Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mindfulness Book for Therapists by Daniel J. Siegel Is Must Reading

The Mindful Therapist is, bar none, the best book for psychotherapists that I read during 2010. Any book that beats it in 2011 will have to be very good indeed. The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician's Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration, is an important and relevant book for any therapist, whether they're beginning their careers, or have many years behind them.

On the one hand Siegel works the cutting edge of emerging knowledge of how our brains work, and the growing integration of mindfulness notions in psychotherapeutic work. As such, this book is clearly helpful for clinicians.

What makes The Mindful Therapist unique is its focus on the therapist as one who needs to integrate her/himself with what is being learned so that the therapist is changed, is experientially impacted in a way which will enable a more mindful, congruent, skillful presence in the therapy room.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn has said so many times, it's not sufficient for professionals to know about mindfulness so we can transmit information about it to our patients, or even to add to the way we do therapy. It's vital we have the experience of mindfulness because, as anyone with genuine experience will know, the essence and existential meaning of mindfulness practice cannot be adequately expressed or transmitted in words alone.

This book will move many clinicians, I am sure, to take a more serious look at the challenge of what is known about mindfulness, and how it links up with new brain learning. If that was all Siegel achieved with his book, it'd be worth the price.

What grabbed me, however, was Siegel's acknowledgment in the Introduction of our need as clinicians to be involved in the very work we ask our patients to undertake. I'll let Siegel tell you in his words:

"When I was first learning to become a physician and later training to be a pediatrician and then a psychiatrist, I would have loved to have a literary companion along the journey to help me develop the inner knowledge and interpersonal skills necessary in becoming an effective clinician. (emphasis added) As I moved toward a research focus on relationships between parents and their children, I was struck by how the caring, attuning communication between adult and child could promote healthy development. Yet in my training as a therapist, little was available to help our own development as individuals, beyond electing to engage in personal psychotherapy of varied type and with mixed results. In those days, nothing seemed to be available to develop empathy, compassion, or self-regulation for professionals in our own training."

And here's the kicker, italics added because it is such an important statement: "I had so many questions about what healing involved, about how to deeply connect and comfort others - and myself."

This book promises to answer those question - in a good way. Even today, formal training often does not answer the concerns Siegel raises. In some circles it seems suspect to use words such as healing. 

I'm dumbfounded by a colleague who once said to me when I spoke of a patient's healing journey: "Well, as you know, it's difficult to find cures." Which was why I spoke of healing, of process, of the learning we enable our patients to do. And not just with our words, but because our patients can see we have traveled this path also - sometimes that is the ultimate hope for them, that we, who they trust and are in relationship with, have experienced and integrated (more or less) what we are now passing on to them as a possibility, sometimes a necessity even, so they may know healing.

Siegel writes: "Here, in The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician's Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration, I will be exploring for the professional relevant aspects of brain function and mental skill train pertaining primarily to the relational role of the therapist as an individual. This book is intended to be a clinician's literary 'internal companion,' a guide to how the therapist as person can develop a more mindful way of being as a healer."

Returning to this book having first read it back in the summer, I feel vindicated for my excitement about it, and its timeliness and relevance for clinicians.

By way of a biographical note, Siegel is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, where he is also Co-Director of the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. He has also written The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. 

A personal aside - I'm glad to see Siegel putting the focus on the person of the clinician. Sometimes we lose that in our training processes. Recently, I have been reading some of the existential philosophers and psychotherapists of the first half of the 20th century. I've found their honesty and passion in exploring what the therapist brings to her/his patient, and the ensuing I-thou relationships, very moving and relevant. I know that some of my colleagues would find their writing discomforting. Pity that.  

1 comment:

  1. This man had to figure himself out before he could help other people. Sounds like a great book