SSWN Top 5: Mindfulness
Editor’s Note: we are thrilled to kick off a new and regular feature here on our site, “SSWN Top 5,” where we invite practice, policy, and research experts to answer this question: “What are the top 5 things you want school clinicians to know about your topic?” Starting us off is Dr. Richard Cleveland, Associate Professor in the Georgia Southern College of Education. You can see a short video of Dr. Cleveland summarizing his 2019 talk “Focusing on Student Happiness: School Counselor Role Towards Fostering Students’ Subjective Well-being” at the Oxford Symposium in School-based Family Counseling here. Thanks Richard for getting us started with the SSWN Top 5; have an idea for a Top 5 topic? Share it here or to SSWN Co-Editor Michael Kelly at @SchoolSocWork or [email protected]
It would seem as though mindfulness is everywhere these days. No longer reserved for Buddhist monasteries or yoga studios, mindfulness has solidified its place within Western culture as a recognized mental health intervention as well as a practice contributing to overall wellness. In many ways, given its growing social acceptability, mindfulness may be considered helpful in combating stigmas long associated with seeking mental health support. Training school counselors in this landscape, I am amazed at the level of interest in mindfulness my students encounter working with P-12 students and their families. Increasingly, 21st century school clinicians are working with students (and their families) not only willing to consider mindfulness, but seeking guidance as to which mindfulness practices/interventions to use. As a professor this has prompted me to prepare my students earlier in their clinical work, providing a basic “What You Need to Know” summary regarding mindfulness. This preventative focus frees up individual and group supervision time so we can address P-12 clients’ needs rather than switching back into “lecture” mode. Recognizing that mindfulness interventions may be used by multiple practitioners within the schoolhouse, here are five things for school clinicians to know about mindfulness.
1. Mindfulness researchers and practitioners increasingly agree on what mindfulness is (and isn’t)
While it is true that mindfulness’ therapeutic application continues to diversify and expand, most authoritative definitions of mindfulness center around, “Purposeful, non-judgmental, present-moment awareness” (Kabat-Zinn, 2005; Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000; Nhat Hanh, 2008). As mindfulness has received increased application in the West, attention has been given to the spontaneous creativity which often emerges from reflective awareness. Thus a more recent (or perhaps more Western) definition might be best described as purposeful, non-judgmental, present-moment awareness incorporating novelty-production (Cleveland, 2018; Cleveland, 2016; Gehart & McCollum, 2007; Langer, 2009). This definition acknowledges the curiosity which can organically occur when one is intentionally engaged in open, reflective awareness. Not surprisingly, this evolution in conceptualizing mindfulness has only broadened the scope of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) as well as practitioners choosing to incorporate MBIs into their work with clients.
For school clinicians working with P-12 students, this definition of mindfulness not only offers therapeutic benefits but can easily integrate into multiple learning activities and contexts. Multiple curriculums already exist acting as both stand-alone lessons/units as well as components to be added-on or connected to regular mainstream educational activities. In their 2017 article “Mindfulness Goes to School” appearing in the Psychology in Schools journal, authors Semple, Droutman, and Reid, review ten prominent mindfulness curricula used in K-12 settings. One of the curricula reviewed is the Mindful Schools program (mindfulschools.org) considered by many to currently be the most successful. The program’s website not only provides plenty of knowledge and resources, but offers free starter lessons as well as videos demonstrating how the lessons may be delivered in the classroom setting by school clinicians.
2. Mindfulness is Hot Right Now
Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) continue to grow in popularity and use in the United States. The CDC reports that from 2002 to 2012, the US workforce saw an increase of individuals’ reported participation in MBIs. Mindful yoga alone nearly doubled with reported practice growing from 6.0% to 11.0% (Kachan et a., 2017). The American Mindfulness Research Association reports that the number of mindfulness journal publications has risen dramatically over the past 30 years, growing from just two articles in 1988 to 842 in 2018 (AMRA, 2019). Perhaps even more impressive than the wide span of fields to which mindfulness has been applied (e.g., education, happiness, eating, sex, parenting, anxiety, stress) is that MBIs have entered the digital world spawning an entire industry of digital mindfulness-based interventions, or d-MBIs. In 2017 alone, the thousands of d-MBI apps available to consumers constituted an approximately $150 million dollar industry (Mrazek et al., 2019). Considering this degree of prevalence, there may be little need for school clinicians to ‘persuade’ students to explore mindfulness, but instead aid both students and their families in navigating the myriad options available. Multiple digital platforms exist with mindfulness resources specifically geared towards children and teens.
