JMA as Beneficial for Clinicians
The ways in which JMA practice mirrors mindfulness based social work has shown its benefits with the personal experiences mentioned from those interviewed and through the narrative of Eddie’s treatment. Such practices not only provide benefits on a personal level, but can also have benefits on the professional therapeutic ability of clinicians who chose to practice JMA.
Mindfulness training has been shown in social work studies to help social work students regulate their emotions and fears that may arise in therapy sessions from the clinician’s point of view (Birnbaum 2008). JMA training can yield similar results and help the clinician train in affect control, acceptance of the situation, and maintaining a non-judgmental attitude in the face of therapeutic interventions with more challenging clients. This training can help clinicians to not only examine their own thinking but also become more accurate in the ability to see their client’s mental processes (Turner 2008).
Personally, I believe that my training in JMA has allowed me to become a better therapist. Through my training in martial arts I have been taught to recognize subtle changes in a person’s affect and body language and make snap decisions in simulated combat scenarios. Being able to do these under pressure in training drills has led me to being able to recognize changes in the client’s attitude and recognize when I need to change my approach when what I am doing does not seem to be meeting the client’s needs. Through this training, I have become more comfortable with myself, which allows me to be more focused totally on the client and not get caught up in my own thoughts while providing therapy.
Training in the mindfulness based skills of JMA has provided me with the ability to be actively present with the client during therapy sessions. I find that it is easier to stay in the here and now, despite how uncomfortable some moments can be within the therapeutic process just as other mindfulness based practices are expected to do (Birnbaum and Birnbaum 2008).
JMA is a valid way to build up mindfulness based skills within an individual and can be helpful for many people, but it does have some flaws as a method of therapeutic intervention. There are several limitations that might make JMA training applicable as a method of therapeutic intervention to only a select few.
JMA training requires some considerable amount of time before benefits become apparent. To properly get a hold of the mindfulness concepts the practitioner must be devoted to the study, which requires that the practitioner actually likes the training and is willing to put effort into it. While Eddie managed to use JMA training as a means to learn mindfulness based skills, he did have almost an entire year to learn the basics for this purpose. Not all clients will have this kind of time to devote to JMA practice or perhaps not be interested in it and therefore would not get the same kind of benefit from participating.
A second limitation of offering JMA as a form of mindfulness based therapy is that the client will need someone to teach it to him or her. If the therapist has experience with JMA, the he or she could guide the client through the basics of practice if there is an appropriate place to practice as the normal therapist’s office is obviously not the ideal place for martial arts training. This would mean that if the therapist could not provide the training the client would need to find a qualified teacher elsewhere. This could cause financial difficulties or time constraints. This could be feasible if the client did not have the need to see a therapist very frequently and could more easily work out some problems with schedule or money conflicts, but would be far more cumbersome to those did have these issues.
Because of the sometimes demanding nature of JMA training, individuals with serious mental health challenges may not always benefit the way Eddie did. Eddie managed to work through many challenging aspects of training because he was interested in it from the beginning, but even if others are interested in the training at first, there is no guarantee they will stick to it until they have experienced the benefits and internalized the mindfulness concepts. In addition, those who may be actively psychotic would be putting themselves and others at a higher risk of harm than those without psychotic features.
One could argue that the mindfulness based concepts in JMA training discussed here do not necessarily add anything to client therapy that does not already exist. To address that attitude, the reader should be aware that the concepts of mindfulness describe above are expanded upon further as one’s training in JMA progresses. Though for the sake of shorter term therapy, it could be said that the meditation based mindfulness practice would teach many of the same concepts in a more traditional clinical setting and thus be more appropriate.
JMA training can serve as a useful way to instill mindfulness skills that lead to a better awareness of the self and of others, but it is absolutely not for everyone. JMA takes a considerable amount of dedication, and those who participate in it must be self-motivated. The best usage for JMA as a form of therapy is to combine it with more traditional clinical approaches. Encouraging certain clients to participate in JMA can be a beneficial assistance to them as a secondary form of therapy.
