News Update

2015 MINDFULNESS PROGRAMS

FOR

STRESS, PAIN & CHRONIC ILLNESS, BURNOUT RESILIENCE, AND

MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Read about the M4 courses here.
If you are a healthcare professional and interested in entering our Professional Training Path in mindfulness skills, read about it here.

RETREATS IN 2015

Mindful Self-Compassion 5-day retreat in Arnprior ON. Click here.

Heart of Mindfulness weekend retreat in Arnprior ON. Click here.

Mindfulness, Ethics and End-of-Life Care: The impact of Canada’s Supreme Court decision

Today, February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada allowed the appeal against the “blanket prohibition on assisted suicide.” An earlier appeal by Sue Rodriguez (Rodriguez v. British Columbia) in 1993 to have the Criminal Code ruling against assisted suicide declared unconstitutional was denied. The upholding of the current appeal (Carter v. Canada) is destined to be controversial for many reason, not the least of which is the ethical weight it will place on health care practitioners. The ruling is clear that while the Criminal Code is still valid for assisted suicide, it is over-reaching in its application in regards to persons who suffer from intractable medical conditions that compromise their ability to live well. It states that the Criminal Code infringes on the individual’s “right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

“…and are of no force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician‑assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

There will be many issues to clarify as this ruling enters the health care system. Parliament could enact a legislation should it “choose to do so” though whether it will be in favour is in some contention given the current government’s opposition to assisted suicide. Not only are there definitional issues, there will also be issues of a chain of decision-makers who can effectively guide and support individuals who wish to avail themselves of this right. Ultimately, one would hope this does not become a decision that is relegated to the hands of a few but one that will be made in community with compassionate support and wisdom of our past experiences. In order to meet these demands, we will be called upon to examine our own values and conscience with regard to a primary precept we hold, especially as mindfulness practitioners: What are the nuances of the ethic of respecting life in this context?

Can Mindfulness Practices Have an Ethical Role in Physician-Assisted End-of-Life Care? stump w flowersThe complex issues facing us will be challenging. More and more in the writings on mindfulness, an important point is being made that the practice of mindfulness must contain an ethical core. That means not doing harm, avoiding acts that encourage or precipitate harm, and respecting life in all its intricacies. Will we therefore wonder, as mindfulness teachers, if supporting requests for mindfulness training in cases of assisted suicide is ethically within our scope of practice? There are no easy answers however, as with all koans it invites us to examine how these questions play out in our life.

A common question asked of secular mindfulness teachers is – given the purported absence of ethics in a mindfulness program – whether one can therefore rob a bank mindfully or shoot and kill someone mindfully. This argument maintains that what we learn in a mindfulness program is how to pay attention to what is unfolding in the moment and letting it be. Thus, we can bring our attention to the gun, the bank, the person we are about to kill and let that be without engaging in any critical thinking that may have us wonder if this is the right thing to do. Similar arguments may end up being levelled against an involvement of mindfulness teachers in end-of-life care that involves assisted suicide. (I should note that end-of-life work by many conscientious and compassionate colleagues is a powerful part of health care.)

It’s important to ask these questions. It’s also important to use the right understanding of what mindfulness practice actually is. If paying attention is the sole characteristic of a “mindfulness” practice, then the practice is missing a crucial component. Attention by itself generates raw and unusable data. Heat, cold, tingling, blue, red, grey, snow, sun and so on are data points but have no intrinsic ability to change our life path. Remembering consequences of past experiences and recalling our intention for paying attention makes the data meaningful. Mindfulness practice is the opportunity to cultivate wisdom from information to which previously we were reactive but which we now can hold with equanimity to facilitate a better choice. So, there is no mindfulness involved in knowing one is in that bank with a gun pointed at the clients and employees. Mindfulness is in remembering that this action is about to bring harm and recalling a core value.

