Mindfulness Helps Novice Therapists

Virginia Tech is one of only a few universities to integrate mindfulness meditation into a Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program curriculum. 

Meditation begins in the first year of clinical training, says Eric McCollum, professor of human development and MFT program director in the National Capital Region. At this point students are encountering a variety of issues common to beginning clinicians, such as dealing with anxiety, using a theoretical model effectively, and learning clinic procedures. “Mindfulness meditation helps students improve their ability to be emotionally present in therapy sessions with clients,” says McCollum. “It helps beginners, who can sometimes feel overwhelmed, stop focusing on themselves and think more about others.” As a course requirement (but not graded), students keep weekly journals that are read by the instructors over the course of the semester. Although asked to practice for five to 10 minutes daily, there is no penalty for not practicing. Thirteen students gave McCollum permission to use their journals for a research paper, “Using Mindfulness Meditation to Teach Beginning Therapists Therapeutic Presence: A Qualitative Study,” which he co-authored with Diane R. Gehart, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling at California State University, Northridge. The paper was recently accepted for publication in a future issue of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. MFT is a three-year master’s degree program in the human development department in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Mindfulness was adopted into the program about five years ago.

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