The ODA community was privileged to have Sarah Francis, registered Psychologist and Director of the Melbourne Mindfulness Institute, to facilitate our April event, ‘Mindfulness, Pros and Cons.’ Sarah is extensively trained and experienced in mindfulness theory and practice with over twenty years’ experience. She has conducted many Mindfulness integrated Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (MiCBT) programs as part of individual therapy for people struggling with depression, anxiety and stress and other mental health conditions.
Mindfulness is about more than meditating; it’s about increasing your sense of internal awareness and developing your capacity to sit with the full spectrum of emotions, such as anger, sadness, jealousy, anxiety, vulnerability, or loneliness in order to be less reactive so that we can make better choices each day.
To provide a holistic understanding of the concept and practice of Mindfulness, Sarah took the group back to the early teachings of Buddha. Within Eastern spiritual traditions, mindfulness was originally one component of the Eightfold Path to enlightenment in Buddhism. Mindfulness was initially intended to form part of a whole; as such it was to be considered as only one of the eight practice elements. Sarah highlighted that modern Western adaptions of Mindfulness currently apply the practice in isolation; consequently, it is beneficial for us to be aware that our applications of Mindfulness practices may not be entirely reflective of the original intentions or outcomes.
Questions were raised – do we really understand what mindfulness is and how to appropriately apply the practice in an organisational setting? Mindfulness programs have become increasingly popular with employees, often promising Mindfulness programs that will rejuvenate individuals and organisations, reduce stress, create strong leaders, transform organisational dynamics and bottom-line increase productivity. You can find a plethora of Mindfulness apps, online courses, books and articles.
Studies have even cited neurological changes associated with Mindfulness practices, as demonstrated in Buddhist monks who have experienced a decrease in their amygdala size and activation levels. Though there is a body of research supporting the professional and personal benefits of practicing Mindfulness, to ensure programs are fit for purpose we also need to be aware of the potential adverse effects.
To demonstrate the potential adverse effects, Sarah shared with the group an anecdotal experience whereby during a guided Mindfulness session, a participant of the group began to uncontrollably experience streams of tears running down their face. The participant reported they experienced these adverse effects as the session had resurfaced memories of a repressed traumatic event. Sarah’s example provoked discussion and consideration amongst the group, questions of the efficacy and implementation methods were raised when conducting Mindfulness programs within organisations, both from the perspective of potential program influencers and participants. After robust discussion, the general consensus of the group was that we need to be ‘mindful’ that connecting with one’s internal awareness may not always be positive. Mindfulness programs require participants to sit with what’s within themselves and this can be very challenging and confrontational for an individual.
Key questions and learnings from the session:
- When implementing organisational Mindfulness programs, consider what is the purpose and expected outcomes.
- Who is the program designed for? i.e., employees or the organisation? Is the Mindfulness programs fit for purpose for the organisation?
- Is the current work environment conducive in supporting employees to embed Mindfulness practices, tools and techniques into their organisational context?
- Have employees provided informed consent to participate in a Mindfulness program?
- Consider the contrast between organisational and clinical environments, as the majority of research currently resides within clinical settings. Clinical settings allow for controlled environments and readily available clinicians on standby to treat adverse effects.
- Do program facilitators and supervisors have adequate training to address situations which could arise from adverse effects?
- What is the organisational duty of care during and after the program?
Thank you to everyone who participated in the thought-provoking discussions and guided mindfulness exercises.
We hope to see you next session.