How might this play out in the potential future of end-of-life and assisted suicide? We have to ask which carries the greater potential to harm: teaching someone to “live well” with a grievous, intractable, unendurable illness or teaching them how to be truly mindful by opening to all the consequences of their wish to be free of pain and suffering. I believe, in this context, the former risks reducing our work to trite phrases like “be grateful for the life you have,” “be in the moment,” or any of the aphorisms we find in mindfulness memes these days. The later however may allow for a clarity of mind in our clients and therefore a range of decisions they can make in conjunction with family, faith communities, physicians, psychologists and all other health care support available to them.

We are entering interesting times.

———-
Edited at 16:43 for typing errors & paragraph spacing.

10 books that are good for your health: Mindfulness, Self-Compassion & Happiness

As we enter the New Year, let’s make 2015 a year of exploring the many gifts from skilled researchers and clinicians which can support our resolution to live better. The participants of the Mindfulness-Based Symptom Management, Burnout Resilience and Pain Management programs at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic have one wish in common: a desire to find a way to live their lives differently. In fact, this wish is not only that of the participants but also of everyone who works at the OMC. We share together the realization that despite our best intentions, we falter in caring for ourselves and others in a way that is kind, nourishing and supportive. We have strong values and tend to be committed to making ethically informed choices and yet we find ourselves wondering where all the wisdom went as we choose against those exact purposes.

If you’ve taken a mindfulness course, good start! You know over eight classes there can be shifts in your thoughts, actions and speech. You also know it’s not a quick fix and that the Ninth Class is the toughest! So to help with the rest of your practice life, here’s a collection of books that we recommend to support, boost and sustain your practice!

Mindfulness Starts Here: An eight-week guide to skillful living by Lynette Monteiro & Frank Musten. Now you didn’t think I would miss a chance to prop up our own book? If you’ve taken the 8-week program at the OMC, this is a great way to extend your practice. It also helps to come to the monthly Alumni groups! Nuff said. Let’s get on to the books you really need to get for yourself!

Leaves Falling Gently: Living fully with serious life-limiting illness through mindfulness, compassion & connectedness by Susan Bauer-Wu.  This is likely my all-time favourite. Bauer-Wu is an expert in the field of pain, oncology and mindfulness. The book is infused with compassion and an open-hearted approach to the vagaries of chronic pain. The exercises are easy and helpful, realistic and encouraging. The sections on the impact of chronic illness on memory, attention, emotions, etc. is invaluable. This book also is unstinting in its honesty about life-threatening illness and offers opportunities to change our rigid stance to the reality of living and dying.

The Practicing Happiness Workbook by Ruth Baer. This is a terrific book that brings together Dr. Baer’s skills as a clinician, methodical approach as a researcher and clear understanding as a mindfulness practitioner. I loved the set-up of the workbook because it … well, it works. Start with a nice pithy overview and then jump in at your own pace. The second section explores four very important traps that can derail our practice:  rumination, avoidance, emotion-driven behaviours and self-criticism. The section following on mindfulness skills is clearly written and I truly appreciate the inclusion of values and goals. The chapters are punctuated with stories about people with whom we can identify and the worksheets are very user-friendly. It makes me happy just to read it!

Hardwiring Happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence by Rick Hanson. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson is well-known for his ability to pull together neuroscience and psychological mind states in a way that is immanently understandable by most of us non-neuroscientists. There are so many catch phrases used in the mindfulness circles that originate with his teachings and in his books! Velcro for bad/Teflon for good, HEAL yourself, metaphors for resilience and vulnerability, the list is endless. What is important though is his ability to explain why we act the way do and how this is hard-wired. The section “Paper Tiger Paranoia” is my favourite and has helped me out of many a flight reaction! Mostly, in this book, we get to practice the ways in which to make changes to those survival instincts and hard-wire responses to experiences that sustain and help us. If you find this book helpful (or if you’re curious), also try his new program called Foundations of Well-Being which is a year-long on-line program and worth taking.

