Should therapist teach Mindfulness?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Mindfulness and meditation.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Should you go to a therapist to learn mindfulness, meditation, yoga or spirituality?

Some therapists and counselors incorporate the teaching of meditation, mindfulness, spirituality and a whole host of other things into their practice. Clearly, there are times that these techniques can be helpful to clients. It is equally clear to me that you do not need to be a licensed therapist to teach a meditation class.

There are also times when some of these things can be harmful if done incorrectly. Meditation can be very bad for someone with PTSD or complex trauma if every time they try to close their eyes they have a panic attack. Another practice called grounding is recommended for those clients. (That topic needs another post.)

When we start mixing things up, professionals and clients need to be really clear about what is going on. Readers have asked some questions about this and I can see some professionals may be headed for problems.

What if I decide to teach a Wednesday night class in blogging? Can I sign up my therapy clients to come to this? Sure blogging can be a great way to express yourself and some of my clients might benefit from learning to write, but if I start mixing these two activities up we are headed for trouble.

Could a “Christian Counselor” teach a Bible study? Probably no reason why not. Except if they are doing their Bible study on Wednesday nights and competing with my blogging class this is not very therapeutic for either of us. (I picked Wednesday because I teach at the College on Tuesdays and Thursdays, not because of the traditional Wednesday night prayer meetings that some churches have.)

A counselor can have outside interests. We can and should do other activates. But when the lines between therapy and those other topics get blurry, there are lots of risks to clients. Maybe my Blogging class needs to be taught at the adult education school and the Bible study needs to take place in a church or someone’s home? Then the two roles are kept separate.

By the way, any therapist that tries to bill an insurance company for these other activates under the guise of them being “therapeutic” is probably headed for big trouble.

The role of the counselor or therapists is to help you get over, recover from, or reduce the symptoms of a particular emotional, mental or behavioral problem. This role conflict becomes a problem when a therapist starts signing people up for a yoga class.

Yoga can be helpful for managing certain emotional problems. (My understanding of Yoga is that it is an exercise done slowly and purposefully while managing your breathing.) So yes any exercise may be helpful in treating depression. Working on your breathing can be helpful in reducing symptoms of anxiety and a therapist might spend a few minutes even a session teaching a client how to control their breathing to reduce anxiety. But when the therapist starts signing up clients for a weekly yoga class, they have crossed a line in my book.

Sure any therapist can have another interest. Say the therapist likes to play baseball and they start a Saturday baseball team. Is this therapy and should they be doing this with their therapy clients?

If I was working with a group of severely impaired people, those with no friends and no jobs, a weekly trip to the park to play baseball could be therapeutic. I could teach them how to take turns, follow the rules and how to resolve differences. We could even do some work on social skills, picking a team captain, how to talk with each other and so on.

But if the course of this baseball therapy included people with friends and jobs and we began to talk about baseball skills, bunting and sliding into base, this is no longer a therapy group and we are becoming a baseball team. That is not a function that requires a therapist.

This example I hope is easy to see. There are not many times a sport is likely to be a part of traditional therapy. When therapists start talking about meditation, yoga, mindfulness and a host of spiritual and self-awareness techniques the lines get blurry.

My thinking is that there are times that I may use a particular technique briefly to help a client reduce or manage symptoms but if I stray into teaching them another topic I am no longer in my “scope of practice.”

So if your therapist avoids working on your past traumas or other current issues and wants to spend a lot of time on these other topics that are not specifically designed to reduce or control your mental health symptoms, think this through.

You may need to find another yoga teacher and then restrict your therapist to doing therapy. If they are uncomfortable with that, you need to talk with them about this or eventuality you will need to change providers to get the help you need.

Having a therapist teach a meditation, mindfulness, or yoga class, can be another of those dual relationship issues that we therapists need to be careful about. If a therapist does do those activities there needs to be a clear connection to treating the client’s symptoms.

A therapist can use these techniques to help their client recover but they can’t use their client to support their other interests.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Higher Power Listening Skills

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Waterlily

Mindfulness and meditation.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

So you pray, but do you listen for an answer?

We read lots of things about the power and value of prayer. As far as I know, every religion out there has a practice that looks like that thing we would call prayer. While these various styles of praying have their differences, most have at their core a person making a request of their higher power.

What I do not see much written about is – how exactly is this Higher Power supposed to get back to you with an answer?

