Cultivating Gratitude and Integrating Mind, Body & Spirit into Therapy

Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught “men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them”. This quote has become the rallying cry for today’s cognitive-behavior therapists.

A number of controlled experimental trials have examined the benefits of gratitude and how practicing gratitude can impact ones perspective towards life’s stressors. Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from destructive impulses.

People who experience gratitude can cope more effectively with everyday stress, show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health. These results indicate that gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and pathological conditions and that it can even offer protection against mental health issues. Scientists say that practicing gratitude techniques shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones and elicit a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which help to alleviate depressive symptoms.

In the next section you will be introduced to a technique that you can utilize derived from psychologist Thomas J. Nardi, Ph.D. the originator of Eclectic Cognitive Behavior Therapy (ECBT).  The ECBT approach is a secular, but still spiritual, method of cultivating gratitude.  It can be used effectively by those with or without affiliation to a particular faith tradition and incorporates concepts drawn from cognitive-behavior therapy.

A Step by Step Summary: How to Practice Gratitude throughout your day

(1) Center Yourself – Take a few minutes to sit quietly, breathing slowly and deeply.  Become aware that you are entering into a special place.  If you believe in a higher power, now is the time to become aware of that presence and/or your connection to the benevolent universe of all living creatures.  Open your mind and heart to honest self-reflection.

(2) Review Your Day with Gratitude – The importance of gratitude is not restricted to the Western philosophical and theological traditions of meditation and prayer. One of the key principles of Reiki is to show gratitude for all that you have and for all living creatures.  This approach expands upon that concept.  As you review your day, express thanks and gratitude for all that has happened to you that day.  Be thankful for the successes as well as the challenges you faced.  Be grateful for the good that has happened.  Reflect and give thanks for the bad that could have happened but did not.  That is, things that could have been worse and bad things that you avoided.  Consider the challenges that occurred because they will contribute to you becoming stronger.

(3) Identifying an Activating Event and Consequence – Pick one troubling or challenging event that stands out in your memory.  What happened?  How did you feel in reaction?  What did you do in reaction?

(4) Challenge and Correct Faulty Self-Talk – What did you tell yourself about the Activating Event?  Were your thoughts logical and objectively accurate?  Were they too subjective, possibly too absolute or extreme?  Was their evidence to support the belief?

(5) Look Forward to Tomorrow – You don’t know what will or won’t happen.  You may not have control over the events you will encounter.  But, you do have control over your thoughts.  Debilitating fear, overwhelming anxiety, other strong negative emotions are the result of what you are telling yourself.  Resolve to face the challenges of the new day armed with the new way to challenge and correct your thoughts. Have no concern for the so-called “failures” of the past or “dangers” of the future.

Amanda N. Karam, M.S., LMHC – FNS – MBSR

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