More detail about what the MBCT & MBSR courses involve
A practical and experiential journey of discovery
The MBCT and MBSR courses are a journey of discovery, gently exploring a well-charted territory to do with the way that mindfulness can help us open more to the beauty of life and also manage difficult experiences. Please note that there are some times when it is best not to do a course of this kind (for more details see the bottom of this page).
Can anyone do the course, do I have to be ‘stressed’? Will it be ‘heavy’?
People do the MBSR and MBCT courses for wide range of reasons. Many people who do the course don’t see themselves as particularly ‘stressed’ but have heard from friends or from the media that mindfulness can help increase our overall enjoyment/appreciation of life. Other people are drawn to the course because they are dealing with general life/work stress, or more serious emotional difficulties like anxiety or depression and they have heard that the course may help. All of these are entirely valid reasons for doing the course.
Though at times the course does at times involve very seriously exploring the challenging experiences and emotions we can face in life, the course atmosphere is often very ‘light-hearted’ too at times and many people say that they find the sessions very enjoyable. There is often a lot of laughter in the sessions.
The entire course is ‘invitational’. That means that there is nothing on the course that you have to do if you don’t want to.
Skills and attitudes that can help us face challenges
The course teaches a collection of skills in how we relate to ourselves and our experience which can help us in our daily lives. At the same time it teaches an approach and some helpful attitudes that we can cultivate which enhance our general wellbeing.
Steady in life’s storms, awake to life’s beauty
Mindfulness can help us wake up more to the richness of life, and it can also help us ‘weather’ pain and difficulty that we face in our lives. The MBCT and MBSR courses bring out both of these aspects of mindfulness.
Practical structure of the course
The MBCT and MBSR courses consists of eight two-hour sessions with daily ‘home-practice’ between each session. Each session includes at least one period of mindfulness practice, an opportunity to talk about experience of practising mindfulness, and some other exercises and presentations which explore how stress, anxiety and low moods operate and how to reduce them.
‘All Day’ of practice
In addition to the eight sessions there is an opportunity to also book onto an ‘All Day’ of mindfulness practice (10.30am -4.30pm) on a Sunday which can deepen the learnings from the course. Please note that this is an official part of the original MBSR course. However, I charge for these separately because many people aren’t able to attend (see courses page for details). The ‘All Day’ is also open to past participants and I do one each term, so if you aren’t able to do one while doing the course you can do one at a future date.
Alternatively, I also run regular ‘refresher’ practice sessions which also provide an opportunity to deepen mindfulness practice.
Will I be expected to speak in the group?
There is no requirement speak in the group or share anything in particular unless you want to, and very occasionally people choose not to speak in the group for an entire course (except perhaps when I invite people to talk in pairs). However, if you find being in groups (or speaking in pairs) challenging I’d recommend we have a chat about this before the course starts.
45 Minutes of Home practice Per Day
The home-practice is an essential part of the course. I don’t keep tabs on who has and hasn’t done their home practice but it is a key part of what makes the course so effective. The home practice involves listening to guided mindfulness tracks for about 30 minutes per day to be done in one, go plus about 10 minutes per day of very short meditations to fit into other times in your daily routine. There is also some very brief ‘journaling’ (a sentences or two to write each day in your course handbook- for only yourself to ever see)- which isn’t essential but is very much recommended.
Some participants don’t manage all this, but those who do are almost always the one’s who get most from the course.
There is a lot for us to cover in each session of the course so we will start each session on time. So it’s important to do your utmost to arrive on time or a few minutes early. However, if for some reason you get delayed and can’t arrive on time you are still welcome to join a session (quietly) at any point.
The class may sometimes run over by 5 minutes
I do my utmost to finish each session at the official ending time for that class. However, due the nature of the ‘interactive learning’ process in the class, and the fullness of the course content, sometimes a session may finish 5 minutes later than advertised. However, if you need to leave exactly on time (or earlier if necessary) that is fine – perhaps mention this to me at the start of the class.
Coming to all, or most of the sessions
To get the full benefit of the course you need to come to as many of the sessions as you possibly can. If you miss more than two or three sessions in the course it’ll be harder to really fully engage with the process of the course. Also, if a participant has only come to the first session and then misses the next three or more sessions in a row, I may not permit them to rejoin the course (depending on their circumstances and their on their commitment to practicing at home) – because it could be disruptive to the ‘group dynamic’.
