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Running Head: COUNSELING PAPER

Counseling Paper
Counseling Issues and Practice
Sharyn Miller, Ph. D.
Fatima Elali
March 25, 2015

In assisting students who may be in distress or feeling overwhelmed it is essential that I


have a toolkit of effective counseling strategies and techniques. The workshop called
mindfulness-based therapies: an overview and opportunity for Christian integration. was very
helpful in improving my counseling skills. It took place at Azusa Pacific University on a Friday
morning, February 20th, from 9am to 12:30pm and was taught by a current doctoral student at
Baylor University and Social Worker. The definition and origins of mindfulness, three
mindfulness exercises, and its potential applications for counselors in both the faith and secular
modalities were explained in further detail.
Mindfulness was first defined as a meditative practice, being in the present moment, nonjudgmental, and self-aware. It really is both a theory, state of mind, and practice which is
interesting as these components make it more applicable to various fields such as student affairs
work. My perception of mindfulness changed as a result of this workshop as I previously only

COUNSELING PAPER

saw it as an integration of meditation for relaxing the mind. A student affairs professional can
practice mindfulness when counseling students and listening to their stories; this is almost
synonymous to how one should listen to students or anyone. This is especially important for
those students who do not like the idea of meditation in relieving stress or relaxing and that is ok
as well. The fact that at a student affairs professional benefits from mindfulness techniques is
indirectly helpful to students because he or she is most likely to experience life with more fun
and self-awareness than without it. A happier student affairs professional more likely has a
positive relationship with being more effective in working with students in my opinion.
The efficacy of mindfulness was then talked about in the workshop. According to the
facilitator it is significant in helping those with Borderline Personality Disorder in conjunction
with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and with treating those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The origins of mindfulness is brought back from the times of Buddha and Christianity with not
one or the other having invented it first.
An interesting take that the facilitator and some participants brought was that mindfulness
through the Christian perspective was more personal as it asks the person to focus on a scripture
passage that typically is overplayed with the message of Gods love. This allows the person to fill
the spirit with listening to what God is telling him or her. This spiritual aspect and belief of
listening to what God is telling someone can be encouraging to people and may even more
important to use in mindfulness techniques if they have a strong faith background. Secular
mindfulness is more about leading the person to reach nirvana which ultimately is more about
letting go of ones identity through being mindful of the moment. Its focus is on having less
distractions and relax the mind than to do the same with the addition of listening to God.
Following this discussion, a secular mindfulness exercise was implemented where I
engaged in a guided breathing meditation. I was invited to tense and relax different parts of my
body and asked what I felt physically, spiritually, and intellectually afterwards. I mostly felt

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physically relaxed and was more focused during the workshop as a result. I also engaged in a
Christian mindfulness exercise where I took deep breaths along with hearing the Our Father
prayer. I felt more relaxed and also spiritually enriched though. The biggest takeaway for me was
that Gods grace is within me and that his will be done. There should not be any doubts of my
worth and capacity to withstand challenges because I am made in his image. I felt spiritually
connected during this exercise unlike the secular meditation exercise.
Next, the Christian and faith integration of mindfulness in therapeutic modalities was
explained. Being self-aware is crucial for dialectical behavioral therapy to function at its best.
For example the counselor can ask a client, How much of this is your reaction? and What can
you do to bring it down? The client can see how his/her emotional behavior or instinctual
behaviors are influencing his/her thoughts; self-awareness is key for this to be noticed and
changed. The desire to having a wise mind versus a reactive mind is another way to look at
dialectical behavioral therapy.
The integration of mindfulness with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was an
interesting topic. Clients can consciously experience pain in the now and find comfort that is
going to go away. The Christian faith can be integrated by asking clients of how God can be a
part of experiencing emotions like pain. I believe that God is present when I am in pain of some
sort and that gives me hope that I will get better and that I am not alone. Mindfulness based
cognitive therapy is another integrated therapeutic model. This focused more on being aware of
ones thoughts and how to reframe those that are maladaptive. Being self-aware again is
important as the person has to know when they think negatively about themselves to be able to
minimize them through conscious proactive affirmations and talking with the therapist.
Moreover, another mindfulness exercise was practiced where the facilitator asked us to
think of something of value to our faith. I focused on this question for 3 to 5 minutes while
breathing deeply and relaxing my stomach and other body parts. She asked us, What sacred

