Elizabeth Winder interviews Jini Lavelle
[Biodata and picture of Elizabeth Winder will be found by clicking here]
can feel guilty about the past,
apprehensive about the future, but only
in the present can I act. The ability
to be in the present moment is a
major component of mental wellness.'
being present in the moment and being aware of one's physical and mental
experience in the moment, is a core
concept in much eastern philosophy. Meditation techniques have become part of
some western psychotherapy approaches, and their impact is now the subject of
some western medical research, particularly with relation to their impact on
mental health conditions. Nurturing Potential sub-editor Elizabeth Winder
interviews Jini Lavelle, a therapist trained in Mindfulness who runs regular
courses in Mindfulness for Oxfordshire Mind.
First of all, can you describe what Mindfulness is, and how the meditation
techniques have become part of western medical practice?
JL: Mindfulness training develops conscious awareness and
focused attention. This enables us to become more aware of our behaviour and
interaction, and to respond skillfully to events in our lives and to past
patterns of behaviour. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn's definition of Mindfulness
is 'Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present
moment, and non- judgementally". He founded the stress reduction clinic at
the University of Massachusetts Medical Center about 25 years ago. He himself
practiced meditation, and he set up the clinic to treat chronic medical cases
which had exhausted known treatments using the Eastern practice of meditation.
Since then it has been used for all forms of chronic problems including stress,
anxiety, chronic illness, pain, cancer, heart disease and depression.
followed on the programme that had been developed, and the results were very
effective. This is self-help, self-therapy, and people felt they were in
control. The programme expanded to
the general public, into education, business, ethnic minority communities, with
specialised programmes for different groups.
In the States judges have their own programme once a year. People were
really empowered by being able to treat themselves, rather than passively
I believe there are two main types of technique, Mindfulness based stress
reduction, and Mindfulness based cognitive therapy. How do these differ?
JL: Stress is the cause of a great deal of physical
and mental illness. While John Kabat-Zinn was working on physical illness, a
team of clinical psychologists, John Teasdale at Cambridge University, Mark
Williams then at Bangor University, and Zindel Segal at the University of
Toronto investigated the use of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to
prevent relapse in depression. They adapted and incorporated the
programme developed at the
University of Massachussetts into
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), in which there is an emphasis on
specific techniques for depression relapse. While cognitive therapy works with
the automatic thoughts present in depression, MBCT enables a person to stand
back from those thoughts and separate them out from the person, rather than
allowing them to define the person.
How available is Mindfulness training in the UK and elsewhere, for practitioners
and for clients?
JL: Provision of training is very patchy. When John
Kabat-Zinn began his programme, he was an experienced meditator. He could not
find meditating psychologists to help with the training; he had to use
yoga/meditation teachers who had a sufficient grounding in meditation and
bodywork. In the groups that I run, there are people using it for their own
symptoms, and for personal and professional development. The course I run would
enable a professional to add this to their professional repertoire, but they
would need a much deeper grounding in yoga and bodywork to teach Mindfulness.
The three professors I mentioned are themselves meditators. It is something that
has to be taught from one's own experience, rather than an academic perspective.
of the tenets of the programme is that the teacher has to practice the programme
along side the participants.
You've been teaching Mindfulness with Oxfordshire Mind for three years
now. How did this come about?
JL: It came about through my own experience of
clinical depression. Despite years of psychotherapy, and being trained as a
therapist myself, I still experienced chronic depression. Then someone gave me
Kabat-Zinn's book and I began to practise the programme on myself and worked with colleagues on it. As result of becoming mindful I began to handle my depression. I
wanted to set up a programme for the public, because in this country at that
time there were only research programmes being conducted in clinical settings. I
approached Oxfordshire Mind to get this going, and they financed the publicity.
I organised research with the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry, which
is now complete and about to be published.
How do you arrange your courses?
JL: It is an eight week programme of weekly two and a
half hour sessions, one full day session, and approximately an hour's practical
homework per day by the participants.
What sort of people come on your courses, and what are they expecting to
JL: The groups include members of the public who self-refer
or are referred by their GPs or psychiatrists, and mental health professionals
who want to use Mindfulness in their work. Often people are looking to
professionals for a cure, and then discover they can participate in their own
health and wellbeing. They won't get a cure, but they may change their way of
life to reduce their stress. One common problem is rumination, that people are
running the same thoughts over and over again in their heads, and believing
them. However the thoughts run automatically like a computer programme.
Mindfulness is about seeing thoughts as thoughts not as who you are.
Do their expectations alter during the course?
JL: I don't know what to say! Out of all recognition! They
stop looking for a cure, and become aware they do have choices. They stop being
the victims of their symptoms and start taking responsibility for their lives.
Sometimes this programme is called the art of conscious living. Thick Nat Hanh,
the Vietnamese Zen Master and poet describes mindfulness as “keeping one’s
conscious alive to the present reality”.
How do you adjust your
teaching for people with mental
health conditions or short concentration spans?
JL: I did some pioneering work with people with
long-term schizophrenia who had lived in institutions. They loved it! It can be
used, and it can be adapted. We did it for two hours a week, and now at the same
project they offer mindfulness daily for 45 minutes, and continue to send
project workers to me to be trained.
to concentrate in a particular way is central to the training. One of the first
exercises with a new group is to concentrate on the five toes of the left foot
for half a minute. Most people are unable to do that without falling asleep or
their thoughts drifting off, which means they can't be present in the moment.
Being able to feel sensation in the body is essential to being able to be in the
present moment; to be able to feel and “follow” the breath with focus
enables the meditator to stop rumination and anticipation [fear and
anxiety of the future].
Are you able to assess the impact these techniques have on people with
longstanding mental health problems?
JL: Yes . We have excellent results from our research and constant positive feedback from our participants. I know that people will not go away unchanged. Participants become aware of their thoughts and feelings and what stresses them, and are able to bring themselves out of automatic pilot into the moment and respond to a situation rather than react out of old patterns. They discover a deeper appreciation of life.
Williams, & Teasdale. Mindfulness-based
Cognitive Therapy for Depression. A new approach to preventing relapse. New
York: Guildford Press, 2001.
Kabat-Zinn. Full Catastrophe
Living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and
illness. New York: Delta, 1990.
Jini Lavelle is a Transpersonal psychologist and psychotherapist. She also works
for Allies Advocacy, a service providing advocacy to patients
on the psychiatric wards in Oxfordshire. She runs programmes of
mindfulness for personal and professional development throughout the year and
can be contacted at Oxfordshire Mindfulness on 01865 370132 or jinilavelle @
Elizabeth Winder. While training as an integrative psychotherapist, Elizabeth helped to set up a user-led mental health day service and provided counselling within prison as a Probation Service volunteer. She now runs an independent service providing advocacy to psychiatric in-patients. Email: email@example.com