Fact: Mindfulness is now the fastest-developing area in mental health. And because of this, more and more SLPs should be integrating mindfulness into their teletherapy sessions. But what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is awareness with intention and without judgment of what’s happening - as it’s happening - in the present moment.
3 Mindfulness Benefits for Teletherapy
1 - Finding a Therapist’s Refuge in Mindfulness
As a teletherapist, mindfulness can enhance your emotional well-being, helping you to develop critical therapeutic qualities such as acceptance, attention, and compassion. When you practice mindfulness, you bring awareness to experience the present moment. You will learn to let go of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, and return your attention to what is happening with you and the client right now.
You can begin by focusing on the various sounds you hear in the room, the sensations of your breathing, or the feeling you have of sitting in a chair with your feet touching the floor beneath you. As you develop this new skill of openness and acceptance of whatever is emerging at the moment, you will be more present in both your experience and the experience of others.
This will lead to becoming less preoccupied and distracted with your concerns, and more available to what is happening at the moment in the teletherapy session. As a result, you will be able to engage the child and respond more fully and accurately.
Research performed recently shows that therapists who have committed to practicing mindfulness reap a variety of benefits. These include decreased stress and burnout, greater self-compassion and self-acceptance, and an overall sense of well-being.
Which one of you isn’t all in for that?!
What’s more, many of these clinicians have reported significant improvements in relating to their clients, as their capacity to be empathetic has grown. What often ensues is an enhanced ability to be less reactive or defensive when experiencing the client being angry or frustrated with the therapist.
Not every mindfulness technique is complicated. Some of the simpler interventions take only a minute or so. But they provide the critical benefit of allowing the therapist to return to the present moment and quickly reconnect with the child, sometimes salvaging the session.
Let’s say you feel that the child is very frustrated by her failure to perform to your expectations, and is on the verge of “calling it a day.” Her frustration can easily cause you as the therapist to feel some anxiety about losing the session and possibly having long-term implications on your relationship with the child as a result.
Face it. You don’t know how to react. Mindfulness teaches that, before responding, you could pause momentarily, notice your breathing, become aware of the other sounds in the room, or the sensation of sitting. This self-regulation takes only a minute or two, but it can restore your balance and help you to be less reactive in the heat of a tense moment.
2 - Mindfulness Deepens Therapeutic Relationships
Studies conducted recently show that most successful therapists, regardless of their arena, are those who are perceived by their clients as understanding, accepting, and warm. It has been shown repeatedly that practicing mindfulness is a very effective way to develop these qualities.
When therapists lack mindfulness training, they invariably attempt to maintain their attention by either becoming more intense or ratcheting up the volume. Alternatively, therapists that perform with the benefits of mindfulness find that their focus and concentration see marked improvement during the session, especially when their minds begin to wander.
Another benefit of mindfulness techniques is that such practices often become powerful tools to raise the threshold of tolerance for painful emotions. Usually, when the child expresses intense emotion, the empathetic clinician will absorb those feelings and be dragged down by them. However, mindfulness provides a natural shock absorber to protect the therapist and keep the session moving in the right direction.
The benefit of this aspect of mindfulness carries far beyond the therapy session. Learning how to absorb the discomfort of powerful emotions by leaning into them instead of running away from them helps the clinician to enhance her ability to tolerate pain of all sorts. This ultimately helps the therapist to become a more balanced person in general.
3 - Sharing The Mindfulness Tool with Children
The best way to introduce mindfulness to children is to present it as an experiment or just another game. Explain to the child that many others have found this experience to be useful, even fun, and encourage him to try it. The child will probably be curious and find it relaxing. Go slowly the first time. You can always add more.
Be sure to elicit feedback so that you can adapt methods and practices to what seems most effective. As is true in many things, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to mindfulness. Innovations abound, so do your research to find just the right fit. Educate the child that mindfulness is not meant to prevent unpleasant thoughts but rather to become more accepting of them.
Don’t lose sight of your goal. You aren’t trying to turn this child into a mindfulness meditator, but rather help your client to become kinder to herself, more balanced and accepting. The research shows that even a little bit of mindfulness can make a real difference. That being the case, don’t you owe it to your little client to pass it on?
Children can gain these three essential skills through mindfulness:
Self-Regulation - This is the ability to become more aware of the bodily sensations that accompany moments of emotional intensity and the capacity to self-soothe.
Self-State Awareness - This is the ability to identify habitually ingrained coping strategies that effectively imprison the child in those habits, and the corresponding ability to step out of them, creating the potential to cope in healthier ways.
Self-Compassion - this is the practice of reducing self-criticism and shame by developing a deeper form of self-acceptance and self-love.