Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Mindfulness in Sexual Identity Therapy: A Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Mindfulness in Sexual Identity Therapy: A Case Study

Article excerpt

What is Mindfulness?

According to Germer (2005, p. 7) in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, mindfulness is "the awareness of present experience with acceptance." Mindfulness is a skill that enables an individual to be aware of the present - feelings, thoughts, situation, other people, and so on-without being reactive (p. 4). When an individual is mindful, any circumstance, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral will elicit the same response. In particular, when mindfulness has been developed, the experience of suffering can be reduced, increasing a person's well-being.

To be mindful is to wake up, to recognize what is happening in the moment. We are rarely mindful. We are usually caught up in the distracting thoughts or in opinions about what is happening in the moment. (Germer, 2005, pp. 4-5)

Mindfulness does not include judging, or the evaluation of a person, situation, thought or feeling as good, bad, pretty, ugly, or any form of dichotomous demarcation or labeling. In addition to being nonjudgmental, mindfulness is also accepting a moment as it is, regardless of whether it is pleasurable or painful (p. 7).

Although mindfulness has largely been associated with Eastern religions, such as Buddhist practices, it has been practiced within the body of Christ among the Christian mystics, historical leaders, and Jesus. For example, in Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen, writes about the merits of solitude as a means of becoming more familiar with one's inner life and deepening intimacy with the Lord. He notes that, "A real spiritual life . . . makes us so alert and aware of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of our contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response" (1975, p. 51). Christ demonstrated mindfulness in many instances throughout his ministry whenever he noticed someone that other people did not see, such as Zaccheus in the tree, or the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. In the latter example, he was aware that someone had touched him differently than others who were crowding around him. Jesus also reminded us that suffering or "trouble" will happen in our lives (e.g., John 16:33). Peter reminds us in I Peter 4:12-13:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (NIV)

In other words, awareness and acceptance of the suffering we experience can help us to see the "bigger picture" for what God may intend regarding the moment.

How is it Helpful?

When we are mindful, we become much more aware of our thoughts, feelings, the environment around us, as well as the experiences of other people in our midst. In and of itself, noticing these things can enrich the moment. It can also increase our acceptance of the "here and now" versus "fighting" reality because we realize that what we have before us, right here, right now, just "is" and cannot be changed. For example, if we are mindful of our present experience of pain, whether it is emotional or physical, it makes it easier to accept it as a part of the moment and we realize that we cannot change it. Acceptance does not mean that we have to like something; however, we do have to acknowledge that it is our reality. If we are able and willing to accept our pain, then it makes it easier for us to cope with it appropriately; however, if we deny our pain, we are more likely to prolong the suffering because we will be more likely to engage in behaviors that are not productive or even harmful.

What is Sexual Identity Therapy?

Some individuals who experience same-sex attraction (SSA) may wrestle with adopting a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity because of conflicts with their values or spiritual/religious beliefs (Throckmorton & Yarhouse, 2006). As such, pursuing a gay-integrative sexual identity may not be consistent with what a particular individual may desire. …

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