Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Summary of MBSR

Mindfulness, an ancient Buddhist practice is a simple concept that involves paying attention in a specific way and purposely to the present moment without being judgmental (Kabat-Zinn, 2009, p. 3). According to Kabat-Zinn (2009), mindfulness nurtures increased awareness, clarity, and acceptance of the current moment reality (p. 3). Virtually, lack of awareness of the present moment (lack of mindfulness) can lead to problems through the unconscious and automatic actions of human beings, often triggered by deep-rooted fears and insecurity (p. 3).  These fears and insecurities tend to escalate if they are to addressed and can leave one feeling stuck. Over time, one is likely to lose confidence in their ability to attain satisfaction and happiness and sometimes health. On the other hand, when one is in a state of mindfulness, it means that he/she can experience fully the richness and depth of human possibilities for growth and transformation. The ability to stay in a state of mindfulness ensures that one experiences the most valuable moments of their lives. Mindfulness provides individuals with the ability to get unstuck and back on the path to their wisdom and vitality (p. 3). Notably, although mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice, it has had a profound influence in present-day lives. For instance, mindfulness-based stress reduction is an evidence-based program that relies on mindfulness as a practice to promote health.

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Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, mindfulness-based stress reduction challenges and encourages individuals to take charge of their life, body, and health (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 170). Mindfulness is an eight-week program designed to help people become engaged in their journey towards health and overall well-being. The evidence-based program is designed to complement medical treatments an individual is receiving by doing something for him or herself that no one else can do for them. Known as behavioral medicine or currently referred to as mind-body and integrative medicine, mindfulness-based stress reduction is based on the assumption that mind-body medicine, mental, and emotional being of an individual can significantly influence the physical health or ability to recover from an illness or injury leading to improved quality of life (p. 170). Individuals who undertake the MBSR do so in a bid to take charge of their health and experience some peace of mind. Consequently, the majority of the people who participate in the eight-week program include individuals with various life and medical problems such as stress, chronic pain, and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and AIDs. According to Kabat-Zinn (2013), “experiences of wholeness are as accessible to people with chronic illness or stress-related problems as they are to anyone else” (p. 200). The eight-week course involves an intensive self-directed program focusing on the art of conscious living. It is a systematic approach designed to help individuals gain control and wisdom about their current state by relying on their inner capacity to pay attention and awareness of the things that people ordinarily ignore.

According to the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, no amount of drugs can numb or make a person immune to pain, stress, or anxiety. For instance, when Claire went to seek intervention for her panic attacks, the psychiatrist together with the therapist told her that the only solution to her problem was medication. However, although the drugs controlled her condition, later they failed to help her. When she insisted on stopping with the medication, she was blamed and told that she had to accept her condition and take the medication. After she got pregnant, her neurologist suggested she enroll in a Stress Reduction Clinic and eventually at the end of the eight weeks, she was able to control her anxiety (p. 436-439). Individuals must make a conscious effort to initiate healing, inner peace, and overall well-being by working with stress or pain-causing suffering. Some types of stress are so insidious that people are forced to make a conscious decision to understand it and find ways to live with it because it cannot be controlled entirely. The MBSR posits that people should not avoid stress because if it becomes their habitual way of dealing with problems, they do not go away but keep on recurring. The mindfulness-based stress reduction is an art or a practice to face difficulties, find effective solutions, and gain inner peace and harmony.

Convergence and Divergence between Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Carl Rogers Person-Centered Therapy 

Carl Roger’s person-centered therapy was developed in the 1940s and posits that human beings strive and have the capacity to fulfill their potential; “Confirming means … accepting the whole potentiality of the other …. I can recognize in him, know in him, the person he has been.., created  to become…. I confirm him in myself, and then in him, in relation to this potentiality that.., can now be developed, can evolve The theory believes that every individual has the capability and desire to achieve personal growth and impact change in his or her life” (Rogers, 2012, p. 55). The model recognizes and trusts the human potential to discover personalized solutions to their problems. The therapist offers support, guidance, and structure that enable the individual to find solutions innately. Similar to the mindfulness-based stress reduction, Carl Roger’s person-centered therapy emphasizes the inherent capacity of an individual to take charge of their health or situation (Rogers, 2012, p. 60; Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 177). The essence of mindfulness in MBSR echoes with Roger’s non-directive intervention. The therapist must be willing genuinely to care for the client in a non-possessive manner; “by this I mean, he does not simply accept the client when he behaves in certain ways, and disapproves of him when he behaves in other ways. It means an outgoing feeling without reservations, without evaluation” (Rogers, 2012, p. 62). The Rogerian therapy identifies the therapist as a person who is only there to offer support, guidance, and structure without interfering with the client’s self-directed behavior to change.