Liora and Aiton Birnbaum suggest that if traditional social work methodology is insufficient, then those in the field must find new methods to further reach out and help the client self-actualize (2008). It is important in the social work setting to constantly think outside of the box, and JMA training is one source of a new methodology to help clients learn about mindfulness based skills to help enrich their life experiences.
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Single Case Study
The following is a single case study that details the therapeutic treatment of a suicidal, depressed man. Interventions with this individual did not follow strict therapeutic guidelines and instead JMA training was used to teach concepts of mindfulness to make the client more comfortable with his feelings and with socialization. To make the narrative flow easier, the author will refer to himself in this section in first person. The name of the client has also been changed to protect confidentiality.
Eddie is a 26 year old male of Puerto Rican descent. When I had met him, he had been chronically homeless for the past six years. He had been accepted to live in a permanent assisted living facility as his diagnosis of depression was considered severe enough to warrant Eddie as being labeled legally disabled.
Eddie had been abandoned by his mother and father at age 15 and was forced to live with an emotionally distant aunt. At age 18 his aunt told him he was on his own and kicked him out of his house. He had been homeless ever since then, and was shuffled around from one shelter to another before being allowed to stay at his current assisted living center.
In order to be allowed access to the facility, Eddie had to be considered disabled. Several psychiatrists interviewed him and considered his depression to be so bad it warranted the label of disabled. Eddie’s mental state was often so low he had contemplated and attempted suicide multiple times. When I had met him, it had been 8 months since his last attempt and two weeks since his last reported suicidal ideation. Combined with his diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, Eddie displayed some symptoms of undiagnosed illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia, and during his depressed days would he would occasionally hear voices and display possible symptoms of schizophrenia.
At the start of treatment, Eddie had not made many friends in the facility and was very socially awkward. Eddie described he always felt like he was being judged negatively by people. He had continuously dropped out of his GED classes, and was financially irresponsible to the point of having to sign his SSDI check over to the director of the facility as his payee.
Eddie revealed to me he had interest in Asian culture and I found this to be a subject we could talk about to establish report. The first few meetings we had, he would tell me what he had read about Asian culture and I would talk to him about my JMA experience and my journey to Japan and China. I asked him if he would be willing to learn some JMA from me. He agreed.
I believed that through the lessons I would teach him in JMA he would learn to be more mindful of his own feelings and become more comfortable with himself. We began practicing partner based exercises that were each meant to convey a specific type of attitude. We moved through exercises practicing what it would feel like to be confident, fearful, assertive, or compassionate. Some exercises are more suited to different feelings than others, and we explored how at certain times, certain feelings did not seem appropriate. The JMA mindfulness based concepts of “one-mind”, “no-mind”, and “remaining-mind” were practiced, and I encouraged Eddie to practice these mindful sensations on his own as he goes about his daily business. After each lesson we would discuss how practice had made him feel and how he can be mindful of those feelings at other times.
After several weeks of JMA practice, Eddie began showing an increased awareness of his personal feelings and was more accurate with picking up on social cues than he had been at the start of practice. Over the course of practice, Eddie had made slow, but steady progress with few set backs in his abilities to be mindful of his life experience. Originally stating he felt like a 2/10 on the SAD person’s scale, signifying intense depression, he was now saying he felt more like an 8 or 9.
The JMA practice Eddie and I worked together through was a means to get him more comfortable with his own thoughts, but also a means to helping him control the unwanted automatic thoughts of worthlessness, depression, and anger. Using the exercises mentioned above, Eddie learned how to willfully change his emotions when he had an unwanted automatic thought. As he became more aware of his unwanted thoughts and could change them accordingly, he became more comfortable in social situations.
JMA practice appeared to help Eddie in much the same way that a more typical mindfulness based cognitive therapy might have done it. Beckerman and Corbett state the goal of mindfulness based therapy is to help the client with attention control, non-judgmental examination of feelings, and disengaging from depressive thinking by suspending automatic thoughts (2009). These treatment objectives were all met to a satisfactory level through the JMA practice in which Eddie participated.
