The explosion of interest in mindfulness followed the development of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is designed to prevent relapse in depression. Mindfulness courses have now been developed for all kinds of psychological conditions. The majority of these courses (including MBCT) have been developed from Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, which is an eight-week course with classes of two-and-half hours, a silent all-day practice, and about 45 minutes to an hour of home practice each day.
It's not just the format of these courses that is impractical for employers. The Google sponsored Search Inside Yourself programme may work well in Silicon valley but get out your mediation bells and you won't get in the front door of most businesses. Mindfulness has to be positioned as evidence-based and that is where the work on MBCT has made a big difference.
However, it's not just new-age or Buddhist affectations that put people off in the workplace, there's a problem with the way mindfulness as a therapy is taught. People don't feel comfortable sitting in a circle being asked to explore their feelings by a softly spoken therapist disguised as a trainer in a workplace context.
Workplace mindfulness training courses have to be designed to suit the needs of the workplace and be a good fit to the culture of a client organisation. They need to be packaged like development or training workshops and they need to be scientifically informative. Unlike therapy, people need to know why they are being asked to sit in silence watching their breath before they're asked to do it. And workplace mindfulness courses need to be trimmed down to the minimum commitment of time that is required to actually change people's habits. Therapeutic mindfulness courses have a strong evidence base but more effective ways of teaching mindfulness need to be on offer if mindfulness is to become part of everyday mental health hygiene at work.
- Mark Leonard