Consequently, while the MBSR and Rogerian therapy converge, they also diverge in some areas. The mindfulness-based stress reduction views human nature as good with the inherent ability to promote health and attain a state of well-being, create and maintain meaningful relationships, and make choices to the best interest of oneself and others (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). The MBSR attempts to create a nonjudgmental and attentive state of mind that enables a person to become aware of his/her sensations, thoughts, and the surrounding environment; “the mind gradually becomes calmer and more supple, and mindfulness—
moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness—stronger and stronger” (p. 68). The approach seeks to nurture a therapeutic relationship and trusts that the inner drive of an individual will help actualize it healthily. On the other hand, Rogerian therapy focuses on helping the client find philosophical meaning by thinking and acting authentically and responsibly. The Rogerian therapy believes that for change to occur, the therapist and the client must make psychological contact (Rogers, 2012). Rogers highlighted some responses made by clients on their relationship with the therapist and based on the responses; clients agreed that the therapist was an important element in their healing (p. 43-44). However, the therapist must downplay his/her authority and power to enable the client to become empowered to initiate change.

Differences and Similarities

Therapeutic Relationship

The therapeutic relationship in mindfulness-based stress reduction is experienced when the participant and the instructor of the eight-week course interact. According to Goldberg, Davis, and Hoyt (2013), the therapeutic alliance can be described as the affective bond that occurs between the participant and the therapist (instructor) and the mutual agreement on the goals and tasks of the intervention. On the other hand, in Rogerian therapy, a therapeutic relationship occurs when the therapist and the client are psychologically in contact. The therapist is responsible for empowering the client by providing support, guidance, and structure as highlighted by Rogers (2012). Some clients said they felt changes take place after undergoing an orientation with the therapist. For instance, some clients stated that what they found most helpful occurred when the therapist openly clarified and openly stated their feeling, which they initially approached indistinctly or hesitantly (p. 43). As the therapist interacts with the client, a therapeutic relationship is created that enables the client to take charge of his/her situation and initiate change. Notably, although in both approaches a therapeutic relationship is present, in the MBSR the relationship is in the form of an instructor while in Rogerian, the therapeutic relationship is in the form of a support system.

Roles of Thinking, Feeling, and Behavior in Healing and Change

In mindfulness-based stress reduction, individuals can hold their thoughts in awareness giving then an entirely new perspective on purpose, the present moment, and in a non-judgmental way. Feeling creates awareness in the mind of the present moment, which helps an individual to investigate, inquire, and apprehend that moment in a liberating way (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). Feeling is the essence of mindfulness as a way of being aware. However, incessant thoughts and feelings can drain one’s energy and instead of attaining calmness and relaxation, they start feeling fragmented. Feelings and thoughts determine the healing behavior and change. For instance, feelings of anger and hostility can lead to aggressive behavior “they create problems both when you become passive and discount them and when you become aggressive and inflate and overreact to them” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. 493) out of instincts to maintain one’s sense of being in control. Thinking can interfere with seeing clearly in the present moment. When one becomes conscious of their self, they can modify their behavior, as a step towards healing and change (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). In Rogerian thinking is an important element in the healing process (Rogers, 2012). Individuals are encouraged to spend time thinking through issues to find solutions. Thinking ought to help one discover sense and pattern in several discrete events (p. 275). The theory encourages thinking and believes that it helps individuals become involved with their personal self with the hope it might lead to the reconstruction of the person’s behavior. Feeling is the discovery of unknown elements of self. In a way, feeling in Rogerian therapy is similar to feeling in MBSR in that it seeks to create a sense of awareness. When a person feels in Rogerian therapy, he/she is able to experience in all richness all that exists inside him/her, becomes more open to the experience, becomes a process, which begins the journey to healing and change. In behavior the person becomes less frustrated by stress, matures in his/her behavior, becomes less defensive, more adaptive, and is able to accept and deal with situations creatively.   

