What is Mindfulness? And other questions about how I approach therapy.
I get asked this a lot: what is your approach to being a therapist? Or rather, what can we expect therapy to be like together?
My approach to therapy is informed by a number of factors the first is my background and training. I came to this field later in life. I didn’t always think I would even become a therapist, even though I have long admired and worked next to the profession as a crisis manager and adviser to students. I try to bring the variety of experiences and various paths in my life to the work.
I call my basic approach to therapy as a Mindfulness therapist. I will talk about some other therapeutic approaches that take like CBT, IFS or solutions based therapy but this post is going to center around mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the world around you. Trích Nah Hanh has a quote I practice when I eat, it goes like this, “let my fork rest between bites so I can know it is a fork and not a shovel.” Mindfulness is just that, can you eat when you’re eating? Or are you eating so that you can get to doing the dishes? Once you get to the dishes are you thinking of sweeping the floors? How present are you in your life and is Mindfulness the practice of getting you to slow down and realize what is happening. Summed up with the simple expression: be here now.
The work of slowing down our minds and paying attention is scary. The thoughts come very quickly. The judgments, the criticism. All of these thoughts are part of a mind-system which you have had all of your life. Some of us remember a time when we were very young and we turned to our parents and we said, “mommy, I hear voices in my mind.”
As we grew older we confused the mind with our personality. Eventually, the mind and the voices we heard also became things like our intelligence. We associated who we decided we would be in this world, who we were overcome with various other aspects of our mind and thought forms eventually deciding to pray to the idea of: I think, therefore I am. In western culture this has been a tough one because eventually this thinking mind has gotten very rigorous to root out.
Mindfulness, as a practice means slowing yourself down and drawing awareness to everything you do. Noticing how yon are effected by the noise of your internal thought pattern. It asks you to observe, who is running the show here and if it is these thoughts then what are they telling me?
I encourage my clients to find some practice of mindfulness that gives them an empowerment over their thought patterns. This could be meditation, journaling or it could be lifting weights or playing the viola. Whatever method they do, it should be something that they must be present to slow sowing down and “catching” themselves. Often the trouble does come that the method takes over. Yes, we can deal with that later. But for now, once you begin to establish a method you begin disciplining the mind and not being ruled by thoughts.
All of this is to say that Mindfulness is the umbrella for my work as a therapist. It goes much deeper than that. Sometimes working with a client we just chat about their lives: sometimes we get way out there and discuss the meaning of life, sometimes we laugh a lot. Always I meet them where they want to be. Our tools that it takes to “get there” vary from client. No one approach is the same with the people I work with. But I always work tirelessly at being with them in their lives.
Lex Enrico Santí is a mental health therapist based in Ithaca, NY. He offers therapy sessions in a home practice and can work with clients using a secure telehealth (online) practice. Contact him today for more information.