process of identification. The negative thought arises and then we become the thought. A worry-thought arises and we become worried. Anger arises and we become angry. Fear arises and we become afraid. This process of becoming happens quite automatically and is sustained by the fact that we are unaware of the reactive process of becoming. The thought arises and literally grabs hold of us and pulls us into a predetermined state of consciousness against our will or choice.”

Practicing mindfulness literally stands between the thought and your reaction to the thought. This interrupts the automatic and mindless reaction to a negative thought and ultimately weakens the hold –in depression, anxiety, etc.—that such automatic reactivity used to have on you.


My first appointment with a psychologist that practices mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is next week and I’m excited.

Do you have any experience with mindfulness or with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy that you would like to share?

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