Living Well with Pain & Illness: The mindful way to free yourself from suffering by Vidyamala Burch. This book is written by and is based on the Breathworks program developed by someone who truly understands the challenge of physical pain. Vidyamala Burch’s history is unlike anyone I’ve read about and her strength is apparent throughout the book. Chapter 2 explains what is pain and is one of the clearest and most useful descriptions available. The use of research-based information is well-placed and does not overwhelm the information in each chapter. I totally fell in love with the third chapter. It’s my favourite allegory of how we create our suffering out of pain. And Burch patiently tells the story in gentle sequences making it come alive. The exercises and case stories are accessible and very user-friendly. I prefer the book to the e-book simply because the text set up is more compelling.

Empathy: Why it matters and how to get it by Roman Krznaric. This is an important book to keep the practice of mindfulness from becoming a self-centered practice. While we start our practice because we suffer the effects of personal difficulties, it is important to see that we are created, and can be undone, in a social context of family, community and global events. Mindfulness brings our awareness to our suffering and we practice so that we don’t repeat the same cycles of interactions with ourselves and others. However the deeper intention of mindfulness is to create a compassionate world and that change can’t happen without seeing that others too want to be free of the same suffering we endure. Empathy is the capacity to walk in their shoes, to make choices that are informed by understanding that what others need is not what we think they need. The exercises and examples in the book are wonderful and challenge us to find a different way to know the world. Grow your connection with those you love and beyond!

Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert & Choden. Paul Gilbert is well-known and respected for his work on compassion and cultivating the compassionate mind. In this book, he teams with Choden, a Buddhist monk who helped develop the graduate program in mindfulness and compassion at Aberdeen University. I particularly like the way they organize the book so that the arising of compassion is a natural outcome of how we organize the world as we know it. Gilbert’s perspective of compassion as a social mentality which helps us negotiate through relationships and interactions is an important understanding. In other words, being compassionate is far from being soft and squidgy or a door mat. The exercises are nicely explained and inviting. The definitions of compassion clear up misconceptions. The development of a compassionate self (Chapter 10) is probably the most important part of the book. However, it rests on all that precedes it; I especially liked that the exercises in this chapter are also empathy cultivating ones. An important addition to your mindfulness practice!

The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-week program to free yourself from depression and emotional distress by John Teasdale, Mark Williams & Zindel Segal. This book is a user-format version of the previously published A Mindful Way through Depression. The first section lays out the foundations and the next section takes us through the eight weeks. I liked how the issue of traps and obstacles is re-framed as “another way of knowing” which opens up the thought patterns and is subtly a practice in cognitive flexibility. It is focused on addressing depression through mindfulness however, the various exercises also might be useful for anxiety and general stress. I had trouble with the layout of the book (too many boxes for a book that wants us to get out of our mental boxes) and the excessive number of balloon quotes are distracting (not cool for a mindfulness book). I have used it as a guidebook with individual patients and found it organizes the sessions well. Be patient when you use this but do try it!

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions by Christopher Germer AND Self-Compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself by Kristin Neff. These two books come as a perfectly balanced pair. Germer approaches self-compassion with a clinical understanding of the emotional impact of our often harsh inner critic. Neff comes from the perspective of a research-based understanding of what self-compassion means and how it works. With both the experiential practice and the knowledge base to ground it, I find the practice of self-compassion inviting and easy to integrate into my life. As both Neff and Germer remind us in their workshops: don’t chose a practice that sets off an argument in your mind about it. Folded into both books is also the much-needed practice of forgiving ourselves for not being that superhuman being we think we need to be.

The Mindful Way to Study: Dancing with your books by Jake Gibbs & Roddy Gibbs. For all you students out there and those of us who are perennial students, this is a terrific guide to setting down and getting the work done. And more. I like the way this book addresses the various obstacles we encounter (traps) by setting the perspective of “gumption”. Just do what needs to be done! Well, it’s not that easy and Gibbs & Gibbs walk us through a number of gumption traps. The first one was ego (but I figure I already know how that works so I skipped it… no, not really). Check out the section on procrastination though; it’s not just about boredom or priorities! Gibbs & Gibbs’ focus on Right Effort (the last section) is helpful and has a nice balance of meditative practice with insight to our actions.

 

Solitude, Solstice & the Longest Night

tree

 

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness…

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.

