Expected Discomfort vs Adverse Effects of Mindfulness: A Guide for Therapists



16 Oct 2022


3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

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  • Timezone: America/New_York
  • Date: 16 Oct 2022
  • Time: 12:00 am - 1:00 am

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Mental Health Acadamy
Mental Health Acadamy

Expected Discomfort vs Adverse Effects of Mindfulness: A Guide for Therapists

Part of the Mental Health Academy Super Summit 2022
LIVE 14-16 Oct 2022   ON-DEMAND 14 Oct – 11 Dec 2022

For well over two millennia, a specific set of common unpleasant experiences have been reported to emerge during mindfulness meditation. These are clearly spelt out in the most respected encyclopaedia of mindfulness meditation methods, the Visuddhimagga (“Path of purification”) written by Buddhaghosa over 2000 years ago. Learning to addressing these experiences is integral to developing stages of insight. However, there are also adverse effects produced by inaccurate understanding and practice of meditation and by certain mental health conditions, many of which are predictable. If mindfulness meditation is practised accurately, beyond relaxation, unpleasant experiences are common and to be expected. This is because one is exposed to unavoidable unpleasant thoughts and body sensations while equanimity allows desensitisation to take place.

In contrast, adverse effects are uncommon, harmful experiences that tend to persist outside the meditation practice and impair one’s behaviour to varying degrees. These effects are usually tied to past painful emotions which may no longer be conscious or even traceable in memory. This will often cause the client to drop out of therapy without understanding it and without discussing it with the therapist. It is important for therapists to learn how to differentiate expected unpleasant experiences of exposure during productive meditation from the so-called “adverse effects” of meditation. If these are not examined and understood, it is easy to over-react to benign cues of reasonable discomfort and foster client avoidance, or overlook genuine signs of maladaptive responses to traumatic cues and allow harm to increase.

This presentation will discuss the difference between “central effects” and “adverse effects” of mindfulness meditation and provide a useful explanation of how to address both. It will also help you adapt your implementation of mindfulness to minimise potential harm, especially in patients with trauma. By the end of the session, you will be able to

  1. Case-conceptualise normal and expected discomfort during mindfulness meditation
  2. Differentiate and understand patients’ symptoms of trauma during meditation
  3. Understand what to do with trauma and other symptoms emerging during meditation practice
  4. Examine the precautions for minimising harm.

The session will conclude with a short Q&A with Dr. Cayoun.

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