When it was time for termination of the therapeutic alliance with the client, Eddie had made several friends, engaged in casual social conversations he originally shied away from, and was one test away from completing his GED. He had become aware of his spending habits to the point where he was given control back of his own finances. His depression appeared to be in full remission, as h stated not having a very depressed thought for months.
Concepts of Mindfulness in JMA
As noted above, mindfulness based social work therapy has its roots in Asian meditative practices, specifically Zen. These mindfulness based concepts are often found within JMA, and that opens up the possibility that studying JMA may yield similar benefits that mindfulness based social work counseling demonstrates.
The concept of “no-mind”mentioned above is used not only in meditation, but in JMA as well. It is often the second part of a three part concept of awareness. Isshin (one-mind) is the mindful connection a person has on his or her singular task. “No-mind” works within the confines of “one-mind” in that when working towards the singular task, the practitioner should not be worrying about other thoughts or distractions. If such invasive thoughts appear, they are to be recognized and put aside until a more appropriate time. It conveys the notion of putting one’s mind to a meaningful action or thought. Zanshin (remaining-mind) carries with it the sense of being aware of ones surroundings.
During the course of training, these three concepts are often necessary to avoid injury during moments of high intensity training. “One-mind” teaches that the practitioner of JMA should focus on the seriousness of his or her training and treat each moment in training as if it were the only thing that exists at that time. “No-mind” teaches the practitioner to not get caught up the details of his or her actions. “Remaining-mind” teaches that during the course of training something unexpected may happen such as the appearance of a second attacker, so it is necessary to remain aware.
These lessons allow for training to become intense, and becoming lax in them can lead to injury or a lack of progression. Aside from this obvious application used during physical techniques, these martial arts principles can be applied to life skills in the everyday world.
JMA as Client Therapy
Martial arts as a form of therapy has not being studied in depth very much. In one of the few studies done, results showed that being enrolled in a martial arts program had positive effects on youth that were considered at risk. Researchers acknowledged that self-control, discipline, and self-esteem increased in the observed youth after they were enrolled for a few months (Theebom, De Knop, and Wylleman 2008). Though the study was focused on youth, the personal experiences of adults in martial arts can be the same. Chris Cow of California is a practitioner of the Washin Ryu style of karate and says that his study of JMA has increased his sense of self-esteem, confidence, and self-control (personal communication 2011).
It was suggested by Theebom, De Knop, and Wylleman that similarities with the teaching relationship between the instructor and the student was similar to the therapeutic alliance. In this sense both the martial arts instructor and the therapist are viewed as an authority and professional. Just as the therapist and client relationship are built on a sense of mutual trust and respect, so it is the same way with the martial arts instructor and his or her student (2008).
The similarities between a martial arts instructor and clinical therapist do not necessarily end there. Just as a therapist must help the client understand and cope with the challenges they face in life, a qualified martial arts teacher helps his or her students face and overcome challenges as well. Overcoming fear, challenging long held beliefs, and of course learning to be mindful are all experiences shared both in the therapist’s office and a quality martial arts school.
There are an almost overwhelming amount of different approaches to martial arts training. Due to this fact, discussion of the application of social work principles in a martial arts setting will be limited to JMA. It must be noted that there are many different types of disciplines within JMA, and the mindfulness concepts discussed here, while common to the majority of them, may be expressed differently in each specific JMA. However, it appears that no matter which JMA is studied there is always an emphasis on mindful thought and action.
Through mindfulness, clients’ are given the freedom to simply live in the moment without judging the experience. This in turn leads to a client’s ability to accept the situation as is and become more comfortable with his or her feelings (Coholic 2006). In JMA, the practitioner must become mindful of his or her feelings, thoughts, and actions in order to properly grasp the teachings of the martial arts. By internalizing the lessons, the martial arts student will likely find himself or her self being more mindful in day to day life and not just within the confines of the training hall.