These resources often take the form of professional blog sites utilizing non-technical language (versus research journals) and infographics which parents (and busy school clinicians) may find easier to engage with. A representative example, “25 Fun Mindfulness Activities for Children and Teens (+Tips!)” published on the site PositivePsychology.com, provides “one-stop-shopping” for visitors with definitions of mindfulness, activity suggestions, entertaining/engaging videos, and scholarly references.
3. Mindfulness is Very Versatile
Mindfulness is considered a part of the third wave of cognitive behavioral therapies grounded in clients’ perceptions and relationship with thoughts, feelings, symptoms, etc. (Hayes & Hofmann, 2017; Louise et al., 2018). This focus places importance on the aware-observer (client) and the focus of this awareness (emotions, pain). As such, it’s not surprising that mindfulness as a construct, and mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) as techniques are able to integrate with school clinicians’ various theoretical orientations. This same flexibility facilitates implementation of MBIs to a wide variety of student issues/concerns. Additionally, as the intent of mindfulness is facilitating non-judgmental, present-moment awareness incorporating novelty-production, numerous forms of practice may be employed. This recognizes the diversity of students and their concerns, while providing school clinicians with multiple paths towards the increased health and well-being outcomes that result from mindfulness.
In their open-source article titled, “Exploring the Perspectives of Psychologists Who Use Mindfulness in Therapeutic Practice”, authors Moir, Skues, and Theiler discuss interviewing psychologists who actively incorporate mindfulness within their practices. Although the qualitative study focused solely on psychologists in Australia, the article is a great resource for school clinicians. After defining mindfulness and tracing its history, the article discusses what constitutes “third wave cognitive behavioral therapies”, how mindfulness is integrated with different theoretical orientations, how to measure the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions, and challenges associated with using mindfulness practices.
4. Mindfulness is Not Only for Buddhists.
Mindfulness, and specifically mindfulness meditative practices, originated from Eastern philosophical (most notably Buddhist) traditions. Recognizing sufferings in life as opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, facilitates a more free and fulfilling life (Kabat-Zinn, 2005; Nanda, 2009). However, practicing intentional reflection is arguably an integral piece of many faith traditions. Additionally, initial examples of mindfulness within Western culture (e.g., Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) placed less emphasis on the explicit Buddhist aspects of mindfulness instead focusing on non-judgmental awareness. As a result, mindfulness in its current form in Western culture may be viewed and practiced through multiple lenses. Interventions may approach mindfulness through its “original” Buddhist lens, frame mindfulness within the structure of a different faith tradition (e.g., early Christian mystic/monastic), or disregard both presenting a “secular” version of the construct.
Given that much of the popular attention mindfulness receives acknowledges if not centers around its Buddhist roots, it is not surprising that clients with non-Buddhist faith/spiritual traditions may be reluctant to try mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). Additionally, the overly dichotomous and dogmatic conceptualization of “separation of church and state” in the United States may hinder school clinicians from actively utilizing MBIs within the P-12 setting. As a school counselor educator, I encounter this concern frequently from both graduate students and practicing counselors alike. For recent professional development workshops both locally and nationally, I have used the “4 Keys: Bridging Mindfulness” points pictured above (Cleveland, 2019). While the tool provides examples within a Judeo-Christian perspective (arguably the dominant faith tradition in the United States), the keys are applicable for guiding integration of MBIs with other faith and/or secular traditions.
5. There are necessary cautions about “McMindfulness.”
Sadly, the evolution and rapid growth of mindfulness isn’t without consequence. Amidst this expansion, multiple resources have emerged claiming to be based in mindfulness but demonstrating more concern for marketability and profit. Such shallow and unreliable practices have been negatively dubbed “McMindfulness” (Kabat-Zinn, 2016) referring to a focus on reproducible quantity rather than quality. Whether school clinicians are considering theoretical approaches (e.g., Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy), treatment modalities (e.g., Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), or therapeutic tools (e.g., techniques, resources, apps), there is a clear need to critically examine these items in terms of their alignment with mindfulness. Relevant questions to ask might include:
Is there a definition of mindfulness offered? What is it?
Which author(s)/creator(s) were instrumental in the creation of the MBI?
Do the MBI activities parallel practices already established as mindfulness practices?
Is there supporting research and/or best-practices associated with this MBI?
Further adding complication is the recognition that very little of the mindfulness research which does exist, addresses the P-12 context. In this manner, reviewing MBIs can feel similar to resolving ethical dilemmas. Although there may be few stark “black & white” criteria, grounded principles with guiding questions can help school clinicians navigate the important process. Additionally, the evidence for the impact of MBIs in schools is mixed, with Maynard, Solis, Miller, & Brendel (2017) noting in their open-access systematic review of 61 school-based MBI studies, “MBIs have a small, statistically significant positive effect on cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes. But there is not a significant effect on behavioral and academic outcomes.”
