As a mindfulness teacher, I sometimes get asked, “is mindfulness really just another type of therapy?”
Is mindfulness a type of CBT?
No, but there are some similarities between what happens in the mind when we practise mindfulness meditation and when we receive the support of a good therapist.
Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Over a number of sessions a CBT therapist trains you to use mental strategies to challenge and hopefully shift unhelpful thinking – the type of thinking that typically affects your mood and your ability to lead a healthy, happy life.
Mindfulness also has a positive impact on stressful thoughts.
Mindfulness, in its most basic sense, is pure awareness. When we use it on purpose mindfulness becomes a way of maintaining heightened awareness of thoughts, emotions, and experiences moment-to-moment, and returning attention back to the present when it wanders.
However, while a therapist might help you with some mindfulness-based relaxation techniques, mindfulness itself isn’t therapy. It’s a form of meditation-based mind training and over time and with practice it can be really beneficial in helping us to let go of harmful recurring thoughts.
Therapists using CBT may be quite directive in encouraging you to try mental techniques to control unwanted thoughts. With mindfulness there’s no effort to try to make something happen, or to disappear. Interestingly, when we let go of trying to get somewhere with mindfulness we can often experience a pleasant or positive shift in our mood and thinking.
Mindfulness also differs from CBT in that we can get positive mental benefits simply from being mindful whether we are caught up in a stressful situation or not. And, the more that we practise being mindful, the better it makes us feel.
As you get more experienced in this practical form of meditation, you may find yourself slipping into a relaxed and mindful state even without trying.
For instance, we might notice just how good a hug feels, or how the crisp winter air against our skin stings a little but also makes us feel really alive. When we’re catching these delicious moments we cannot be thinking stressful thoughts at the same time.
Each time we are mindful we are building mental pathways that increase our psychological resilience. Think of it as a little like strengths training or going for a regular brisk walk or run.
What does CBT and mindfulness have in common?
Mindfulness and CBT are used to shift unhelpful patterns of thinking. Both work with our consciousness to change the impact of negative thinking and moods.
The human brain is neuro-plastic. This means that it is capable of change, and neurons fire and re-fire in the brain constantly in response to what we experience, and also to the way in which we try to make sense of what happens to us.
Both mindfulness and CBT require you to continue with what you have learnt or practised. For some of us this may necessarily mean a life-long commitment for well-being and relief from mental stress.
Is Mindfulness a better way to deal with stress than Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
If you find one technique or method of working with your anxiety doesn’t seem to be enough then I would suggest reaching out and getting further help.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that CBT or mindfulness isn’t working. It just might mean you need a little bit more help at this time.
While most people experience immediate peace and calm from a simple mindfulness technique, the more enduring benefits of mindfulness meditation in the management of anxiety and stress develop over time. As we all know, any kind of enduring and transformative change doesn’t happen with a quick fix!
If you’re looking at mindfulness as a way of managing stress and anxiety, and you are already receiving some medical support, I recommend that you let your doctor or healthcare professional know that you also want to learn mindfulness meditation as a way of looking after yourself. You will also have to learn how to make it a life-long well-being habit.
Choose an experienced meditation practitioner who is also experienced in understanding the nature of stress and ways to guide you safely through the early stages of using mindfulness to bring ease to stressful moods and thinking.
Can I do CBT and mindfulness at the same time?
Yes, you can do both CBT and learn and practise mindfulness at the same time. Mindfulness is a nourishing and supportive well-being practice for everyone – whether you are experiencing a lot of stress or anxiety or not..
You may even develop some helpful insights with mindfulness that benefit your therapy sessions.
Find out how learning mindful habits of thinking may help you to get the better hand on anxiety and stress by getting in contact today with Alison or call 0402 795 796.