What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research


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 mndfulness and evidence-based
interpersonal, affective, and intrapersonal benefits of mindfulness are presented. Research on therapists
who meditate and client outcomes oftherapists 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 centralrole of mindfulness in dialecti-
cal behaviortherapy, as well as acceptance and commitment
therapy, mindfulness has moved from a largely obscure Buddhist
conceptto a mainstream psychotherapy construct. Advocates of
mindfulness would have us believe that virtually every client, and
theirtherapists, would benefitfrom being mindful.In fact, mind-
fulness has been proposed as a common factorin 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), emotionalintelligence
(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 aboutthe
benefits of mindfulness? The purpose ofthis paperis to provide
psychotherapists with information aboutthe empirically supported
advantages of mindfulness, contextualized by effect sizes ofthese
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,reseiirch, and train-
ing. We begin by exploring the meaning ofthe term “mindful-
Definitions: Ancient and Modern
The term “mindfulness” has been used to referto a psycholog-
ical state of awareness, a practice that promotes this awareness, a
mode of processing information, and a characterologicaltrait
(Brown et al., 2007; Germer, Siege], & 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 psychologicalfreedom that occurs
when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachmentto
any particular point of view” (Martin,1997. p. 291.italics included
in originaltext). Forthe purposes ofthe present paper, and forthe
sake of consistency with most ofthe research thatis reviewed
subsequently, mindfulness is defined as a moment-to-moment
awareness of one’s experience withoutjudgment.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 equivalentto or synonymous with them. When slightly
different definitions of mindfulness are used in the literature thatis
reviewed,these shall be noted.
Mindfulness has similarities to other psychotherapy-related con-
structs. For example, mindfulness is similarto mentalization
(Bateman & Fonagy, 2004. 2006; Fonagy & Bateman, 2008),the
developmental process of understanding one’s own and others’
behaviorin terms ofindividuals’thoughts,feelings, and desires.
Both constructs emphasize the temporary, subjective, and fluid
nature of mental states and both are thoughtto 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