What is Mindfulness-Based Emotional Processing?

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Mindfulness-Based Emotional Processing (MBEP):
Felt-Sense Attention in Emotional Healing

A Mindful, Body-Centered Approach

MBEP is a mindful, body-centered approach to activating intrinsic emotional processing in the brain. The processing is activated and maintained by the client’s and the therapist’s mindful, Felt Sense Attention upon the client’s somatic experience. The client’s emotional processing is enabled, focused, and supported through the attuned relational connection between the therapist and the client. A focus on tender, compassionate awareness creates a special quality of attention which  helps to activate the healing process. MBEP is a practical, useful method for initiating and promoting essential emotional processing. It can easily be incorporated into any therapeutic modality.

MBEP accesses the brain and nervous system’s intrinsic capacity to process emotional experience and memory by focusing and stimulating the brain’s right-hemisphere functions. The right hemisphere is where body awareness, attunement, affective experience, implicit emotional memory, and nonverbal communication are processed. The right hemisphere is where emotional healing must begin.

In MBEP, the emotionally-based somatic processing is separated and protected from left-hemisphere cognitive, analytic, critical functions. Once the right hemisphere’s capacity for implicit, emotionally-based processing has been supported and is moving forward, the left hemisphere’s skills for cognitive, rational, language-based understanding can be engaged to further support the healing process.

The mindful focus of the client’s and the therapist’s nonjudgmental, caring attention upon the client’s sensory, somatic experience (Felt Sense Attention) of an emotional issue or memory is one of the two major components in MBEP. The second is a sensitive, attuned therapeutic relationship, which provides a foundation of skillful interpersonal, neurobiological support for the client’s willingness and capacity to remain present with the unfolding somatic/emotional process.

The therapist’s skillful, attuned support makes it possible for deep, non-cognitive emotional processing to occur, while minimizing interference from mental evaluation and judgment. The emotional processing is being supported within the “emotional brain” instead of the “thinking brain.” The focus of the “witnessing brain” upon the body’s sensory experience energizes and drives the emotional processing to move forward.

Interaction between focused attention and internal experience

MBEP is based upon the interaction between focused attention and internal experience: Where attention goes, energy gathers; where energy goes, experience unfolds. The mindful attentional focus of Felt Sense Attention originates in, and is regulated by, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Felt Sense Attention focuses awareness on the body’s somatic, sensory experience. It serves to activate right-hemisphere limbic processes related to emotional memory, body awareness, attunement, and affective experience.

As these processes are activated and energized by the focus of attention upon somatic experience, they are stimulated in a way that generates and promotes intrinsic emotional processing which is emotionally rather than cognitively based.

Such emotional processing, when skillfully facilitated and protected, activates and supports deep emotional work which is relatively free of cognitive influences. It facilitates emotional healing at an intrinsic level.

How attunement facilitates healing

The attunement between therapist and client allows the therapist to explicitly and implicitly support the client in a variety of ways:

  1. To promote the client’s mindful focus of attention on his/her sensory experience (Felt Sense Attention) as the body’s manifestation of the intrinsic emotional process;
  2. To protect the emotional processing from becoming hijacked by the tendency to intellectualize emotional experience;
  3. To provide compassionate, caring acceptance and support of the client’s unfolding emotional process and experience;
  4. To titrate the level of activation/stimulation to maintain an effective and safe level of intrinsic emotional processing.
  5. To teach and model Felt Sense Attention to the client.

An adjunct tool

MBEP can easily and gracefully be incorporated into the flow of any therapeutic modality or approach. MBEP is an excellent, seamless tool for shifting the therapeutic interaction from cognitively-based “talk therapy” towards somatically-based emotional processing. MBEP makes it possible to engage the best of right-hemisphere and left-hemisphere functions into the emotional healing work of therapy and counseling.