Bibliotherapy on mindfulness
'Bibliotherapy' is an important part of cognitive therapy, either to run alongside a course of therapy or as a self-help tool. I often recommend books to my clients, partly because there is only so much time in a session, so it's much more useful for them to read up about their particular issue and for us to discuss their findings next week. But I also find that many people like to understand why they might be having problems and find their own strategies for solving them – another important idea in cognitive therapy, because ultimately I want my clients to be their own CBT therapist.
In this series of posts, I am going to recommend some of the best books for a number of topics: depression, anxiety, mindfulness, compassion, stress, anger issues, eating disorders and low self-esteem. In this fourth installment I will focus on mindfulness, an ancient Buddhist practice that, since the 1970s, has been adapted by Western psychologists to help treat a range of physical and mental difficulties. The idea is that you can read one or all of these books, depending on which appeal to you. And you can read the whole book or dip into the chapters that seem most relevant to you.
1. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This beautifully written, wise, eminently readable book is one of my favourites. Kabat-Zinn is, more than anyone else, responsible for introducing mindfulness to the West. He started using mindfulness techniques to help people with chronic stress, physical pain or serious illness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the '70s, which paved the way for other practitioners to use mindfulness either as a standalone technique or combined with other approaches like cognitive therapy. The author explains with great clarity exactly what mindfulness is and how you can integrate it into your life, either with 'formal' practices like sitting or walking meditation, or 'informal' practices such as being completely mindful of whatever it is you're doing, from washing the dishes to gazing at a glorious sunset or preparing and eating a delicious meal. If you're new to mindfulness or meditation in general, this is the perfect place to start.
2. Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Another good beginner's guide, this introduction to mindfulness theory and practice is written by Mark Williams, a clinical psychologist and one of the UK's leading mindfulness teachers, and Danny Penman, a health journalist and author. It offers a clear, easy-to-follow path through all the basic mindfulness techniques, and includes a CD of guided meditations by Williams – who has an incredibly gentle, soothing voice. As an aside, if you ever get the chance to see him speak, grab the opportunity. He is an excellent speaker who really embodies the calm steadiness that regular meditation can bring.
3. The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you want to take a mindfulness course for issues like stress, anxiety, depression or chronic pain, there are two basic formats: mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Both run over eight weeks, with a combination of meditation, guided imagery, yoga and other exercises in the class and at home. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the MBSR programme first (see above) and in the early '90s the other three authors began exploring the use of mindfulness to treat depression, especially repeated bouts of depression which can be hard to treat. They combined elements of Kabat-Zinn's MBSR programme with cognitive-behaviour therapy to come up with MBCT, which has proven extremely effective at treating recurrent bouts of depression – as effective as antidepressants, in fact.
This is another warm, rich, wise book, which leads you through the steps of an MBCT programme, while explaining why we get depressed, what we now understand about depression and the brain from MRI scans and other research into its physical make-up and functioning, and how psychologists around the world are now exploring the meeting point of Buddhist psychology, neuroscience and cognitive therapy, with intriguing results. It also includes a CD of guided meditations by Kabat-Zinn, which I use as part of my daily practice, so can thoroughly recommend.