Seems to me, that a lot of people are placing their prayer requests the same way they place their online merchandise orders. Give me one of those in blue and ship by Friday. Here is my credit card number, or a reminder of the good deeds I have done that entitle me to priority shipping on my request.

What I do not hear people talking about is how they leave their email addresses so that this Higher Power guy or gal can get back to them.

Meditation?

A few people have mentioned the values of a practice called meditation. This is supposed to allow that higher power of yours, to get back to you on those requests and also allows responses to those rare times when you leave an online 5-star rating of the Higher Powers fabulous success in filling your order speedily and with just the right size.

Mention mediation to most western religions and you get a negative response, something to the effect that meditation is some Pinko-hippy-freak-subversive practice. Now while I am not convinced that being a “Pinko-hippy-freak-subversive” is a bad thing, still I know that calling meditation by some derisive term turns a lot of the faithful away from that practice.

So the question remains, you ask for things in prayer, how does God or your Higher Power get a chance to say anything back?

Back a while, religious people, and that includes some of these “old time Christians” had a practice they called “listening for that still small voice.” Not sure that Higher power always uses his small indoor voice, but I think we would all be benefited by spending some time listening for “Knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.”

Frankly, if you do all the talking and God never gets a chance to say anything that is not much of a conversation is it?

However you do it, sometimes it just might pay to turn off the entertainment center, put the Angry Birds to bed and sit a spell and listen to see what that Higher Power of yours is trying to tell you.

If the term mediation bothers you, try “thinking on it” a spell and see what God may be trying to tell you.

 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Learning to hear – Do you need to relearn?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

All radios

Hearing.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Who taught you to hear?

Hearing

Hearing (Photo credit: Keturah Stickann)

Most of us think of hearing as something you are born with, no need to learn how to hear.  Hearing can become more useful when it is trained just as any other sense. Hearing can also be lost through abuse.

In a previous post, I talked about the need to turn the sound off sometimes and make sure we are noticing the nonverbal things in the environment. Now we need to talk about the use and misuse of sound. Most of the time we are so flooded by loud and constant barrages of sound that over time we tune the small and the soft sounds out. The result of this desensitization to sound is that we begin to only appreciate sound when someone is screaming.

As any married woman will attest, poor hearing is more likely to occur as a result of a lack of attention to what your partner is saying than from any organic hearing loss. Married men over time develop a special disability known as selective deafness.

Learn to pay more attention to sounds and you too can become an expert at hearing things other people miss. This may also keep you out of some relationship problems.

Life’s pleasures are often about what you have experienced before. If you grow up listening to one kind of music you will likely have a preference for that kind of music.

Music appreciation classes ought to be more than simply listening to a favorite song. We need to learn how to listen, what to listen for, as well as practice that listening. Someone who wants to become a musician needs to learn to listen to music in the same way a writer needs to read, to learn what is good and what is not.

Most of us hear sounds all the time but rarely have we had any training that has taught us how to make more out of that hearing. Two simple exercises can improve your ability to notice sounds and then to make use of what you hear.

1. The ticking watch teaches good hearing.

Find one of those old fashion wind-up watches or alarm clocks. Wind it up and place it on a table. Listen for the pitch and tempo of the clock ticking.

Walk a few steps away. How does the clock sound now?

Continue to move away until you can no longer hear the ticking sound. Now move back a step or two until it becomes clear again. Practice this exercise a little each day. You will, over time, notice that you become sensitized to the ticking sound and will pick it out from other sounds even if you are quite a ways away.

Of course, if you notice any problem in doing this exercise, if you can’t hear when you think you should or if you are not able to pick the ticking out from surrounding noise, consider seeing a doctor to have your hearing checked.

Most people will discover that by practicing they become more attuned to the sound of the clock and notice not just this clock but others throughout their day. (See my previous post on the expert effect for more on this topic.)

Good mechanics will often be able to tell from the sounds an engine makes what the problem is. They have become sensitized over time because they have needed to find a noise and then determine why this engine made a sound that other engines do not normally make.

Practice being sensitive to sounds and you will see that these small sounds are all around you every day. Become mindful of the sounds you live with.

Hearing exercise two.

Find a place where you can hear others coming before you can see them. At work, you may be able to hear footsteps before the person comes into view.

Pay particular attention to the footsteps coming toward you. Are they quick and vigorous or slow and plodding? Does this walker make a particular sound by putting more weight on the toes or the heel?

