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September-October 2017

June Membership Meeting Write-Up by Shawn LaRe' Brinkley, LMFT

Mindfulness with Children, Teens, and Families
Presenter: Diane Gehart, Ph.D.
Sponsored by Steven Unruh, MDiv, LMFT, of Unruh Mediation and Psychological Services

The meeting was sponsored by our very own, Steven Unruh, MDiv, LMFT, of Unruh Mediation. In his practice, Steven specializes in Divorce Mediation and Marital Conflict. He works with "high conflict couples," working alongside them to create reasonable, practical, and fair solutions.

I always enjoy attending the SFV-CAMFT Membership meetings as I can always count on a good breakfast, good fellowship with awesome colleagues, and unparalleled presenters. However, the meeting held on June 25th, promised an extra bonus for me since the speaker was someone I had read about and whose videos on YouTube had become my morning, noon, and night focus as I am in the throes of studying for that daunting clinical licensing examination. Well, if Dr. Diane Gehart is delightful, brilliant, and witty on screen, she is even more so in person; and to add to my giddiness, she was sitting at my table.

In her warm, friendly, and "smart girl next door" style," Dr. Gehart opened by telling us the funny story of how she stumbled upon her journey to her career as a marriage family therapist, how she was able to connect buddhism to marriage family therapy theories, and how that led to her getting involved with mindfulness. She provided us with a definition of "Mindfulness" that summed it up in a nutshell, using her words; "Observing a single phenomenon (e.g. the breath), on purpose, while compassionately and non-judgmentally quieting the inner-chatter in the mind." Well, she had me at "hello" as quieting my inner chatter is no small feat. As Gehart shared further, she normalized the difficulty in doing this and provided a simple formula for when attempts to be mindful fail…Focus—lose focus—refocus. Pure brilliance and practicality in a clinical nutshell. This little formula was a great as being reminded that it is okay to lose focus and simply to get back on task, is the cornerstone to working with children and families because it can help diffuse some of the mystery behind the idea of mindfulness and provide them with the tools to keep trying and not become frustrated and give up. We were on our way here.

Dr. Gehart Clarified for us what mindfulness is not; sharing it is more than simply a relaxation technique and it is not getting your thoughts to stop, adding that when that happens you will be either in a coma or dead and that is not the idea here. She told us that mindfulness looks like focusing on your breath and watching yourself breathe and your mind will wander within seconds and you forget that you are supposed to be focusing on your breath and again everything else goes through the mind as it jumps all over the place. Dr. Gehart suggested all therapist do some mindfulness just to understand we are not coherent. This helps us to understand that our clients are not consistent, the mind is not consistent—it is not like a logical computer. She used the term monkey mind meaning our thoughts jump from place to place, in the past, in the present. We focus in short little periods and the refocusing is where the therapy comes in, especially when you are working on psychological issues.

She gave an overview of the brain sharing that every time our mind wanders off and we focus and refocus; there is a neural firing of the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. As we practice mindfulness we are actually able to rewire the brain and this refocusing part is the important piece when you are trying to obtain psychological benefits as it helps with stress reduction as it increases the capacity to shut off the stress response. When working toward spiritual benefits the quieting is to obtain higher connection to the spiritual self. The whole process is to rewire the brain, changing how it works. Dr. Gehart discussed the relational benefits of mindfulness explaining a mindfulness practice can increase martial satisfaction as it can assist our clients with increasing empathy and compassion, helping them to accept themselves and their partner. Other benefits include helping them to change the way they interact with one another, helping them to be aware of how they respond to one another; providing a greater sense of freedom and safety in their relationships and providing also a greater sense of unity and separation in the marriage.

Dr. Gehart also shared teaching tools for using mindfulness when working with children. She stressed the importance of making sure the process is fun for the children, an example; using bubbles and she told of a technique where you place a stuffed animal on the child's belly and have him or her watch it rock back and forth. The doctor expressed the importance of offering a short explanation using metaphors to help the children grasp the concepts such as referring to the stressed out brain as the "lizard brain" and providing variety in the explanation. She also suggested keeping the mindfulness practice itself short (one to five minutes) and including a real world practice such as encouraging the children to use mindfulness before a test or before going to school in the morning.

Next, she shared some of the childhood disorders, in which symptoms can be managed using mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can be a beneficial intervention with ADHD as it has the potential to rehabituate the prefrontal cortex and can help improve executive functioning. She discussed the benefits of mindfulness in Conduct and Oppositional issues, stating it can reduce internalizing and externalizing behaviors. The use of mindfulness has shown measurable reduction in conduct and behavioral issues in elementary school children and teens as well as measurable changes in children and adolescents suffering with depression and anxiety.

Dr. Gehart shared about a mindfulness based group for children called, "A Still Quiet Place." She explained the principles of the content used in the sessions as well as she provided information about other school-based programs. She gave us insight into the key principles for teaching mindfulness to a single family. The main challenge, she shared, "is to generate motivation." She indicated the next step is to develop a realistic plan for the family; approximately one to five minutes, five days a week; before school and homework, especially for children with ADHD. She said it is important to identify the potential for family conflict, especially with teens and identify the potential for schedule conflict. When families are running behind schedule, they should do at least 60 seconds of mindfulness or if driving to school, they can do their mindfulness at the stoplight. The key is to get it in somewhere.

Before closing, Dr. Gehart provided us with information for Mindful Parenting Programs and discussed the benefits of such parenting tools. Her delightful manner and fun, engaging presentation style made an interesting topic even more interesting as we learned more about mindfulness itself; but also how to incorporate it in our work with the children, adolescents, and families we see. A Sunday morning with Dr. Diane Gehart was indeed, a "Mindful Treat."

Shawn LaRé Brinkley, MS, MFTI, (Intern, for the last issue hopefully) specializes in trauma, complicated grief and loss, and continues to explore mindfulness as she prepares for licensure. Shawn LaRe' is excited to join the ranks of the self-employed as she recently launched her website for private practice and is (again hopefully, for a few more days only) is being supervised by Beth Jakubanis, LMFT, as she aspires to pass her clinical exam. Shawn LaRe' aspires to continue her work with survivors of human sex trafficking as well as champion the fight against this horrific epidemic that plagues or societies youth and young adults. She can be reached through her new website: www.livinglovedhealing.org and at 818.798.3201 or sfvcamftedt@gmail.com for CAMFT-related business.

San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists