Helping clients to get back in charge of their lives, with the confidence, calmness & self-sufficiency to flourish.

Mindfulness... Where to go from here?

One of the enduring challenges in developing a framework for mindfulness training in a secular context is the absence of any form of community or social structure within which the training and practice can take place. By contrast, in the contemplative traditions, mindfulness practices were typically part of a larger structure of practices, doctrines, beliefs and ethics, and these were taught within particular communities, for example, within a monastic environment.

For the most part, people in the west are tending to come into contact with mindfulness through books or apps, and therefore without access to the support of a teacher, let alone a community of like-minded people. This is why I have tended to encourage people to take some form of group training, such as an 8-week course like Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction or Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). I teach on these courses, and in the process, I see people directly benefiting from discovering mindfulness within a group setting, (and also from the guidance of the teachers). However, all too often, people come to the end of the course, and find themselves adrift, as the sense of support and involvement with the group evaporates.

Mindful Pathway, an organisation I teach with, have been very proactive in trying to resolve this dilemma. For a while now they have been running monthly sitting groups, and occasional ‘retreat days’ open to people who have attended their 8-week course. This year Mindful Pathway introduced a 5-week “Embedding Mindfulness” course, for graduates of their 8-week MBCT courses. I worked alongside Ruth and Karen, my fellow teachers, to develop a course that builds on the MBCT content, by beginning to investigate the deep connection between mindfulness and insight practices, and also exploring the development of compassion and self-compassion; a route that has become popular in the development of secular mindfulness. The course also examines other important areas, such as the barriers and pitfalls in developing a regular meditation practice.

But as we presented the course for the first time this summer (2018), what perhaps struck me the most, was the strong sense of community and support within the group. This, above anything else, made me feel certain of the value in developing ways to support people in their regular practice of mindfulness, and, as much as possible, keeping social interaction at the heart of this.

The Brookhouse Hypnotherapy Group

I’m very happy to announce that, from the beginning of November 2017, I have joined the Brookhouse Hypnotherapy Group, a national group of practices founded by Shaun Brookhouse in 2003. I will be covering the London South East area for the group, as a hypnotherapist and hypo-psychotherapist.

I will soon be adding the group’s latest booklet to the web site, but in the meantime, here is a short extract from it, explaining a little bit about the group and its members:

"All members of the Brookhouse Hypnotherapy Group are dedicated to helping their clients to:

Resolve problems as quickly as possible
Improve their well-being
Improve their mental health
Raise their self-esteem
Strive towards reaching their potential
Be fully functioning authentic, autonomous people

All practices are Evidence Based and we all start from the fundamental training in Hypnotherapy as the means by which we can achieve these aims most effectively. The additional therapies included in this booklet add to this base and may be utilised when appropriate to increase our effectiveness."


All group members are also members of The National Society of Hypnosis, Psychotherapy & Mindfulness, which operates a comprehensive complaints process to back up its Code of Ethics. They also all undertake regular supervision, continuing professional development and are insured.

The group can be contacted directly by e-mail: info@hypnotherapy.org.uk

J.P. Noble Award

Back in June I attended the annual conference of the National Society for Hypnosis, Psychotherapy & Mindfulness, and was very surprised, and also very honoured to find a dissertation I had submitted to the National College of Hypnosis & Psychotherapy had won the J.P. Noble Award for 2017. The dissertation was titled 'Working with Mindfulness & Hypnosis in Psychotherapy; a challenge and an opportunity', and covered the ways in which mindfulness can inform, integrate with, or work as an adjunct to psychotherapy, and also the similarities, differences and tensions that exist between hypnosis and mindfulness in a psychotherapeutic setting.

A blog post on this subject is probably long overdue, especially as I am increasing finding clients become confused around the similarities of their experiences in mindfulness meditation practices and in self-hypnosis. This is not particularly surprising, as both states tend to be characterised by coming to rest, and turning our attention inwards. However, there is a fundamental difference too: Mindfulness involves an intentional awareness of our present moment experience; we turn towards our experience, however, in hypnosis, we tend to disconnect from some aspects of our present moment experience and become absorbed instead by internal images, or imagined sensations and experiences, or perhaps we visit past or future moments, rather than the present. Quite a substantial difference!

Mindfulness and the Control Agenda.

Recently, I was delighted to be invited to lead a themed mindfulness sitting for a group in St. Albans, just outside London. I decided to work with the theme of the ‘control agenda’, and afterwards I thought it might be worth sharing this with a wider audience here, as it’s a subject that doesn’t seem to get discussed very often.

Before looking at the ways we get caught up in trying to control our thoughts, feelings and situations, let’s consider an important aspect of mindfulness meditation practices: They are a powerful way of learning how our minds work. This quote from Gilbert & Choden’s Mindful Compassion (New Harbinger, 2014) illustrates this point rather well:

“Mindfulness meditation actually means ‘becoming familiar with’ and ‘getting to know’ the mind, and the way we do this is through open attention and observation. This point cannot be over-emphasised.”