Supra Vijai of Australia stated that since training in JMA and being exposed to the concept of “No-mind”, he finds it easier than before to gauge and control his emotions. He says that he no longer feels as though he is ruled by his emotions and can more easily identify the emotional experiences of the people he deals with in his daily life and adapt how he approaches them accordingly (personal communication 2011).
JMA emphasis on mindfulness helps practitioners become aware of bodily sensations as well as emotions. Often, in social work, exercises in mindfulness are done as a way to get client’s to feel and locate where stress is building up in the body. Performing body scans on oneself leads to being able to let go of stressful feelings. JMA practitioners can find a similar feeling of stress relief as they gain a better understanding of their own bodily awareness.
The mindfulness based concepts of “one-mind”, “no-mind”, and “remaining-mind” taught through JMA create an awareness of self and others that when drilled repeatedly in the training hall, begins to manifest itself in other aspects of life. The key components of focusing on the task at hand, not being bogged down by distracting thoughts and being aware of what is going on around in the environment are developed when training diligently in JMA.
The mental skills acquired can lead to better social interactions. Trust and understanding is built when training partners are mindful of each other’s movements, which materializes in the outside world as being more aware of how others behave. Becoming more aware of physical nuances in a training partner allows for a better understanding of his or her attitude which can then be applied to other social settings, for example the client may learn to recognize when some seems irritable and change their approach when communicating with that person to avoid unnecessary conflict. Training in JMA can be challenging and occasionally evoke emotions of fear, that when overcome result in an increased level of confidence which in turn increases a person’s ability to socialize without fear of judgmental attitudes from others.
Elizabeth Burns of Australia says that JMA has helped her become a more social person. She says that her ability to socialize has increased dramatically with interaction after class. In her words, “The fear of talking to people is greatly diminished when you’ve just spent half an hour rolling on the floor with them or giggling over a badly placed strike” (personal communication).
Through the mindfulness training in JMA, many people experience a boost in the ability to control themselves as well as the added benefits discussed above. Paul Smith of Texas, a long time practitioner of JMA states, “Self control is at the heart of the Japanese martial arts. Having control of your body, mind, and emotions are a major impetus of classical Japanese martial arts training. This leaves you in constant control of your actions and reactions” (personal communication 2011).
Chris Parker of Melbourne, Australia is an instructor in traditional JMA and stresses that self control, as earned through mindful practice is essential to proper training. When practice is paired with a partner, self control is absolutely necessary in order to train properly and safely. In solo practice, it is essential, especially with weaponry, in order to know where everything is at all times (personal communication 2011). This control, for reasons of safety and proper form carry over into other aspects as awareness of ones surroundings begins to become second nature.
It seems that many practitioners of JMA feel as though their training has positive effects on them as human beings. Positive cognitions that therapists hope clients achieve in therapy are apparently experienced during JMA. Practices that are centered around mindfulness and self control, such as those taught in JMA, allow clients to develop the ability to evaluate their thoughts without judgment and to disengage from depressive thinking before it spirals out of control.
Japanese Martial Arts and Mindfulness Based Social WorkHimura KenshinSWK 6521Aurora UniversityMarch 22, 2011
Japanese martial arts practice encompasses many of the mindfulness based skills that are desirable for both clients and clinicians in the field of social work. The similarities drawn between Japanese martial arts training and forms of mindfulness based social work suggest that Japanese martial arts could be an effective form of therapy to those who are looking for a less conventional form of learning about how awareness, attention, and intention affect the life experience of the individual. Based on the experiences of interviewed persons and a single case study, it is apparent that when people embrace the training offered in Japanese martial arts as a way to learn mindfulness, the same benefits are experienced as if they were engaged in a more recognized form of therapy.
Normally, when discussing the field of social work, martial arts are not the topic most clinicians think of when they are determining what approach to take when providing therapy for clients or improving their own professional therapeutic abilities. That perception may change once one begins to see the similarities between the practice of Japanese martial arts and mindfulness based social work. Once those similarities are drawn along with a review of relevant literature, benefits of Japanese martial arts practice will be explored from the position of both the client and the clinician.
