Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Teaching Undergraduates about Mindfulness

Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Teaching Undergraduates about Mindfulness

Article excerpt

Teaching Undergraduates about Mindfulness

Contemporary mindfulness interventions evolved from mindfulness practices that date back thousands of years in Eastern spiritual traditions, most notably Buddhism (Bruce, Manber, Shapiro, & Constantino, 2010; Carmody, 2009). The concept of mindfulness has been widely studied and applied to a variety of helping professions and clinical settings over the last few decades. Researchers have investigated the value of mindfulness techniques in several therapeutic interventions that combine mindfulness with stress reduction (Kabat-Zinn, 1990) and behavioral and cognitive therapy (Linehan, 1993; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002). Despite the fact that mindfulness techniques evolved from a predominantly religious context, they can be taught in a completely secular way to impact the brain, influence the experience of emotions, and alter behavior (Davidson, 2010). For example, researchers have examined the benefits of mindfulness practice in relation to both the well-being of helping professionals as well as their effectiveness as helpers (Carmody, 2009; Fauth, Gates, Vinca, Boles, & Hayes, 2007; McGarrigle & Walsh, 2011; Shapiro, Astin, Bishop & Cordova, 2005; Thomas & Otis, 2010). Because mindfulness can be applied across a wide range of human contexts and experiences (Bruce et al., 2010), the authors investigate the value of such an approach in an educational setting involving undergraduate student learning.

Definitions of Mindfulness

Due in part to its long and culturally diverse history, the definition of mindfulness has suffered from a lack of clarity and universal consensus. Generally described as a purposeful paying of attention in the present moment in a manner that is non-judgmental (Kabat-Zinn, 1994), researchers have employed a variety of descriptors and methods for studying mindfulness. Grossman (2008) has argued that mindfulness is difficult to define because much of the Buddhist concept cannot be directly interpreted through a Western lens. As a result, he points out that mindfulness descriptions vary from being a trait or state of mind to that of a mental process.

Traditionally, mindfulness and mindfulness meditation have been commonly used as interchangeable labels in reference to the same concept. Meditation is not, however, equivalent to or synonymous with mindfulness, although mindfulness is promoted by practices such as meditation (Davis & Hayes, 2011). Mindfulness meditation is the practice of exercises (e.g., body scan, yoga, sitting meditation, Zen, chanting) that contribute to higher levels of mindfulness (Carmody & Baer, 2008). References to mindfulness meditation from this point forward indicate an active engagement in being mindful, although through specific means. In need of a more parsimonious and research based definition of mindfulness (Carmody, 2009), we adopted the theoretical model proposed by Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, and Toney (2006) who identified five facets of mindfulness: (a) observing sensations, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; (b) describing these internal experiences with words; (c) acting with awareness instead of automaticity; (d) non-judging inner experiences; (e) non-reacting to these experiences.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Research has consistently established a wide variety of benefits to the practicing of mindfulness. Carmody and Baer (2008) reported that well-being increased after a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The ability to attend to internal affective and cognitive states in psychotherapists increased with their level of mindfulness (Fauth et al., 2007). Additionally, mindfulness has been shown to have a strong positive association with the satisfaction professionals derive from helping others (e.g., compassion satisfaction) and reduces self-reported levels of burnout in clinicians (Thomas & Otis, 2010).

Mindfulness based therapeutic interventions have long been shown to have a marked effect on psychological functioning and symptom severity, such as those experienced with depression, stress and anxiety (Bruce et al. …

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