WFU Department of Counseling: Mindfulness in Counseling with Dr. Tammy Cashwell – Ep. 5

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Audio Transcription:

Bob Nations: Welcome to Wake Forest University’s department of counseling podcast. I’m Dr. Bob Nations, a faculty member in the department of counseling and we’ve got special guests with us today and we have –

Shannon Warden: I’m Dr. Shannon Warden, also a faculty member in the department of counseling.

Tammy Cashwell: And I’m Dr. Tammy Cashwell, also a faculty member in the department of counseling.

Shannon Warden: All right Bob, what are we talking about this time?

Bob Nations: We’re talking about mindfulness. That seems to be an area of interest in research right now in counseling. And I know a lot of our professors have an interest in that and I know certainly Tammy does and so she’s gonna talk about that with us today.

Shannon Warden: I’m excited about it. I’ve been – over time practicing mindfulness in my own ways, but I feel like knowing the two of ya’ll, ya’ll have helped me increase my understanding of mindfulness and practice of mindfulness, including in the classroom. I think ya’ll have been instrumental in helping me with that.

Tammy Cashwell: The same to both of ya’ll. For me, I was lucky enough a few years ago to take an eight-week course on mindfulness and so I got to learn a lot of different techniques and ways to do it. And then working with Shannon, she taught me a lot more and introduced me to some things. And Shannon and I, a few years back, decided we wanted to try to introduce mindfulness into what we were doing in the classroom and make it an integral part because we felt like not only would it help students in the classroom, but hopefully it would carry over into who they are as people, as well as who they are as counselors, because what do we tell our students all the time? You, as a person, are your greatest tool in counseling. The other thing that we talk about and I feel like that old lady on the lawn, you kids get off my lawn –

Shannon Warden: You’re not that old.

Tammy Cashwell: Bless you. The other thing that I see, especially with – I have a teenage daughter and I see this with her generation, with college students, we are blessed to have so much technology, but I feel that it distracts us away from sitting with ourselves or really noticing what’s happening in that moment that one of the ways that people have found to, unfortunately, to sooth themselves is to escape into something. And so they miss what’s happening in the moment, in the now. And what we do as counselors is sometimes we have to help that person sit in the pain that they’re in. And if we’re not able to do that, to be fully present in the now, it’s gonna be very difficult for us to be fully present with that person that is sitting across from us that is struggling in that moment.

Shannon Warden: Tammy, I don’t mean to interrupt you, you’re alluding to the definition of mindfulness. Let’s talk about that just a minute or two here. You mentioned the word presence, you mentioned the word distraction, which would be to say to not be distracted. Let’s talk a little bit about the definition between the three of us here. Tammy, what would be your basic definition of mindfulness?

Tammy Cashwell: To, like you said, be fully present. To be aware of what is happening right now. To sense what is happening not only outside of yourself, but within yourself.

Shannon Warden: Bob you wanna add to that?

Bob Nations: I think that captures it well because I was thinking about mindfulness and the various uses of that, but particularly where we are with the department of counseling, working with the students, to look at how they can be present with themselves in such a way and present with clients and that’s as Tammy described it so well, I think that’s what mindfulness is about. There are mindfulness practices that I know the students when we do that, but I want to say I’ve incorporated this or I continue to do this and this has really been a benefit. So, even what I’ve enjoyed about mindfulness is that the students have learned from that or even added to it what they’ve brought from their own practices as well.

So, some of ‘em are learning about it, some of ‘em are bringing that in there. So, to define that, it really is being present to yourself, being aware of what’s keeping you from being present with the others. Being able to calm yourself. Being able to emotionally regulate yourself to be present. I think Tammy described that well. And so that’s what I think about mindfulness in the context of teaching with our students.

Shannon Warden: So, we’re talking about mindfulness on levels then, we’re talking about our practice of mindfulness as individuals, as counselor educators, as counselors. That’s just us on a personal level. We’re talking about mindfulness in a classroom and how we model that and allow opportunity for mindfulness in the classroom. We’re also talking about mindfulness with our students who are then going to, as individuals and as counselors in the community practice mindfulness, again as a person, but also with their clients.

I have worked, just in the last couple of weeks with a client who is anxious and she and I have – it’s probably been a month that we’ve been working together, but just over the last couple of weeks we’ve moved more into mindfulness and just in trying to steal some of that anxiety that she’s experiencing. And sometimes folks are thinking what is the step one, two and three to resolve this problem that I’m experiencing? They don’t always expect mindfulness as an intervention and yet isn’t that the most important starting place that sense of presence? That calming of myself internally? And so I’ve enjoyed that. That’s just a recent, I’m thinking about that.