Explanation of Terms
Japanese martial arts (JMA) instruction commonly uses Japanese terms when describing technique or skills. For the purposes of keeping this paper concise and simple, all Japanese terms have been translated to English. It must be noted however that there is often a degree of meaning lost when translating terms and explanations may be warranted when the translated term does not do justice to the original Japanese word. Translations of Japanese terms for the purposes of this paper are to convey the appropriate meaning and not the literal translation of the word itself. The specific concepts within JMA will be addressed as they come up in the text, but terms that will be used frequently throughout the body of the text shall be presented now along with their operational definition:
Kielty Turner’s definitions of terms provide a simple and effective understanding of the concepts being explored for both the purposes of social work and JMA practice. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment without judgment. Intention is defined as the personal goal or reason for doing something. Attention is defined as focus on the present experience (2009). Other terms and concepts will be defined as necessary as they arise within the text.
Mindfulness in Social Work
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) combines cognitive behavioral techniques with the concepts of awareness and mindfulness to treat a wide range of anxiety and mood disorders including but not limited to Major Depressive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Agoraphobia, and the often difficult to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (Marra 2005).
DBT emphasizes the use of mindfulness based exercises to help with emotion regulation and increasing appropriate interpersonal skills. Though the mnemonic of ONE MIND, mindfulness concepts are taught to clients that must be drilled repeatedly to take effect. The mnemonic contains the concepts: One thing at a time; focus on the Now; pay attention to the Environment; pay attention to the immediate Moment; Increase attention to sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing and vision; take a Nonjudgmental stance; and Describe the situation with descriptive rather than prescriptive or proscriptive words (Marra 2005).
Mindfulness is a means to building skill, but it is important to recognize that mindfulness is a skill, itself. When people begin to learn new tasks, progression in skills is accomplished when attention to detail is made a priority in the experience. At first, every action is precarious and full of trial and error. It is difficult, and stress and frustration are common. Over time the practiced behaviors become more habitual and automatic. Mindfulness can vanish at this point as actions may become mundane and robotic (Marra 2005). Practicing mindfulness of daily thoughts and behaviors gives a sense of refreshment to a person, and in order to make practicing mindfulness a natural experience, one must be mindfully aware of how mindful one is.
According to Liora and Aiton Birbaum, there has been an increase in seeking out therapy from sources not related to traditional social work. There exists a growing mainstream presence of taichi, yoga, and meditation based therapies that may imply their acceptance and application within the social work setting (2008).
Mindfulness and its Relationship to Zen
Mindfulness, as it is currently used and defined within the social work setting has its roots in Buddhist meditative practices and is meant to cultivate awareness, enhance acceptance, and nurture responsibility (Brenner 2009). Zen mediation, in particular has a high focus on being mindful. Zen practice often involves seeking to be attuned to one’s current experience in the present and to thoughtfully be aware of self and others. This can lead to understanding of the interconnectedness shared between what one perceives of the self, others, and the environment and how such a perception shapes the individual’s experience (Turner 2009).
Zen meditation has been shown in studies to have positive effects on both clients and therapists within the social work field. The practice of Zen will allow the social worker to see the client as they are without being drawn into a theoretical understanding of the client while the client is allowed to recognize ambivalent feelings or fears within the therapeutic setting without judging those thoughts (Brenner 2009).
Within Zen meditative practice, it is important to internalize the concept of mushin (no-mind). This “no-mind” is considered to be action on any level whether physical or mental without trying at the same time to observe or check the experience from outside one’s self (Brenner 2009). It should be recognized that “no-mind” means not that a person goes through such actions without thought, but that thoughts are focused on the experience without being tied to feelings of judgment or second guessing the experience. This concept is often found within the practice of JMA and will be explored further.
In a mindfulness based approach to social work, social work is viewed as both art and science (Brenner 2009). The benefits of meditation are both rooted in empirical evidence (science) and the personal and unique experience of the individual participating in the practice (art). JMA are often treated the same way by those who practice it, and because there is often a degree of Zen practices found in many JMA similar concepts and benefits can be experienced by those who engage in diligent practice.
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