How Mindfulness Meditation Can Support Depth Therapy

MindfulnessMany people choose depth-oriented psychotherapy over other approaches because it brings them into healing contact with the deepest, most misunderstood parts of themselves. But unlike these other approaches—including acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and similar cognitive and/or manualized modalities—depth therapy lacks an explicit mindfulness component. It is, however, highly compatible with mindfulness practice, and many practitioners do incorporate it into their work.

If you’re in depth-oriented therapy and not getting mindfulness training, you may want to consider meditation groups, workshops, or other resources. Meditation—mindfulness meditation in particular—can support you in going deeper, more quickly, in your healing process.

Tolerating Difficult Emotions

In order to really benefit from depth-oriented therapy, we have to be able to tolerate difficult emotions that arise as a consequence of seeing through our defenses. Usually these are emotions from our youth that got unconsciously repressed as a way to protect ourselves when we did not have the capacity to tolerate them. If we are doing real therapeutic work, these difficulties will undoubtedly arise. This is where meditation practice comes in.

When we train in mindfulness, we develop the capacity to be aware of our experience in an equanimous way. We develop a presence that can observe phenomena and not be enthralled by it. This capacity is an essential element when we are looking inward within the therapeutic relationship.

In mindfulness meditation we also train our brains to become more flexible, so that we’re able to concentrate on a single point of awareness and/or open into spacious inclusiveness. For example, at times we may need our minds to sharply focus and stay with a particular emotional defense as a way to loosen it up. Other times, we may need to open up our awareness to include the environment as a way to support being with an experience that may be too painful to tolerate directly. Both of these ways of focusing awareness can be a tremendous support in the therapy process.

The process of therapy will speed up and go deeper as we develop greater capacity to stay present with our experience.

A Fresh Experience of Self

Another important way meditation can support therapy is by providing a different way of experiencing ourselves. At times therapy can focus mainly on the content of our experience, and we can easily get caught up in the mental stories we tell ourselves. These deeply ingrained patterns will not change simply by talking about them or by having insight into their origins (although these are indeed necessary).

When we train in mindfulness, we develop the capacity to be aware of our experience in an equanimous way. We develop a presence that can observe phenomena and not be enthralled by it. This capacity is an essential element when we are looking inward within the therapeutic relationship.

In contrast, mindfulness meditation focuses on experience itself, regardless of content. This phenomenological approach can provide a direct awareness into the structure of our patterns. In other words, we can experience and see directly the actual patterning of our personality, independent of the psychological content. Having an experiential awareness of these phenomena (which meditation provides) while also tracking content (which therapy provides) can be a powerful way of allowing new perspectives to arise.

Another related but slightly different therapeutic benefit of mindfulness is that, in order to transform our ingrained personality patterns, we must simultaneously be in direct contact with them yet have enough space from them so that we are not totally identified with them. This process is a bit of a paradox; on the one hand, we need to separate from our patterns and observe them from afar, and on the other, we need to be with them, knowing them directly. Here, mindfulness gives us the capacity to tolerate this contradictory experience without splitting it into separate categories. By feeling into this dialectic, new awareness or perspectives can begin to arise.

Furthermore, mindfulness meditation helps us be in touch with our bodies in a direct way. Humans can be very mental, and talk therapy can fall into that trap as well. By cultivating a deeper awareness of our physicality, we develop yet another resource for understanding and regulating our experience.

No matter which type of therapy you’re engaged in, mindfulness meditation can bring great benefits to your process. If you’ve ever engaged in deep therapy, you know that you need as much support as possible to enter your unknown and mysterious inner realms. A therapist serves as a companion in this journey, but we certainly can benefit from more sources of support as we transverse this uncharted territory. A solid meditation practice can be one of your best resources on this journey.

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Manuel A. Manotas, PsyD, Mindfulness-Based Approaches/Contemplative Approaches Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shawna

    April 15th, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    I see so many pieces written about mindfulness and how this could be so helpful in many different settings and situations.
    It makes me very curious on how I could Incorporated this into my own life, bit in a therapy setting necessarily, but just as a way of getting more in touch with myself and learning better ways for getting to know myself on a deeper level.

  • Christa

    April 15th, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    Don’t you think that this is something that you will definitely want some help and guidance with?

    If you are already delving pretty deep, looking for things, then you may need a trained professional who can help you when you come to some realizations that may make you uncomfortable.

  • jay

    April 16th, 2015 at 5:26 AM

    have any thoughts about how to locate meditation groups in my area?

  • Manuel A. Manotas Psy.D

    April 16th, 2015 at 4:58 PM

    Thank you all for your comments.
    Yes, I agree with you that having some guidance is very helpful in developing a meditation practice. However, there are many reasons one could begin basic meditation training without guidance (at least initially). These days there are many available online tools and apps support a meditation practice. Another important point is that if someone is in therapy and wants to begin meditation training, I would advise him or her to consult with their therapist.

    Shawna and Jay:
    It depends on what you want. If you are looking for secular meditation training, you can search for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes in your area. MBSR is an 8-week meditation training that will give you the basics to begin a practice. Also, usually MBSR classes have ongoing groups for class graduates. You may also explore groups in your area that are more traditional. There are many Buddhist centers throughout the US and most of them offer some kind of meditation training. However if for whatever reason the religious aspect does not appeal to you I would go with MBSR. Also these days there are many available online tools and apps support a meditation practice if your area does not have groups available.

  • Mike

    April 17th, 2015 at 5:39 PM

    I practice mindfulness, and I’m very glad my therapist does too. I think his own practice of mindfulness gives him a wonderful quality of presence in our sessions–he sits with a quiet mind and heart, giving me a deep quality of attention that is healing in and of itself.

  • Clancy

    April 18th, 2015 at 7:32 AM

    So I would assume that this depth therapy… I guess it takes longer than other mediums would? Or is it just that you jump right in and go for the deep stuff first? Sounds like it could be pretty intense.

  • Manuel A. Manotas Psy.D

    April 18th, 2015 at 11:22 AM

    Depth oriented therapy is an umbrella term that encompasses several modalities of therapy. If you click in the link “Depth-oriented psychotherapy” at the beginning of the article you will get more information about these kinds of therapies. Depth oriented psychotherapy tends to be longer than other modalities, and yes it can be very intense but very rewarding at the same time.

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