But I know too, Tammy you and I have worked on – and Bob as well, we’ve all worked with contemplative pedagogy through Wake Forest. Wake Forest University is not only a wonderful place for students, it’s a wonderful place for faculty. One of the programs that some of us have participated in there is the contemplative pedagogy program. And so that is further bolstering our understanding of mindfulness and then using it in our curriculum. And so, ya’ll talk a little bit about that. Some of the ways we’ve used mindfulness with students in the classroom.
Tammy Cashwell: It really helps, I think, we not only want to teach the students and learn from them, definitely. I learn so much from students, but we want to model for them. So, one of the things that I’ve seen is I typically teach the lifespan developmental course. And it’s during their first semester of graduate school. So, we talk about the importance of validation and as counselors validating what a person is going through.

So, part of the mindfulness piece in that class is validating that they’re anxious, that they have a lot going on. So, before each class we do – and we try to have a variety of things, but we start off very simply. Before we start the class, we’ll do a mindfulness exercise, so that they can be fully present in the class. So, it’s like a baby step kind of thing. A validate how you’re feeling. I know you’re probably thinking what do I have to do next or what’s gonna – I got a test coming up or now I’ve gotta write this paper. And we call it the monkey mind, your mind is just spinning.

So, let’s center, let’s breath. That’s where we start. It starts with the breath and it sounds very simple. I don’t think people breath very deeply these days. And it helps students recognize that when you’re tense, when you’re upset, when your anxious, you hold your breath. So, teaching them how to breath and teaching them to be conscious of the breath. It just takes a couple of minutes. We do a little deep breathing, a little centering. Sometimes, I’ll talk them through a short meditation. We’ve used candles, we’ve used music, chimes. There are so many different variations of mindfulness, so it’s a two-fold process. Introducing the student to the concept of mindfulness, validating what they’re going through. And then giving them concrete examples of things that they can transfer and use in their everyday life. And then it becomes a habit. They come in and they get ready. Okay, we’re gonna breath and center for a little bit and we’re gonna dive in.

Shannon Warden: That’s important too for students who are deeply – we all know that feeling, are deeply enmeshed or embedded in that graduate level training or worried about performance and grades and income practicum and internship and how am I gonna fit that into this graduate training program. So, it can be such that mindfulness is the last thing on their minds when, in fact, what we’re saying is it should be the first thing on your mind.

Tammy Cashwell: Yeah, yeah.

Shannon Warden: Bob, how ‘bout you? Are there some other practices or variations of mindfulness that you can think of that you use or have used with students?

Bob Nations: Primarily, it’s getting centered. I always think of is some way, just being ready for class, being ready to not be affected by all the stress and attention. And so, that’s one of the things that I keep thinking about they come in, like I said, very stressed out, very busy, wanting to perform and just say okay be aware now. Let’s do the breathing, we do different exercises at times to be aware of what kind of feelings are emerging. And sometimes talk about what that’s coming from, how are you aware of that being present. How is that keeping you from being present in class? So, that’s some of the things I do.

I’ve been working some with couples in counseling and using practices with couples and there’s not much research right now that I’m finding out about that, but I’m finding there’s some benefit in couples being present with each other. And so, that’s one thing that I see not only – and I talk to the students about that, that are doing some work with couples or with families about how they can incorporate that into a practice that keeps the ___________ there. And so the folks who come in for counseling, I will have them say, okay let’s settle down, take some deep breaths, take a few moments. And we’ll do a brief practice and they’ll be present for counseling in ways that they were before. So, I’ve been finding that’s something effective. And it’s the same thing with students. I’ll do the practice same with teaching.

Shannon Warden: I could imagine that helps de-escalate some of the tension that they come into the session with, we’re here to do marriage counseling or couples counseling.

Bob Nations: Exactly.

Shannon Warden: Sometimes, it feels like we’re ready for war.

Bob Nations: That’s right.

Shannon Warden: So they come in and center. Sounds like a great starting place.

Bob Nations: If they’re ready for this. Sometimes they come in at war and so –

Shannon Warden: We have to defuse and then go mindful. I hear ya.

Bob Nations: Yeah.

