Bowbay Liang-Hua Feng '13, LMFT, on Mindfulness and Resilience

"What does it mean to be in this moment without judgment, to be fully present, and to be able to incorporate a sense of compassion and kindness toward ourselves? That's the benefit that mindfulness provides," says Bowbay Liang-Hua Feng, LMFT.

"I've been interested in mindfulness and meditation for most of my life, so it was a natural transition to incorporate that into my career," says Feng. A part-time faculty member at and 2013 graduate of the Wright Institute Counseling Psychology Program, Feng incorporates mindfulness practices into nearly every aspect of her life. Her career in the mental health field officially began in 2011, when she enrolled in the same program where she would later teach.

When she began the Counseling Psychology Program in 2011, Feng thought she might pursue a PhD after graduation. However, while she was in the Program, she recognized that she was more drawn to community mental health, working with both individuals and families, and teaching. Through her time in graduate school, Feng also found that mindfulness was a key strategy for grounding herself and being more present.

Feng's goal is to help clinicians learn to harness the benefits of mindfulness psychology, both for better therapy outcomes and for the wellbeing of therapists. While mindfulness is often already incorporated into different therapeutic approaches, its benefits are much farther reaching.

Mindfulness, often described as "bringing awareness to the present," is a process found all over the world, and backed by modern neuroscience. "Around the world, every culture has some version of mindfulness." says Feng. "Many traditions have seen the benefit of it, and it's wonderful to see that mindfulness psychology has made that more available to people." There are a variety of different mindfulness practices, and finding practices that are useful can be different for everyone.

Practicing mindfulness has numerous benefits while dealing with trauma. When individuals experience trauma, they can begin feeling disconnected from parts of themselves, or even experience a distorted sense of time. Utilizing mindfulness practices can help people reconnect with themselves, says Feng. "Researchers have found that Hatha yoga in particular helps people enhance their awareness of time", she says. "Assuming the postures and spending time being physically uncomfortable can increase that sense."

Resilience is also an important part of helping therapists sustain themselves. Clinicians can take on vicarious trauma by being with their clients in session, and mindfulness can be a path to vicarious resilience. "To expand our own resilience, we actually have to show up for, notice, and grow the positive moments we experience," Feng says. "In this field, you have the wonderful opportunity to walk along with people in tremendous joy, sorrow, and trauma. Each of those have an impact on us as clinicians."

Feng has seen the impact in her own life, as well as the lives of those she has shared the strategies with. She has brought the power of mindfulness to her classroom, and begins each of her classes with student-led mindfulness exercises. Each class is led by a different exercise from a different student, which both gives the students valuable experience leading exercises, as well as allows them to learn what type of mindfulness practice works best for them.

"Starting that way can encourage people to bring in each of their different experiences to the classroom," says Feng of opening each class with mindfulness. "I see all types of practices submitted by students - some from DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), from positive psychology, or their own experiences with mindfulness." The communal process is deepened by each student discussing where the exercise originates from.

Feng has noticed the energy of the class can dramatically shift throughout these exercises, leading to a more enriching experience for students. "I've found mindfulness practices to be effective in all of my classes," she says. "It creates a real openness in students. Every single class where I've done it, I've seen some benefit."

Outside of the classroom, Feng uses mindfulness practices in her sessions with her private practiceclients. "In my own sessions, I might lead someone through a grounding exercise, and inquire about their own mindfulness practices, and how they incorporate that into their self-care." Feng works with those who have experienced trauma, and recognizes that much of the research around mindfulness practices is focused on trauma recovery. However, she sees it as a useful tool for everyone, regardless of their experiences or situation.

As a clinician, Feng has a "long list" of different things she wants to learn. She is studying radically open DBT, as well as searching for ways to make her practice more accessible, primarily through the lens of telehealth. Like many of her peers, Feng moved all of her services online at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has allowed her to serve a broader range of clients over the past 18 months. "My guess is that it's going to be a long time before we ever truly come out of this pandemic. Based on that, I plan to continue to serve my clients online," says Feng.

"I have actually been quite surprised at how well it works," says Feng of seeing her clients online. "I do feel like I'm able to be completely present with them." While being in person for sessions has its benefits, Feng notes the advantage of having her clients be in their own spaces, where they tend to be most comfortable. "I can sit here and look at all the things that bring me comfort, knowing that I'm safe in my own environment. My clients have shared similar feelings, being able to access different parts of themselves when they don't have to worry about pulling it all together to get in their car and drive somewhere afterwards," she reflects.

Feng's teaching is part of the Wright Institute's broader incorporation of mindfulness psychology from a neuroscience perspective across the Counseling Psychology Program. MIndfulness psychology does have a deep grounding in scientific research. Researchers have found that the corpus callosum - the space between the left and right hemisphere - actually increases in size with the regular practice of meditation.

"I believe the mind, body, and emotion are all interconnected, and that's reflected in modern science. The book 'The Body Keeps the Score' talks about how the body holds memories of our experience," says Feng, who cites mirror neurons as an example. Mirror neurons are activated by human connection, and stimulate the same areas of the brain that performing the described action would. Harnessing the calming effects of mirror neurons through mindfulness can benefit clients, like a clinician's nervous system connecting to their client's.

"One of the most wonderful things about mindfulness is that it grows and enriches over time," says Bowbay Liang-Hua Feng. "I'd like to continue to enrich and grow different mindfulness practices in my clients and students, but you can only take people as far as you've gone. I'm always going to seek to deepen my own experience of mindfulness."

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