What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of
Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes
Pennsylvania State University
Research suggests that mindfulness practices offer psychotherapists a way to positively affect aspects of
therapy that account for successful treatment. This paper provides psychotherapists with a synthesis of
the empirically supported advantages of mindfulness. Definitions of mindfulness and evidence-based
interpersonal, affective, and intrapersonal benefits of mindfulness are presented. Research on therapists
who meditate and client outcomes of therapists who meditate are reviewed. Implications for practice,
research, and training are discussed.
Keywords: mindfulness, psychotherapy, meditation, literature review
Mindfulness has enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity in the
past decade, both in the popular press and in the psychotherapy
literature (Didonna, 2009a; Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Owing
largely to the success of mindfulness-based stress reduction
(MBSR) programs and the central role of mindfulness in dialecti-
cal behavior therapy, as well as acceptance and commitment
therapy, mindfulness has moved from a largely obscure Buddhist
concept to a mainstream psychotherapy construct. Advocates of
mindfulness would have us believe that virtually every client, and
their therapists, would benefit from being mindful. In fact, mind-
fulness has been proposed as a common factor in psychotherapy
(Martin, 1997). Among its theorized benefits are self-control
(Bishop et al., 2004; Masicampo & Baumeister, 2007), objectivity
(Adele & Feldman, 2004; Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007; Leary
& Tate, 2007; Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, & Freedman, 2006), affect
tolerance (Fulton, 2005), enhanced flexibility (Adele & Feldman,
2004), equanimity (Morgan & Morgan, 2005), improved concen-
tration and mental clarity (Young, 1997), emotional intelligence
(Walsh & Shapiro, 2006), and the ability to relate to others and
one’s self with kindness, acceptance, and compassion (Fulton,
2005; Wallace, 2001). Is mindfulness as good as advertised, how-
ever? What does the research literature have to say about the
benefits of mindfulness? The purpose of this paper is to provide
psychotherapists with information about the empirically supported
advantages of mindfulness, contextualized by effect sizes of these
advantages. In addition, we review research on practices that have
been found to promote mindfulness, as well as the effects on
therapists and trainees exposed to mindfulness meditation. The
paper concludes with implications for practice, research, and train-
ing. We begin by exploring the meaning of the term “mindful-
Definitions: Ancient and Modern
The term “mindfulness” has been used to refer to a psycholog-
ical state of awareness, a practice that promotes this awareness, a
mode of processing information, and a characterological trait
(Brown et al., 2007; Germer, Siegel, & Fulton, 2005; Kostanski &
Hassed, 2008; Siegel, 2007b). The word mindfulness originally
comes from the Pali word sati, which means having awareness,
attention, and remembering (Bodhi, 2000). Mindfulness can sim-
ply be defined as “moment-by-moment awareness” (Germer et al.,
2005, p. 6) or as “a state of psychological freedom that occurs
when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachment to
any particular point of view” (Martin, 1997, p. 291, italics included
in original text). For the purposes of the present paper, and for the
sake of consistency with most of the research that is reviewed
subsequently, mindfulness is defined as a moment-to-moment
awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense,
mindfulness is viewed as a state and not a trait, and while it might
be promoted by certain practices or activities (e.g., meditation), it
is not equivalent to or synonymous with them. When slightly
different definitions of mindfulness are used in the literature that is
reviewed, these shall be noted.
Mindfulness has similarities to other psychotherapy-related con-
structs. For example, mindfulness is similar to mentalization
(Bateman & Fonagy, 2004, 2006; Fonagy & Bateman, 2008), the
developmental process of understanding one’s own and others’
behavior in terms of individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and desires.
Both constructs emphasize the temporary, subjective, and fluid
nature of mental states and both are thought to enhance affect
regulation and cognitive flexibility (Wallin, 2007). Mindfulness
differs from mentalizing in that mindfulness is both being aware of
the “reflective self” engaged in mentalizing, and the practice of
fully experiencing the rising and falling of mental states with
acceptance and without attachment and judgment. Wallin proposes
Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes, Counseling Psychology
Proram, Pennsylvania State University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jeffrey
A. Hayes, 307 Cedar Building, Penn State University, University Park, PA
16802. E-mail: email@example.com
Psychotherapy © 2011 American Psychological Association
2011, Vol. 48, No. 2, 198–208 0033-3204/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0022062
that the receptivity that mindfulness fosters enables the process of
mentalization to occur.
A second construct, intersubjectivity (Benjamin, 1990), has
been theorized to relate to Buddhist psychology (Epstein, 2007;
Surrey, 2005; Thompson, 2001; Wallace, 2001) and to being in the
present moment in psychotherapy (Stern, 2004). Mindfulness and
intersubjectivity are similar in that they both enable a sense of
connection with others (Thompson, 2001), or what Thich Nhat
Hanh (1987) calls interbeing. Interbeing is a Buddhist notion that
by living in the present moment, the interdependent nature of all
phenomena and people is experienced (Hanh, 1987). To date, there
is no research relating mindfulness with either mentalization or
Finally, insight, the conscious process of making novel connec-
tions (Hill & Castonguay, 2007), can be construed as a beneficial
outcome of mindfulness practice. Siegel (2007b, 2009) has pro-
posed a neurological basis for the connection between mindfulness
and insight, and research discussed later in this article has begun to
support this proposition.