Shannon Warden: Well, some folks might be wondering as they’re listening to this, well it’s so great, ya’ll are doing this with your campus students, how do you do this with online students? We are very excited about now for some years we’ve been offering an MA online counseling program. We offer a master’s in clinical mental health counseling and a master’s in school counseling, both online. If students are wondering how are you gonna do mindfulness there, I can think of a couple of ideas. And I know certainly they’re gonna come for residencies. There’s two residencies that our online students come for. Those residencies are weekend long intensives and often times in different activities we incorporate mindfulness. So, again that is a face to face format online as in some of the assignments for campus students. We build in mindfulness activities so into the assignments, into the discussion board.

I can think of one assignment that I typically do in the assessment class, it’s evidence of contemplation. And so I ask students in that class to examine what they have studied over the course of the semester and to sit with that. And so, that’s not necessarily mindfulness in the way of I have walked or I have breathed and I’ve done these other activities, but it is another variation of mindfulness where I’m going to quiet myself to think specifically about this experience and what this experience has shown me.

So that’s one example, but again, there are multiple examples of where we’re attempting not only as counselor educators, but as counselors ourselves right? Just to live mindfulness, to encourage students around that, to encourage the practice of that so that they can see the benefit with that married couple, with that dating couple with that woman who’s suffering with anxiety. With that student who maybe has ADD and can use mindfulness as a way of quieting his or her chaos that they’re feeling.

In fact, Tammy, that makes me think we were just talking, you and I and maybe Dr. Binkley in the last week or two about a study, you’ll have to remind me of this but it’s an alternative to the tension, do you remember that? Can you tell us a minute about that?

Tammy Cashwell: I don’t remember the name of the school, but when kids would be sent to detention, they would do mindfulness exercises with them. And sometimes yoga, meditation and they found that incidents of behavior that was getting these kids into trouble decreased as they learned more medication, mindfulness, things to calm themselves, because when you think about it, children don’t have much control over anything. So, mindfulness and medication, those types of activities, help to teach them that they do have some control, that they have control over themselves, that they can calm themselves. So, it gives them some power that they wouldn’t necessarily have. It teaches them tools to not only perform better in school, but just in their neighborhoods, in their family situations. So, yeah that’s what the three of us were talking about maybe looking into that and seeing if we could get something like that going.
Shannon Warden: Yeah. So many opportunities to incorporate mindfulness and just one last thought I was having there as you were talking Tammy, even around super vision, in particular, I know for us in practicum, I know for the supervisors with our online practicum and internship courses, many of us are incorporating mindfulness into those courses in particular. Why? Because there’s so much energy, anxiety, that sense of I don’t have control of what’s happening. So many students are experienced, if not all truthfully experienced that level – those types of worries anyway, higher levels of worry. So, to incorporate mindfulness into supervision has been very successful for us too.

So there are a number of ways that students are gonna experience mindfulness in our programs, be it the master’s program on campus or be it in the master’s online program that we have at Wake Forest. Something that we believe in individually and are trying to incorporate in, not only for their own personal wellness, but for the wellness of their future counseling in the wellness of their clients, that they might incorporate mindfulness in with. Is there more we wanna say about that?

Bob Nations: I think just underline that we are really committed to this being an integral part of a student’s education and as you said very well, that’s what we incorporate not only in our practice for ourselves, for our clients. If our students and Wake Forest University is a great supporter of including contemplative mindfulness into the curriculum. That’s exciting to be a part of it.

Shannon Warden: It’s exciting for I think us too. I know we’ve talked about just finding ways to incorporate this into our online programs, those clinical mental health counseling and school counseling programs that are online. Can we do it? We ask those questions early on. How can we take the quality of what we’ve offered historically on campus? How can we take that and transfer that quality into the online format? I’m excited to say. We all worked and have worked. We continue working to really do this at a high level so students who are in the program now and future students to come, that’s something that they’re seeing and can expect is even finding ways to incorporate mindfulness into not only the academic understanding of it, but the actual practice of it through the online programs. So, I know we’re excited about that. And just generally excited about the quality of training that we’re offering through Wake Forest University department of counseling. I love talking with you guys, Tammy Cashwell –

Bob Nations: You too.

Shannon Warden: Bob Nations. It’s always such good folks and enjoyed – hopefully this will be a help and a benefit to some folks who are gonna be listening to it.

Tammy Cashwell: I hope so.

Shannon Warden: All right. That’s it for our d