Not making notes during the sessions
There is no need to make notes during the sessions – the handbook for the course contains a summary of each session. In fact, I ask that people DON’T make notes during the sessions. This is because if someone is writing it changes the atmosphere in the room and takes the focus away from the group sharing and learning. Also, other people who are speaking can feel that they are being ‘written about’.
Can I catch up a session if I miss one?
The course includes an extensive course ‘handbook’ which has a chapter for each week of the course. If you miss a session you can read up the chapter to keep up to date with the course and do the home practice for that week as described in the chapter. If you want to do a one-to-one session, for current course participants I charge £40 for a 50 minute skype or phone session though I can’t guarantee that we’d be able to find a mutually convenient time that week.
Can people join a course that has started?
If a course isn’t full at the start I am sometimes happy (depending on various factors) for people who are very keen to do the course but who have missed the start date to join the group in week two. It is not possible to join a course after the second week.
How many people will be in the group?
I have a maximum of 15 people on each course but for the Thursday evening course I take a maximum of 14 and for the Saturday class I take a maximum of 9. The weekday daytime courses tend to have smaller numbers too: of between 8 and 12. Many (highly reputable) mindfulness teachers run much larger groups but I feel that the group needs to be between about 7 and 15 in order for there to be a positive environment for sharing and connecting. Even with 15 people on a course my experience is that a bond of trust quickly establishes itself in the group and people generally find the group environment positive and nourishing – even those people who find groups challenging.
The Course is Intensive
As well helping us ‘wake up’ to some of the positive sides of life that are so easily missed, both the MBCT and MBSR courses aim to help us learn to work with the difficulties that life throws up . It might seem like a bad idea to turn your attention towards something unpleasant that is happening. However, evidence shows that repeatedly trying to avoid painful experiences doesn’t work in the long run. In fact ironically it’s actually one of the things that causes unhappiness. Conversely, mindfully facing something we’ve been ‘running away from’ is the first step towards true freedom.
You may feel a bit worse before you feel better
This does mean that the course can temporarily bring painful emotions and experiences that have been ‘held at arms length’ more to the surface, leaving participants actually feeling worse rather than better for a while, particularly in the first few weeks.This is entirely normal. To undo a tight knot you have to stop and take a good look at it. Occasionally participants even report that painful ‘old issues’ resurface for a while. This can be disconcerting but it’s always an opportunity to ‘heal old wounds’.
Because of the nature of the course, we encourage anyone doing the course who is experiencing strong challenges in their life, to reflect before the course starts on who they might turn to for support during the course, if it does put them more in touch with what they are feeling. This could be friends, family members, partners, a counsellor, or someone else.
It’s important to note that the periods of group sharing on the course are very focussed on current experience rather than ‘the problems’ in people’s lives. Although the MBCT course has word ‘Therapy’ in the title, it isn’t a place to explore in detail things that have happened in the past, except insofar as these arise while doing the practices. If you find yourself really struggling with the practices while on the course, I can be contacted by email outside the class time and may be able to offer some guidance (or a short phone call) with regard to the mindfulness practices. This would not be therapeutic or emotional support which you would need to find elsewhere, though I could offer some suggestions.
Course session cancellation
I have never yet had to cancel a course session for any reason. However, if I were ever unable to run a particular session, due to having flu for example or some other kind of mishap or emergency, I would look to extend the course by one week if possible to make up for the lost course time. Another option would be for me to see whether another mindfulness teacher who I know and trust could cover that session.
Once the course has started can I defer to another course (or get a refund) if I stop coming?
Sometimes people start a course and then realize that they are finding it hard to keep up with home practice and ask to defer. Except in extreme situations such as major bereavement, I don’t give people a free place on another course, or a refund, once they have started one. If you’re unsure whether you will manage the home practice I can provide you with a 30 minute meditation before the course starts to try on your own.
Sitting meditation and mindful movement
The practices on the course include lying down meditation, sitting meditations, and gentle mindful movement practices. With any of these practices it’s fine to adjust your posture in any way you feel necessary to help yourself feel comfortable. The mindful movement practices are simplified standing yoga sequences and Chinese ‘Qi Gong’ movements. If you have any kind of physical limitations we can find a way of adapting these movement sequences to suit you and I also have an alternative movement sequence for anyone with severe physical disability.
