Mindfulness Competencies for Counselors and Psychotherapists

Article excerpt

This article examines the results of a survey about mindfulness competencies in the area of counseling and psychotherapy; it specifically addresses competencies needed for training clients in the use of mindfulness methods. The study investigated whether experts on mindfulness (N = 52) agreed with a proposed set of 16 competency statements. It also asked about recommended levels of personal mindfulness practice for those new to the specialty. In general, participants agreed on the proposed 16 competencies. Here we offer recommendations about mindfulness practice for counselor preparation, cultural competency, continuing education, and clinical applications, and suggest questions for future research.


Mindfulness has been referred to as (a) a psychological process; (b) a method or technique; and (c) a skill that can be acquired (Allen, Blashki, & Gullone, 2006; Hayes & Shenk, 2004; Hayes & Wilson, 2003). As a psychological process, mindfulness has been described as being intentionally present to internal and external events (stimuli) occurring in momentary experience (Baer, 2003; Bishop et al., 2004; Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Mindfulness necessitates that one "monitor the focus of attention"--in other words, self-regulate attention--which requires metacognition (knowledge or observing of thoughts; Allen et al., 2006, p. 286). For this reason a method of instruction is provided: First, practitioners place conscious, nonjudgmental attention on an object of focus (e.g., breath, sight, sound, or bodily sensation). Second, when they notice that attention has drifted, practitioners bring it back to the object. Training clients in mindfulness methods therefore means training them to practice a technique grounded in a philosophy that is oriented toward certain psychological processes that with practice can be developed as a skill.

Germer (2005) and Kabat-Zinn (2003) distinguished between formal and informal mindfulness practice. Formal practice refers to structured mindfulness meditation (sitting in meditation for 20 minutes several times a week) and is associated with "sustained, disciplined introspection" (Germer, 2005, p. 14). Informal practice is about bringing mindfulness processes to ordinary daily activities. For example, one self-regulates attention to listen to ambient sounds at a bus stop, notice taste while drinking a glass of water, or observe the warmth of the water while washing dishes.


The literature offers promise that mindfulness-based methods are both professionally and personally beneficial for counselors and are efficacious for helping clients deal with symptoms of mental and physical disorders (Baer, 2003; Christopher, Christopher, Dunnagan, & Schure, 2006; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004; Newsome, Christopher, Dahlen, & Christopher, 2006; Shigaki, Glass, & Schopp, 2006). The quality and volume of research devoted to mindfulness suggest that it is considered relevant for professional training in counseling and psychotherapy; and texts and manuals for mental health professionals on use of mindfulness in clinical settings attest to its popularity as an intervention (see Baer, 2006; Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2005; Hayes, Follette, & Linehan, 2004; Orsillo & Roemer, 2005; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002).

There seem to be three types of research into the utility of mindfulness in counseling and psychotherapy. The first studies the effect on client outcomes when counselors personally practice mindfulness outside of sessions (Aiken, 2006; Christopher et al., 2006; Germer et al., 2005; Wexler, 2006). Germer (2005) introduced the term "mindfulness-informed psychotherapy" to describe psychotherapists who "identify with a frame of reference based on mindfulness, but ... do not explicitly teach patients how to practice mindfulness" (p.19). The second attempts to assess the effect on outcomes when counselors and psychotherapists practice mindfulness during sessions with clients, though here empirical examination has been limited (Stanley et al. …