Counselor: Mindfulness Keeps Stress at Bay; the Mental-Health Professional Teaches a Course in the Technique

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Byline: CHRISTINA ABEL

In a society where people are encouraged to move faster, do more and multi-task to be successful, Ponte Vedra Beach resident Barbara Bishop is encouraging her clients to slow down, be more mindful about what they do and eat and otherwise reduce stress.

Bishop, who grew up in Jacksonville, has worked for the school system, the Jacksonville naval hospital and in a private counseling practice. Now she says she is the only licensed mental-health professional in North Florida who is also teaching a Mindfulness-Based Stress Program, which is a program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The program, which was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, teaches intensive training in mindfulness meditation and its integration into everyday life. Bishop studied the program with Zinn in 1993. So far, about 200 of her clients have taken the eight-week seminar. She said about 75 percent of those successfully complete the program.

"It's not magic, it takes practice," Bishop said.

Atlantic Beach resident Leah Hudson, who works for the U.S. Agency for International Development Food for Peace program, was one of Bishop's first clients. Hudson said that with her job she felt as if she had more things to do in a day than could reasonably be accomplished. She said she was working until midnight and waking up at 4 a.m. just to keep up. She worked with Bishop to realign her priorities and manage her stress. Hudson said she still uses the methods and is recommending that her friend, a chief executive officer of a hospital, take the eight-week course too.

Hudson said that with people's daily lives getting increasingly hectic and busy, the program is especially important.

"It helps you to think about what's important and not important," Hudson said. "It's easy to get led astray."

Bishop agreed. She said that even when people are in the eight-week seminar, they wonder if they are doing it correctly, are on the right time line and are keeping up with others.

"There's that American drive to do the task and get it done, reach the goal, be the first," Bishop said.

Even though the practice sounds philosophical, the application Bishop offers is for everyday use.

For example, at a seminar at the Ponte Vedra Beach branch library Friday, Bishop talked about some clients who have used the program to overcome their fear of public speaking and to deal with their emotional struggles after going through chemotherapy. …