Online Mindfulness Therapy for Anxiety
Online Counseling and Skype-based Therapy are convenient, affordable and have been proven effective in several studies. In the UK and Australia Online Counseling is recommended by the national health authorities as a valuable resource that should be made more widely available as part of a preventative campaign to manage mental conditions such as depression.
Online Therapy seems to be particularly useful for helping people suffering from Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety as demonstrated in a study published in the Scandinavian J. of Behaviour Therapy (2003) called, 'Internet-based Treatment for Panic Disorder'. Other studies show efficacy for depression and stress management.
Online Mindfulness Therapy, as developed by Dr Peter Strong in the 1980s and described in his book, 'The Path of Mindfulness Meditation' (Amazon) is one of the most promising approaches for helping people learn how to make changes at the core level of complex emotions such as depression and anxiety. Mindfulness Therapy helps neutralize the negative self-talk and reactive thinking that perpetuates the emotional suffering associated with depression and anxiety. Above all, Mindfulness Therapy produces an inner healing space, referred to as the Therapeutic Space of Mindful Awareness that allows emotions to unfold, unwind and become malleable again. Mindfulness allows emotional suffering to change, transform and resolve.
In the Mindfulness approach to online counseling, Skype video call sessions consist of a mix of teaching and direct experiential work in which clients are taught how to work with their anxiety or other emotions using mindfulness as an awareness tool.
Mindfulness is a very special form of awareness that has both the passive qualities of acceptance, openness and genuine friendship towards our emotional suffering. This compassionate face of mindfulness is most essential for creating the therapeutic space in which transformation and healing can take place effectively. As one great teacher expressed it, we learn to smile at our suffering - with genuine tenderness, patience and kindness. Suffering heals in the radiance of this quality of love. Try it and see for yourself. Our usual reaction is to resist our suffering and run in the opposite direction. But as fast as you try to run, the suffering follows close by - as the wheel of a cart follows the hoof of the ox - to use a favorite analogy of the Buddha. Mindfulness is the action of turning towards our suffering, not away. When we choose to be fully present, without reacting, then everything starts to change and healing becomes a real possibility. It is not easy, but it is a sure path. In western psychology we call this Exposure Therapy; Mindfulness takes this concept and refines it in great detail so that exposure is non-reactive and promotes the greatest healing.
Mindfulness also includes the active components of vigilance, investigation and benevolence. Vigilance describes the most familiar face of mindfulness in which we train ourselves to recognize emotional reactions as they arise throughout the day. Emotional reactions depend on our unawareness. This is when they have most power, when unseen. Turn on the lights and they immediately lose their power. Keep the lights on and they will gradually melt away. This is one of the most remarkable features of mindfulness: Direct conscious awareness brings about healing by itself. It is analogous to shining a spotlight on a block of ice, the frozen emotions: The warmth of the light will gradually melt the ice and free the trapped feeling energy. All we have to do is stay conscious and aware and not become distracted into thinking or reacting to the emotion being observed. We just have to stay present and focused on the emotion and it will change by itself. In fact, the problem is not in the emotion as much as in our reactions to the emotion, which inhibit this direct healing awareness. This is called the healing presence of mindfulness, a truly remarkable phenomenon that only now are we beginning to understand. Of course, the Buddha described this in detail over 2600 years ago!
During meditation-based therapy sessions we watch the emotions very closely, as if under a microscope, studying the process of their arising in great detail. It is this tremendous attention to detail that is one of the hallmarks of mindfulness and one of the reasons why it is so effective for transforming difficult emotions. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details…Actually the 'devil' is in our unawareness of the details - in not seeing the deeper structure of our emotions. We tend to remain stuck and identified with the superficial representation of emotion as thought. What we need to do is move beneath the thoughts to reveal the sensory structure of the emotion. This is the active aspect of mindfulness called Investigation.
The inner structure of our emotions is quite different to the word-labels that we usually use when talking about our emotions, and in most cases this inner language of the emotions is not words at all, but imagery. We think, "I am angry," but the process that creates this emotion is based on a movement of vivid colors such as red or orange and it is the specific color that generates the emotion of anger inside. The color red is part of the structure of the emotion. If you look closely at any emotion you will almost always find a hidden and deeper structure with specific colors and shapes. This is significant because you can experiment with changing the color or even bringing another color in as a resource. The color blue may neutralize the color red. Any change in the inner structure of the imagery can produce very profound changes in the emotion. Discovering this inner world of imagery within an emotion is a fundamental part of mindfulness therapy. Mindfulness is always a movement from the superficial surface layers of thought to the underlying sensory structure of thought and it is in the awareness of this detail that change becomes possible. But to discover this often unseen structure of our emotions we must build a relationship with the emotion in which we are free to investigate with sustained mindfulness. The more we uncover, the more material we will have for producing change. Next time 'a black cloud of depression' descends on you, or 'you are green with jealousy or red with anger' take a closer look at the colors beneath the emotion. Work with those colors and see how it changes the intensity of the emotions.
The benevolent aspect of mindfulness is the desire to bring about beneficial change and healing of the painful emotion. We explore with great sensitivity what changes at the sensory level, such as changes in color, can be felt to bring about healing. We then develop theses changes and magnify them until there is a full resolution of the emotion by paying very close attention to any subtle changes at the feeling level. It is all about paying very close attention to detail, and this is precisely what we cultivate in Mindfulness Therapy.
Acceptance-Openness-Friendliness : Vigilance-Investigation-Benevolence
This is Mindfulness Therapy as applied to healing anxiety, depression and stress. All this subtle experiential work can be done very well through Skype-based video call sessions. Why? Because mindfulness therapy is about what you do internally, not what the therapist does to you. His job is to facilitate your own inner process of discovery and healing through the application of mindfulness. This is what we teach at the Boulder Center for Mindfulness Therapy.