Psychology and work Today
It is readily arguable that the single most significant development in mental health practice since the turn of the millennium has been the widespread emergence of mindfulness-based approaches. They are popping up everywhere you look. Type “mindfulness” into Google and you get 27 million hits. There are mindfulness based-treatment approaches for pain, depression, anxiety, OCD, addiction, PTSD, borderline personality, and on and on. Not only that, there are mindfulness centers and clinics, and there are now educational and training programs for prisoners, government officials, sports professionals, and business leaders and many other groups. It is also a hot commodity in the schools. In 2012 Tim Ryan, a Congressman from Ohio, published A Mindful Nation, and received a $1 million federal grant to teach mindfulness in schools in his home district. Perhaps not surprisingly, the surge of mindfulness-based approaches has come with critics, some of whom have coined the term “McMindfulness” to highlight the simplistic and commercialized nature of many programs, claims and offerings.
There is no cheap and easy pathway to mental health and fulfillment and the critics are right to raise cautionary flags about mindfulness being a panacea. Nevertheless, mindfulness has caught on for good reasons, and there are genuine insights to be had. The point of this blog is to help readers understand what it is and to provide basic framework for how it works from the perspective of a unified view of human psychology.
Rooted in Buddhist traditions that emerged thousands of years ago, the modern mindfulness movement in the West was largely sparked by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, starting in 1979. His work was initially focused on helping patients deal with chronic pain. The problem was that patients would work to mentally escape or avoid the pain, but ultimately this inner struggle would create more problems and mental distress and exhaustion. By adopting a mindful approach to pain, Kabat-Zinn found he could relieve mental distress and improve functioning overall.
In the next decade or so, mindfulness became integrated in cognitive and behavioral approaches. Some prominent ones included approaches such as Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Steve Hayes and colleagues’ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Segal and colleagues’ Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.