Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Counseling

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Loving-Kindness Meditation and Counseling

Article excerpt

Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a type of mindfulness-based meditation that emphasizes caring and connection with others. LKM incorporates nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, which enhances attention, presence, acceptance, and self-regulation; it also entails directing caring feelings toward oneself and then others and emphasizes both self-care and interconnectedness. Thus, LKM is suitable for helping clients forge healthy connections with themselves and others. This article examines the use and implications of LKM in counseling.

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Mindfulness meditation is effective in combating stress, increasing wellbeing, and improving interpersonal relationships (Baer, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Within the mindfulness tradition loving-kindness meditation (LKM) incorporates nonjudgmental attention to the present moment and a focus on cultivating compassion and a sense of connectedness with self and others (Chodron, 1996; Kristeller & Johnson, 2005; Salzberg, 1995). Mindfulness entails a purposeful, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2005); LKM emphasizes cultivating a specific mental state (Weibel, 2007). Like other mindfulness practices, LKM incorporates ways of being that can be practiced outside of formal meditation.

Loving-kindness, often known by the Pali term metta (Kristeller & Johnson, 2005), is a Buddhist concept related to acceptance and satisfaction with oneself, which in turn leads to love and acceptance of others (Chodron, 1996). The practice traditionally begins with oneself (Salzberg, 1995, 2005); however, metta also describes an intention to transcend self-focused preoccupation so as to experience all-encompassing love and caring for others (Kristeller & Johnson, 2005). In sum, metta incorporates the ability to cherish all aspects of oneself, humankind, and ultimately, the entire universe (Salzberg, 1995).

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; Kabat-Zinn, 2005) is a manualized eight-week program that has had positive outcomes in a variety of research and clinical settings (for reviews see Baer, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). MBSR includes LKM to provide participants with insight into the sense of empowerment that arises when one uses a calm, centered, focused mind to evoke feelings of love, kindness, and goodwill. KabatZinn (2005) found that LKM can both generate positive feelings and facilitate the letting-go of resentment and other negative emotions. LKM principles are useful for alleviating stress, boosting well-being, and improving interpersonal relationships (Baer, 2003; Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008; Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). This article describes the use of LKM, metta, in counseling, and the implications of doing so.

The primary goal of both counseling and LKM is to alleviate suffering (Fulton & Siegel, 2005). Other outcomes psychotherapy and LKM may share are decreasing pathology, improving mental states, and promoting healthy human development (Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Moreover, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a primary goal of all meditation is to train the mind to disengage from habitual reactions and ways of thinking (Fulton & Siegel, 2005; Kristeller & Johnson, 2005). Walsh and Shapiro (2006) in fact defined meditation as "a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration" (pp. 228-229).

However, CBT is goal-oriented; the attitude of an LKM practitioner is one of nonstriving, acceptance, and nonjudgment (Chodron, 1996). This may seem contradictory, but although the benefits of meditation arise from the practice, they are not its overt goals. …

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