How Can Mindfulness Be Enhanced?
Although there are several disciplines and practices that can
cultivate mindfulness (e.g., yoga, tai chi, qigong; Siegel, 2007b),
the majority of theoretical writing and empirical research on the
subject has focused on mindfulness developed by mindfulness
meditation. Meditation refers to:
A family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention
and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater
voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and
development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and
concentration (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006, p. 228).
While a myriad of meditation practices including Tibetan and
Zen Buddhist meditation styles also cultivate mindfulness, the
term mindfulness meditation is typically used synonymously with
Vipassana, a form of meditation that derives from Theravada
Buddhism (Gunaratana, 2002; Young, 1997). Vipassana is a Pali
word for insight or clear awareness and is a practice designed to
gradually develop mindfulness or awareness (Gunaratana, 2002).
Mindfulness is systematically cultivated in Vipassana practice by
applying one’s attention to one’s bodily sensations, emotions,
thoughts, and surrounding environment (Bodhi, 2000; Germer,
2005; Germer et al., 2005; Gunaratana, 2002; Wallace, 2001;
While it may be assumed that all meditation practices equally
benefit the practitioner, research rather intriguingly suggests that
different styles of meditation practice elicit different brain activity
patterns (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Lutz, Dunne, & Davidson, 2007;
Valentine & Sweet, 1999). For example, mindfulness meditation
more than concentrative forms of meditation (e.g., focusing on a
mantra) has been shown to stimulate the middle prefrontal brain
associated with both self-observation and metacognition (Cahn &
Polich, 2006; Siegel, 2007b) and foster specific attentional mech-
anisms (Valentine & Sweet, 1999). With the advancement of
neurological technology, mindfulness researchers are examining
distinct components of mindfulness meditation such as focused
attention, open monitoring (nonjudgmental moment-to-moment
observation of one’s experience), and loving-kindness compassion
practice and their specific physiological outcomes (Lutz, Slagter,
Dunne & Davidson, 2008; Lutz et al., 2009).
Empirically Supported Benefits of Mindfulness
As research evidence begins to accumulate concerning the pos-
itive outcomes of mindfulness, it is possible to categorize these
benefits along several dimensions. Three dimensions that are par-
ticularly relevant to psychotherapy pertain to the affective, inter-
personal, and other intrapersonal benefits of mindfulness. Another
empirically supported benefit of mindfulness, empathy, will be
discussed later in the paper when research is reviewed on thera-
pists who practice mindfulness meditation. Practical examples of
mindfulness-based interventions that could be used with clients are
provided in Table 1.
Emotion regulation. There is evidence that mindfulness
helps develop effective emotion regulation in the brain (Corcoran,
Farb, Anderson, & Segal, 2010; Farb et al., 2010; Siegel, 2007b).
Examples of Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Clients
Benefits Practical mindfulness-based interventions to use with clients
Emotion regulation “Can you stay with what is happening right
now?...Canyou breathe with what is
happening right now?”
“What can you tell me about your experience right now? Notice
any changes in your feeling, however subtle.”
Decreased reactivity &
Slowly scan your entire body starting at your
toes. Notice any sensations in your body
without trying to change them.
Can you allow and accept this feeling and stay in touch with it
without reacting to it? If not, what is happening in your
experience that’s reacting to this feeling?
Interpersonal benefits For couples: Face each other, look into each
other’s eyes and notice what reactions,
feelings, and thoughts arise.
For couples: Face each other, look into each other’s eyes, and
practice sending loving-kindness to one another.
Intrapersonal benefits Therapist and client can practice mindfulness
meditation together during the therapy
Informal daily practice can include: walking and eating meditations,
such as mentally saying “lifting....stepping forward. . heel
touching. . toe touching . . lifting...” when walking.
(Morgan, 2005, p. 135).
(Morgan, 2005, p. 138).
(Body Scan, Kabat-Zinn, 1990).
(Adapted from Didonna, 2009b).
(MBRE, Carson et al.,
(Germer, 2005, p.14).
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS?
In terms of proposed mechanisms of change, Corcoran et al.
theorize that mindfulness meditation promotes metacognitive
awareness, decreases rumination via disengagement from perse-
verative cognitive activities, and enhances attentional capacities
through gains in working memory; these cognitive gains, in turn,
contribute to effective emotion regulation strategies.
In support of Corcoran et al.’s model, research indicates that
mindfulness meditation is negatively associated with rumination
and is directly related to effective emotion regulation (Chambers,
Lo, & Allen, 2008; McKim, 2008; Ramel, Goldin, Carmona, &
McQuaid, 2004). In particular, 20 nonclinical novice meditators
who participated in a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation
retreat were compared to a waitlisted control group on mindful-
ness, rumination, affect, and performance tasks for attention
switching, sustained attention and working memory (Chambers et
al., 2008). Following the meditation retreat, the meditation group
had significantly higher self-reported mindfulness, decreased neg-
ative affect, fewer depressive symptoms, and less rumination com-
pared to the control group. In addition, the meditation group had
significantly better working memory capacity and greater ability to
sustain attention during a performance task compared to the con-
trol group. Differences were not detected between the groups on
self-reported anxiety or positive affect.
