Integrating mindfulness, guided meditation and visualization into your next therapy session
Ms. Carlson rushes into your clinic, hops onto your treatment table, and proceeds to give you the blow-by-blow of her shoulder since she saw you last week. She describes her pain level, explains how the exercises have been done (or not done), and catches you up on her current events.
Before you know it, your time with her is over, she’s been given a fresh set of exercises, and you have documentation to complete. Perform this routine 10 times per day, and life becomes a blur of joints, pain scales and SOAP notes.
Luckily, there is a way to reduce the stress on you and your client: mindfulness training.
Concepts of Mindfulness
My definition of mindfulness is “to distill an experience so that it becomes a memory.” If you have a hard time remembering what happened, the experience hasn’t been mindful. Being in the moment, enjoying the journey and feeling fully present is a learned behavior, and one that has tremendous benefits to mind and body. Studies have shown that mindfulness training can ease pain in musculoskeletal conditions.1
Imagine eating a $50 piece of the most incredible dark chocolate. You would savor the experience, paying attention to the texture and the aroma, enjoying the sensation of the chocolate on your tongue, how it sounds as you bite into it. We are mindful when we take it all in, feel positive, and process the moment.
Clients miss the information and education we provide them for a variety of reasons, and being mindful is certainly at the top of the list. They are distracted, not enjoying the experience, or in a negative state. Therapists have a chance to share a technique that will impact their current situation, and carry on long after they have been discharged.
In therapy, we can use the concepts of mindfulness by incorporating specific techniques during treatment sessions. My team has developed a patent pending therapeutic technique we’ve termed a’chromatherapyä. This simple and effective technique uses the multiple modalities of color therapy, aromatherapy, guided meditation and nature imagery to bring about a sense of well-being.
Imagery and Meditation
Nature is a powerful tool for healing, and studies have shown that being in nature promotes health.2 Images of nature can reinforce this, and we use nature images as a first step in the program.
Clients are asked to choose one of seven nature images. We ask them where they’d want to go if they could be in one of these photos right now. By imagining ourselves inside the nature scene, we take deep breaths and clear the mind of possible negative images such as discomfort. Studies have shown that visualization can reduce stress, elevate the immune system, and impact white blood cell counts.3
Listening to a guided meditation is a helpful tool for anyone learning how to meditate and relax. Guided meditations take your client into the image of their choice. This allows them a moment to connect more deeply to nature, to clear their mind, and to be in a positive and optimistic mindset. Studies have shown that meditation can speed healing and decrease pain.3
Color is used every day to create moods. Many prisons have pink walls to calm inmates. Eating off of a blue plate has been reported to decrease hunger, and companies choose colors in their logos to make us react. We have found that people relax when they choose the color that makes them feel good.
Likewise, aromas in essential oils have been used for centuries in healing. When studying them, we found that pairing a scent to a nature image and a guided meditation enhanced the feeling of well-being. Later, we were able to use only scent to recreate the feeling of stress reduction.
Motivation, emotion, learning and memory all take place in the limbic system. Aromas help cement the neurological pathways in the brain, and recreate a positive experience when the aroma is smelled.
This treatment approach has proven very effective during shoulder manipulations, during which any resisting or guarding from the client restricts results. Using a 5-minute a’chromatherapy session with heat allows better accessibility into the joint from the therapists’ perspective.
I often speak with the client to get them to visualize the shoulder joint opening, creating images with them that there is space in the shoulder. It takes practice to learn how to guide a client through visualizing a positive result. Professional athletes have been visualizing outcomes for years, and this practice is very effective when translated into a therapeutic application.
Mindfulness and meditation training is being used in a variety of clinical settings with exceptional results. In senior living and dementia care environments, mindfulness and meditation training are being employed to decrease anxiety. Group sessions are held as a part of clients’ daily schedules to keep anxiety at bay. Residents are using mindfulness training as part of their care plans and to reduce the use of psychotropic drugs.
In hospitals, mindfulness training is used in labor and delivery units to reduce stress among mothers during early labor. Connecting to nature, guided meditation and aromatherapy reduce pain levels and allow laboring mothers to use alternative pain methods readily. Infusion centers are another area in which stress can be reduced via meditation.
All This in a Half Hour Session?
The program we devised can be completed in less than five minutes. Studies show that perceived stress levels can be reduced up to an average of 75% in five minutes. It’s worth the time to realize these immediate and powerful results.
If you’re having your client stretch, have them stretch while listening to the meditation they chose. If they are being positioned on heat or ice, allow them to listen to a guided meditation and visualize that they’re on a dock by the ocean.
Encourage all team members to learn this practice. It’s great for assistive personnel, nurses and other rehab professionals working as a team to reduce stress and improve healing.
Your clients can practice mindfulness and meditation at home, and it can be part of their treatment plan. Not only will they effectively improve their brain’s gray matter,4 but they’ll be able to relax more quickly and effectively on your treatment table.