129: Flexing the Mindfulness Meditation Muscle

What is Mindfulness? Why Meditate?

In this role-reversal of the traditional Feeling Good Podcast, Dr. David Burns and his special guest, Dr. Rhonda Barovsky, interview Dr. Fabrice Nye, your beloved podcast host, on the topic of Mindfulness and Meditation, which are currently popular with the therapeutic community.

Fabrice answers questions like these:

  1. What’s mindfulness? How does it differ from meditation?
  2. What’s the history of mindfulness as well as meditation? Did it originate with the Buddha, or did it date back even earlier?
  3. What are some of the goals and potential benefits of mindfulness?
  4. Why specific exercises can you do to develop greater mindfulness ?
  5. Why is mindfulness helpful? How does it work?
  6. Some people meditate in silence for prolonged times, like ten days, for example. What is the goal here?
  7. Are there any dangers of meditation?
  8. How does mindfulness differ from yoga, relaxation training, and self-hypnosis?
  9. Some people seem to love and benefit from meditation, and others find it uninteresting or even annoying. Why is this? What’s the difference in these two groups of people? Is it okay not to be interested in meditation, or is something that everyone “should” do?
  10. The goal of mindfulness seems to be learning to deal more effectively with stressful thought and feelings. Does it deal with motivation and the resistance to change? TEAM-CBT makes us aware of the incredible importance of resistance, and provides many methods for reducing or eliminating resistance before you try any Method to “help” the patient. Does Mindfulness Meditation deal with resistance, or would it best be viewed as a method that can help individuals who are already strongly motivated to invest time and effort in their personal growth?

David

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Dr. Fabrice Nye currently practices in Redwood City, California and treats individuals throughout the world (but not across U.S. state lines) via teletherapy. You can reach him at fabrice@life.net. You can reach Dr. Burns at david@feelinggood.com. If you like our jingle music and would like to support the composer Brett VanDonsel, you may download it here.

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8 thoughts on “129: Flexing the Mindfulness Meditation Muscle

    • I forgot to mention that my daughter does 90 minutes of yoga daily, and sometimes two of those sessions, seven days a week! She can do WOW stuff now, and LOVES yoga! david

  1. Though I would not consider myself an expert I was first introduced to formal mindfulness practices as part of my work and training with drug courts. I was a therapist working with participants (patients) who had ongoing, untreated substance abuse habits that had been determined (by the courts) to have contributed to their criminal behavior. Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT) was the primary treatment model–based on the assumption that substances were relied upon to artificially regulate behavior–and included regular coaching and practicing simple mindfulness practices.

    I found that it did little to help making large, enduring changes in emotions. But I did observe that many patients found that it was a fairly effective step–once practiced and mastered–to “push the pause button” and turn to using more effective emotion regulation skills.

    I have also noted that patients in private practice often resisted more overt CBT methods but willingly engaged in simple mindfulness practices (awareness of breath, awareness of physical sensations, etc.) before willingly utilizing the CBT methods. But I no longer rely on the that mindfulness practice bridge, after learning to use TEAM-CBT approaches.

    When first learning about basic mindfulness–paying attention on purpose to things as they really are, in the moment, without judgement–I noticed that good CBT tools and methods led to very similar outcomes, but by somewhat divergent paths. I know a few individuals–including certified yogis–who engage in long, even extravagant practices to no avail. They feel fantastic (largely via distraction) while they are engaged in the mindfulness practices, but go right back to panic, depression, etc. when living life. A few have been referring others to my practice because good TEAM-CBT approaches have helped them to live joyfully rather than retreating into the yoga studio.

    • Hi Michael, I loved your note! Very wise and thoughtful. To quote the Buddha, coolio! The Buddha asked me to remind everyone that he did not experience enlightenment until the moment he decided to stop fasting and meditating endlessly, and he ate a bowl of tasty rice pudding. Yummm! Yes, you can accomplish, in my opinion, vastly better outcomes way faster with TEAM than with months or years of meditation. Nothing wrong with meditation, it’s just not (in my opinion) a terribly effective antidepressant or anti-anxiety agent. But I know my thinking will likely not make much impact on those who are devoted to meditation as a “treatment.” I respect all who meditate, but don’t see it as a useful treatment, as you have pointed out. David

  2. Hey, Dr. Burns!

    I am with you in terms of the skepticism of mindfulness as a panacea. I also am not sure how particularly effective it is even as a tool in the fight against negative thoughts. I personally cannot seem to get anything out of it, but I am trying to make sense out of how so many people can find it useful.

    Perhaps you could put it like this: Mindfulness is not a specific technique for specific problems, but a general method for psychological health. If you have a specific medical condition, you’ll want to get a specific treatment. Sometimes specific conditions can be alleviated by taking care of your health generally (eating healthier, sleeping better, etc). Still, depending upon the disease, in order to get rid of it, you’ll need a specific treatment. However, even when you’re not dealing with a specific disease, generally good health practices can lower your chances of getting any diseases and lessen the severity when they do arise. In sum, perhaps the goals of mindfulness and CBT are different.

    I think that might respect what both you and Fabrice are getting at. I think this goes to answer partly a question I’ve had about TEAM. To what extent is alleviation of anxiety, depression, etc the final goal? Are there religious, spiritual, or psychological problems that are positive goals beyond relief? In Feeling Good, it sounded like you thought that happiness was just the absence of depression. Is that all there is to say about human flourishing? Or do you methodologically stick within the parameters of your client’s value system, asking only “what can I help you with” because you’re a psychologist and not a priest, for example?

    • Hi Paul, Very thoughtful comments. Thanks! I pretty much agree with you. There definitely is a spiritual dimension in TEAM, and I will include it in my new book, Feeling Great, which will soon have a publisher and we’ll be working on editing and finalizing it. I share your skepticism about non-specific approaches, but if someone enjoys prayer, or meditation, or exercise, or a vegan diet, or playing tennis, or having a hobby, or anything at all, go for it! But I see my job as bringing out rapid and lasting recovery from depression, anxiety, and other common problems, and use methods that help me achieve this goal rapidly, in a single session if possible (and that often IS possible with TEAM.) I would like my patients to spend their time doing specific psychotherapy homework that targets their negative thoughts and feelings, rather than spending time on meditation, thinking it will achieve the same thing, which it won’t, for the most part, as you’ve seen from your personal experience. And there are TEAM methods that accomplish the exact same thing that meditation is trying to accomplish, and they’ve been around since the earliest days of cognitive therapy. I respect folks who meditate, but don’t “prescribe” it for anyone. All the best, david

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