Let’s ensure we start on the same page and explain what we mean when we say mindfulness.
“Mindfulness” has been around for centuries and arguably near-millennia. Taking roots from Buddhism and Transcendentalism, the practice of purposefully paying attention to one’s present state and environment without judgment has recently received tremendous accolades from the field of psychology and wellness- both physical and mental. In the late 70s, a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program was developed, which got a lot of attention and found great application across fields as it proposes to support and manage a variety of health issues.
The field of psychology has found a lot of use for the often quickly taught (though challenging to master!) technique of mindfulness as a mental health tool where we strive to attend to and accept our present thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment. For decades now, and particularly of late, mental health practitioners have suggested mindfulness for those seeking to address any number of cognitive and emotional issues. It’s cheap to practice, you can do it all on your own, and research tells us it yields results.
Mindfulness can help us slow down our reactions, better manage pain, anxiety, depression and anger, and allow us to accept where we are, who we are, and what we are.
Mindfulness, however, can also hinder, not only help. While there’s been criticism on the research of mindfulness, the tangible concerns focus mainly on three issues:
First, rather than getting to the root of deep-seated mental health problems, mindfulness allows us to notice and accept where we are at. While it’s ultimately up to you how “deep” you want to look at all things mental health, most clinicians find that true and lasting change only occurs with a proper examination of the past, including when we learned our maladaptive behaviours and why. Once we know the where, how, and why, we can slowly shift how we act. Mindfulness does not examine our pivotal pasts, which some argue leaves the benefits short-lived and more surface.
Second, mindfulness has been criticized for not confronting systemic and societal causes of many of the struggles faced by minorities in particular. Asking clients to accept their environment and their place in it has been argued to ask those victimized by structural inequities to accept things as they are. This is particularly relevant in the last few years as mental health practitioners have been advocating more for an awareness of the damage our societal systems can cause for so many people.
Finally, as a critical eye is brought to mindfulness techniques, research has begun to ask if there are any negative consequences to this approach. Though limited, there is evidence that some unskilled and unsupported practitioners can suffer precisely what the approach was meant to alleviate: anger, sadness, stress, etc. Because mindfulness practitioners are asked to allow their minds to feel and experience their challenging environments and physical and mental states, some can get overwhelmed by this exploration and suffer difficult memories and face difficult emotions.
Ultimately, mindfulness can support those in need of effective and efficient management of mental health issues. However, the limited level of deep introspection, the lack of systemic confrontation, and the possibility of causing some harm without the support of a counsellor, we suggest this approach be instructed by a registered clinician and be utilized alongside counsellor-led discovery work.
Many tools affect change in your life, and mindfulness is one of them. With guidance, mindfulness can assist you in bringing positive changes to your life.