One more step in considering various MBIs involves what may be termed “clinician fidelity”. The use of any counseling skill or technique calls for authenticity, and the same rings true for mindfulness. As a school clinician, am I familiar with the MBI and what is required? For example, if the MBI has a regular practice of guided centering breathing, am I (as clinician) comfortable leading the practice? In pursuit of authenticity, do I regularly practice this on my own? Without a strong foundation, both MBI and school clinician run the risk of failing to meet students’ needs.
There has never been such a wide variety of choices and applications for mindfulness and mindfulness-based interventions. Keeping these five elements in mind, school clinicians should feel excited about so many options rather than daunted. The increased diversity of applications means more potential for meetings students’ needs and increasing their overall wellness.
(Open-Access Links Noted When Available)
Ackerman, C. (2017). 25 fun mindfulness activities for children and teens (+tips!). Digital publication posted on blog PositivePsychology.com retrieved October 11, 2019 from https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-for-children-kids-activities/
AMRA (2019). AMRA Resources and Services. Mindfulness journal publications by year, 1980-2018. Retrieved August 22, 2019 from https://goamra.org/resources/
Cleveland, R. E. (2018). Extending Tobin’s mindfulness in education. Cultural Studies of Science Education. DOI: 10.1007/s11422-018-9899-4
Cleveland, R. E. (2019). 4 keys: Bridging mindfulness. Digital infographic created for 2018 ASERVIC and GSCA conference presentations. Retrieved from http s://schoolsocialwork.net/
Eidens, A. (2019). 5 fun mindfulness activities for children. Digital infographic posted on blog BigLifeJournal.com retrieved October 11, 2019 from https://biglifejournal.com/blogs/blog/5-fun-mindfulness-activities-children-breathing-exercises
Gehart, D. R., & McCollum, E. E. (2007). Engaging suffering: Towards a mindful re-visioning of family therapy practice. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(2), 214-226.
Hayes, S. C., & Hofmann, S. G. (2017). The third wave of cognitive behavioral therapy and the rise of process‐based care. World Psychiatry, 16(3), 245–246. DOI:10.1002/wps.20442
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2016). ‘This is not McMindfulness’. Psychologist, 29(2), 124-125.
Kachan D., Olano H., Tannenbaum S. L., Annane, D. W., Mehta A., Arheart, K. L., et al. (2017). Prevalence of mindfulness practices in the US workforce: National health interview survey. Preventing Chronic Disease, 14. DOI: 10.5888/pcd14.160034external icon.
Langer, E. (2009). Mindfulness versus positive evaluation. In S. J. Lopez & C. R. Snyder, S. J. Lopez, & C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed., pp. 279–293). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Langer, E. J., & Moldoveanu, M. (2000). The construct of mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues, 56(1), 1–9. DOI:10.1111/0022-4537.00148
Louise, S., Fitzpatrick, M., Strauss, C., Rossell, S. L., & Thomas, N. (2018). Mindfulness- and acceptance-based interventions for psychosis: Our current understanding and a meta-analysis. Schizophrenia Research, 192, 57–63. DOI: 10.1016/j.schres.2017.05.023
Maynard, B. R., Solis, M., Miller, V., & Brendel, K. E. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for improving cognition, academic achievement, behavior and socio-emotional functioning of primary and secondary students. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 13. Retreived from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.4073/CSR.2017.5
Moir, S., Skues, J., & Theiler, S. (2018). Exploring the perspectives of psychologists who use mindfulness in therapeutic practice. Australian Psychologist, 54(1), 26-36. DOI:10.111 1/ap.12356
Mrazek, A. J., Mrazek, M. D., Cherolini, C. M., Cloughesy, J. N., Cynman, D. J., Gougis, L. J., et al. (2019). The future of mindfulness training is digital, and the future is now. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28, 81–86. DOI: 10.101 6/j.copsyc.2018.11.012
Nanda, J. (2009). Mindfulness: A lived experience of existential phenomenological themes. Existential Analysis, 20, 147–162.
Semple, R. J., Droutman, V., & Reid, B. A. (2017). Mindfulness goes to school: Things learned (so far) from research and real-world experiences. Psychology in the Schools, 54(1), 29–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21981
Sheinman, N., Hadar, L. L., Gafni, D., & Milman, M. (2018). Preliminary investigation of whole-school mindfulness in education programs and children’s mindfulness-based coping strategies. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(10), 3316-3328. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1156-7
Thich Nhat Hanh. (2008). The miracle of mindfulness: The classic guide to meditation by the world’s most revered master. London: Rider.