Chambers et al.’s (2008) finding that mindfulness training de-
creased rumination is consistent with research with participants
having chronic mood disorders. Ramel et al. (2004) found that
participants in an 8-week MBSR training had significantly less
reflective rumination compared to: a) participants’ initial rumina-
tion scores, and b) a control group matched on age, gender, and
initial depressive symptoms. In addition, decreases in rumination
scores were significantly predicted by participants’ amount of
meditation practice. In another study, prepost scores after an
8-week MBSR intervention were compared among a community
sample that experienced ongoing anxiety, depression, and/or
chronic pain (McKim, 2008). Following MBSR, participants had
significantly higher scores on self-reported mindfulness and sig-
nificantly lower scores on self-reported rumination, psychological
distress, depression, anxiety, and physical illness. Mindfulness
scores significantly predicted anxiety, rumination, medical symp-
toms, and psychological distress. Furthermore, the relationship
between mindfulness and depression was significantly mediated
by decreased rumination.
A recent meta-analysis of 39 studies supports the efficacy of
mindfulness-based therapy for reducing anxiety and depression symp-
toms (Hoffman, Sawyer, Witt, & Oh, 2010). MBSR and mindfulness-
based cognitive therapy constituted the majority of mindfulness-based
therapies in these 39 studies. For clinical populations, the average
prepost effect size was large, and a moderate effect size was found
among nonclinical populations. For 19 studies that assessed depres-
sive and anxiety symptoms in long-term follow-ups, moderate effect
sizes supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions were
detected. Hoffman et al. concluded that mindfulness-based therapy
has utility for potentially altering affective and cognitive processes
that underlie multiple clinical issues.
Hoffman et al. (2010)’s findings are consistent with evidence
that mindfulness meditation leads to increased positive affect and
decreased anxiety and negative affect (Davidson et al., 2003;
Erisman & Roemer, 2010; Farb et al., 2010; Jha, Stanley, Kiyo-
naga, Wong, & Gelfand, 2010; Way, Creswell, Eisenberger, &
Lieberman, 2010). In one study, participants randomly assigned to
an 8-week MBSR training group were compared to waitlisted
controls on self-report measures of depression, anxiety, and psy-
chopathology and on neural reactivity as measured by functional
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) after watching sad films (Farb
et al., 2010). Participants exposed to MBSR displayed significantly
less anxiety, depression, and somatic distress relative to the control
group (Farb et al., 2010). Still further, fMRI data indicated that the
MBSR group had less neural reactivity while exposed to the films
than the control group, and they displayed distinctively different
neural responses while watching the films than they did prior to the
MBSR training. These findings suggest that mindfulness medita-
tion shifts individuals’ ability to employ emotion regulation strat-
egies that enable them to experience emotion selectively, and that
the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the
brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).
In a study of trait mindfulness, Way et al. (2010) investigated
the relationships among mindfulness, depressive symptoms, and
neural activity in a nonclinical sample of adults. Trait mindfulness
was found to be inversely related to amygdala activity when
participants were in a resting state; amygdala activity was further
associated with depressive symptoms. This study provides support
that trait mindfulness may alter baseline amygdala activity so that
serves a preventive or buffering role in depressive mood.
Erisman and Roemer (2010) conducted a study in which partici-
pants in an experimental group were exposed to a brief mindfulness
intervention and then watched film clips that contained either positive
affect or mixed affect. Compared to a control group, participants in
the experimental group reported more positive emotions after watch-
ing the film clips containing positive affect and reported less negative
emotions after watching affectively mixed film clips.
Jha et al. (2010) examined working memory capacity and emo-
tional experience among a military group who participated in an
8-week mindfulness training, a nonmeditating military group, and
civilians; both military groups were in a highly stressful predeploy-
ment period. The nonmeditating military group displayed decreased
working memory capacity over time whereas working memory ca-
pacity among nonmeditating civilians was stable across time. Within
the meditation military group, working memory capacity increased in
proportion to actual amount of meditation practice. In addition, med-
itation practice was directly related to self-reported positive affect and
inversely related to self-reported negative affect. Working memory
capacity mediated the relationship between meditation practice time
and negative affect. These findings suggest that adequate mindfulness
meditation practice may enhance working memory capacity, similar
to results obtained by Chambers et al. (2008), thereby promoting
effective emotion regulation during periods of stress when working
memory may otherwise diminish.
Thus, research indicates that meditation may elicit positive
emotions, minimize negative affect and rumination, and enable
effective emotion regulation. Even eight weeks of mindfulness
meditation practice may alter the ways in which emotions are
regulated and processed in the brain (Williams, 2010). Emotion
regulation has such strong empirical support as a benefit of mind-
fulness meditation that recently the term “mindful emotion regu-
lation” was coined to refer to “the capacity to remain mindfully
aware at all times, irrespective of the apparent valence or magni-
200 DAVIS AND HAYES
tude of any emotion that is experienced” (Chambers, Gullone, &
Allen, 2009, p. 569).
