The last common type of therapy I will discuss in this series can be broadly categorized as Insight Oriented Therapies. The distinguishing feature of this approach is the understanding that our inner experience is a remarkably complex and meaningful process. This approach acknowledges the role of important formative experiences and it aims to develop a life of depth, beauty, and purpose.
In this blog series I am discussing the relationship between mindfulness and common types of psychological treatment you might receive in a therapist's office. Perhaps the most common of all is called cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. This therapy is based on the idea that you are thinking about your problems in an incorrect way, and if you fix these errors in thinking you will be able to change the way you feel. In CBT therapy you will learn about specific cognitive errors like overgeneralizing, all or nothing thinking, mind reading, etc. Developing the ability to recognize these "cognitive distortions" in your own thinking process leads to more effective coping strategies and more adaptive responses to whatever situation is at hand.
I still remember my surprise when one day in graduate school a friend told me about a new therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder that had mindfulness skills at it's core. Even more surprising that research on this new type of therapy showed very promising results including fewer symptoms, less hospitalizations, and a reduction in the need for future services. Borderline personality disorder is a poorly named psychiatric diagnosis that has historically been difficult to treat. It is characterized by chronic feelings of inner emptiness and repeated attempts to self-harm. Treating individuals with this diagnosis has been a long term focus of my career, and I want to encourage anyone reading this who struggles with these challenges to seek competent treatment and know they can recover a sense of control and dignity in their lives with the right help.
In this post I will be briefly discussing some of the basic similarities between mindfulness practice and therapy. I am not suggesting that mindfulness practice can be an adequate substitute for professional medical or psychological treatment. Mindfulness and psychotherapy are not the same thing, and different people will benefit from each for different reasons. My purpose here is simply to explore some of the basic areas of overlap between the two.
When I began my doctoral training in the early 1990s, not many people had heard of mindfulness. Meditation was considered to be not much more than an interesting relic from the past that did not have any relevance to modern psychological treatment. Nevertheless throughout my education I kept noticing significant parallels between the meditative path and what I was learning in school. At times it seemed that the twin worlds of therapy and meditation were existing side by side without either one knowing much about the other. I remember thinking how much could be gained by combining the two.
I can never decide if I am a psychologist first and a meditator second, or a meditator first and a psychologist second. If I was forced to guess I would probably say the latter. Sometimes I think at the end of the day that in many ways it's really the same thing.