How Mindfulness Has Improved the Treatment of Mental Illness

The Importance of Becoming Self-Aware

How Mindfulness Has Improved the Treatment of Mental Illness
Tree of Life 

The subject of this writing is to highlight the research and improvements that have been discovered regarding becoming self-aware, practicing self-care, and implementing self-correction. Focus is on the importance of mindfulness in the treatment of mental health and how it benefits the therapist and the client, as well as the positive life changes that come from self-discovery.

Mindfulness is Medicine

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was discovered by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale, derived from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (Teasdale et al 2000).

There is a great deal of research proving the many health benefits of mindfulness, such as: a better immune system, lowered blood pressure, and it helps you get a better sleep. Mindfulness has also helped to improve mental health treatments such as healthy stress, emotional, and anxiety responses, and has also improved concentration and focus as well as awareness training for therapists, which, in turn, create a more empathetic provider. Mindfulness-based therapies are also being used more and more along with other treatments to treat a variety of concerns.


MBCT combines cognitive behavior techniques with mindfulness techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and stretching to help curve the cycle of negative thoughts common with depression. MBCT sessions typically involve eight weekly, two hour group training sessions, and follow-up meetings. Suggestions may include practicing mixing awareness skills into daily life. It has been found to be particularly helpful for people with more severe symptoms.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) was designed to treat substance abuse and the core causes. It mixes mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive-behavior skills focused on helping patients learn to choose a reaction instead of robotically reaching to an addictive substance. It involves both formal practices, such as sitting meditation, as well as quicker, more informal practices to increase awareness and flexibility in daily life. Studies show that MBRP was more effective as a long-term treatment than other aftercare therapies. In the study, patients with MBRP treatment had significantly less drug use and heavy drinking after a follow up of one year than those participating in other treatments (Bowen, 2014).

Anxiety, PTSD & ADHD

MBCT may also be beneficial in treating some symptoms of anxiety, according to research published not long ago in the British Journal of Psychiatry (Wong 2016), noticed changes in levels amongst patients with anxiety using an assortment of treatments. It was discovered that MBCT as well as CBT-based treatments were both effective in reducing some anxiety symptoms.

Modessto-Lowe et al. 2015 show that for people with ADHD, mindfulness training may be an alternative to medication. A team at UCLA discovered a way to use MBCT with people with ADHD. They did “mindful walking” and used visual aids to promote increased attention to self (McCullough, L. 2016).

Meditation practices are also being implemented to reduce the severity of PTSD in veterans. They found mindfulness group therapy to be as effective as individual therapy (Heffner, et al. 2016).

The Mindful Therapist

Being mindful is important for clinicians because they need to be fully aware of themselves in order to properly help clients from all walks of life (Oden et al, 2009). Being self-aware also allows mental health professionals to establish healthy boundaries between their lives and the lives of their clients. This can help clinicians stay neutral towards their clients and more clearly understand their needs.

Mindfulness in a therapist can also help a session be more effective. Therapists who felt themselves as more self-aware during a session felt more positive emotion towards their clients, and their clients felt that emotion in return (Williams & Fauth, 2005).

The Downside to Being Self Aware

While being self-aware is important, it is good to have some boundaries to even this. “Light bulb” moments in which therapists suddenly became more self-aware were distracting to clients and counterproductive to the session (Williams et al, 2005; Williams, 2003).

There may be a reason why some studies show MBCT is good while others show the opposite; this is the difference between being self-aware and something called self-focused attention. Being self-aware consists of being mindful of our own personal identities and lived experiences and how they affect those around us, while self-focused attention is simply thinking about one’s self.

In conclusion, the connection between MBCT and mental illness improvement is well established and is a fast-growing area of interest in the professional field, it is also becoming progressively more popular amongst younger people, meaning awareness programs may very well help change the future of how we see ourselves, each other, and the world. Imagine that!


Bowen, S, et al. 2014. Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(5):547-556.

Buckley, T.R., Foldy, E.G. (2010). A Pedagogical Model for Increasing Race-Related Multicultural Counseling Competency psi. Counseling Psychologist, 38(5), 691-713. doi:10.1177/0011000009360917

Heffner KL, et al. 2016. Meditation Programs for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Aggregate Findings from a Multi-Site Evaluation. Psychological Trauma.

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Modessto-Lowe V. et al. 2015. Does mindfulness meditation improve attention in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? World Journal of Psychiatry, 5(4):397-403.

Oden, K.A., Miner-Holden, J., Balkin, R.S. (2009). Required counseling for mental health professional trainees: Its perceived effect on self-awareness and other potential benefits. Journal of Mental Health, 18(5), 441-448. doi:10.3109/09638230902968217

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Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., Ridgeway, V., Soulsby, J., & Lau, M. (2000). therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 615-623.

Williams, E.N., Fauth, J. (2005). A Psychotherapy process study of therapist in session self-awareness. Psychotherapy Research, 15(4), 374-381. doi:10.1080/10503300500091355

Williams, E.N. (2003). The relationship between momentary states of self-awareness and perceptions of the counseling process. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 33(1), 177-186. doi:10.1023/A:1023969502532

Wong SY, et al. 2016. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy v. group psychoeducation for people with generalized anxiety disorder: randomized controlled trial.

Mindfulness Practices May Help Treat Many Mental Health Conditions, American Psychiatric Association (2016). Retrieved From :

What is Self-Awareness and Why is it Important in Counseling, Positive psychology Program (2017). Retrieved From:

Erin J. Hochstein NCPT
Erin J. Hochstein NCPT
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Erin J. Hochstein NCPT

Psychology student, psychiatric technician, mother, wife, hippie.

See all posts by Erin J. Hochstein NCPT