Why You Should Consider Meditating Between Therapy Sessions

Cropped view of a young woman with the wind in her hairI may be biased, but I am a big believer in psychotherapy. If the conditions are right (a good fit, commitment, consistency, appropriate therapeutic boundaries), psychotherapy is often effective in its aims to help people understand themselves on a deeper level, resolve inner conflicts that keep them stuck, reduce painful symptoms, and foster emotional development and maturity.

However, psychotherapy is not always a success. Even if the conditions are right, therapy can be ineffective if it reinforces the wounds and unconscious beliefs that people have when they begin treatment. This can happen if the therapist and person in therapy are unaware of repeated, often harmful, patterns occurring in the course of therapeutic work.

When I share what I do with people, I sometimes hear complaints about “talk therapy” being redundant, a waste of time, or simply a prolonged rehashing of pains of the past. Often these comments are based in stereotypes and stigma, but not always. In some cases, they are the stories of people who were hurt more than helped by therapy.

Fortunately, there are remedies for the staid redundancies—real or imagined—some people associate with therapy. One of the best is combining therapy with meditation.

Ongoing, daily meditation, ideally also practiced by your therapist, can enable you to develop the capacity to observe your thoughts, feelings, and varied experience separate from the experience itself. Specifically, if you can bring a meditative perspective to a stuck therapeutic pattern, you may be able to observe it more closely and, ultimately, gain freedom from it.

How does this work? In a variety of ways:

Ongoing, daily meditation, ideally also practiced by your therapist, can enable you to develop the capacity to observe your thoughts, feelings, and varied experience separate from the experience itself.

  • One of meditation’s central intents is to develop the capacity to observe the nature of one’s mind as a way to ultimately find freedom from the mind’s automatic cycling of repetitive thoughts. This function, when brought to therapy, can help both person in therapy and therapist to take a step back and observe how thought and potentially emotional patterns can both unconsciously offer emotional protection and ultimately hinder one’s psychological growth.
  • As more and more research indicates, meditation can change the brain for the better. For instance, meditation enables the mind to settle from its fight-or-flight zone (amygdala), which is responsible for anxiety and stress, to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for everyday executive functioning.
  • Another central function of meditation is to practice being more aware of what is happening in every moment. Focusing on one thing, such as the breath, anchors the practice so when the mind inevitably wanders, you have something to return to that signals you are in the present moment. In therapy, this can come in very handy. The therapeutic dyad can observe together, in the moment, what is happening in terms of unconscious dynamics that might be occurring between the therapist and person in therapy.
  • Finally, meditation is a very effective tool in working with a harsh superego, quite often a major obstacle to therapeutic success. If you meditate, after a while you may notice a harsh, punishing, degrading voice inside that appears in different ways. You may notice this voice is invested in keeping you right where you are psychologically. If you learn how the harsh inner voice appears inside of you, you and your therapist can find ways to work with it more effectively.

These are just some of the ways meditation can serve as a powerful catalyst to psychotherapy. Just 5 minutes a day, every day, is all you need to begin. Sit in a comfortable position, either on a cushion or a chair. Take two to three deep breaths into any areas of stress and tension. Then, follow your breath as it enters into and out of your body. If you notice your mind wandering, that is fine. Just come back to the breath. After a few weeks, build to 10 minutes and then, after a few weeks, 20 minutes. It might be worthwhile to find a teacher or meditation group in your area.

Meditation may enhance aspects of your life that you cannot currently fathom. Coupled with psychotherapy, transformation is very possible.

Reference:

Schulte, B. (2015, May 26). Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/?utm_term=.fd5bc6139f3e

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ben Ringler, MFT, therapist in Berkeley, California

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

  • 8 comments
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  • Bette

    Bette

    April 13th, 2017 at 9:27 AM

    Anything to keep that good feeling that I generally have after therapy sessions would be worth it to me.
    Sure, I can give that a try.

  • Ben Ringler

    Ben Ringler

    April 15th, 2017 at 9:34 AM

    Great, Bette. Try finding a good book or group to help guide you. Best of luck

  • Stuart

    Stuart

    April 13th, 2017 at 6:06 PM

    Most therapists are going to give you some “homework” to do on your own anyway between sessions so it makes sense that meditation would be one of your assignments. I don’t think that there is anyone who wouldn’t think that this could be a positive for you when done the right way.

  • buffy

    buffy

    April 14th, 2017 at 7:51 AM

    I don’t know why they would be but I suspect that there are those people who would feel very uncomfortable to try meditation on their own. If they are like me I would feel like I was ding something wrong and then all I could think about that entire time is whether I could or should be doing it differently. I think that you have to be at a point where you are comfortable with the silence that this dictates that you must have in order to get the best possible results. It would be great if the therapist with whom you work could actually help you in the beginning so that you would get a feel for what it is supposed to be like and how you could do things differently in order to maximize your benefits.

  • Ben Ringler

    Ben Ringler

    April 15th, 2017 at 9:36 AM

    Thanks for your comments, Buffy. Yes, meditation can be a difficult process and its best to find a teacher or book or something to help guide you. And, there really is no “wrong” way to do it, just showing up and sitting is a big step!

  • Kim

    Kim

    April 15th, 2017 at 6:08 AM

    There are other things that you could do that could be valuable like journaling

  • Ben Ringler

    Ben Ringler

    April 15th, 2017 at 9:37 AM

    True, Kim. Find what works for you…

  • Billie

    Billie

    April 17th, 2017 at 9:00 AM

    There could be numerous things that you could try, the point being that you have to do some work in between appointments in order to really practice what the two of you have been talking about. I think that likening it to homework would be a turn off for some people but really that’s what it is. You are just working on your skills on your own to make them even stronger for the next time.

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