MIndfulness, McMindfulness and the stress industry

Posted on 15th June, 2022

A lot has been written about the benefits of mindfulness practice in recent years and I certainly go along with its potential benefits, especially when I'm working with people who are stressed, anxious, depressed or dissatisfied with their lot in life.

The way it is being pitched, though, concerns me, along with other practitioners.

As a counsellor and therapist working with individuals, I guess it's understandable that I largely focus on individual factors and help people consider what steps they may take as individuals to improve things. I do try though to keep an awareness of the situations/cultures in which my clients' issues are occurring, as it is often aspects of a situation that serve to hold a problem in place.

For instance, I've worked so often with people suffering from stress who have internalized the idea that they are failing in some way or are indadequate. When we've looked at the situation, though, we often find that there are external factors, such as an unreasonable work-load or a boss-from-hell, that play a key part in the stress.

Yes, mindfulness and other practices are likely to help us in such situations but they don't necessarily address the whole picture and may even attribute 'the problem' where it does not belong, to the individual.

I'm aware that some companies with unreasonable expectations of employees occasionally throw a mindfulness or reslilience training their way to help them cope better, without addressing their working conditions!

Such led Maurice Neale to coin the term McMindfulness, in which, as Ronald Purser writes, 'Mindfulness, like positive psychology and the broader happiness industry, has depoliticised stress. If we are unhappy about being unemployed, losing our health insurance, and seeing our children incur massive debt through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful.' 

The problem, along with the solution belongs to the individual alone.

As a therapist I work with individuals but am not happy with the above picture. It misattributes so much.

That said, practices like mindfulness (if they are used with a mindfulness of context etc.) can be very helpful.

One book on mindfulness that I've recommended before is Maitreyabandhu's Life with Full Attention. It steers clea, to my mind, of many of the pitfalls of particularly the US literature on mindfulness, and is much less 'happy clappy'. It is not a Buddhist religious text, btw, though the author is a practicing Buddhist. Mindfulness itself, though itself secular, is derived from Buddhist meditative practices.

As an aside, I went off to do a mindfulness training for counselling practitioners some years back. There was a Buddhist nun in the audience that day who had over twenty-years experience of meditative practices (including practices that are now labelled mindfulness) and of teaching meditation. I remember one of the certificated mindfulness practitioners there explaining to her that if she did their ten-week intro to mindfulness, she could be certificated too! Kerching!


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