Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

The Use of Mind-Body Practices in Counseling: A Grounded Theory Study

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

The Use of Mind-Body Practices in Counseling: A Grounded Theory Study

Article excerpt

In U.S. culture, there is increasing interest in using complementary therapies (CT), which the National Institutes of Health also refer to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In clinical mental health counseling, there has been little research on CT use, though there is potential for CT practices to illuminate perspectives on professional identity, ethical practices, and responsiveness to client needs. This grounded theory study examined the use of CT by 16 professional counselors across the United States to increase understanding of how and why practitioners use CT. The findings revealed four key categories that delineate the use of mind-body practices in counseling: (a) experiences with CT; (b) beliefs creating openness to CT; (c) development of CT competence; and (d) reinforcement of CT use in professional practice. Implications for exploring CT in clinical counseling are discussed (see also Nichols, 2012).


Health and healing in the United States have increasingly focused on expanding interest in integrating multidisciplinary techniques to achieve optimal wellness (Berger, 2011; Coulter & Willis, 2007). The focus of this investigation was on practices identified as complementary' therapies (CT). The use of CT in conjunction with conventional health interventions in counseling highlights practices not used in isolation, as the term alternative would suggest (Berman & Straus, 2004). The purpose of this study was to explore how counselors use CT in their clinical work.


The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM; NCCAM, n.d.a.), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NCCAM, n.d.b.), identifies CT as approaches outside of conventional methods of addressing health used in conjunction with conventional health interventions. In the U.S., conventional Western medicine is seen as the mainstream orientation to understanding and responding to health and healing needs. It is a parts-or disease-focused model. Unlike the medical approach, CT uses a wellness or holistic perspective to conceptualize and address health. Predictors of use of CT to address health concerns include beliefs, health status, personality, and sociodemographic factors (e.g., female, postsecondary education, and middle to high socioeconomic status; Astin, 1998; Bishop, Yardley, & Lewith, 2007; Hildreth & Elman, 2007; Sirois & Gick, 2002).

NCCAM (n.d.b.) identifies three areas of CT: natural products (e.g., herbals, botanicals, vitamins); mind and body practices (e.g., meditation, acupuncture, yoga); and other practices (e.g., homeopathy, traditional healers, Ayurvedic medicine). Detailed information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Barnes, Bloom, & Nahin, 2008) has shown a specific increase in mind and body practices, referred to as mind-body medicine (NCCAM, n.d.b). Such practices focus "on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior, with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health" (NCCAM, 2012). Among NCCAM (n.d.a) practices at the time of this study were meditation, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, deep-breathing exercises, guided imagery, hypnotherapy, progressive relaxation, spirituality, qi gong, and such creative outlets as art, music, and dance. Sutton (2010) identified how patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy, once classed as CT, are now considered mainstream. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was considered a practice for purposes of the present study. Although it has gained significant research support in recent years, particularly in the area of trauma (Gunter & Bodner, 2009; Korn, 2009; van der Kolk, et al., 2007), EMDR was not commonly taught (not mainstream) in clinical counseling programs at the time of this study. Given their focus on using thoughts or cognitions to self-regulate physical responses, biofcedback and neurofeedback (NFB) were also included in the present study (see Ivey, Ivey, Zalaquett, & Quirk, 2009; Walsh, 2010). …

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