“Becoming who you are”: the experience of mindfulness in UK therapists and Greek counselling trainees

Koliris, Maria Ersi (2012) “Becoming who you are”: the experience of mindfulness in UK therapists and Greek counselling trainees. Other thesis, Middlesex University and Metanoia Institute.


This doctoral document has its roots in my experience of working as a trainer in counselling programmes in Greece while at the same time exploring mindfulness theory and practice in my personal and professional life. Drawing on these two parallels, I launched an investigation on the experience of mindfulness in therapists and trainees. Mindfulness-based interventions have attracted a lot of scientific interest. Yet, little is yet known about how mindfulness is actually experienced by therapists and its meaning for those who practice it (Bruce et al 2010; Davis & Hayes, 2011). The doctoral research sought to explore this “meaning” through two distinct but interlinked projects. Project 1 involves the interpretative-phenomenological inquiry into the experience of mindfulness in seasoned therapist practitioners in the UK. Five practitioners, three clinical psychologists and two psychotherapists were interviewed on their experience of mindfulness practice and its impact on their personal and professional lives. Themes that emerged included facilitating a different way of relating to oneself, wholeness and the importance of the body, spiritual needs, interconnectedness and belonging; they also included difficulties with practice such as experiences of mental health problems and the therapists’ own expectations of practice. There was also a theme around the potential benefits of incorporating mindfulness in therapy training. The findings of Project 1 suggested that mindfulness facilitates mostly personal growth which affects the professional role of the participants regardless of the therapeutic models they use. Based on these findings, Project 2 investigated how mindfulness was experienced by counselling trainees in Greece where the approach remains largely unknown. Project 2 involved 10 trainees who were near completion of their training in integrative counselling and who attended a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). There was a mindful inquiry into their experience by facilitating focus groups interviews (2 groups of 5 members each). The experience of the counselling journey, the intra and inter personal challenges encountered and the impact of an MBSR programme during their training were discussed. In particular, the findings indicate that what the trainees found most useful was the facilitation of a different relationship to themselves which echoes the “mindfulness attitudes” proposed by Kabat-Zinn (2004) and which cultivated a greater sense of “wholeness”. Particular attention is given to the experience of both therapists (Project 1) and trainees (Project 2) that mindfulness can facilitate a greater integration of the personal and professional selves, which is theorized to be vital for sound clinical practice (Mace 2008) and echoes J.Kabat-Zinn’s (2011) invitation “to have there be no separation between one’s practice and one’s life” (p.295). In parallel to Projects 1 and 2 a heuristic inquiry into my own experience of mindfulness is presented, using mindful meditation and drawing as means of exploring the tacit dimension. The results of this exploration vis-à-vis the findings of the two projects are discussed. Finally, drawing on all investigations (Projects 1, 2 and heuristic inquiry) a discussion regarding how mindfulness could be incorporated in integrative counseling training in order to facilitate a more holistic approach to developing a professional identity is presented. At the same time, risk factors and areas needing further exploration and clarification regarding this integration are explored.

DPsych (Prof) Doctorate in Psychotherapy by Professional Studies thesis
MEKoliris_thesis.pdf - Accepted Version

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