Decreased reactivity and increased response flexibility.
Research has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation enables
people to become less reactive (Cahn & Polich, 2009; Goldin &
Gross, 2010; Ortner, Kiner, & Zelazo, 2007; Siegel, 2007a, 2007b)
and have greater cognitive flexibility (Moore & Malinowski, 2009;
Siegel, 2007a, 2007b). Evidence indicates that mindfulness med-
itators develop the skill of self-observation that neurologically
disengages automatic pathways created from prior learning and
enables present moment input to be integrated in a new way
(Siegel, 2007a). Meditation activates regions of the brain associ-
ated with more adaptive responding to stressful or negative situ-
ations (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2003). Activation of
this region of the brain corresponds with faster recovery to base-
line after being negatively provoked (Davidson, 2000; Davidson,
Jackson, & Kalin, 2000).
Moore and Malinowski (2009) compared a group of experi-
enced mindfulness meditators with a control group who had no
meditation experience on measures assessing their ability to
focus attention and suppress distracting information. The med-
itation group had significantly better performance on all mea-
sures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness.
Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness
were correlated directly with cognitive flexibility and atten-
In another study, individuals with one month to 29 years of
mindfulness meditation practice experience viewed pleasant,
unpleasant, and neutral pictures and then had their reaction
times measured to categorizing tones as either short or long
(Ortner et al., 2007). Reaction time was thought to represent
emotional interference with the categorization task. Meditation
experience was inversely related to emotional interference
when viewing unpleasant pictures. Ortner et al. suggest that
mindfulness meditation practice may help individuals disen-
gage from emotionally upsetting stimuli, enabling attention to
be focused on the cognitive task at hand. In a follow-up study,
participants were assigned to either a 7-week training in mind-
fulness meditation, relaxation meditation, or a waiting list con-
trol group. The mindfulness meditation group exhibited less
emotional interference in response to the unpleasant pictures
than the other groups. Ortner et al.’s findings support the notion
that mindfulness meditation decreases emotional reactivity.
In addition, Cahn and Polich (2009) assessed the reactions of
very experienced mindfulness meditators to distracting stimuli.
Findings revealed that while in a meditative state, practitioners
displayed minimal emotional and cognitive reactivity to distracting
stimuli. These findings support the notion that mindfulness med-
itation contributes to decreased reactivity.
A recent study investigated the effects of MBSR training on
emotional reactivity and regulation of negative self-beliefs among
adults with social anxiety disorder (Goldin & Gross, 2010). Par-
ticipants completed two attention tasks before and after participat-
ing in an 8-week MBSR training. In prepost tests, participants
displayed lower levels of negative emotion, decreased amygdala
activity, and increased levels of activity in areas of the brain
associated with attentional deployment.
The question of how mindfulness affects interpersonal behavior
has been pursued recently by scholars who have addressed con-
cepts such as mindful relating (Wachs & Cordova, 2007), mindful
responding in couples (Block-Lerner, Adair, Plumb, Rhatigan, &
Orsillo, 2007), and mindfulness-based relationship enhancement
(MBRE) (Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2006). Evidence indi-
cates that trait mindfulness predicts relationship satisfaction, abil-
ity to respond constructively to relationship stress, skill in identi-
fying and communicating emotions to one’s partner, amount of
relationship conflict, negativity, and empathy (Barnes, Brown,
Krusemark, Campbell, & Rogge, 2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
Barnes et al. found that people with higher trait mindfulness
reported less emotional stress in response to relationship conflict
and entered conflict discussion with less anger and anxiety. Evi-
dence shows that mindfulness is inversely correlated with distress
contagion and directly correlated with the ability to act with
awareness in social situations (Dekeyser, Raes, Leijssen, Leyson,
& Dewulf, 2008). Thus, empirical evidence suggests that mind-
fulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of rela-
tionship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007), is positively associated with
the ability to express oneself in various social situations (Dekeyser
el al., 2008), and predicts relationship satisfaction (Barnes et al.,
2007; Wachs & Cordova, 2007). Given that the therapeutic rela-
tionship is emotionally intimate, potentially conflictual, and inher-
ently interpersonal, therapists’ trait mindfulness may aid their
ability to cultivate and sustain successful relationships with clients.
Other Intrapersonal Benefits
In addition to the affective and interpersonal benefits identified
above, mindfulness has been shown to enhance functions associ-
ated with the middle prefrontal lobe area of the brain, such as
self-insight, morality, intuition, and fear modulation (Siegel,
2007b, 2009). There is also evidence that mindfulness meditation
has numerous health benefits including increased immune func-
tioning (Davidson et al., 2003; see Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt,
& Walach, 2004 for a review of physical health benefits). Mind-
fulness meditation has been shown to improve well-being (Car-
mody & Baer, 2008) and reduce psychological distress (Coffey &
Hartman, 2008; Ostafin et al., 2006).