Wendell Berry on solitude from Brain Pickings

 

December 21 (today) will be the shortest day and longest night. As a bonus, tonight will also be the longest night in earth’s history (apparently not according to the linked article). Fascinating astronomical facts! This date, in a mind-opening way, is also the turning point at which the days begin to get longer. As poet and artist Richard Wehrman wrote, introducing his Solstice poem: At the darkest, the turn toward the light.

This time of year is also a time of contemplation, of entering into a period of reflection on the path our life has taken and the cultivation of a wish for the direction it can take. It’s ironically embedded in the most emotionally activating time of year as well. However, we also fear this opportunity for solitude and perhaps fall into the rush and chaos as a welcomed escape from our thoughts because the idea of solitude, being with ourselves, lies too close to our fear of loneliness, being alone, without support or care.

In one recent study, later refuted by Keiran Fox and Kalina Christoff, it seemed like people would prefer to avoid their thoughts to such an extent that they would rather shock themselves. Fox & Christoff re-visited the data from the original researchers and showed that the conclusions didn’t support the conclusion of the participants’ aversion to being alone with their thoughts. Fox & Christoff interpreted the data as suggesting the participants were curious about the shock itself and that several didn’t use the shock at all. Others were thinking pleasant things about weekends, etc. In other words, we don’t tend to be horribly avoidant of our thoughts however we may not be very skillful in relating to them either.

lighthouseSolitude, especially where there is no structured task or schedule, provides the opportunity for spontaneous thoughts that can play a role in creativity. We can also get so caught up in these live-streaming thoughts that we lose track of what our intention was; this is the downside of ‘mind wandering’ (MW). Typically, we believe that the alternative to mind wandering is to get control over that mental process, suppress the thoughts and re-direct ourselves back to the task at hand. In their chapter on this topic, Fox and Christoff explore how the interaction between the mind wandering part of our brain and the metacognitive (reflective, monitoring our own thoughts) is actually cooperative and symbiotic. The positive aspects of this relationship are creativity, mindfulness or insight, and lucid dreaming. Interestingly, in meditation spontaneous thoughts are present as is the awareness or monitoring of these thoughts; and, areas of the brain connected to mind wandering and metacognitive functions both are active.

This contemplative time of year offers us the opportunity to connect with these aspects of our mind. As with anything, it can be directed in a healthy way or in a way that leads us to feel bad (or worse).  This is why consistent and dedicated practice is important. More specifically, a commitment to meditative practice is crucial. Spontaneous thoughts arise and suppression never works; we need to be aware that some thoughts have a positive trajectory, some neutral and some take us down paths that are harmful to our mental health. The metacognitive practice – monitoring the quality and directionality of our thoughts – plays an important role in discerning which thoughts patterns are just re-hashing old unhelpful stories and which are healthy and creative ways of engaging in our life at this moment.

This perspective goes beyond the aphorism that “thoughts are not facts.” The existence of thoughts IS a fact. However the belief that they direct our actions is not a fact. Thoughts play an important role as indicators of wise choices, markers of health and activate our creative encounter with life.

Take this time to discover this new relationship with yourself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The staff and teachers of the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic send you warmest wishes for a vivid and luscious celebration of solitude as we turn toward the lightening days ahead.

Thank you for your support of the OMC and our best wishes for the New Year!

World Mental Health Day – Why it matters

I blog for World Mental Health DayWhen I think of mental health, somehow my inner voice switches the last word to” illness.” It’s used so interchangeably that we shouldn’t be surprised about the stigma and aversion that grows around the topic. Health is never really a concern to us until it becomes an illness that needs attention. Yet, physical health devolving into physical illness is easier and more acceptable to talk about than mental health dissolving into mental illness.

The other difficulty is that wellness and illness are set up as polar opposites. It’s as if they are mutually exclusive and one is a preferred state. The radical view is that they are not even a continuum. Each arises out of a set of causes and conditions in our life. Take away one of those causes and conditions (or some of them) and our mental state will change.