From this perspective, we can begin to see the distractions we encounter in mindfulness practice as the rich and fertile soil from which our mindfulness skills develop; as a way in which we can become more familiar with our minds. However, all too often we see distractions, such as a restless mind, as being a problem. We become frustrated, or self-critical: ‘I should be better at this, I’ve read all those books, listened to all those meditations, why can’t I stop my mind from wandering? Maybe I’m just no good at this.” When this happens, the challenge is to recognise that we’ve become caught up in a control agenda; we want to control our mind, to stop it from distracting us, and to make it become quiet, thus allowing us to maintain a rigid attention. Once we recognise that this is happening, we can identify this as another aspect of the way our minds work, and learn from it. So welcome the distraction, it really is a valuable part of our practice, rather than a failure, a problem or a difficulty. Learn to notice the patterns of distractions created by the mind and body, and also the subsequent reaction to them.

Sometimes we can also find a control agenda creeping into the way that we engage with our mindfulness practice, and this has the potential to be quite destructive to our long-term practice, so it’s worth looking at more closely. This most often occurs when we attempt to control our internal experience, such as by relaxing, or when we turn away from our experience, such as by distracting ourselves.

Let’s start by considering relaxation. Mindfulness meditations often produce relaxation in the meditator, however, this is not the intention when practicing mindfulness, it’s merely a by-product. And there’s no guarantee it will always occur; for example, if you’re sitting in meditation and difficult thoughts keep arising, you’re unlikely to find it relaxing. But if you’re seeking to relax, then on such occasions you’re likely to think something’s gone wrong, your favourite relaxation technique is no longer working… and if this keeps happening, you may even stop practicing. The fact is, there are hundreds of relaxation techniques to try – but mindfulness meditation is not one of them. When engaged in a mindfulness meditation our intention is to be present, and turn towards our experience in an open, curious and non-judgemental way – this can be difficult when we’re preoccupied with trying to relax, and thus to alter our experience, rather than turning towards it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with becoming relaxed when meditating, but when we seek to do so, we’re no longer practicing mindfulness, and instead we’ve turned it into yet another relaxation technique.

It’s also worth considering that relaxation techniques work best when we’re essentially safe, in fairly non-challenging situations, and not too distressed. Under conditions when we don’t feel safe, are deeply distressed and in a challenging situation, relaxation techniques may fail to work. Ironically, it’s actually the skills and psychological flexibility that we cultivate in mindfulness practice that are most likely to help us to cope at such times.

So, following on from this, let’s also consider those kinds of circumstances when we might unintentionally use our practice as a distraction technique to avoid the present moment, rather than turn towards it. Sometimes these situations can be quite hard to recognise, but let’s take the example of someone who really doesn’t like their daily commute by train, so they decide to use the time to meditate. And let’s say they discover they are able to meditate on the train, and begin to do this on a daily basis. On the one hand this seems like a great idea: This was ‘down’ time they weren’t going to be using to do anything else, so it really helps them to fit their practice into their day. But on the other hand, when we look a little closer, we can see they’re also using their practice to avoid their experience, to turn away from it, to not be present. This is really the opposite of a mindful approach, and instead the meditation has just become another control strategy. Perhaps the clearest way to spot this is to look at the motivation to practice at that particular time or location; is it to avoid being present?

To be clear, none of the above is meant to be interpreted as a set of rules, but simply as food for thought. Most often people move away from practicing mindfulness by slipping into intending to practice relaxation or distraction: There is nothing inherently wrong with avoiding or controlling our experience, and nothing wrong with using relaxation or distraction techniques, but they are quite different to mindfulness.

Mindfulness involves turning towards our experience in the present, with openness and curiosity. When practiced in this way mindfulness offers an extraordinary opportunity to learn how our minds work. To keep in touch with this, when practicing, it can be helpful to begin by connecting with our intention in the practice (being present, observing the breath, etc.), and also connecting with our motivation to practice, and doing this can help to expose those times that we’ve begun to move away from mindfulness and towards relaxation or distraction.

Anxiety UK therapy outcomes for 2016

Anxiety UK have published figures for therapy outcomes in 2016, measured using the IAPT method for calculating recovery, reliable improvement and reliable recovery.

Out of 221 planned completions, 67% of clients recovered, 87% reliably improved and 67% reliably recovered.
This compares very favourably to the national IAPT outcomes for 2015/16 which were 46.3% recovered, 62.2% reliably improved and 44% reliable recovery.
Just to be clear, these figures relate to all forms of therapy provided through Anxiety UK's approved therapist schemes, working with CBT or hypnotherapy. I think they show the quality of the service and support that Anxiety UK are able to offer their members through the scheme.

For any one who is curious, the IAPT method for calculating recovery, reliable improvement and reliable recovery is as follows:

A referral is classed as ‘recovered’ if the client has finished a course of treatment and moved from caseness* to not being at caseness by the end of the referral.

A referral is deemed to have shown reliable improvement if it shows a decrease in one or both assessment scores that surpass the measurement error, (for GAD7 assessment this is 4, for PHQ9 it is 6).

Reliable improvement and recovery can be combined to create an overall measure of reliable recovery where both a change from caseness to not caseness during the course of the referral and which show reliable improvement.

*Caseness is the term used to describe a referral that scores highly enough on measures of depression and anxiety to be classed as a clinical case.

More information on the use of IAPT services can be found in this report.