The potential effect of mindfulness meditation on the cultivation of empathy in psychotherapy: A qualitative inquiry

  • Aiken G
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Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation was to discern whether psychotherapy practitioners who are also established mindfulness meditators believe that mindfulness practice and a personal emphasis on the Buddhist sublime states contributes to the cultivation of the qualities required to successfully use empathy in their therapeutic work. Mindfulness can be described as a state of diligent awareness and attentiveness with respect to the body or body postures, feelings or affective processes, the mind or cognitive processes, and mind objects or the contents of consciousness. Therapeutic empathy can be defined as the ability to accurately experience and understand the felt sense of a client's inner experience and perspective, and to communicate that awareness in such a way that the client perceives himself or herself as being recognized and understood. The literature associated with mindfulness meditation, the literature associated with empathy, and the psychological literature that attempts to uncover the relationship between mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy has been reviewed. The psychological qualities cultivated during the practice of mindfulness meditation and the qualities required for the effective practice of therapeutic empathy have been identified. Lengthy qualitative interviews were conducted with 6 mindfulness meditators who had attended at least 10 mindfulness retreats of 10 days or more, had maintained a daily mindfulness meditation practice for at least 10 years, and had been licensed psychotherapy practitioners for at least 10 years. Among the resulting themes were suggestions by the research participants that mindfulness contributes to a therapist's ability to: achieve a felt sense of the client's inner experience; communicate their awareness of that felt sense; be more present to the pain and suffering of the client; and help clients become better able to be present to and give language to their bodily feelings and sensations. That a practice such as mindfulness meditation may have noticeable effects on a therapist's ability to cultivate an empathic orientation in psychotherapy has significant implications with respect to the training of client-centered therapists. These implications were discussed in detail. Additionally, new perspectives have been offered, and issues revealed as suitable for further systematic inquiry have been evaluated and discussed.

Author-supplied keywords

  • 0622:Psychotherapy
  • Empathy
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Psychology
  • Psychotherapy
  • Qualitative research
  • Sublime states

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Authors

  • George A Aiken

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