Going through graduate school in psychology, I struggled with the training as it opened me up to many past experiences that I didn’t even know had caused pain and suffering. I was a child immigrant in the 60’s when being an immigrant was an unusual state and support was minimal. Where I grew up, I had been exposed various forms of violence and lived in a state of constant threat. As I progressed through my training, many emotions began to surface, which I now recognize as trauma-related. Then, however, in supervision and interactions with my classmates what was only evident was that my emotions were all over the place. I remember feeling deeply ashamed and angry, frustrated and confused. It seemed like everything I did was viewed terribly different from what I intended. I seemed like everything I said or tried to communicate came out wrong or with an inflection that was unintended. And yet, I was successful as a student, getting praise from my internship clinical supervisors, good grades, and guarded respect from professors who appeared not to be turned off by how I was.

hearts-waterI sought help in therapy for what I thought was Borderline Personality Disorder. Self-diagnosis an occupational hazard of being a clinical student. In my first session, I told my therapist I was there because I was “so BPD!” Even then I felt the stab of how I was stigmatizing myself and name-calling my suffering. We worked together for five years; it was a roller coaster process. His only message was that I needed to stop denigrating myself, stop buying into the propaganda in my head (and from the world around me). I didn’t “have” BPD because it’s not a virus. I wasn’t bad because I believed I was an angry person because it’s not a character flaw. (My actions were unskillful, no doubt, but that’s not part of my character; it’s a learned repretoire .)

Over time, I began to value the idea that under some conditions, I can be quite skillful. And that skillfulness ranges depending on my fatigue, awareness of my limits, and most especially on how I treat myself. Slowly I began to understand and lean with compassion towards the residue of the various traumas in my life. Depression, anxiety, perfectionism, the dark thoughts and shame about them became my friends and we sat down to tea everyday.

I’ve learned through my personal practice of mindfulness which began in the 1970’s and grew more deliberate over the years that there are storms in everyone’s life. No one is immune to pain and suffering, joy and love. Our work is to learn how to be steady in the wild winds, to bend and be flexible so as not to break, to trust the heartwood of who we are. Mindfulness teaches us that steadiness in the face of joy and woe. Self-compassion gives us flexibility so our harsh criticisms don’t leave us rigid and vulnerable.

And community. A supportive group of people who see us as valued members of a larger net is indispensable. We cannot walk these dark paths alone. We should not have to. Wellness and illness are not polar opposites. They arise out of the inner and outer landscape we travel across. And companionship helps. Immensely.

Mary Oliver, in her poem Wild Geese, writes: “Tell me about despair, yours. And I will tell you mine.” To become better at being who we truly are, we must give voice to our fears and struggles. We must gather as companions and travel with confidence through the light and dark of our lives.

Happy Thanksgiving and may we all walk together with wisdom and compassion.

Lynette

 

 

Mindfulness training retreat with Mark Coleman & Mary Elliott at UoToronto

Mastering Mindfulness – Personally and Professionally with Mark Coleman

Fall Training October 20-24th 2014 (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)

Hart House, University of Toronto

This multi tiered mindfulness training program explores mindfulness theory, practice and teacher development. It is intended for those working in healthcare and while it is suitable for those working in any healthcare setting, it was designed to be particularly suitable for those working with the medically ill. Part 1 is for healthcare professionals wishing to use mindfulness for their own well being, deepen their own mindfulness practice; enhance therapeutic presence and communication with patients; and those wanting to begin to utilize mindfulness based techniques with clients. For those wanting to move on to teaching mindfulness-based groups and introduce mindfulness techniques to patients, it provides the foundational base for the Part 2 and 3 (Spring and Fall 2015) of the course which provides more in – depth training on how to teach mindfulness techniques and practices.

Objectives: Part 1 – Practitioner Training – Foundations of Teaching

  • To deepen the practitioner’s understanding of the ways in which mindfulness intervention can enhance health care; including healthcare provider self care, improved presence and communication with patients and as an intervention to improve both personal and patient well-being.
  • Through experiential learning methods participants will deepen their personal practice of mindfulness, learn how to cultivate awareness, train attention, and understand how mindfulness supports presence, compassion and resiliency in every aspect of life.
  • Participants will explore the benefit of enhanced presence and its impact on self, patient interaction and the hospital environment.
  • Attendees will have a better understanding of the foundational roots of mindfulness practices.

