Using mindfulness as a technique to help people being treated for addictions or mental health issues avoid relapsing is the topic of a book by Thompson psychotherapist Dr. Nuwan Fonseka, who recently updated the text to incorporate more recent research after selling all of the original edition.
The book, Integrating Mindfulness Practices with Relapse Prevention Strategies, is based on research Fonseka did as part of his doctoral studies as well as three pilot projects using the technique over the past seven or eight years. It was originally published in 2012 and is aimed mainly at students of psychology and counselling, though the author has plans for a book about mindfulness aimed at a more general audience to be completed in the fall.
Mindfulness, Fonseka says, is about being an active participant in whatever it is you are doing, rather than going through the motions and performing tasks without thinking about them, as people so often do.
“It’s about living with the moment, learning to accept, engaging your awareness at the moment, and helping to deal with your life issues based on your present and your future, not your past,” Fonseka says.
Born in Sri Lanka, where many people identify as Buddhists, Fonseka says mindfulness has always been a part of his life.
“Buddhism is not a religion, it’s a philosophy,” he says. “The little village that I used to live in, we had temples everywhere. It was a part of the culture. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness – we don’t have to go to school for that. It’s everywhere. So I studied mindfulness when I was a five-year-old.”
That knowledge of mindfulness has been incorporated into Fonseka’s professional practice because his experience has demonstrated that it can help his clients to avoid taking steps backward during their treatment of various issues.
“People suffering addictions, mental health issues, trauma and other psychological problems, they relapse quite a but during their recovery,” he says. “Always I integrate meditation and mindfulness with my patients. My clients and I found it very successful.”
Part of the problem with getting people to embrace this aspect of their treatment is overcoming misconceptions.
“We are slowly integrating it with things because some people don’t like doing meditation,” says Fonseka. “You don’t have to close your eyes and do meditation. You don’t have to cross your legs and close your eyes and have that yogi posture.”
Many people actually do practise mindfulness sometimes without realizing it, says Fonseka, using fishing as an example.
“You connect with the water and the colour and the smell,” he says. “There’s a sound always coming from the water. Fishing for one hour, it’s like a one-hour meditation.”
Most of the time, however, people’s minds are nto on what they are doing.
“This is a technique that teaches you how to live your life mindfulluy, how to eat mindfully, how to sleep mindfully, how to practise your relationships mindfully,” he says.
For those who are receiving treatment for psychological or addiction issues, having mindfulness to support them when things go off the rails is a big help. Fonseka uses a person being treated for mental health issues as an example.
“They’re making progress, durign the progress that person is having trouble with their relationship and having trouble with children so that trouble makes him relapse from his progress,” Fonseka says. “He needs some backup.”
Not having a plan in place to prevent relapses is like removing one leg from a chair.
“If you have three legs, you are missing the one leg that is your relapse plan,” says Fonseka. “If you don’t have that leg you can still hold your chair up but you will fall down many times.”