Counselors' and Counselor Educators' Practice of Mindfulness: A Qualitative Inquiry

By Rothaupt, Jeanne W.; Morgan, Michael M. | Counseling and Values, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Counselors' and Counselor Educators' Practice of Mindfulness: A Qualitative Inquiry


Rothaupt, Jeanne W., Morgan, Michael M., Counseling and Values


The Buddhist practice of mindfulness is being used more often both to help clients and to facilitate counselor effectiveness. A growing body of research supports these uses of mindfulness Most authors also emphasize that those who teach mindfulness must also apply it themselves. However, little is known about how counselors and counselor educators incorporate mindfulness into their persona] and professional lives. The current study used semistructured interviews to elicit such information from 6 counselors and counselor educators. A constant comparative method was used to analyze the data and synthesize themes. Emergent themes included practices used to cultivate mindfulness and the results of mindfulness practices.

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During the last 2 decades, the concept and practice of mindfulness, I borrowed originally from Buddhist teachings, have gained acceptance in the counseling profession, principally as a means to help clients (Baer, 2003). The literature suggests that there are two key components to mindfulness. First is a focused attention on the present moment, a heightened state of awareness (Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Langer, 1989). Second, mindful awareness involves a nonjudgmental acceptance of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). To maintain this degree of awareness requires a committed effort to be both present and non judgmental in the current moment. Although there are a number of diverse approaches to incorporating mindfulness into counseling (Baer, 2003), in general, clients are encouraged to practice nonjudgmental awareness in ways that may help them address their clinical concerns.

While mindfulness is gaining popularity as an intervention for clients, there is also growth in the idea that clinicians may want to adopt mindfulness practices into their own lives (Mikulas, 2002; Welwood, 2002). Kabat-Zinn (1982), whose pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program played a key role in the growth and acceptance of mindfulness in clinical circles, asserted that instructors cannot authentically teach mindfulness to others unless the they have incorporated mindfulness practices into their own lives (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). It appears that an authentic clinical use of mindfulness may require not only clients to practice mindfulness, but clinicians, supervisors, and counselor educators as well.

This view dovetails well with the widely accepted notion that good clinical practice requires clinicians to be highly aware of their own internal processes and how these are related to their clinical work. Lum (2002) suggested that therapists cannot be fully congruent and cannot effectively connect with clients unless they are consistently aware of and accepting of their own internal processes. Rogers (1961) also spoke of this need for self-awareness: "I have found that the more that I can be genuine in the relationship, the more helpful it will be. This means that I need to be aware of my own feelings" (p. 33). In discussing basic counseling skills, several authors have asserted that effective counseling demands that counselors be both highly self-aware and nonjudgmental in their self-awareness (Cochran & Cochran, 2006; Hackney & Cormier, 2001; Teyber, 2006). These guidelines are identical to the goals of mindfulness noted previously in this article. It seems that mindfulness practice by counselors, supervisors, and counselor educators is both a prerequisite for incorporating mindfulness into clinical practice, as well as a good match for meeting clinicians' need for ongoing self-awareness.

Regrettably, there is very little in the literature related to the actual practices of mindfulness by counselors or counselor educators. The purpose of the current study was to explore and understand more deeply the mindfulness practices of counselors and counselor educators who self-identify as being mindful in their work. With a shortage of studies in this area, an in-depth and open-ended qualitative approach seemed best suited to help counselor educators begin to know what professionals do and to inform future inquiry. …

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