Neuroplasticity—the rewiring that occurs in the brain as a
result of experience—now explains how regular mindfulness
meditation practice alters the brain’s physical structure and
functioning (Davidson et al., 2003; Lazar et al., 2005; Siegel,
2007a; Vestergaard-Poulsen et al., 2009). Changes in the structure
of the brain include thicker brain regions associated with attention,
sensory processing and sensitivity to internal stimuli (Lazar et al.,
2005), distinct gray matter concentrations (Hölzel et al., 2008), and
thicker brain stems, which may account for positive cognitive,
emotional and immunoreactive benefits (Vestergaard-Poulsen et
al., 2009). Research suggests that states experienced during mind-
fulness meditation eventually can become effortless traits over
time (Farb et al., 2007; Siegel, 2007a). Thus, the longer therapists
practice mindfulness meditation, the more they may benefit from
Other benefits of mindfulness meditation practice include in-
creased information processing speed (Moore & Malinowski,
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS?
2009), decreased task effort (Lutz et al., 2009), and having fewer
thoughts that are unrelated to the task at hand (Lutz et al., 2009).
In particular, Lutz et al.’s research implies that due to increased
attentional skills and increased ability to manage distractions,
therapists who practice mindfulness meditation may have an in-
creased ability to be present to their clients.
Effects of Meditation on Therapists and
Whereas the literature on the benefits of applying mindfulness
approaches to psychotherapy clients is vast (see Didonna, 2009
and Baer, 2006 for reviews), research on the effects of mindfulness
on psychotherapists is gradually emerging. This body of literature
will be reviewed and synthesized below. Practical examples of
mindfulness-based interventions for therapists and therapist train-
ees in practice are shown in Table 2.
Mindfulness meditation consistently has been theorized to pro-
mote empathy (Anderson, 2005; Fulton, 2005; Martin, 1997; Mor-
gan & Morgan, 2005; Shapiro & Izett, 2008; Walsh & Shapiro,
2006), and research utilizing a variety of methods is now accumu-
lating in support of this premise. In a within-subjects study on
meditation and empathy, counselors in training demonstrated in-
creased empathy after participating in a 4-week Zen meditation
training (Lesh, 1970). In a between-groups experiment, premedical
and medical students who participated in an 8-week MBSR train-
ing had significantly higher self-reported empathy than a control
group (Shapiro, Schwartz, & Bonner, 1998). A qualitative study
(Aiken, 2006) of therapists who were experienced meditators
found that they believed that mindfulness meditation helped de-
velop empathy toward clients. In particular, interviews were con-
ducted with six psychotherapists who each had more than 10 years
of experience practicing both therapy and mindfulness meditation.
Consistent themes from the data indicated that mindfulness helps
therapists: develop their ability to experience and communicate a
felt sense of clients’ inner experiences; be more present to clients’
suffering; and help clients express their body sensations and feel-
ings. Finally, along similar lines, Wang (2007) used a passive
design and found that therapists who were experienced mindful-
ness meditators scored higher on measures of self-reported empa-
thy than therapists who did not meditate.
In addition to empathy, a second therapist characteristic that
seems to derive from meditation is compassion. For example,
MBSR training has been found to enhance self-compassion in
health care professionals (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova,
2005) and therapist trainees (Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel, 2007).
Kingsbury (2009) investigated the role of self-compassion in re-
lation to mindfulness. Two components of mindfulness, nonjudg-
ing and nonreacting, were strongly correlated with self-
compassion, and two dimensions of empathy, taking on others
perspectives (i.e., perspective taking) and reacting to others’ af-
fective experiences with discomfort. Self-compassion fully medi-
ated the relationship between perspective taking and mindfulness.
Empirical literature now demonstrates that including mindful-
ness interventions in psychotherapy training may contribute to the
Examples of Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Trainees and Therapists
Benefits Practical mindfulness-based interventions for trainees’ and therapists’ mindfulness
Empathy In trainee dyads in “therapist” & “client” roles:
Have therapists track their internal responses to
client, and what makes them feel more and less
empathetic towards client.
In dyads, pause after each person speaks and consciously relax.
While pausing, with acceptance and curiosity ask yourself:
What is happening now? What am I feeling now? What
might this person be experiencing?
Compassion Visualize an image, color, or memory that elicits
feeling friendly towards yourself. Visualize
sending this feeling towards an image of yourself,
or a challenging client.
Practice sending loving-kindness towards oneself, towards a
loved one, towards a ‘neutral’ client, towards a challenging
client, and towards all beings.
Counseling skills In dyads, sit in silence with eyes open. Pay attention
to your internal experience in the presence of
another person, practicing to bring your attention
back to their breath when it wanders.
In trainee dyads in “therapist” & “client” roles: Have therapists
let go of judgments and the desire to say ‘something’ and
practice fully listening to clients. Have therapists track when
their attention wanders off and practice returning attention to
back to present moment.
Bring your attention to your experience of breathing.
Imagine seeing a client. Pay attention to any
feelings of anxiety and fear. Notice how they shift
from moment to moment, allowing what is to be
In dyads, have each person track their own internal feelings,
thoughts, & sensations as they stand at varying distances
from each other. Practice with an accepting attitude towards
internal reactions with eyes open, with eyes closed, facing
each other, & with their backs facing each other.
Other benefits for
Therapists can practice formal sitting mindfulness
meditation individually or in groups.