Faculty

Mark Coleman MA is the founder of the Mindfulness Institute and a senior teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, California. He teaches mindfulness workshops, courses, and retreats internationally, including trainings for Proctor & Gamble, Gap, Facebook, US Bank, Google, Prana and for UC Berkeley and UCSF University. He is a trainer at Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) developed at Google. He holds a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology. Mark is the author of Awake in the Wild : Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery and Poems from the Wild (www.awakeinthewild.com). He is the co-creator Mindful Healthcare: C.P.R. (Compassion, Presences and Resilience) Training for Health Providers.

Mary Elliott, MD, FRCP (C), has worked as a consulting psychiatrist and psychotherapist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, University of Toronto for the past 25 years. She now runs the Mindful Healthcare program at Princess Margaret. She is the co-creator of Mindful Healthcare: C.P.R. (Compassion, Presences and Resilience) Training for Health Providers.

Part 1 – Practitioner Training – Foundations of Teaching

Cost: $500.00. Scholarships available. Generous support from the Corrigan Family Fund.

Optional Part 2 – Teacher Training –

Foundations in Teaching Spring 2015 with mentorship opportunities for those enrolling in Part 2.

To register contact: sherene.tay@uhn.ca

Or call 416-946-2897

U of T Applied Mindfulness Meditation – MIND Certificate Program Registration Open Now

APPLIED MINDFULNESS MEDITATION – MIND CERTIFICATE PROGRAM AT UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

AMM-MIND program : an interprofessional certificate on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation training, education and integration into our lives. The Inter-professional AMM-MIND certificate at University of Toronto has become internationally , nationally and locally recognized as a unique and exceptional gathering of mindfulness based practitioners, faculty, and mindful leaders who are trying to co-operatively integrate mindfulness and mindfulness meditation into lives, as a way of being , 24/7.

It is our hope to enhance the health , wellness and resiliency of people- no matter what their walk in life. It is also our hope to enhance the humanity in organizations and to bring healthy change to the people who live, work and play in the many systems which make up a vibrant society.

At AMM-MIND we teach applications of mindfulness that are drawn from the 2500 year old traditions of contemplative practice which are now tested and translated into evidence based research. These practices have been proven to: enhance health, wellness and resiliency, develop increased attentional skills and focus, which can reduce error and stress, sick days etc. Imagine the impact of these practices in the health and/or educational system, in the corporate world, in decision making and in leadership. At AMM-MIND we work from a concept of the embodied mind rather than the enskulled brain, that is, we strive for the integration of mind-body relationship in community to enhance health , wellness, resiliency and humanity.

If you are interested in learning about this practice, its history of use and application, in how to integrate this practice into your life at work or at home, in the why and how we meditate then please come join us and be the change- as well as bring the change.

To explore our program’s offering, to seek further consultation with administration or to register for our Open House or workshops.

http://socialwork.utoronto.ca/conted/programs-and-workshops/certificates/mind/

Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work
University of Toronto
246 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON, Canada

Credible Teachers of Mindfulness: How can you know?

Mindfulness-Based programs have become the go-to treatment around the world and their popularity has made treatment more accessible in many ways. Despite the popularity or maybe because of it, several articles have argued against mindfulness because it  (1) seems to be the fix-it for many ills, (2) doesn’t stay true to its Buddhist roots and (3) understates its “dark side”. There is concern that mindfulness therapies and programs are often sold as much better than the traditional methods of treating depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. Such concerns were supported when a recent study showed that statistically mindfulness-based therapies (MBTs) have a moderate effect when studied in comparison with wait-list controls and when participants are compared to their pre-post scores. More than that, MBTs are not better than traditional cognitive behavioural therapy or pharmacological treatments. The deepest concern however relates to the qualifications of those who teach mindfulness as more and more programs are offered by individuals and groups with little or no training in mindfulness concepts and approaches.

