Bringing Mindfulness to Diverse Populations
How do I bring mindful awareness into clinical work with diverse populations?
I regard cultivating moment to moment awareness as a curative mechanism that transcends diagnosis, addresses underlying causes of suffering, and serves as an active ingredient in most psychotherapy. Research has shown the clinical value of mindfulness interventions for many psychological difficulties including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, insomnia just to name a few. Our goal in introducing mindfulness practices to our clients is not to turn them all into dedicated mediation practitioners, but to help them find balance, kindness, and fulfillment in their lives.
Some questions I ask my clients when we meet are “how do you stay present in the moment?” “How do you stay present throughout the day?” “How do you practice mindful awareness?” “Do you practice meditation?” Often, I will hear responses such as “I do not know how to mediate,” “I do not have time to mediate” or “it is not something that I practice.” However, I also hear comments such as “I pray throughout the day,” “I take a walk-in nature,” “I dance or workout,” or simply put, “I cannot stay present throughout the day, I feel anxious and/or depressed all day long.” And at this point is where our journey begins.
Bringing mindful awareness into our clinical work with diverse populations starts with a thorough, culturally sensitive assessment. I spent a substantial amount of time exploring my client’s strengths, religious preferences, coping skills, and strategies that they have used in the past that seem to work for them. Here is where I weave in using mindful awareness and meditation into the treatment plan, including the coping strategies and skills that the client already uses.
The next goal is to educate our clients on what meditation is and the benefits of meditation along with different kinds of mediation. This empowers the client to make an informed decision and to decide if this intervention is worth exploring. I gently explain that mindfulness means living in the moment. It means being aware of your feelings and experiences without passing judgment or reacting. It allows you to slow down and process things, rather than disconnect and go through the motions without understanding the motivations behind certain behavior. I explain that although the practice has ties to many religious teachings, meditation is less about faith and more about altering consciousness, finding awareness, and achieving peace. I explain that there is not a right or wrong way to meditate. It is important to find a practice that meets your needs and compliments your personality, along with respecting your cultural norms. Once I have explained what mindful awareness means, I will often share with my client that not all meditation and mindfulness-based activities or exercises are right for everyone. It is what feels comfortable and what they feel encouraged to practice. Taking into account the client’s diverse background, it is important to acknowledge that struggles and trauma related to cultural identity and lived experience are not forgotten or bypassed by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is less about “letting it go,” “getting over it,” or spiritually displacing our pain, and more about getting underneath and integrating awareness of our pain in order to manage it.
When we have built trust and rapport with the client, it is time to practice meditation and mindful awareness in the room with the client.
Some types of mediation include:
Loving -kindness mediation
Once we have figured out which activity works best with the client, the easiest way to begin is to sit quietly and focus on the breath. I do this at the beginning of the session; it sets the tone for the rest of our work. I share with the client that meditation is not meant to be a forced thing, if we are forcing it then it becomes a chore. Gentle, regular practice eventually becomes sustainable, supportive, and enjoyable. Finally, get feedback from your clients. Feedback is useful in helping adapt or modify the practices for your clients’ unique needs.
Byline: Josie Myles, LMFT