In between sessions, take one minute each to: 1) Ask ‘what is
my experience right now?’ 2) Notice the sensation of each in
and out breath 3) Expand your awareness to your whole
body with an attitude of acceptance.
(Adapted from Shapiro & Izett, 2008).
(Adapted from Deep Listening & Authentically Speaking, Surrey, 2005).
(Adapted from Morgan & Morgan,
(From author’s (Davis) mindfulness training at Naropa University).
(Adapted from Brach, 2003).
(Adapted from 3-minute Breathing
Space from MBCT, Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002).
202 DAVIS AND HAYES
development of skills that impact trainees’ effectiveness as thera-
pists. In a 4-year qualitative study, counseling students reported
considerable positive effects on their counseling skills and thera-
peutic relationships, including being more attentive to the therapy
process, more comfortable with silence, and more attuned with
oneself and clients, after taking a 15-week course that included
mindfulness meditation (Newsome, Christopher, Dahlen, & Chris-
topher, 2006; Schure, Christopher, & Christopher, 2008). Coun-
selors in training who have participated in similar mindfulness-
based interventions have reported significant increases in self-
awareness, insights about their professional identity (Birnbaum,
2008), and overall wellness (Rybak & Russell-Chapin, 1998).
Decreased Stress and Anxiety
Research has found that premedical and medical students report
less anxiety and depression symptoms after an 8-week MBSR
training compared to a waiting list control group (Shapiro et al.,
1998). The control group evidenced similar gains after exposure to
MBSR training. Similarly, following MBSR training, therapist
trainees have reported decreased stress, rumination, and negative
affect (Shapiro et al., 2007). In addition, when compared with a
control group, MBSR has been shown to decrease total mood
disturbance, including stress, anxiety and fatigue in medical stu-
dents (Rosenzweig, Reibel, Greeson, Brainard, & Hojat, 2003).
Using qualitative and quantitative measures, nursing students re-
ported better quality of life and a significant decrease in negative
psychological symptoms following exposure to MBSR (Bruce,
Young, Turner, Vander Wal, & Linden, 2002). Recent evidence
from a study of counselor trainees exposed to interpersonal mind-
fulness training suggests that such interventions can foster emo-
tional intelligence and social connectedness, and reduce stress and
anxiety (Cohen & Miller, 2009). Similarly, in a study of Chinese
college students, those students who were randomly assigned to
participate in a mindfulness meditation intervention had lower depres-
sion and anxiety, as well as less fatigue, anger, and stress-related
cortisol compared to a control group (Tang et al., 2007). These same
students evidenced greater attention, self-regulation, and immunore-
activity. Waelde et al. (2008) assessed changes in symptoms of
depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder among New
Orleans mental health workers following an 8-week meditation inter-
vention that began 10 weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Although
changes in depression symptoms were not found, PTSD and anxiety
symptoms significantly decreased after the 8-week intervention. Find-
ings suggest that meditation may serve a buffering role for mental
health workers in the wake of a disaster.
Other Benefits of Mindfulness for Therapists
To date, one study has investigated the relationship between
mindfulness and counseling self-efficacy. Greason and Cashwell
(2009) found that counseling self-efficacy was significantly pre-
dicted by self-reported mindfulness among masters-level interns
and doctoral counseling students. In that study, attention mediated
the relationship between mindfulness and self-efficacy, suggesting
that mindfulness may contribute to the development of beneficial
attentional processes that aid psychotherapists in training (Greason
& Cashwell, 2009). Dreifuss (1990) interviewed six therapists who
practiced one of three mindfulness meditation styles (Vipassana,
Zen, and Vajrayana) for more than five years to examine the
influence of their meditation practice on their work as therapists.
Findings suggested that long-term mindfulness meditation practice
can positively impact therapists’ ability to distinguish their own
experience from their clients’ experience, can enrich therapists’
clarity in their work with clients, and may help develop therapists’
self-insight. Other potential benefits of mindfulness include in-
creased patience, intentionality, gratitude, and body awareness
(Rothaupt & Morgan, 2007).
Client Outcomes of Therapists Who Meditate
While the research reviewed above points rather clearly to the
conclusion that mindfulness meditation offers numerous benefits to
therapists and trainees, do these benefits translate to psychotherapy
treatment outcomes? To date, only one study provides evidence. In a
study conducted in Germany, randomly assigned counselor trainees
who practiced Zen meditation for nine weeks reported higher self-
awareness compared to nonmeditating counselor trainees (Grepmair
et al., 2007). What is more important is that after 9 weeks of treat-
ment, clients of trainees who meditated displayed greater reductions
in overall symptoms, faster rates of change, scored higher on mea-
sures of well-being, and perceived their treatment to be more effective
than clients of nonmeditating trainees.
Despite these promising results, three other studies suggest that
the relationship between counselor trainees’ mindfulness and cli-
ent outcomes is not so encouraging. Stanley et al. (2006) studied
the relationship between trait mindfulness among 23 doctoral-level
clinical psychology trainees in relation to treatment outcomes of
144 adult clients in a university community clinic that used manu-
alized, empirically supported treatments. Contrary to expectation,
therapist mindfulness was inversely correlated with client out-
come. This is consistent with other findings that suggest an inverse
relationship exists between therapists’ mindfulness and client out-
comes (Bruce, 2006; Vinca & Hayes, 2007). Still other research
suggests that no relationship exists between therapist mindfulness
and therapy outcome (Stratton, 2006).