Not a ‘magic bullet’ – the importance of being realistic
Some people report that coming to the course sessions, doing mindfulness practices regularly at home, and bringing the whole approach and ‘flavour’ of the course into their daily lives, has a very big positive effect on their overall sense of wellbeing. For others, the effect of doing the mindfulness practices is more subtle and modest, and it may even feel very challenging to spend periods of time at home being still while listening to the guided CDs. So it’s important to be realistic with your expectations. If you are looking for a miracle cure for ‘life’s ills’ you may set yourself up for experiencing frustration. However, you do the course with an open mind, and keep on with the home practice as best you can even if it’s difficult, you may find that that brings rewards in unexpected ways.
Circumstances When the Course Isn’t Likely to be Appropriate or Helpful
There are certain circumstances when the MBCT/MBSR course isn’t likely to be appropriate or helpful. As stated above, the courses are intensive, and include a general approach of gently turning towards, or ‘opening’ to whatever we may be experiencing – pleasant or unpleasant. This act of mindfully ‘turning towards’ is a choice, and we can choose at given any time how much we do this- based on what feels manageable and appropriate. However, if current experience is extremely unpleasant in an ongoing way, practicing mindfulness in this way can be too challenging. A basic amount of ’emotional stability’, even if there is current anxiety or low mood or stress, is necessary in order for the course to be helpful. If that’s not there, then it’s better to wait and do the course at a later date. If you’re unsure if this applies to your situation please feel free to contact me to discuss it.
For the above reasons the course is not likely to be helpful for people who are in the midst of a severe depressive episode. This can be hard to hear if you are in this position and yearning for a way out. But if this is the case, other support, such as one to one counselling or some other less intensive group activity, is more likely to be helpful until the ‘crisis’ period has passed.
Upheaval, Crisis or Bereavement
It is generally not advisable to do the course if you have had a period of ongoing major crisis or severe turmoil in your life in the last six months. People do often do the course with current strong emotion such as anxiety or distress but a basic level of emotional steadiness and a stable life situation is necessary in order to be able to manage the course. If you are unsure whether this applies to you, I’d be happy to discuss this with you.
For example, it would generally be inadvisable to do the course if you have experienced the recent loss of a close relative or friend, within the last six months. It would also be unhelpful to do the course if you are in the midst of a major ‘crisis’ period in your life of one kind or another – or, even more seriously, if you’ve had suicidal thoughts and feelings. Doing the practices could just make the experiences you are having much more raw at a time when lots of personal space, and one-to-one support, is needed to process what you are dealing with.
Past (or Recent) Trauma
If you have ever experienced major trauma in your life, and especially if you have a diagnosis of PTSD it may be that it would be inadvisable to do the course – or that it would be better for you to do a mindfulness course on the NHS with the support of clinically trained mindfulness teachers. This isn’t a hard and fast rule and there are various factors which might make the course manageable for you – such as how motivated you are, how much support you have, and how far you have already come in your recovery. But I would need to discuss this with you carefully before you attend one of my courses.
Moving House or Starting a New Job
We have also found that people who have done the course with a lot of current extra pressures on their time- caused by things like moving house, or starting a new job- report that they found that this made it hard for them to really find the time to engage with the course and get the full benefit of it.
Psychosis and some other Mental Health Diagnoses
This course also wouldn’t be right for people who are prone to having psychotic episodes, as mindfulness has been shown to have the potential to induce psychosis in people who already experience it. There are some other mental health diagnoses for which these mindfulness courses would be inadvisable so it’s best to check with me if you are unsure whether this applies to you. There are mindfulness courses specifically designed for people who experience psychosis, which are run by tutors who are properly trained to support people with this condition.
Addiction to Alchohol or Drugs
If you have had an real addiction to alcohol or drugs, as a general rule it would be important for you to have been sober for six months prior to starting the course. This general rule doesn’t apply to the occasional recreational use of intoxicants.
But if you have a serious drug or alcohol habit it would important for you to discuss this with me before booking on the course.
If you are unsure whether the course would be right for you feel free to contact me and I can discuss this with you. If you are interested in practicing mindfulness but dont feel that the course is right for you at the moment, I would be happy to discuss alternatives with you.
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