Elisha Goldstein, writing for the magazine Mindfulness, re-stated some of these issues that constitute a “mindfulness backlash” in his recent blog post which claimed that there is little evidence for a backlash. What stands out in his discussion about the issues facing programs that offer mindfulness is the emphasis on trusting that “skilled mindfulness teachers” will neither over-sell the treatment scope and that “credible teachers” will walk participants through their misunderstanding of what is mindfulness. Goldstein goes on to say – even more emphatically – that it is important to seek out teachers who are well-trained. He adds a link to finding qualified teachers via the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, the birthplace of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

What is left unsaid however is that the focus of all discussions and debates of mindfulness programs are anchored in the original one, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This particular program was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and the acronym has taken on an iconic status much like the terms Xerox or Kleenex. When most professionals discuss mindfulness programs they are typically referring to MBSR unless it is clear from the outset that the topic is related to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). This assumption leads to confusion because MBSR, while being the original, is not the only mindfulness treatment program.

Does it matter? Absolutely. While most programs have a similar format (8-10 weeks, groups, meditation and yoga, etc.), significant aspects of the program will differ. Even more than that, the type of training and confirmation of skills of the teacher will differ considerably. And since Goldstein makes a very good point that we need to find credible teachers, it is important to note that not all qualified mindfulness teachers will have been trained in MBSR itself.

Recently, the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts (CFM-UMass; the home base for MBSR and training of MBSR teachers) announced a format of teacher training that includes training those who will train teachers. While it’s perfectly understandable that CFM-UMass has taken a firm stand in cultivating MBSR teachers, this move is not without its detractors. However, it will filter those who have been teaching without full training at CFM-UMass and passing their programs off as MBSR. Nevertheless, this raises a difficult issue for those who have been trained in approaches that are not MBSR but which are legitimate approaches; the cachet of the term MBSR now takes on a more serious tone because many identify it as THE treatment program and may be confused by others.

That being the case, it is important to know that there are a number of other training centres that train teachers for mindfulness programs.

The M4 Program, Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic. The M4 (includes Mindfulness-Based Symptom Management; MBSM) training is in-depth and takes as long as a year. It requires applicants to have a clear rationale for wanting the training and expects a high level of participation. They attend the 8-week program as participants and do twice the expected formal and informal practices. They must attend a silent retreat in the year of their training. Current research and topics in mindfulness treatments are researched especially in their area of interest of specialization. They attend a training in the specifics of the delivering the program and in cultivating teacher qualities. Before teaching the M4 potential teachers must teach under supervision (qualification level) and then teach for 3 sessions with senior teachers in the clinic for Certification.

MBSR, University of Massachusetts, Center for Mindfulness. This is the original MBSR program and the training is extensive.

MBCT, The Centre for Mindfulness Studies. The training in MBCT is offered through various forms of study and teacher development. This program is supported by the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (University of Toronto) which offers a certificate in MBCT.

MiCBT, Mindfulness integrated Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. An approach to mindfulness that weaves together Western psychology with Eastern principles of mindfulness. Training is comprehensive and a graduate diploma is offered for teachers.

Applied Mindfulness Meditation, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. This program offers what is likely one of the most extensive trainings in mindfulness, meditation, and all its attendant components.

Training in the UK. This website lists various programs that train mindfulness teachers, including MBCT teachers. Rebecca Crane and her colleagues at Bangor University have also developed a teaching assessment protocol for the cultivation of mindfulness teachers which is a gold standard for any teacher who is dedicated to cultivating their skills.

Mindful Self-Compassion, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. Developed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff, Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) has developed a following in the last year as the teacher training becomes more available globally.

UCSD Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute. For training in various mindfulness-based programs such as Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Mindful Eating, etc.

Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy offers a certificate program in mindfulness and psychotherapy. The founding practitioners include Paul Fulton, Christopher Germer, Ronald Siegel, Trudy Goodman – all well-regarded in the field of meditation and clinical psychology.

If you intend to take a mindfulness program, ask the sticky questions. It’s your health and your wellbeing. Be informed. The program may not be MBSR. And it may be something valid and well-supported in its own right.