One of the difficulties with this small body of research pertains
to the accuracy of therapist self-reported mindfulness. It could be
that more mindful people are likely to score lower on a self-report
measure of mindfulness because they are aware of the degree to
which they are mindless. Conversely, people who are less mindful
may not realize it and therefore may be inclined to rate themselves
higher on such measures. Also, it is noteworthy that in the one
study with positive findings regarding outcome (Grepmair et al.,
2007), participants engaged in the practice of meditation rather
than simply reporting their mindfulness. In the studies with neg-
ative or null findings, there was no indication if participants had
ever engaged in actual meditation. Thus, it may be that meditation
is a better predictor of outcome than self-reported mindfulness (see
Grossman, 2008 for a comprehensive summary of limitations to
Empirically Supported Relationships
Many scholars have proposed that the development of skills and
qualities in therapists who practice mindfulness meditation will
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS?
strengthen the therapeutic relationship (Germer et al., 2005; Hick
& Bien, 2008; Shapiro & Carlson, 2009). Future research could
profitably address how therapists’ mindfulness contributes to crit-
ical relationship factors such as the formation and sustenance of
the working alliance, countertransference management, and the
provision of unconditional regard with difficult clients (Norcross,
2002). For example, one study (Wexler, 2006) found that both
client and therapist perceptions of the working alliance were
positively related to therapist self-reported mindfulness. In another
study, however, the relationship between mindfulness and working
alliance was not significant (Bruce, 2006). Again, it could be that
meditation practice is a better predictor of the working alliance
than self-reported mindfulness, although this awaits further study.
With regard to countertransference management, it is plausible
that the nonreactivity and cognitive flexibility fostered by mind-
fulness should help therapists respond more freely and less defen-
sively to their clients (Gelso & Hayes, 2007). To date, one study
has investigated mindfulness and countertransference. Kholooci
(2008) examined the relationship between self-reported mindful-
ness and therapists’ awareness of countertransference. Kholooci
found a significant inverse relationship between mindfulness and
countertransference awareness such that the more mindful thera-
pists perceived themselves to be, the less aware they were of their
In conclusion, while the psychological and physical health ben-
efits of mindfulness meditation are strongly supported by research,
the ways in which therapists’ mindfulness meditation practice and
therapists’ mindfulness translate to measureable outcomes in psy-
chotherapy remain unclear. Future research is needed to examine
the relations between therapists’ mindfulness, therapists’ regular
mindfulness meditation practice, and common factors known to
contribute to successful treatment outcome. Doing so will foster
understanding of how mindfulness meditation may enhance com-
munication and relationship building skills within the context of
Practice and Clinical Supervision
Germer et al. (2005) proposed that mindfulness can be inte-
grated into psychotherapy through three means: therapist mindful-
ness (therapists’ own practice of meditation to be more “mindful”
and present with clients), mindfulness-informed psychotherapy
(i.e., applying Buddhist psychology and mindfulness theory to
clinical work), and mindfulness-based psychotherapy (teaching
clients skills through the application of mindfulness practices).
Davis (2010) has proposed that mindfulness meditation also would
benefit clinical supervision by enhancing supervisors’ presence to
their supervisees and enabling them to be less reactive to super-
visees’ anxiety. Table 3 expands on Germer et al. (2005) and Davis
(2010) and provides practical examples and means of integrating
mindfulness into psychotherapy.
The old adage that people can guide another on a path only as
far as they themselves have ventured also applies to therapists
integrating mindfulness into psychotherapy and into clinical su-
pervision (Davis, 2010). Introducing mindfulness approaches into
psychotherapy necessitates engaging in a mindful practice our-
selves as psychotherapists (Hick, 2008). It has been recently pro-
posed that therapists who introduce mindfulness interventions with
clients may find it helpful to explain mindfulness in terms of
attention, avoiding jargon that may have unintended negative
effects on clients (Carmody, 2009).
Mindfulness as a metacognitive skill has been proposed as a
necessary component of psychotherapy training (Bruce, Manber,
Shapiro, & Constantino, 2010; Fauth, Gates, Vinca, Boles, &
Hayes, 2007; Vinca, 2009). As research on therapists’ mindfulness
continues to emerge, should therapists’ mindfulness demonstrate a
meaningful relationship with measurable outcomes in the thera-
peutic relationship and treatment outcomes, psychotherapy train-
Examples of Ways to Integrate Mindfulness in the Field of Psychotherapy
Ways mindfulness can be integrated
into psychotherapy Professional avenues for integration Practical examples
Therapist mindfulness ●Therapists’ personal meditation practice “While others are speaking, practice letting go
of your own thoughts, judgments, and
analyzing, and return to listening
receptively. Let your listening be
wholehearted and attentive....speak
slowly enough to stay connected to your
body and heart.”
