Applied History of Psychology/Mindfulness Based Therapy - principles, theory, and key figures

The Beginnings - From the East to the WestEdit

The ancient teachings of the eastern world have always spoken about the attainment of oneness. This can be defined as a pinnacle of spiritual achievement that permanently unites the divine essence of the adept or bodhisattva (aspirant of Buddhahood or enlightenment), to the very source of all creation, the Absolute, Tao or God. In Buddhism, this process of enlightenment or true freedom (i.e. attainment of nirvana, samadhi etc.) can only be achieved through the Bodhicitta, literally meaning the ‘enlightenment of the mind’.

“Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
return to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.” (excerpt from the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16).

The mind is a central theme not just in Buddhism, but dates back to some of the earliest eastern texts of the Aryans, the Vedas. In the most infamous of these text, the Mahabharata (The Great War), Arjuna can be seen wrestling with the act of killing his kin in the 18-day war that is to unfold. At first he patiently listens to the sacred advice of Lord Krishna, but ultimately must dig deep within to understand the concept of dharmic duty. This is the essence of mindfulness, the process of turning our undivided attention and perception to the mysteries that lay within, and ultimately where we will find our answers.

In the Mahabharata, what unfolded with Arjuna was not explicitly called mindfulness. It is not until some of the early Buddhist text that we begin to see this word emerge, particularly in the Suttras(Dryden & Still, 2006). It was the Pali word (the language of the early Buddhist texts) sati that was translated into what we refer to as "mindfulness" today. There have been debates over the translation of the word sati, some translations have included "self-possession", "concentration", or "mind development" (Dryden & Still, 2006). To make matters more complicated sati is often found or linked with another Pail word, sampajanna. " Sampajanna is sometimes translated [as]‘‘awareness,’’ so sati-sampajanna becomes ‘‘mindfulness and awareness,’’as though awareness is not automatically included as part of mindfulness." (Dryden & Still, 2006, p. 19). One Buddhist monk, Nanavira Thera, distinguishes "awareness" and "mindfulness" in the following way:

"Mindfulness is general recollectedness,not being scatter-brained; whereas awareness is more precisely keeping oneself under constant observation, not letting one’s actions (or thoughts, or feelings, etc) pass unnoticed." (Dryden & Still, 2006, p. 19).

The origin of the word 'mindfulness', although not without debate, is not as obscure as the introduction to this and other eastern concepts into western thought. Eastern ideas of meditation and other forms of introspective spiritual work began to emerge in the west (mostly the United States) "...during the era of the transcendentalists, especially between the 1840s and the 1880s, largely influencing the American traditions of spiritualism, theosophy, and mental healing." (Taylor,2004,p. 1). It really took root with the writings and works of Helena P. Blavatsky, co-founder of the International Theosophical Society. She began to translate Hindu texts into English making these eastern ideas more accessible to the readers in North America.

Furthermore, some who have used mindful concepts in their work acknolwdge no influence of Buddhist ideas on their work, where as others do (Still, 2005).

Current ConceptualizationEdit

Mindfulness refers to a compassionate and non-judgmental moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience. Mindfulness is different from but related to meditation. There are various forms of meditations generally divided in two broad categories: Receptive practices and concentrative practices (Goleman, 1976). Receptive meditation practice involve widening our perceptual field to become more aware of our experiences, including bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and our 5-sense perceptions. Concentrative meditation practices involve focusing the attention on an object (e,g., the breath or the flame of a candle) narrowing the field of attention, in order to attain states of rapture. In practice, mindfulness training involves formal meditation exercises including both concentrative (e.g., sitting mindfulness with focus on the breath) and receptive practices (e.g., being aware of any objects that manifests within the field of one’s awareness). Another important aspect of structured mindfulness training program the program is that participants are invited to integrate their mindfulness practice into their daily lives, so that they bring the same quality of attention to their work, personal care, and relationships.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy - IntroductionEdit

Discussion of the integration of mindfulness into psychotherapy can be found as early as the 1960s, with the well-known works Psychotherapy East and West (Watts, 1960) and Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism (Suzuki, Fromm & DeMarino, 1960). Mindfulness is central to Hakomi (ref), Sensori-Motor Psychotherapy (ref), Core Process Psychotherapy (ref), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (ref), as well as Acceptance and commitment therapy (ref), to name a few.

There are also programs that focus specifically on mindfulness practices, the most popular and well-researched intervention being Jon Kabat-Zinn's (1982; 1990) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) Mindfulness-based therapies have gained tremendous popularity in the last three decades.

The traditional MBSR program involves an 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions as well as a full day silent retreat. During the training, participants learn formal mindfulness exercises and are expected to set aside time for practice, 45 minutes a day, 6 days a week. The exercises are designed to help participants augment their awareness of moment-to-moment experience, including sensations, feelings, thoughts, while cultivating compassion and love. In addition to the mindfulness exercises, participants are invited by the group leader to reflect on deepening one’s mindfulness practice, so it transforms one’s way of life, can support choices that are healthier, life-enhancing choices, in particular when confronted with challenges.

The initial impetus for the development of this program was Jon Kabat-Zinn's observation that many individuals with chronic health problems were not benefiting from allopathic medicine's interventions. Kabat-Zinn suggested to a group of doctors that they refer such individuals to the stress reduction program he created and he started gathering data to examine the effects of the intervention and found long-lasting effects (Kabat-Zinn 1982; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, Burney, & Sellers, 1987).

The benefits of participation in MBSR has been demonstrated for a number of physical and mental health problems including cancer, chornic pain, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and disordered eating (for review see Baer, 2003 and Grossman et al., 2004).

Two similar programs have been developed in recent years: Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Wellness Education (MBWE).

MBCT was designed for individuals with history of recurrent major depressive disorder. Segal, Williams and Teasdale (2001) found that participation in MBCT prevented depressive relapse.

Philosophical UnderpinningEdit

acceptance of symptoms, achieve mental health and mental well-being, awareness, self-acceptance, non-judgement of self and others, purposeful attention to the present moment (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Ellen Langer (1) ability to view both objects and situation from mulitple perspectives, and (2) the ability to shift perspectives depending upon context (Carson and Langer 2006, p. 30)


Key FiguresEdit

Jon Kabat-ZinnEdit

Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre (UMCC) and the executive director of the UMCC Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. He is also an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine.

His education include a Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT (1971). His research from 1979 to 2002 has focused on the various applications of mindfulness meditation training for people suffering from conditions caused or exacerbated by stress.

Here are some of the awards he has received:

  • 1998 Art, Science, and Soul of Healing Award from the Institute for Health and Healing, California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco
  • 2001 2nd Annual Trailblazer Aware for "pioneering work in the field of integrative medicine" from the Scripps Centre ofr Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California.

His work has been featured on Bill Moyer series Healing and The Mind on PBS (1993).

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a leader in a number of societies including the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the Consortium of Academic Health Centres for Integrative Medicine, and the Mind and Life Institute.

Links to other sites of interestEdit