Ask anyone do you want to be like your parents/caregivers ? Ninety nine percent of the time you will be confronted with a strongly asserted “Never”. What is shockingly more important, is the minute we experience a serious life event or change, the most accessible patterns of behavior are the ones we have previously learned.
For many it is our parent’s tendencies, voices, ways of disciplining or merely coping and self-soothing skills that we draw on. Due to this reason, it becomes very important to build insight into our attachment patterns-i.e. the ways in which we view ourselves and our world, which shape every encounter and relationship we have. In addition to, our ways of self-soothing and coping in times of distress or when feeling out of control.
Much of our work with clients revolves around teaching them to build insights of their familial patterns of behavior, but secondly to teach individuals ways that they relate and understand the world. Consequently that understanding develops their coping skills, and ways of staying safe in their multiple relationships at work, in their social, personal and romantic lives.
It is with this awareness, and insight into our patterns of behavior that the opportunity to make changes becomes possible. For many of our clients we often encourage starting the process by journaling-i.e., free association where it involves writing, not for it to be read, but to just access your unconscious patterns of thought. Then taking the time to read/communicate the patterns noticed with your therapist.
The concept of mindfulness dates back to 2500 years ago. It stems from Eastern culture and Buddhist traditions, yet there is no religious component to the practice, it can literally benefit anyone. The practice involves individuals choosing to be deliberate, taking action by “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4). Cultivating a state of mindfulness can be achieved through systemic meditation practices (e.g. sitting meditation, body scan, movement meditation, yoga).
Many research studies have focused on the benefits of mindfulness and have found that mindfulness therapy improves symptoms of anxiety and depression across a relatively wide range of symptoms (Hofmann et al. 2010). Also, research has shown that a regular meditation practice improves attentional capacity and consequently improves memory.
More importantly neuroimaging has found that individuals draw on their prefrontal cortex for decision making, attention, motivation and motor control. Mindfulness practice asks individuals to focus on their senses activating the anterior insula, this is the part of the brain that is associated with mood and gut feelings. Over time of practicing mindfulness there are changes that occur in the brain structure (Treadway et al., 2009). Neuroimaging has found in individuals with a regular mindfulness practice that they have greater cortical thickness in the sensory region of the brain and in the hippocampus region responsible for stress management (Hozel et al., 2005). Similarly, meditation has been correlated with an increase in grey matter density in the prefrontal cortex that is associated with improved attention and memory (Lazar et al., 2005).