●Therapists’ clinical work
Mindfulness-informed psychotherapy ●Therapists’ clinical work Apply the Buddhist principal of equanimity to
a client issue, such as: “What happens
when you let that need be there?”
Mindfulness-based psychotherapy ●Therapists’ clinical work Guide clients to: Close your eyes and with
curiosity and non-judgment, allow whatever
emerges in your awareness to be there,
letting it come and go. Mentally label your
experience, such as feeling, smelling,
thinking, etc. as you sit for few minutes.
●Mindfulness-based group therapy
(Deep Listening & Authentically Speaking, Surrey, 2005, p. 110).
(Adapted from Welwood, 2002, p. 190).
(Adapted from Mindfulness, Morgan
& Morgan, 2005).
204 DAVIS AND HAYES
ing could include mindfulness training. Given the push toward
outcome-based education, training and credentialing as measured
by training benchmarks and the acquisition of competencies
(Kaslow et al., 2002), perhaps mindfulness could be measured in
training programs as a necessary specific competency. Research
support is needed to influence policy changes and changes in
psychotherapy training program requirements. Given that mind-
fulness meditation is a means to develop mindfulness, both coun-
selor education and continuing education programs could benefi-
cially offer mindfulness meditation training.
Important Next Steps in Research
Future research holds tremendous potential for uncovering more
about the neurophysiological processes of meditation and the
benefits of long-term practice on the brain. Research on neuro-
plasticity may help explain the relationship among length and
quality of meditation practice, developmental stages of meditators,
and psychotherapy outcomes. More research is needed to better
understand how the benefits of meditation practice accumulate
In addition, other means of increasing mindfulness, in addition
to meditation, need to be explored. Given that current research
does not indicate that therapists’ self-reported mindfulness en-
hances client outcomes, better measures of mindfulness may need
to be developed or different research designs that do not rely on
self-report measures need to be used. Garland and Gaylord (2009)
have proposed that the next generation of mindfulness research
encompass four domains: 1) performance-based measures of
mindfulness as opposed to self-reports of mindfulness, 2) scientific
evaluation of notions espoused by Buddhist traditions, 3) neuro-
imaging technology to verify self-report data, and 4) changes in
gene expression as a result of mindfulness. Research along any one
or a combination of these lines is likely to enhance our under-
standing of mindfulness and its potential benefits to psychother-
Given the empirical support for the benefits of mindfulness
reviewed in this paper, research is needed on effective and prac-
tical means of teaching therapists mindfulness practices. While
formal training is required to teach MBSR, theoretical literature
focused on using a mindfulness-based curriculum and teaching
mindfulness practices is beginning to emerge (e.g., McCown,
Reibel, & Micozzi, 2010). Future research could include investi-
gating realistic ways mindfulness practices and/or formal mindful-
ness meditation could be integrated into trainees’ practicum and
clinical supervision. Given that MBSR is a structured format that
has been successfully used with therapist trainees (e.g., Shapiro et
al., 2007), MBSR may be a simple way for therapists, regardless of
theoretical orientation, to integrate mindfulness practices into
trainees’ practicum class or group supervision. Future research
questions could include: Does therapists’ practice of mindfulness
meditation in clinical supervision with their supervisees affect the
supervisory alliance, or relational skills of supervisees? Does prac-
ticing formal mindfulness meditation as a group in practicum or
internship aid in group cohesion, self-care, relational skills, or
measurable common factors that contribute to successful psycho-
therapy? Given the limited research thus far on empathy, compas-
sion, decreased stress and reactivity, more research is needed on
how mindfulness meditation practice affects these constructs and
measurable counseling skills in both trainees and therapists. For
example, how does mindfulness meditation practice effect empa-
thy and compassion for midcareer or late-career therapists who are
already seasoned veterans?
Shapiro and Carlson (2009) have suggested that mindfulness
meditation can also serve as a means of self-care to help combat
burnout rates. Future research on not only how therapists’ practice
of mindfulness meditation helps facilitate trainee development and
affects psychotherapy is needed, but the ways in which therapists’
own practice of mindfulness meditation can help with burnout
rates and other detrimental outcomes of work-related stress.
In addition, despite abundant theoretical work on ways to con-
ceptually merge Buddhist and Western psychology to psychother-
apy (e.g., Epstein, 2007, 1995), there is a lack of literature on what
it looks like in session when a therapist employs Buddhist-oriented
approaches (i.e., mindfulness-informed psychotherapy as termed
by Germer, 2005) to specific clinical issues and diagnoses. Given
the numerous and rich clinical applications of mindfulness-based
approaches to specific clinical issues, more literature is needed on
the ways mindfulness-informed psychotherapy differs from
mindfulness-based psychotherapy in session with clients.
In conclusion, the momentum within research on mindfulness
holds promise for a potential transformation in ways to facilitate
trainee and therapists’ development, and means to affect change
mechanisms known to contribute to successful psychotherapy. The
field of psychotherapy could benefit from future research exam-
ining cause and effect relationships and/or mediational models to
better understand the seemingly fruitful benefits of mindfulness
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Received April 19, 2010
Revision received June 7, 2010
Accepted June 8, 2010 䡲
208 DAVIS AND HAYES