Mindfulness has proved to be a discipline that helps us to value the present and, therefore, to protect us from certain pathologies of our time.
Through a simple premise, this way of understanding life has become increasingly rooted in the field of health and therapy. Far from being a fad, Mindfulness is permeating the approach to certain psychological disorders as an effective tool.
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Therapeutic Mindfulness. Javier Elcarte and Cristina Cortés bring us closer to this form of therapy
From this breeding ground arises the Therapeutic Mindfulness , a novel modality that is achieving a great following due to its capacity to help in the emotional regulation of the patients.
We met with Javier Elcarte and Cristina Cortés, founders of the Vitaliza centre, who are pioneers in Spain in this therapeutic modality and will explain to us first hand what it consists of and the benefits it brings to patients.
Bertrand Regader: What is the concept of Mindfulness that you work with at Vitaliza?
Javier Elcarte and Cristina Cortés : From the therapeutic intervention, mindfulness is an invaluable way or resource that helps us to achieve emotional regulation. All psychological problems or disorders share the difficulty in emotional regulation, either by an excess of self-regulation which leads to a rigid and inflexible mind or by a deficit of it, where one is a victim of emotional overflow and chaos.
Alan Shore’s theory of affect regulation proposes the connection with the right hemisphere in order to discover procedural relational models and, from there, to undertake an intervention that leads to the change of those internal working models (MOI). Interestingly, this change is not made from a cognitive level but from the connection and tuning in to the other. This interconnection is what helps us to have new experiences of relationship at an implicit level, lived in the body in the present moment. On the other hand, Daniel Siegel synthesizes Shore’s ideas and research on mindfulness and attachment by integrating them into the theory of personal neurobiology. Siegel applies the principles of interpersonal neurobiology to promote compassion, kindness, resilience and well-being in our personal lives.
If we compare the emerging interpersonal neurophysiological theories of regulation with eastern mindfulness, we see that beyond cultural archetypes, both are seeking the same thing.
Many times it is confused between Mindfulness and the concept of meditation. In your opinion, what are the main differences?
Translating, either from the Indo-Aryan languages or from classical Sanskrit, the languages in which the Buddha’s texts are collected, the terms they use to refer to the conscious state of mind and mental pacification is very complex for us, since Western languages do not have a linear parallelism to express these psycho-emotional concepts.
Something similar happens with the idea of mindfulness, there is no word in English that corresponds completely to it. So we use different terms like meditation, mindfulness, etc.
Except for the difficulties with terms, in the East there are different currents of mindfulness and in the West we have also developed different visions of what is sought with full or conscious attention. We are given to decaffeinating concepts and creating self-help phrases where we are able to trivialize ancestral philosophies.
Nothing that you study the different Buddhist schools reveals that their philosophy goes beyond creating a pleasant emotional state. In fact, they don’t look for results, they focus on the present moment and on the observation of the internal and external experience that takes place in each moment to focus it on multiple and varied aspects such as: mental clarity, compassion, love, etc.
What are the keys that make Mindfulness a therapeutic tool, going beyond a simple pleasant or relaxing experience?
The first accomplishment of mindfulness in bringing attention again and again to the object of mindfulness, usually the breath, is mental calmness, thus beginning to produce a greater space between thought and thought.
This allows one to discover, little by little, in oneself, in the present, the emotional states that are there without attention and that mobilize the defenses and the reactions of the day to day. If you hold your breath while observing these states, you can experience how the wave of emotion arrives and ends up being extinguished. The usual thing is that when discomfort arrives we escape it, avoid it and repress it in a thousand different ways.
In a mindful state we change the response, we stay there, with nowhere to go, watching and accepting the pain. This being there, in a state of acceptance and compassion towards oneself regulates the emotional wave and generates new connections in the right orbitofrontal cortex, somehow cushioning the emotional movement of more subcortical origin.
In sessions using Mindfulness, are patients also taught to use these techniques on their own?
Practicing mindfulness in a group, at least at the beginning, is very helpful. It makes it easier to stay in that “back and forth to the breath and the present over and over again”. A shared state of attention is created, where the mirror neurons in the group work in the same direction.
Of course, individual practice between sessions is equally important in establishing and strengthening this new learning.
What kind of patients can especially benefit from the use of Mindfulness?
In principle, absolutely everyone. In fact, in severe disorders such as bipolarity, dissociation, etc. the use of mindfulness resources is also recommended.
As a tool for self-awareness and emotional regulation, mindfulness is at the base of any therapeutic intervention and is beneficial to any type of patient.
In Vitaliza you organize courses to learn the theory and practice of Mindfulness Therapy. What subjects do you need to master to be able to use this practice with ease?
A wise and friendly psychologist told us many years ago; “there will come a time when the neurophysiological correlates of mindfulness will be known, but that does not mean being able to reach a state of full attention.”
In other words, talking about subjects and theories in mindfulness does not ensure mindfulness. Constant daily practice, with perseverance and without expectations is the way.
In Vitaliza’s approach, the idea is to integrate mindfulness into our therapeutic intervention. There are many training courses aimed at health professionals where the most recent knowledge on research carried out in the field of mindfulness and emotional regulation and attachment is provided. There is a multitude of literature on this subject.
But even for therapists, there’s only one way to learn mindfulness and that’s to practice. The best knowledge of mindfulness is one’s own experience.