A good therapist is like a good parent, they try to work themselves out of a job. As a practicing mental health counselor and yogi, the ultimate goal is to teach healthy coping strategies which promote self efficacy, and increase a client’s ability to manage future challenges without assistance. Techniques that generalize and are easily implemented once mastered are ideal choices for treatment. For this reason utilizing techniques akin to Yoga – Mindfulness, Meditation, Deep Breathing and Self Compassion are paramount to therapeutic success.
When we ruminate on the past we become depressed, when we fixate on the future we become anxious. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common motives for individuals seeking therapeutic services. Each represents a deviation from the present, which leads to distorted thinking and harmful perceptions. Rather than mentally wrestling situations that cannot be changed, or focusing on potential obstacles that have not yet occurred, mindfulness increases clients’ ability to remain in the present moment. In yoga we learn to approach our practice from a non-judgmental stance, accepting where we are today, not criticizing ourselves for past failures or unrealized expectations. Learning to remain mindful honors the only time anything can truly be done to alter a situation, which always rests in The Here and Now.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to have beneficial effects on the structure of the human brain. We have learned our brain is not fixed, and that neural pathways contain some degree of plasticity. This means learned ways of approaching and coping with difficult situations, previously thought to remain engrained, can actually be ‘re-wired’ when our brain is trained to respond differently. Meditative techniques introduced in therapy are aimed at helping clients to ‘quiet the mind’ when presented with situations that provoke the fight or flight response. Maladaptive coping styles are replaced with more adaptive approaches as the brain changes its structure. Deep breathing becomes an integral component in this process, as it blankets the sympathetic nervous system, decreasing cortisol levels, and regulating the heartbeat. When clients engage in sustained meditation and deep breathing practices they are better equipped to handle stress provoking situations.
One of the greatest gifts an individual can extend to themselves is self compassion, as it carries the message of understanding. Many clients who seek counseling struggle with debilitating views of the self, engaging in harsh criticism, negative self talk, and unfair judgment. Working with clients on enhancing self compassion can be difficult, as many feel they are unworthy of love, forgiveness, acceptance, or whatever it is their spirit craves. As a clinician drawing from yogic teachings, we assist clients in recognizing that everything in life is a process. Being compassionate with ourselves, we learn to be kind and patient with our process. This in turn manifests itself in our relationships, as our new level of understanding is extended to others.
Change may not occur overnight, but with the help of a therapist who champions these techniques, manifesting a happier and healthier life is attainable.