How Change Takes Place

In mindfulness-based stress reduction, change is gradual and occurs as an individual cultivates mindfulness, seeks continuing advice, and encouragement from a physician or other people supporting their efforts. When one starts resting in awareness, it makes it easy to connect with things that have in the past gone unnoticed and gradually start taking action to change the relationship with a stressful situation (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). Profound change may arise if one is willing to look deeply into their emotional pain, its occurrence, and the aftermath. According to Kabat-Zinn (2013), change occurs when people realize that impermanence is the nature of things and relationships – change is inevitable. In Rogerian therapy, change is also not random but takes the direction of gradual adjustment. Change in Rogerian therapy occurs after therapy and the client starts feeling self-confident, becoming self-reliant, experiences inner comfort, and becomes more comfortable with interacting with others (Rogers, 2012). The client also starts feeling less resentful, guilty, insecure, and need for concealment. For change to occur, it is not necessary to get motivation from the therapist; instead, the ability to self-actualize life itself triggers change. Change occurs when the five conditions that inform the person-centered therapy are met.

Tools and Strategies Used

In Rogerian therapy, for change to occur, a client must experience the five conditions (Rogers, 2012). These include one; the client must be able to perceive him/herself as faced by a meaningful problem (p. 282). Two, the therapist must be congruent in the relationship (p. 282), and three, the therapist must experience unconditional positive regard for the individual in need (p. 283). Four, the therapist must have an empathic understanding of the individual’s personal world and be able to relate with it and communicate (p. 284). Lastly, the individual must be able to experience the congruence, acceptance, and empathy of the therapist for change to occur (p. 284). In mindfulness-based stress reduction, the tools and strategies used include cultivating an attitude that ensures that one is able to pay attention and being in the present. The individual must also be trained on how to remain committed to practice to ensure they develop calmness and relaxation. The second strategy is the power of breathing, which according to Kabat-Zinn (2013) is critical to healing. The other strategies include sitting meditations, body scan meditation that ensures one is being in their body, cultivating strength, balance, and flexibility, and walking meditation to cultivate mindfulness. 

Relevance of MBSR and Rogerian Therapy

Mindfulness has been used in counseling for the last two decades. Counselors use mindfulness to help clients learn the foundational elements of mindfulness and to address tendencies to dwell on the past, being anxious about the future and making judgments about every day (Brown, Marquis, & Guiffrida, 2013). The application of mindfulness addresses these tendencies by normalizing them and helping clients understand that they are not the only ones having problems and to stop being judgmental. When it comes to Rogerian therapy, therapists/counselors apply it by allowing the client to do most of the talking and restating the client’s words to ensure he/she understands what they said. The counselor uses this therapy to help the client in self-discovery, self-acceptance, and a means to heal and nurture positive growth. 

Counseling from the Perspective of Diversity

In counseling, where the client is also considered a change agent, counselors must empower clients to take charge and influence change. According to Tang and Bashir (2015), a counseling approach that neglects the active role of the client is often considered oppressive. Healing should be holistic and come from the client’s innate feeling to become whole again. To achieve this, counselors must be able to take the place of their clients and feel their life experiences. However, this is not possible if are not aware of the client’s culture. Counseling from the perspective of diversity ensures that the counselor acknowledges the client’s values and perceptions, is mindful and appreciative of diversity, and can use the cultural codes of the client as tools to ensure effective healing. Additionally, it helps a counselor become aware of the client’s cultural values and their impact on the way one thinks, acts, communicates, and perceives reality.  

Counselors Working with Broad and Diverse Client Populations

Growing in Empathy

Counselors can continue growing in empathy by practicing mindfulness and developing an impartial watchfulness and awareness of the present moment. They should be able to observe and experience the passing flow of experience, develop nonjudgmental observation, and participate through observation.