When this person comes into sight glance at them and their shoes. Over time you will find that you can recognize who is coming down the hall by the rhythm of their footsteps. With more practice, you may find that you can identify the type of shoe the person is wearing even when you do not know that person.

Why is recognizing footsteps important or useful? By itself, it may not be important unless you sell shoes for a living. But at times recognizing someone from their step may be useful. Becoming more aware of sounds can help to improve your memory and your thinking efficiency.

Repeated efforts to fine-tune your hearing by the clock exercise or by attuning to the sound people make when walking will improve your ability to focus on sounds. Couple this with our earlier exercise on sitting and being aware of the information from all your senses and you will find that you are becoming more alive, more mentally efficient and that your memory for people and events has improved.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Meditation for people who don’t meditate

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Tree.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Are you a meditator or a non-meditator?

For a very long time now I have been convinced that there are two kinds of people, meditators, and non-meditators. I was sure I was a non-meditator. Turns out I just might be a closet meditator after all.

There are lots of meditators out there. I read about them and the benefits of meditation. I am sure it must be immensely helpful to those who practice it, but like weight loss and exercise it has always on my “to do” list not my “done” list till now.

Meditation fits nicely with all those pleasant eastern religions, but I am a hopelessly western person. How could meditation fit into my life? I have been to a twelve-step meeting where they talk about prayer and meditation but getting into meditation has been an awfully long stretch for me.

One problem with my meditation efforts may have been that tendency to think that somehow I needed to close my eyes and block out the world. That is the way we are supposed to pray in church so that was the way I tried to meditated. The same problem occurs with both prayer and meditation when I close my eyes. First, my mind floods with thoughts about everything in the world. These are important thoughts, creative thoughts and I don’t want to lose them so I keep trying to remember these important ideas while trying to empty my mind. Ever try to empty a large pool of water using a running hose?

This flood of ideas happens at other times, like when I am supposed to be writing my blog post. At those times I use a “capture tool” for those pesky other thoughts. Rather than trying to remember the idea I just got for tomorrow’s post while typing today’s installment, I write it down on a clipboard next to my computer. This “captures” the thought and lets me drop it out of my mind and concentrate on the idea at hand. I tried that with meditation but it seems disrespectful to the meditation leaders to always be writing things down while others are trying to meditate. Seems downright sacrilegious, in a non-religious meditation way.

My training as a counselor has been mostly centered around the western style cognitive behavioral therapy. Get a head change, change your thinking and the emotions will follow. Meditation might work for some of my really anxious clients but I was a little unsure how to teach them the benefit of something I had always been sure I didn’t do – till now.

Someone recently told me they meditate by watching the leaves in the trees. There was a brief flash of thought, not willing to call it enlightenment just yet, but I started to wonder – could watching the leaves in a tree be a form of meditation?

In counseling, we work on a skill called “attunement” with clients. We try to not only get the meaning of their words but also the feeling behind those words. We try to see the world from the client’s point of view. If we can attune to people why not trees?

It suddenly came to me that the times in my life which were the most peaceful were when I could attune with something in nature. Sitting on the ground staring away at the leaves, watching the wind making its way through the tree and feeling attuned to the tree, that occasion was one of the most peaceful times in my life.

Trees have a lot to tell us. From a distance, they look a lot alike. Close up it is amazing the variation. No tree is perfect but you don’t need to be perfect if you are a tree, you just grow and give shade.

Like most people I have moved all around looking for the place I belong, that tree outside my office has lived in that same spot since the day it was born. In all likelihood that tree will still be here after all the people who work in the building have come and gone.

The tree has its struggles. Last winter there was a wind storm and the tree lost a branch, broke off all of a sudden. The tree lost part of its self and still just kept on growing, reaching for the sun. We humans sometimes stop growing after a loss like that.

Trees aren’t the only non-humans we need to attune with. There are birds that act out their drama while living in that tree. The rain comes and it plays with that tree until drops fall to the ground and flow away.

Watching the river run downstream is also a peaceful centering experience. Water, by the way, does not care if you watch or close your eyes to meditate. If you close your eyes while attuned to a river, it will sing to you.

There you have it. While I will probably never be able to sit quietly staring off into space and meditating, I find great joy and contentment in watching the wind play games with the tree outside my window and the rain run down the stream to the river and eventually the sea.

Could you accept that attunement to nature is a very productive form of meditation?  It’s a version of meditation that works for me.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.