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Journey to Mindfulness - The Mind-Body Connection to Patient and Practitioner Wellness

Posted By Julia Sayre, Tuesday, November 05, 2013

My office creates a safe meeting place for my clients, and is the meeting ground for many family and individual medical/emotional challenges: cardiological; endocrinological; obstetrical; the effects of infectious disease; after-effects of TBI; alcoholism and codependency; and families overwhelmed by the challenges of their special-needs children, just to name a few. In these and many cases, I work with my clients by incorporating some form of mindfulness meditation to increase self-awareness and reduce stress.

I was first introduced to mindfulness when I returned to Virginia Tech University to work for the program from which I had completed my masters in MFT. Mindfulness was incorporated gradually into the curriculum, eventually through formal classroom instruction. As an intern in that program several years prior, my introduction to working with traumatized clients included what I came to know as a form of mindfulness practice: focusing on how the body feels to learn what is on one’s mind and weighing on one’s heart, and safely process it. Later, I received formal training in Internal Family Systems Therapy™ (IFS), an intervention that uses mindfulness and guided imagery. Eventually, as I trained for my certification in Traumatology, it appeared again, as the training incorporated IFS as well as other mindfulness practices of various sorts, creating further infusion into my training and clinical experience.


Typically, I set goals each year in my professional development, and this year I decided to increase my awareness and skills in working with wounded warriors, through an organization called Warriors at Ease (WAE). They offer a three-part training on the use of mindfulness meditation and yoga as an intervention for PTSD – increasingly referring to it as PTS and dropping "Disorder,” an unhelpful conceptualization of a survival strategy. WAE training has both yoga and mindfulness meditation tracks. As I am not a yoga instructor, I chose the mindfulness track, knowing that I wanted further training in order to lead groups.
Starting this training – I’ve now completed two of three parts – piqued my interest in yoga. I owned a home-practice instructional DVD but kept hearing about the benefits of attending a class. And hey, therapist, heal thyself! I advised many clients to try yoga, but had not yet had a formal class in it. So off I went – and it altered my perspective: you stand like a dancer, but use muscle groups like a world-class weight lifter. And those instructors could teach without breathlessness or breaking a sweat! After each class, I felt…a calm connectedness…

Somewhere in this attitude of learning, this student was increasingly ready for the teacher to appear, and I decided to sign up for a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. Again, my thinking was that it would increase my readiness to take mindfulness-based interventions to group work with wounded warriors – and what a great form of self-care! As I write this, I am about halfway through the 8-week program. I’m creating a formal meditation practice, which is good for me. But it’s also emerging more assuredly in my work with clients.

Meditation lets them dance with their thoughts, then let them go
And so I am able to tell them that meditation lets them dance with their thoughts, then let them go (thanks to my WAE instructor for the concept!). And, I add, dancing instead of wrestling with these thoughts is a vacation from the kind of analysis and rumination that takes up so much of our energy. I am able to normalize for clients that thinking a thousand thoughts a minute during meditation isn’t wrong, yet engaging with the thoughts is unnecessary at that moment. What a relief! I can share with clients that some of their greatest creativity – problem-solving, if that’s their view – will emerge in the moments they have given themselves for that break from wrestling and rumination, and that later they will be able to re-engage with their creativity.

Experientially, mindfulness is the antidote to anxiety. The National Institutes of Health and other sources cite much research support for mindfulness interventions for physical symptom and stress relief. Focus on the breath, or on a sound or an image, improves our chances of wellness in mind and body, in terms of sleep, blood pressure, brain wave and hormonal shifts, and pain management, to name a few. And there is a 2012 study out of the University of Rochester that supports positive effects of mindfulness meditation on physicians: on increasing mindful awareness in interactions with their patients; on self-awareness; and in supportive communication with colleagues.

I have found the formal practice of mindfulness to be a paradigm shift. It has enhanced my experience of being present with clients. I am aware of more fully hearing my colleagues. My need to "jump in and do” with family or friends is tempered with more stillness and waiting. I feel profoundly secure in the knowledge – based on research and clinical experience – that my clients benefit from its practice, as well.


Julia B. Sayre, M.S., LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Traumatologist in private practice in the Northern VA/Metro Washington, DC area. Julie completed her Masters at Virginia Tech University, Falls Church, VA. Clinical interests include trauma, medical family therapy, and challenges to stepfamilies and families of children with special needs. Email: jbsayreLMFT@aol.com

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