Why Are Psychologists Obsessed with Mindfulness?
I was fortunate enough to meet the Dalai Lama as a Freshman in college. What a waste that was. Likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was wasted on a 17-year-old who was nowhere near in thought to mindfulness, elevated planes of consciousness, and probably thought of the tenants of Buddhism as rubbing a fat statue’s belly.
Twelve years and 3,000 miles later, I would give my crown chakra to meet him again and ask about the ancient practice of mindfulness. While the practice has expanded from its ancient Buddhist roots to more mainstream psychotherapeutic applications, I would have loved to go straight to the source on this one. After all, have you ever seen anyone that is happier than the Dalai Lama?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), one of the accrediting bodies for our psychology programs, the benefits of mindfulness extend well beyond emotional intelligence. “Among its theorized benefits are self-control, objectivity, increased tolerance, enhanced flexibility, equanimity, improved concentration, and mental clarity, and the ability to relate to others and one’s self with kindness, acceptance, and compassion,” wrote APA-authors Daphne M. Davis, PhD, and Jeffrey A. Hayes, PhD.
I was recently introduced to the psychological impact of mindfulness through a California School of Professional Psychology webinar. Before that, I asked myself how effective this practice could be, and why it was of such importance to our professors. As it turns out, teaching future psychologists about mindfulness can make them far more effective practitioners.
A study conducted in 2007 shows that, after nine weeks of treatment, clients of trainees who practiced mindfulness and Zen meditation showed greater reductions in overall symptoms, faster rates of change, scored higher on measures of well-being and perceived their treatment to be more effective than clients of nonmeditating trainees. Shining light on the idea that at Alliant, we really are bettering ourselves — in more ways than one— in order to better the world.
Further empirical evidence shows that mindfulness promotes empathy, improves counseling skills, and even increases patience in therapists. While the efficacy of mindfulness is plain to see in therapy— so much so that it is a tenant of CSPP’s integrated psychology emphasis area in the Clinical Psychology PsyD Degree Program — it extends beyond therapy and into the workplace.
Last week, our organizational psychology program hosted a speaker series event titled Exploring Mindfulness to Improve Your Work, Life, and Relationships, featuring doctoral candidate Sarah Maxwell. Sarah introduced participants to key elements of mindfulness, engaged them in some experiential activities to sample some of those elements, and spoke about the increasing attention to mindfulness practices and their benefits in organizations.
I asked Bernardo Ferdman, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor in the Organizational Psychology Program, to tell me why mindfulness has been receiving more attention from organizational psychologists recently. “Mindfulness can help us pay closer attention to our experience and to what is happening around us, and so prepare us to be more effective in interacting with others and in achieving our goals. There is more and more evidence about the benefits of mindfulness practices for many work- and life-related outcomes, including managing stress. Sarah Maxwell’s dissertation research on mindfulness, along with the growing body of work in the field, will help us learn more about these benefits and find ways to translate them into practice. In our program, we are eager to support students in learning how to apply this type of knowledge,” Ferdman said.
When I moved back to California, I couldn’t understand why everyone was obsessed with yoga, after all, San Diego has one of the largest concentrations of yoga studios in the nation. And when I joined the Alliant family and started hearing the word mindfulness over and over again, I didn’t understand our professors’ obsession with it. A few documentaries, a book or two, and a couple webinars helped me tie it all together. I now understand why so many people are obsessed with meditation and yoga. And I now understand why psychologists are obsessed with mindfulness.
Cielo Villasenor is Alliant’s Communications Director.