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.
The first obvious similarity between mindfulness and therapy is that each is designed to promote happiness, well-being, and peace of mind. The Dalai Lama begins many of this talks and books with the statement, "Everyone wants to be happy." Although mindfulness and other meditative traditions are often put in a spiritual context, they are fundamentally different from other forms of religious expression. A more fitting metaphor would be to understand meditation as the almost scientific investigation of the mind with the aim of understanding the causes of suffering and their resolution. Of course the same thing could be said about psychology. Modern psychology continues to refine it's techniques for helping people overcome their suffering and find happiness. To this end millions of Americans seek out a therapist each year to help them achieve a more satisfying life.
The second basic similarity between mindfulness and therapy is that both are dedicated to increasing self-awareness. A good therapist seeks to understand the true cause of a client's symptom. It's often not enough to just teach coping skills. A particular symptom is there for a reason, and an experienced therapist will help the client become more aware of whatever issue is causing the problem to arise in the first place. Similarly mindfulness is about the willingness to become conscious of our experience in much the same way. As your mindfulness skills develop it becomes easier to identify and understand the true essential nature of your experience in this moment.
The final similarity I will address here is that both mindfulness and therapy help you to slow down and identify what is really important in your life. In today's fast paced world it's easy to lose focus on the things that truly matter or bring your deepest fulfillment. Both mindfulness and therapy help you to clarify your deepest values and priorities. Both also help you adjust your lifestyle to better reflect these values and priorities once you have identified them. There are many other similarities between the two, as well as some important differences. In future posts I hope to discuss the most common forms of therapy and their relationship to mindfulness.