The Use of Mindfulness in Trauma Counseling

By Goodman, Rachael D.; Calderon, Angela M. | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, July 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Use of Mindfulness in Trauma Counseling

Goodman, Rachael D., Calderon, Angela M., Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Although there is increasing support for the use of mindfulness-based interventions in counseling, there has been little discussion of its use in trauma counseling. We explore the use of mindfulness interventions within trauma counseling, with particular attention to how mindfulness can address the neuropsychological aspects of trauma. A case example explicates the application of mindfulness in trauma counseling. Implications for counseling practice and counselor training and recommendations for future research are discussed.


Although mindfulness has been used for centuries in healing and spiritual development, the use and study of mindfulness in mental health counseling is recent. Among the impressive outcomes of mindfulness practice are decreased anxiety, depression, and stress, and increased compassion (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Mindfulness has broad potential because it can easily be combined with other counseling protocols and applied in both preventive and remedial counseling.

The mindfulness focus on body sensation and awareness may particularly benefit clients seeking counseling after a traumatic event (Brach, 2003). Emergent research on the physiological and neurobiological aspects of trauma demonstrates the usefulness of body awareness in trauma counseling (Rothschild, 2000; Scaer, 2001). Controlled body awareness and sensation exercises can help trauma survivors to decrease hyperarousal syinptoms, reconnect when dissociated from their body, and differentiate past trauma memories from here-and-now sensations. Through mindfulness, trauma survivors may build strength and resilience by acquiring a sense of control, developing internal resources for symptom reduction and healing, and facilitating the meaning-making process.

This article explicates the use of mindfulness in trauma counseling, with particular attention to the neuropsychological aspects of trauma. After reviewing the literature on both mindfulness and trauma, we present a case example demonstrating the use of mindfulness with a counseling client who had experienced trauma. We also discuss the implications for mental health counseling and future research possibilities.


Foundations of Mindfulness

Although definitions vary, mindfulness generally refers to nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness (Brantley, 2003). The underpinnings of mindfulness are found in most spiritual and religious traditions but are often associated with Buddhism (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Practices like meditation are used to develop mindful awareness. While meditation is a formal mindfulness practice, mindfulness can also be cultivated informally by being purposefully present throughout the day, for instance, by paying attention to bodily sensations during conversations (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009).

Because there are many sources for detailed descriptions of mindfulness practices (e.g., Brantley, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Shapiro & Carlson, 2009), for our purposes we will simply review the elements of mindfulness that are especially relevant to its use in trauma counseling. Mindfulness is thought of as involving the cultivation of concentration, attention, and nonjudging acceptance of whatever is being experienced in the present moment (Bishop et al., 2004). It consists in allowing present-moment experiences rather than fighting against or clinging to emotions or thoughts that are assessed as either negative or positive. Mindfulness is also relating to experiences with curiosity and loving-kindness (or friendliness), which allows for deeper understanding (KabatZinn, 1990).

Mindfulness and Mental Health Counseling

In the past 30 years there has been increased popular demand for and academic interest in the mental health benefits of mindfulness (Coffey, Hartman, & Fredrickson, 2010). Extensive scholarship has examined how mindfulness-based interventions affect psychological distress.

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