How Mindfulness Practise Helps During Joint Therapy
Mica Montana

One of the things that pandemic brought into focus was our relationships. It highlighted how important they are but also how challenging they can be. The proximity the national lockdown brought was either make or break for a lot of different relationships. Engagements were called off, people moved in together and realised they couldn’t stand each other, others realised they needed to move out of their parent’s homes, whilst those living alone, wished that they had more people around. Personally, I realised that I would like to try to rebuild an important relationship through joint therapy.

Joint therapy is not only for romantic couples

It can be a safe place to be vulnerable and share thoughts with a care-giver without fear of being dismissed, it can be a safe place for friends to both feel held and heard. It can be the place of grounding in those times during breakdowns in communication between siblings where it feels it would be easier just to walk away from each other – which sometimes I admit might be the right thing to do. There are plenty of harmful relationships that black women are enduring with family members or lovers waiting for the other person to ‘change’ or treat them better, when the best option might be just to leave.

However sometimes, because of experiencing or witnessing the former and not wanting to find ourselves in that position, we might be too quick to throw a relationship away while there is still a hope of it being restored.

If both people value the relationship and are willing to work on it, then there is the option of exploring therapy as a way to facilitate healing and understanding.

It can be a big step, especially in the black community where individual therapy still holds a taboo, the idea of joint therapy to work on the interpersonal issues between us is almost unheard of. I think it’s important however, as a lot of our mental health issues are grounded in our social contexts and cannot always be solved on an individual level. It doesn’t sound inviting though I know. The idea of listening to someone else’s judgement about you when it doesn’t align with the truth of who you know yourself to be is a difficult one. It’s one thing to have to confront yourself in therapy, it’s another thing to confront yourself through another person.

How mindfulness practise can help

If you watched blue therapy this year, you would have seen how difficult it can be to be present with another person’s thoughts and feelings in a compassionate way when we are challenged by them. It’s very understandable, when you feel offended or angry or frustrated, your heart rate goes up and you’re physiologically primed to ‘fight’ the perceived attacker/offender. However, in joint therapy sessions you are safe and nobody is trying to attack you so that response isn’t needed.

In those moments being able to shift into mindful awareness of the emotions in the body and then practising how to breathe through those emotions and regulate that stress response can really make all of the difference.

It is about creating space for you to pause and actually listen, rather than just react to what has been said.

It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever react defensively and interject during the sessions (I do very often), but it does mean you’re better able to reduce the frequency of those moments, self-regulate and hold those feelings in loving awareness.

When the mind ruminates

Outside of the sessions there can be different challenges. At least 30 minutes after my session has ended I find that my mind is overrun with all of the things I could have or should have said. I tend to ruminate and go over conversations saying to myself: “I can’t believe they said that about me” or “I should have reminded them of this’ over and over again like a broken record for the rest of the day. This is a cognitive process called rumination – where you repeatedly go over and over the same negative thoughts. Going around in negative thought loops produces emotional responses within the body which can lead to our bodies being on hyper-alert or experiencing physical tiredness as well as emotional tiredness, and vice versa. These persistent feelings in our bodies can trigger the negative thoughts in our minds keeping us perpetually locked in a negative feedback cycle.

Mindfulness breathing practises such as the ‘body scan’ meditation have been really helpful in helping me shift out of the broken feedback loop.

These meditations often involve a prompt that reminds you to bring your attention back to the breath or a body part if it has wandered during the practise. Following that simple instruction helps to strengthen your ability to 1) notice your thought patterns and 2) control your attention.

For example, you might be aware of how incredulous something that was said was and how annoyed it made you feel. At the same time you can also simultaneously be aware that the sun is out that day and it feels really good on your skin, or that what you’re eating is really good food. The shift isn’t about ignoring the thoughts, or simply distracting yourself from them, it’s about not letting particular thought patterns and emotions dominate your attention and close you off to other possibilities and experiences around you. It’s understanding that you are not at the mercy of your thoughts or emotions.

Night time is usually the time where ruminative thoughts come with a vengeance and it’s easy to find yourself struggling to sleep because you’re too busy thinking about all of the different things that happened during the session that day. It can be more difficult to shift attention at this time as there are less things to expand your awareness to but here is where the loving kindness mindful meditation can also help.

I personally like to repeat a simple prayer that forms part of meditation until I fall asleep: “may all beings know peace, love and kindness”. I’ll repeat that over and over again until I fall asleep.

Sometimes it takes a LONG time to fall asleep and other times I don’t fall asleep at all if my mind is very busy, but what it always does is help me to shift my thinking. Instead of repeating the words of the prayer you might find it more helpful to focus on the breath or on something in the room. This also helps when trying to deal with memories or feelings that have been triggered during the therapeutic process too.

I didn’t realise prior to starting how much mindfulness practices would benefit my participation in joining therapy sessions but it has helped me process my emotions both inside and outside the sessions – while working on a relationship that otherwise may have ended. If you’re thinking of starting joint therapy to work on a family or romantic relationship issue, or you’re exploring individual therapy to work on your own personal experiences, you might want to try looking into mindfulness practises. It may be very helpful in managing your emotions or you could consider talking to your therapist about exploring it as an adjunct to your sessions. But even if you’re not thinking about therapy at all, mindfulness practise can still help you towards an emotionally whole life.

Wanna learn more? Join our mailing list to get 50% off our masterclasses to help you Heal. Learn. Grow.  We are on a mission to change the face of mental health for black women so that they can show up confidently in every space of life.  Download our workbook How to set healthy Boundaries which comes with great worksheets and exercises to help you build your own boundary toolkit.

Mica Montana

Mica is a licensed mindfulness teacher currently based in Birmingham. She has completed an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Psychology and a Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience and currently works part time as an Applied Research Psychologist helping to shape the development of University mental health services. Her work is rooted in critical and community approaches to psychology and her interests lie in creating safe spaces for people to experience and express themselves for the facilitation of growth and good wellbeing.

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