Unconditional Positive Regard

When counselors practice mindfulness, they develop the ability to accept any feeling they come across. In return, this ensures the counselor welcomes the feelings of their clients easily. To be able to keep growing in unconditional positive regard, counselors should maintain contact with their emotions, be tolerant, and receptive, which ensures that they accept every part of the client even the unacceptable behavior.

Congruence

Congruence implies that the therapist is able to focus fully on the present moment and go with the flow of the present moment of the client. The therapist can grow in congruence by keeping in touch with the inner experience and being able to disclose the now experience to the client.

Application of MBRS or Rogerian Therapy in Clinical Work

Evidence indicates that the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction can improve the psychological outcomes in a variety of conditions (Janssen, Heerkens, Kuijer, van, & Engels, 2018). In light of this, I see myself using mindfulness-based stress reduction in my counseling practice to help clients become more present to their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations amidst their environment.  The MBSR can also be used to enhance talk therapies by allowing clients to explore unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which may have gone unnoticed and facilitate the change process. Rogerian therapy provides an effective approach to enhance client-centered therapy. It provides a systematic approach where the counselor uses a non-authoritative approach and allows the client to take the lead and discover the effective solution to their problem. The approach guides a counselor in becoming a compassionate facilitator, listening without judging, and acknowledging the experience of the client without deviating.

Important Aspects of “On Becoming a Person” Meaningful/ Relevant to my Counseling Journey

One of the most important aspects of “On becoming a person” that has been meaningful/relevant to my counseling journey is congruence or genuineness. Congruence has been a critical element in helping me foster therapeutic growth. It has enabled me to have an emotional resonance/empathic echoing with clients, enhancing my understanding of the client. By being able to develop a non-judgmental and non-evaluative attitude, counselors accept their clients genuinely. With such a state achieved, it becomes easy to increase the client’s self-awareness and to cultivate a new self-understanding and a sense of acceptance.  

Facilitating Counselors Personal and Professional Growth Over Time

Counselors’ personal growth can be enhanced by making personal therapy an integral part of their lives. Counselors should make self-actualization tendency inherent to their lives. The journey towards self-actualization enables counselors to grow continuously their self-awareness, which is beneficial in helping counselors distinguish their feelings, become aware of their feelings, values, beliefs, moral principles, and reactions towards various situations. Professional growth can be achieved gaining mastery of theory, research, knowledge, and skills related to psychology. Professional growth can also be enhanced by participating in conferences organized by national or state professional associations and societies.

Conclusion

As discussed in this paper, there are various similarities and differences between mindfulness and person-centered therapy. Mindfulness is a practice that involves paying particular attention to the now-moment, to what an individual is experiencing, and separating reactions from sensory events. By doing this, an individual is able to achieve a state of unconditional openness. Mindfulness seeks to attain awareness by paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness is achieved through various meditations that include body scan, breathing, yoga, walking, feelings, and mindfulness in daily life. On the other hand, the person-centered therapy views the client as basically rational, responsible, and realistic to be able to take charge and grow. The approach establishes that a client must have a relationship with the therapist who enters the client’s frame to provide an atmosphere of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence. Notably, although the two therapies are different they are focused on enabling the client to take charge of their situation and come up with a solution inherently. For instance, in person-centered therapy, the therapist’s role is more passive taking the position similar to that of the mindfulness-based stress reduction instructor and enabling the client to take charge.

References

Brown, A. P., Marquis, A., & Guiffrida, D. A. (2013). Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91(1), 96-104.

Goldberg, S. B., Davis, J. M., & Hoyt, W. T. (2013). The Role of Therapeutic Alliance in Mindfulness Interventions. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(9), 936-950.

Janssen, M., Heerkens, Y., Kuijer, W., van, . H. B., & Engels, J. (2018). Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on employees’ mental health: A systematic review. Plos One, 13(1). 

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion e-book.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Books trade paperback.

Rogers, C. (2012). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Tang, M., & Bashir, H. (2015). Diversity from the Ecological Perspective. In E. P. Cook, Understanding people in context the ecological perspective in counseling. (pp.159-178). New York, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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