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image came to mind, if any? This was an exercise that I am not sure was helpful since it was
hard to focus on the image I chose and got confused if I was doing it correctly. These doubts and
lack of commitment to the sacred image I chose might have influenced how I did though. One
thoughtful critique about this exercise is that many others might experience something similar.
Practicing mindfulness to where it is fully beneficial might take some time as it is a form of a
habit for our minds to get distracted and think about more than one thing. I personally did not
like this one and may have to practice mindfulness more often to be able to benefit from this at a
deeper level.
Mindful practices like Lectio Divina, meditation with guided imagery, reflective
journaling, and prayer are other ways the facilitator mentioned would be good faith integrated
mindfulness activities. These would be great to especially apply in faith based institutions for a
bible study, classroom, or student affairs office or if a student is open to the idea of integrating
faith with a mindfulness activity.
Lastly, the facilitator shared her research on the effectiveness of a 6 week mp3 Christian
mindfulness training with Christian university students. She found positive results implying that
mindful awareness and attention increases when practicing meditation and other mindful
activities over a period of time. These activities were also online which brings to the forefront
how health centers can provide online resources for students to use when feeling stressed
especially during finals week.
In regards to critiquing this workshop, I first and foremost enjoyed this workshop since it
improved my knowledge and appreciation of counseling techniques such as meditation,
breathing exercises, and mindful praying. I never thought praying could involve intentional
breathing in a deep manner along with guided imagery. I also felt so relaxed after each
mindfulness exercise, except for one, and even felt more calm and in the present moment for a
couple of days after the workshop. I couldnt believe that this was so helpful for myself and

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would love to share how this is a great method for students who are feeling stressed out or
experiencing a lot of anxiety.
A downfall of this workshop is that it is not appealing to everyone. If a student or student
affairs professional is not prone to think it is beneficial, shows indifference, or does not like
practicing activities that instill mindfulness, its effectiveness diminishes tremendously according
to the facilitator. Its application to therapeutic approaches such as dialectical behavioral therapy
and acceptance and commitment therapy also were not necessarily relevant to student affairs
work. If a student has borderline personality disorder it is ethical for me to refer him or her to a
therapist that can help the student in a more effective manner. In the mean time I can help him or
her relax by implementing a mindfulness exercise or letting them know that there are therapies
out there, like mindfulness dialectical behavioral therapy, which can specifically help the student
suffering from borderline personality disorder. I do not need to know how mindfulness therapies
work and how they should be implemented as I am not a clinician.
On a more positive note, mindfulness as a whole can be applied to my work with students
in a variety of ways. One of the facilitators guided imagery meditation examples taught me that
the use of metaphors is advantageous to helping students in distress. Silverman, Blank, Gatch,
Harrington, Quinby, and Wilkie (2008) say that student affairs professionals need to respond to
the whole student and not just pay attention to their academic identity and performance. Mental
health is just as important as academic success and one metaphor to help those who are stressed
out is by guiding them through the vision of a big orange ball as troubles and problems and a
bat as a way to lessen the intensity of those problems, which thus creates a calmer feeling.
As a student affairs professional I would make sure to educate students about such great
psychological therapies like dialectical behavioral therapy. If a student is encountering hard
times because of a race-related act or having gone through an abusive relationship I want to
ensure them that there are research based therapies that have proven to be effective and refer

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them to the counseling center if appropriate. Kadison (2004) recommends the investment I and
others need to make for university health centers and I plan to support them through referrals and
openness to helping spread their mission. I would also practice a mindfulness exercise with the
student at the moment to clear his or her mind if they would like to.
I can ask students if they would like to have faith integrated into practicing mindfulness
techniques as well. A guided meditation can easily change from deep breathing and body scan
messages to an improvised or well-known prayer said out loud. Reading a scripture passage can
include a reflective writing piece or 5 minutes of silence after reading. I remember reading
scripture during a bible study at my local church and not necessarily getting what it was telling
me until I read it a couple of times quietly for a couple of minutes. The leader of the group really
supported silence and quiet reflection and I agree that it created a more comfortable space where
my group and I were more engaged and prone to be in the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness along with a Christian faith focus is especially beneficial to
students who want to develop in their faith development. I personally think that the faith based
mindfulness activities are more meaningful upon comparing and contrasting my experiences in
this workshop. Looking towards the future, I can definitely see myself using this method in my
personal life and/or if students are open to the idea. I was happy to attend this workshop and
know that my role is in educating students about the symptoms, realities, and resources available
to those who encounter any difficult situation. Mental health issues are on the rise and there is
added pressure for mental health centers to be more equipped to meet these demands (Voelker,
2003). I would love to be a mental health advocate for my students and the campus community
at large.

References

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Kadison, Richard and Foy Di Geronimo, Theresa. (2004). College of the Overwhelmed. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Silverman, M.C., Blank, K., Georgie, G., Harrington, G., Quinby, S.E., & Wilkie, A. (May/June 2001).
The deans evaluation committee: Responding to students who need help. About Campus, 27-30.
Voelker, R. (2003). Mounting student depression taxing mental health services. Journal of American
Medical Association, 289 (16), 2055-2056.