Depression and anxiety are among the most common, if not the most common, issues that bring people into therapy. The struggle to get better can be a long and arduous one. One individual shared with me that she had visited numerous therapists over the years, but still struggled, and that she was told by one therapist that she was just too smart for her own good. A client asked me for a road map to get better — a plan for coping with depression, panic, and anxiety. I recommended this book.
The Mindful Way Workbook can be used as an adjunct in therapy, as part of a class, or by anyone who wants to learn to cope as part of a self-help program. The authors, John Teasdale, Mark Williams, and Zindel Segal, suggest that readers might find their prior book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, a helpful addition, but I think this newer workbook ably stands on its own. After the workbook first introduces you to the principles of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which teaches you how to change from a ruminating “doing” person into a “being” person, it outlines an eight-week program for you to practice the therapy.
The authors developed MBCT about twenty years ago, and the method has been studied extensively: It has been found to be effective in both preventing recurring depression and in building resilience. (The notes section at the end of the book provides a summary of the research.) Jon Kabat-Zinn, the well-known scientist and meditation teacher who is the founding director of two centers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, strongly influenced the approach. You can read some of his thoughts in the foreword.
Meditation is at the core of MBCT, and the program takes discipline and effort — no magic pill here. The reader is asked for a commitment of about an hour a day, six days a week, for eight weeks. In Chinese, a task that requires time and effort to learn can be referred to as gong fu. You can think of this program as your gong fu for becoming a mindful person.
The authors suggest you tell a friend about your commitment. This can help you follow through with the program, but the friend will also help more directly. The idea is that you share your triggers for lapsing back into old ways of thinking so that they can warn you when they see that happening, as they may see it before you do.
What are those ways of thinking? Going through life on autopilot is one. You drive for miles with no recollection of the drive when you arrive at your destination. You ruminate about things, which make them worse. You judge yourself harshly for being the way you are.
Many of us fight against uncomfortable and painful feelings. We regret how things were, fear and worry about how things will be, and miss out on how we are right now. We wind up with physical aches and pains as we carry the emotional pain in our bodies. The authors call the active avoidance of pain aversion. “Aversion is the drive to avoid, get rid of, numb out from, or destroy things that we experience as unpleasant,” they write. “It is the power behind the driven-doing that keeps us entangled in negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger, and stress.”
I like that the authors include exercises that work with the body. The Western separation of mind and body is a false one, and meditation and mindfulness bridge that gap in thinking and being. The book includes a CD of MP3 files of guided exercises that give you practice in mindfulness on everything from eating to walking. Some are drawn from yoga and help to stretch and loosen muscles that are often tensed and tight when we are depressed or anxious. Illustrations in the book show you the poses visually, which is helpful since at times it is difficult, at least for me, to tell just where that elbow is supposed to go in that particular pose based solely on verbal direction. And as I discovered, MP3 files do not play on old CD players. You will need to play them on your computer or MP3 player. Or, you can download them from the Guilford Press website for your portable device.
The authors write with a nonjudgmental and kind approach. There are quotes from persons who have completed the MBCT course throughout the book, and these are very helpful. They express some of the very same questions and doubts that came to my mind as I read the book. One person even talked of frustration about falling asleep during the directed body scan — I too fell asleep during the scan. The authors answer the questions and are encouraging.
In line with the nonjudgmental approach is the book’s note that if you are struggling really badly with depression right now and cannot concentrate, you can be kind to yourself and wait a while to begin MBCT. As the authors recognize, “the difficulties you experience are a direct effect of depression and will, sooner or later, ease.” I appreciate their thoughtfulness on not forcing yourself to start until you are ready.
Teasdale, Williams, and Segal provide a well researched, well practiced way of transitioning to a more mindful way of being — a way of kindness, warmth, and compassion; a way of moving from reacting to responding; a way of being with the moment in an accepting way and with a sense of curiosity. Although their program was developed for depression, it will be just as useful to those with anxiety, stress, and worry.
The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress
The Guilford Press: January, 2014
Paperback, 228 pages + MP3 audio CD